Tuesday, September 20, 2011

"The God Complex"

It's becoming a bit passé in the New Series to invoke heavy deconstructions of Doctor Who's fundamental principles but this Toby Whithouse-penned episode does it with a great deal more aplomb than what we've had recently. I could go into cack-handed examples from the previous era but these could be summed up basically with the phrase "nobody's perfect". This was pretty much all it had to say about the Doctor regardless of how much people go on about his 'dark side'. We also got "regeneration isn't just a change of appearance." Under Moffat we've had the idea that the Doctor is some kind of monster. He was the most dangerous being in the universe, interestingly enough, in "The Pandorica Opens", but by the time of "A Good Man Goes To War" we have River clunkily informing the Doctor that he's become his own worst enemy or something to that effect because a group of people went to desperate measures to get at him. Of course we also had things like "what if the ever-personified TARDIS was literally personified?" and all sorts of dashedly clever notions like that flying around with various degrees of ineptitude. It's perhaps then understandable why I might be a bit dubious about any more instances of this situation where we're shown or told that "what you take for granted in Doctor Who might be worth reconsidering!" It's like being constantly served cups of lukewarm tea; it's good in the most basic sense possible but it's repetitive and poorly executed. How, then, to buck the trend?
The Doctor, and "assembled Ponds" find themselves in a cheesy, cheap hotel. Are we having the horror of human mediocrity rammed in our face again so soon after the "Night Terrors" council estate? No; the Doctor is quick to inform us that we're not on Earth. Still looks like somewhere on Earth though, doesn't it? Amy and Rory seem rather put out that they're on boring old Earth, or at least somewhere that looks like it, not a spectacular and fascinating alien landscape. Can't remember the last time we saw one of them when it wasn't for one scene or part of a hologram or illusion. It's revealed at the end that we're on a holodeck prison "decked out" (if you'll pardon the pun) to look like a cheesy hotel and stuck on that setting. How convenient!
Anyway the Doctor, Amy and Rory run into two stiffs and a mole person in the lobby. There's a further stiff tied up in the dining room. If this is, as we later learn, a space-faring prison which abducts residents from various planets, why do we have to have so many humans and only one alien who looks basically like a bald, pointy-eared human with a snub nose and rat teeth? He's even wearing human clothes. My god this show is unimaginative sometimes. We have Rita, the oh-so-clever token minority medical student who the Doctor immediately takes a shine to because of how "clever" she is, which in New Who terms means is kind of smug and annoying. Notice how the "clever" ie smug and annoying men, for instance Luke Rattigan in the Sontaran two-parter, are always seen as incredibly duff by the Doctor, but the women are always "brilliant". Yet we're expected to believe that he's not just some intergalactic player who zooms around picking up chicks? Of course our young male is Howie the conspiracy theorist girl-fearing blogger nutjob, which is to say Steven Moffat's mental image of every Doctor Who fan. Resident mole person du jour is Gibbis in a rather generic piece of casting with David Walliams being given his two normal roles of providing mild-to-negligible comic relief and making you feel slightly uncomfortable, often at the same time. Frankly I think he could have been used in a less typecast fashion.
Anyway they find out that something in the hotel is making everyone go snooker-loopy and start praising a Minotaur who is ambling around the corridors. Initial loopy unwilling hotel guest
à la carte is gambler Joe, yet another human tied up in a chair and surrounded by ventriloquist dummies. Now ventriloquist dummies, especially the "old-fashioned scary ones" as Big Train  famously described them, are indeed an unsettling sight, but if everyone had their own room, how come Joe's tied up in a dining room full of ventriloquist dummies, rather than there just being a bedroom with one sitting there? Where'd they come from? This never happens to anyone else. All other fears are contained in the applicable room. After Howie starts praising the Minotaur in the dining room we don't see it fill up with skanky chav girls mocking his stutter. Maybe Joe's room was the dining room? Doesn't seem very likely though, does it? Everyone else has a bedroom. It's just a weird inconsistency where they, as usual, prioritized spectacle over consistency. Ah, New Who. I hope that if I rub your nose in your own poo often enough one day you'll learn to do it outside.
