5 December 2018: It Takes You Away review added.
26 November 2018: The Witchfinders review added.
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THE GOD COMPLEX
Ooh, a Toby Whithouse episode! That’s always a red-letter day. School Reunion, Vampires Of Venice - what’s not to like? Well, okay, maybe not everything. His plots are usually crammed with supermassive black holes, for a start. But who cares when he hits character and dialogue out of the park?
And yep, The God Complex is a Whithouse, all right. Aforementioned plot holes notwithstanding and with some other flaws piled on top, nevertheless we like this.
For a start, there’s the setting. The simplicity of it is great: one setting plus one big idea plus handful of characters equals perfectly episode-sized drama. Bigger, and in fortysomething minutes you end up only scraping the surface.
What’s more, it’s a nice twist on the scary hotel trope. It’s not pants-wettingly terrifying like some famous examples (that’s you we’re looking at, The Shining). Nor is the idea of personalised fears original (George Orwell gets the Golden Scream for that one: rats in a cage around your head, anyone? Anyone?). Instead, they kind of take the piss out of it. The thing about fears personal to you, especially if it’s something weird like a man in a gorilla suit, is that only you are going to find it scary. Everyone else is just going to giggle. So it’s never going to be Shining territory. Now, it’s entirely possible that they were trying for frightening and just fell flat on their faces, but instead we choose to believe that they consciously traded in some of the horror for a bit of a laugh. We think it’s quite a nice balance.
And speaking of the funny, whoa. This script. Hilarious or what? “Assembled Ponds”, “His stroke her hand stroke tentacle”, “You haven’t just got a degree in cheesemaking, have you?” “That, and tutting” - and that’s just from the first few minutes. Brilliant stuff.
Character, unusually for Whithouse, is a mixed bag. To be honest, we think they could have reached a bit deeper when it came to some of it. The geek, for example, couldn’t possibly have been more stereotypical than they made him. Blogger? Scared of girls? Glasses? Unable to make eye contact? Tick, tick, tick. They even threw in a stammer, for God’s sake. And it was a shame that Rita’s fear is the stereotypical Asian parent thing. Overall, though, Rita is so very, very good that we forgive a lot. Hands up who wants her miraculously resurrected and made a companion. So that’s all of us, then? Good. We particularly like her calm rejection of the Doctor’s presenting himself, as usual, as the saviour of them all. For this show, that’s absolutely revolutionary, and we’re crazy about it. We also like Joe: we don’t see the non-possessed version, but possessed he’s wonderfully creepy. Considering that possession normally puts us in a coma, that’s a big compliment.
Then there’s David Walliams’s alien. We like his slyness and cowardice: we wish, though, that all of that was consistent with what the Doctor actually says about him. If he “rejects his autonomy and is waiting for the next batch of invaders to…tell him what to do” why isn’t he doing what the Doctor says? Instead, he’s sneaking about chomping on fish and untying Minotaur prey. What was that about autonomy again?
As for the TARDIS crew, Matt Smith of course lifts the whole thing into another realm. The funny is funnier, the drama is more drama-ish. The shot of him at the end looking around the control room made us burst into tears. Amy is fine and it’s a particularly nice episode for Rory: not much to do, but he does it extremely well.
So what about the whole faith thing? That the episode’s actually about? It works, although not as well as it’s supposed to. On the good side: it really cuts to the heart of the relationship between Amy and the Doctor that was forged at her first sight of him. It doesn’t hurt to be reminded now and again that if Amy’s faith in the Doctor sometimes seems childlike, that’s for a very good reason. She just doesn’t have the same relationship with him as any other companion, and that relationship has distorted not just her adult view of the Doctor but the rest of her life as well. She got married, and that still wasn’t enough to cut that fundamental tie. For Amy, it’s not just about the giving up of flying through time and space that all companions have to face (providing they survive long enough). She also has to give up her faith in the Doctor always being there for her.
On the other hand, the impact of this point isn’t as strong as it should be because of the placement of this episode. Her faith as presented is either not strictly accurate or shouldn’t be strictly accurate. Would Amy’s faith in the Doctor really be completely unshaken by his inability to save her daughter? Or are we just supposed to have forgotten about that (again)? What’s more, the episode before this, The Girl Who Waited, makes us view that faith in a much more cynical light than Toby Whithouse probably intended. This man that Amy trusts so much in fact has only just put her alternative self to death and looked her in the eye while he did it. Unfortunate.
As for the rest of the faith stuff, while it’s a nice idea and a fun twist on the more obvious fear thing, it’s not really very convincing. Rory has no faith at all? In anything? And this the man who waited for his lover for two thousand years? We’re not buying it. And we think some of the other “faiths”, like Adam and his conspiracy theories, have been stretched until they squeak or order to jam them into the mould.
And the O come, all ye faithful monster? Perfectly fine if you like that sort of thing. Flying prison feeding on snatched energies? OK, then. We have a vague feeling, without being able to think of specific examples, that we’ve seen ancient creatures gagging to be put out of their misery more than once before, but given that the Doctor seems pickier about who he’s seen to be exterminating these days it’s a reasonable option.
And then we get to the tear-jerker ending. Well, it would be a tear-jerker except that these things so rarely seem to stick. People bounce in and out like yoyos so often these days that we need a lot more evidence than this before concluding they’re gone for good.
Nor are we fans of the Doctor’s reasoning. Yes, he periodically gets a case of the guilts about all the people who’ve carked it as a direct or indirect result of being involved with him, so it’s not surprising, but we think he should get over himself. If people always take up the offer of travelling through time and space, it’s because it’s deeply deeply cool, not because they’re too stupid to know what they’re doing and should be restrained for their own safety and that of others. Yes, it might (or might not) be more dangerous than staying at home and opening another packet of Hobnobs, but so what? It’s their choice, and as far as we can see they should be free to make it. It’s not up to the Doctor to make that decision for Amy, and if he does, he’s treating her just like the child he tells her she should be leaving behind.
Not exactly perfect, is it? But it does enough things right to get our applause. Faults or no, if they were all as good as this we wouldn’t be complaining. (Much.)
MORAL: You don’t got to have faith.
Love that room full of ventriloquists’ dummies. If you didn’t find them terrifying before, you’re going to after this.
RITE OF PASSAGE
Corridor-running. Yes, corridor-running. Superb.
There are some nice visual touches in here, like the jump cuts between the victims screaming and giggling and the silhouette of Rory with the mop. Bravo.
THESE GO TO ELEVEN
We like the fact that the Doctor’s door has a number 11 on it.
The Doctor smashing things after the death of Rita is pretty unrestrained for him, but it works.
“Amy Williams”? Ugh. Suggesting that women aren’t really committed to their marriages unless and until they take their husbands’ names is ridiculous and insulting.