Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Faulty Towers

Doctor Who
The God Complex
Series Six, Episode Eleven

Between us, we’re a big Toby Whithouse fan.  Not because of Being Human; no, we’re basing this entirely on his two previous Doctor Who episodes, because we’re rational adults like that.  So with The God Complex, we were all geared up to make it a hat-trick.

Damn and blast.

What is it we like about Toby Whithouse’s episodes?  Is it the plots?  Ahem, no.  Sorry, Toby, but we’re still baffled by the vats of Krillitane-killer the Krillitanes lug around, which somehow double as IQ-enhancers for kids, not to mention the 10,000 fish people still swimming in Venice.

No, it’s dialogue and character where he shines.  The God Complex is no exception.  We laughed a lot, particularly during the bit where the TARDIS team meet their co-habitants.  ‘Amy, with regret, you’re fired.’  ‘Our anthem is called Glory To, insert name here.’  ‘In two days it never occurred to us to try the front door, thank God you’re here.’  ‘Big day for a fan of walls.’

It’s not all Matt Smith, either.  One of us loved Gibbis, the other fell for Rita.  David Walliams is reliably funny but also deliciously dark as the frequently-invaded alien, and Amara Karan gets away with all sorts of clever, witty dialogue whilst still feeling like a real person.

Arthur Darvill is his usual effortlessly brilliant self, despite the unsettling joke about Amy clobbering him, and did somebody mention Matt Smith?  Funnily enough, another of Toby Whithouse’s strengths is writing for the Doctor, and The God Complex is a Doctorfest.  From his whimsy at finding ‘the most exciting thing [he’s] ever seen’* to his no-nonsense ‘I think you should come with me’, through his sympathy with the Minotaur and his total willingness to torpedo Amy’s beliefs to save the day, this episode pretty much runs the gamut.  It may not be his most successful outing, as he winds up misleading two people to their deaths, but frankly we can’t blame him for not knowing what the hell’s going on.  (Although that is a bit of a Whithouse-ism.  Don’t worry, the Doctor will save the day… or you’ll all die.  Whoops.)

Ah yes, the plot.  ‘Make a hotel scary’ was Steven Moffat’s brief, and Toby Whithouse hasn’t quite done that.  It’s full of scary things, but not in an over-arcing, The Shining kind of way.  Each room contains something scary, meant for each individual person trapped there.  This is a neat idea, but unfortunately it translates as everyone besides them being visibly unafraid of it.  We can (almost) understand poor Lucy being terrified of that guy in the (awful) gorilla suit, but what’s in it for the audience?  The premise keeps subverting itself, with the Doctor smirking at a room full of catty women, and Rita talking to that clown.  On top of that, the characters stop being afraid the moment they leave the room; then they’re possessed, and off we go with the kooky possessed acting.  The episode doesn’t seem to be trying.

Especially with Murray Gold’s supposedly creepy muzak, which sounds like most of the comedy music he’s done in earnest over the years.

I really liked the muzak, especially the way it kept, creepily, turning itself back on.  One of my favourite parts of the episode.

But anyway, back to the plot.  People are brought here to be frightened, and when they’re frightened they retreat to the thing they believe in, and the Minotaur feeds on their faith.  Except their specific faith (religion, superstition, whatever) is immediately transmuted into believing in the Minotaur.  All of a sudden they know they’re going to get munched, and they really like the idea.  They also sort of get over their fears, in some cases.

Complicated much?  Not to mention abstract; what is faith?  If something as sketchy as believing in conspiracies could really make you feel better about your fears, how can Rory possibly have no faith in anything?  We doubt anyone has no belief in anything, but this is a guy who spent 2000 years protecting his girlfriend, his love for whom is supposedly strong enough to rip through time.  There’s something he’s going to believe in quite strongly, don’t you think?  Sort of, faith-like?  (And anyway, doesn’t a person with no faith present a possible way to defeat the Minotaur?  Why bring it up if it’s totally irrelevant?)  How the hell does disrupting the faith of one person shut down the program and kill the Minotaur?  How come the Minotaur wants to die and is fine with someone killing it – which is terribly convenient – but also can’t control its 'instinct' to kill when the episode requires it?  Virtually everything to do with the Minotaur is 24-carat nonsense.

And that’s not all.  Matt Smith has to do a lot of info-dumping, like his chat with the Minotaur**, but there’s not enough actual info.  How did the TARDIS get here?  ‘I dunno, something must have yanked us off course.’  Why is the Minotaur in a floating prison with an endless food supply that indiscriminately abducts anyone in the universe?  Because its followers ‘got all secular’.  As explanations go, it’s like reading a first draft.  And not a very clever first draft.

And then there’s the really stupid stuff.  The Doctor knows the rooms are out of bounds, and even says so, so why does he think it’s a good idea to hide in them?  How does tricking the Minotaur even work, considering the whole place was created for its benefit?  Whose bright idea was it to leave Howie with the surrender monkey?

So… why did we like it again?

Well, besides being really funny and stuffed with wonderful character moments, it’s got That Ending.  This is the moment where the Doctor decides to send Amy and Rory home.  Do we like it?  Yes.  It’s seeded through the episode, with Rory talking in the past tense, the Doctor ‘interviewing’ a new companion, that companion dying and the Doctor realising Amy’s faith in him is dangerous.  (Not to mention the running theme this season of the Doctor distancing himself from them, particularly last week, with Rory having more reason than ever to want out.)  It came as a bit of a surprise, but it still felt perfectly natural***, again thanks to the dialogue and the beautiful performances.  We don’t think it’ll stick, as these things never do, but for the chance to see a few companions leave the TARDIS and live actual normal lives (rather than joining UNIT or Torchwood, or starting some other adorable mini-Doctor organisation), it’s a risk we’re willing to take.

And before that is something even better: the Doctor telling little Amelia that she’s there to feed his vanity, and they ‘need to see each other as [they] really are’.  Does he really mean it?  We think so.  It might be on loan from The Curse Of Fenric, but Matt Smith sells it beautifully, and so does the reliably wonderful Caitlin Blackwood, sat there not saying a word.  How amazing is she?  The script is well up to the actors’ standards, boiling this whole sequence down to two words: Amy Williams.  Good Whithouse.  Have biscuit.

So where does that leave us?  A scary episode that isn’t scary – again – with a plot that requires buckets of explanation to work properly, but doesn’t have enough actual buckets handy.  Still, in-between the rubbish there’s some great acting, lovely writing, and a sound emotional ending.  And that’s what we’d forgotten about Toby Whithouse.  He’s good with character and great with dialogue, which is just about enough to distract us from his generally horrid plots.  And that’s sort of okay.  We’re mostly in it for the character development anyway.

* Even though he sees reproductions of Earth pretty much everywhere they go.

** We suppose we should mention the Minotaur, and the way it obviously parallels what’s going to happen to the Doctor.  So there, now we have.

*** Although don’t bother saying goodbye to Rory, will you, sure he won’t mind.


  1. What I don't understand is: If the Doctor is no longer going to genially entrap his friends in dangerous situations -

    a) Why is he about to rope Craig into another one?
    b) How can he ever have companions again?
    42) Doesn't that sort of undermine the whole premise?

    Because by Christmas he'll be off on a romp collecting yet more collateral.


  2. For series 6, try this experiment: read contemporary reviews of first Seventh Doctor season episodes, then read twenty years on reviews. Likewise, read contemporary audience reaction, and see how that neatly charted a precipitous decline in viewership...

  3. This is a good review.

    Hmm, a person being scared, but the audience not being scared because we're not that person - that's the same as Night Terrors.

    They should really try harder.