So Howie, Rita and Gibbis get spooked by their respective rooms and Gambler Joe is killed by the Minotaur. His organs have apparently just stopped working and to the Doctor it's as if all these emotions have been sucked out of him. I'm fairly sure "loves" are mentioned, as are "faiths and fears", which become important to the plot. Yet of course our emotions are our life. Suck out someone's "faith", in this case, and they're dead. I'm fairly sure emotion is described as an energy at some point. It's all this sort of awkward "soul" type depiction of sentient existence which seemed a little implicit in last episode's angle as well - somehow your mind or thoughts or consciousness have some kind of life of their own distinct from their body. I guess that all seems very nice in some ways but it sounds rather na
ïve and wishy-washy to me. The term "magical thinking" is once again peeking out from under the dresser.
Wow. Can you believe I actually liked this episode?
Well on a more positive note I can say that the magical thinking which normally comes across as just lazy or frivolous writing is actually related to this episode's concept of faith, really - the idea that your thoughts can somehow impose upon reality, or at least your perception of it. The Minotaur feeds on faith, yet faith is also what keeps Rita and Amy going; it can be both a strength and a weakness. Cowardice is characterised as an ultimately aggressive action, and Gibbis is a survivor where the others are lost. Things are certainly ambiguous. Rory, curiously, has no faith. He just keeps being shown the exit. It's a nice bit of character development which, coupled with the past tense usage the Doctor points out, shows that he has become a good deal more self-reliant and secure.
Of course the Minotaur is an unwilling villain and the Doctor must break the cycle of faith in order to deny it its food source and thus euthanise it. The scene where he convinces Amy of his selfishness and vanity in taking her as a companion is well written and excellently performed by Matt Smith. Of course this also rather neatly reveals why he might be more interested in people like Rita, who are good for his ego. It's very reminiscent, of course, of the Seventh Doctor making Ace lose faith in him in "The Curse of Fenric" but here it's a good deal more difficult to tell whether or not he's lying. This is what makes it more effective than Moffat having River preachily tell us that the Doctor's gone wrong or something. It's ambiguous but the effect is the same; to save his companions the Doctor is forced to admit his faults and realise his mistakes. Rita tells him that he has a "god complex" - he thinks of himself as the only one who can save the day, but in this instance the only reason he can save anyone is by shattering Amy's faith in him, which is to say denying his own position of "godhood" or role as an object of faith. It's very elegantly crafted and portrayed in the end and of course it can only conclude with Amy and Rory's departure from the TARDIS team.
I suppose it may seem corny to some that the Doctor gives Amy and Rory a house and a nice car but since he's come to this realisation it's better than just ditching them the way it normally happens. It's a shame to see them go but simultaneously it's a much better way of having them leave than the fake-out "deaths" and forcible departures we've had in the not-so-distant past. I suppose this is a unique situation, at least for the New Series, in that despite the Doctor's absence Amy and Rory still have each other, which is something bigged up a lot, especially from the previous episode. When was the last time that happened? Ian and Barbara? Maybe Ben and Polly? At least these two are married. It makes more sense for them to leave this way.
It was also nice to see the Nimon referenced in regard to the Minotaur considering the relative similarity of both their appearance and their modus operandi. I don't see why it couldn't have just been a Nimon flat-out but there you go. There was some good humour in this episode and while it was at times a little bland in terms of setting or characterisation for the non-regulars it did its job well. I'm certainly getting the impression that they were saving an awful lot of money for the finale though. The departure of our companions was touching but it would have been more poignant without Murray Gold lathering on the tear-jerking female choral music with a bulldozer. Nonetheless it was a relatively strong point of the series and has again depicted how much better these stand-alones are than the arc. So far with the exception of the first part this half of the series has come across as a good deal stronger than the first. Let's just hope that after all this deconstruction we aren't left with nothing to rebuild.

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