Tuesday, September 20, 2011

"Doctor Who" Review - "The God Complex" (Series 6 Episode 11)

I had a very busy weekend working my through the Star Wars Blu-Ray box-set, which prevented me from getting to Saturday night’s Doctor Who until this morning.  After seeing the episode, I’m kicking myself for waiting this long, because this is an hour that made me very positive about the direction of the current season. 

SPOILERS for “The God Complex” coming up after the jump…

“I took you with me because I was vain, because I wanted to be adored…I’m not a hero, I’m really just a mad man with a box, and it’s time we saw each other as we really are…it’s time to stop waiting.”

I’ve expressed some concerns over the last few weeks about the direction and structure of series six, which has so far been too conspicuously split between ‘story-arc episodes’ written by Steven Moffat and ‘standalones’ written by everyone else.  I don’t have any inherent problem with ‘standalone’ episodes – one-off adventures through space and time are the backbone of Doctor Who – but with a story-arc as heavy as the one Moffat has conjured this year, and the amount of seismic activity going on in our characters’ lives, those standalones tend to stick out a lot more.  In this half of the season, it was starting to get particularly odd that nobody was discussing the fact that, only a few weeks ago, Amy and Rory had a baby, the Doctor led a siege of Demon’s Run, River Song succeeded in killing the Doctor before resurrecting him, etc.  There’s a lot going on in Moffat-ville, material the most recent episodes have completely ignored.

“The God Complex,” on the other hand, is an episode that confronts everything the Doctor and his companions have been through this year, and in so doing, it retroactively negates the concept of “standalone” throughout the season.  In particular, the last two episodes, “Night Terrors” and “The Girl Who Waited,” bear a lot more weight after this installment, and it’s safe to say that I’m more optimistic about series six at this point than at any other time during the season. 

“The God Complex” ends on a tremendously climactic note: Amy and Rory leaving the TARDIS.  That’s a pretty shocking event for the antepenultimate episode – we’d normally see this sort of thing in the finale – but given the subject matter of “The God Complex,” and the ways in which the character arcs have been building this year, it felt perfectly timed.  This episode was all about the Doctor finally admitting to himself and his friends the toxic effects of his lifestyle, and after everything that has transpired this season, it’s no surprise that he would reach this conclusion.  Amy was kidnapped and help captive for months as part of a ploy to hurt the Doctor, her daughter was taken and brainwashed, Amy and Rory never got to raise their child, they were nearly killed in a dollhouse two weeks ago, and last week, the Doctor forced Rory to choose between two versions of his wife.  The Doctor is a good man, but he doesn’t view the Universe in the same way his companions do, and for a while now, he’s had trouble understanding all the torment he’s inadvertently put the Ponds through.

So major kudos go to writer Toby Whithouse for constructing a scenario in which the Doctor has no choice but to confront the effect his life has on others – specifically, how Amy’s faith in the Doctor is going to get her killed.  That’s a fairly blatant metaphor, obviously, because it’s not just this one scenario where Amy’s faith endangers her.  Early in the episode, Amy confronts a fellow captive of the hotel by expressing her faith in the Doctor, how he has never once let her down.  The moment struck me as odd – which, in retrospect, was exactly the point – because the Doctor has been letting Amy down a lot recently (if only Amy knew what her sixty-year-old counterpart from last week knew).  I’ve been wondering for a while if this season would end with Amy coming to that realization herself, but instead, the Doctor has to break Amy’s faith in him, which was a far more satisfying and ingenious turn of events. 

The scene I quoted above must go down in Who history as one of the eleventh Doctor’s greatest moments, right up there with his “bluest blue” speech to young Amelia from last year’s finale.  With respect to American TV actors such as Bryan Cranston and Jon Hamm, Matt Smith may very well be giving the best performance on TV right now, and that scene was further proof why.  The fallout from this moment continued to the end of the episode, where the Doctor buys Amy and Rory a flat and a car and leaves them to face the adventures of ordinary life.  Karen Gillan stole this scene, packing two years’ worth of emotions into one final goodbye, and though I suspect we will see Amy Pond again, that would have been a very fitting final moment for the character.  It should also be noted that this subtle, nuanced companion send-off is a lot more dramatically satisfying than the apocalyptic scenarios that always booted companions of the Russell T Davies era off the TARDIS.  

In terms of seasonal structure, Amy and Rory’s farewell retroactively adds importance to every ‘standalone’ of the season.  Moffat’s episodes this year have all been about narrative momentum, but the standalones all did their part in pushing the Doctor to the moment where he has to destroy Amy’s faith.  Whether it be Rory almost dying in “Curse of the Black Spot,” or Amy being turned into a doll in “Night Terrors,” or the very obvious torment the couple suffered in “The Girl Who Waited,” all those seemingly insignificant stories built towards the ending of “The God Complex.”  I still think season six has been messier than season five, but this week’s bold ending adds a tremendous, well-earned sense of direction, and makes the entire season feel cohesive, rather than just bits and pieces.

I don’t want to sell the rest of the hour short by only focusing on the ending, though, because I loved most everything about “The God Complex.”  The Hotel itself was really just one giant metaphor designed to teach the Doctor a lesson, but it was still a very cool sci-fi conceit in its own right, and gave director Nick Hurran ample opportunity to homage Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining” (if only the gorilla had been a man in a bear suit!).  More importantly, I liked the guest characters along for the ride, especially Gibbis, the coward from an oft-invaded planet.  Gibbis provided an endless well of comic relief; he seems like a character Douglas Adams would have dreamt up, and if Doctor Who ever feels compelled to visit Gibbis’ home world, I would absolutely be along for the ride. 

Taking the ending out of the equation, “The God Complex” was everything one can hope for out of an ordinary Doctor Who episode.  A creepy, well-executed premise, inventive sets and guest characters, a frightening villain, and good use of the core trio.  “The God Complex” is great, however, because it uses all those elements to push our characters forward, something every episode of the show should strive to do; redeeming past inconsistencies in series six is just icing on the cake, albeit much appreciated icing.

Only two episodes left.  I can’t wait to see where this all is headed.


--Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill are signed on to appear next season, though it’s been hinted they won’t be fulfilling the same central capacity as before.  That makes sense after tonight’s episode; I think this was a natural conclusion to their story, but if the show wants to check in on the Ponds from time to time, I would have no objections whatsoever. 
--I’m also guessing that the Doctor’s decision to part ways from the Ponds has something to do with his impending death, which was again foreshadowed here.  We know that the Doctor will see Amy and Rory again when he dies, but for them, this event has already happened.
--The room numbers were a nice touch: the Doctor’s was “11” (as in eleventh Doctor) and Amy’s was “7” (as in seven-year-old girl).
--Of course the Doctor has a degree in cheese-making.  Why wouldn’t he?

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