Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Doctor Who: The God Complex

Apologies for the absence of bloggery and blogcraft. My computer suffered a severe maiming and a new hard drive was required, hence me reviewing a Saturday night show on Tuesday. [Spoilers lie herein, by the way].

This was much more to my liking than the previous episode. The Doctor and Ponds arrive, unexpectedly, in a rather bland hotel with irritating lobby music and three terrified, paranoid people (a conspiracy theorist geek, a mostly normal Muslim nurse and a habitually surrendering alien played very well by David Walliams).

It soon transpires that the hotel is filled with rooms, and in each room is a bad dream. After someone finds their specific worst nightmare they end up praising a minotaur, which then feeds (metaphorically) upon them, leaving the body intact but killing the worshipper.

The Doctor manages to chat, briefly, with the minotaur, and discovers that the beast is running on instinct, feeding when it can but not desiring life any more.

The Doctor initially advises everyone to focus upon their faith, but shortly thereafter realises that that’s the problem. Most of the people captured (Rory being an exception) have strong faith systems, whether luck* (one of the early victims was a gambler), religion or, in Amy’s case, in the Doctor.

Amy starts to praise the minotaur, and they manage to manhandle her into a room, which happens to be her own (with a young Amy Pond). The Doctor tells her that he didn’t want her, he just wanted someone to admire him because he was vain, and destroys her faith in him. The minotaur collapses due to lack of food and slowly dies, as the hotel around it is revealed to be a kind of holo-deck in a floating prison.

The minotaur tells the Doctor of an ancient creature travelling the universe in a shifting maze prison, desiring nothing but an end and suggesting that it speaks not only of itself, but of the Doctor too. At the end of the episode the Doctor drops off the Ponds at a nice little house with Rory’s favourite car, and leaves them because, as he tells Amy, “You’re still… breathing”.

There’s a lot to like in this episode. The concept was simple but quite cool, and it was moderately disturbing to see the sensible, intelligent nurse descend into a mindless, rapture-ridden worshipper, eager for her own death. Serious questions were raised about faith and the Doctor, and I rather liked it.

But, there are some flaws as well.

*Firstly, I’d disagree that gamblers believe in luck. I’d say they believe in analysis, knowledge, and weighing up of probabilities.

Secondly, it was suggested that the minotaur was imprisoned and ejected from its original home because the people became more secular and scientific, but a liberal religious perspective is entirely compatible with a scientific way of thinking.

However, those didn’t materially affect anything and I did enjoy the episode. It’s the best one since the mid-season break, I think.



  1. I think episodes like this show up the flaw of self contained single episode stories. This is one of those episodes that could have benefitted from being a two parter. I love it when Who does this having the straighforward beastly adventure for the kids with a whole layer of deep philosophical moralism overlaid for the bigger kids.

    Glad to hear your PC has come through its open hard-drive surgery!!

  2. Thanks, Mr. Burdett :)

    I preferred the old style 4-6 episodes of 30 minutes each. Better stories, plus Old Who didn't make the Doctor quite so smug and full of himself. He was a traveller around the Universe rather than the creature around whom the Universe revolved.

  3. "Firstly, I’d disagree that gamblers believe in luck. I’d say they believe in analysis, knowledge, and weighing up of probabilities."

    I think I have to partially disagree with you here - *successful* gamblers may believe in those things, but then the sort of people who can memorise a four deck shuffle and track it all the way through the dealer's shoe are not really gamblers any more. Unsuccessful gamblers, or people who gamble just for the buzz without caring too much whether they win or lose, are much more likely to believe it's all down to luck. There's no reason to believe the guy in the show wasn't one of the latter.

    Anyhow, although I liked the episode a lot, I was a bit irritated that they ripped the plot (of an alien masquerading as a god and forced into exile when the people worshipping him get just too secular and modern to fall for primitive delusions such as religion anymore, who captures our heroes who then have to find a way to successfully defy him before they can escape) wholesale from a classic Star Trek episode - "Who mourns for Adonais?" to be precise. A tad more originality would be nice...

  4. Well... yes. I must concede my blanket statement was broad-brush and some probably do believe in luck, but it still annoyed me.

    I think I remember that Star Trek episode. Did it actually feature the god/alien Apollo rather than Adonis?

  5. "Did it actually feature the god/alien Apollo rather than Adonis?"

    Yes. The title is actually a quote from Shelley's poem "Adonais", which was an elegy on the death of John Keats and nothing to do with the mythic figure.

    "Who mourns for Adonais? Oh, come forth,
    Fond wretch! and know thyself and him aright.
    Clasp with thy panting soul the pendulous Earth;
    As from a centre, dart thy spirit's light
    Beyond all worlds, until its spacious might
    Satiate the void circumference: then shrink
    Even to a point within our day and night;
    And keep thy heart light lest it make thee sink
    When hope has kindled hope, and lured thee to the brink."

    Anybody who questions the dumbing down of contemporary TV should be asked to meditate on the likelihood of a popular SciFi show getting away with an obscure poetic allusion like that these days:-/