The God Complex A Retrospect From Room 11
By Paul Bowler
It has been a fantastic year for Doctor Who. The show has regularly achieved high ratings and been showered with glowing reviews, we were treated to Impossible Astronauts, Hitler in a cupboard, and even a wedding – but there was one episode above all that got fans talking and speculating about the mythology of Doctor Who; and that episode was The God Complex. When the TARDIS is thrown off course during their trip to the planet Ravan-Skala, the Doctor, Amy, and Rory find themselves stranded in a mysterious Hotel. With it’s tacky 80’s décor and rooms filled with horrifying secrets: Weeping Angels, Clowns, and savage Gorillas – the Time Travellers are soon fighting for their lives against the unspeakable monstrosity that stalks these nightmarish halls with only their wits and a handful of guests left to help them.
Being Human creator Toby Whitehouse is no stranger to Doctor Who, with 2006’s School Reunion and last years The Vampires of Venice, he is probably one of the few writers this season truly vested in the art of creating such a wonderfully perplexing; and macabre experience as The God Complex ultimately delivers. The Hotel itself is a twisting conundrum that closely resembles MC Escher’s Klimmen en Dalen, in that it is a maze of constantly shifting corridors and rooms with no discernable point of logic or perspective to bond it in reality. Doctor Who seldom dips its toe into such horrific imagery as seen in The God Complex, but Whitehouse goes for the jugular on several occasions. Toby Whitehouse mines a rich seam of horror influences in The God Complex. The Shining is an obvious, and unavoidable, comparison – as is the videogame Silent Hill 2 which also shares the psychological terror of the unstoppable Pyramid head – but neither is comparable to Whitehouse’s incongruous descent into Sci-Fi’s twilight hour.
That brings us nicely to the monster of the piece, the magnificent Minotaur. This is not the first time the Doctor has faced such a beast. The creature first appeared in The Land of Fiction in the 1968 story The Mind Robber, and again in a more mythical incarnation during 1972’s The Time Monster, and even the Fourth Doctor claimed to have a hand in the Minotaur’s legend. The Minotaur in The God Complex is a triumph of costume design, kitted out with superb animatronics; we have a monster that is sure to evoke a few nightmares in younger viewers. This beast feeds on the faith of its victims, luring them to their deaths with images of their own fears, until they fall babbling at its feet – almost welcoming the end – with cries of “Praise Him” as they die.
The God Complex is blessed with a fine supporting cast: David Williams gives a suitably quiet and unsettling performance as the cowardly Mole-Creature Gibbs, Daniel Pirre is positively chilling as the unhinged Jo, and Sarah Quintrell effectively plays the intuitive Medic who ultimately sacrifices herself to give the Doctor and his friends more time. At times though it does feel like The God Complex is playing out an intergalactic version of Ten Little Indians, but the suspense is ably handled by Whitehouse’s clever script to always leave us wondering which character will be next to face their fears and fall beneath the gaze of the Minotaur.
Of course the key moment in The God Complex comes when the Doctor and Amy come across their rooms. After their encounter with the Weeping Angels earlier in the episode, we know these images are nothing more than highly sophisticated illusions, but it is the allure of the Doctor facing his own fears that make the secrets of Room 11 all the more terrifying as the Cloister Bell rings out when the Doctor opens the door. The Time Lords deepest fears remain unseen: Daleks, The Master, River Song, the death of the TARDIS, eternal loneliness, and even his own catastrophic part in the Time War that changed the universe forever are all possible contenders for the Doctor’s greatest nightmares. I prefer the notion that the Doctor saw something of his companions fate and the ultimate price that Amy Pond will pay for her trust in the Doctor; a fate which might very well be a paradox of the Doctor’s own inevitable demise.
Whatever the Doctor saw, it gives him the answers he needs to defeat the Minotaur – but to do so he must first destroy everything Amy believes in. Has the Doctor finally realized the impact of his decision to return to the little girl who made him fish fingers and custard during his post regenerative mania? How he has constantly broken and twisted the laws of time to suit Amy, Rory, and to a lesser extent, himself. As he pleads with Amy, we see her younger self again, raw and innocent, and suddenly we can almost imagine what Amy saw back in Room 7 – a mad man in a blue box – and in an heartbeat we know that it spells the end of the glorious Ponds’ adventures with the Doctor.
The climax of The God Complex is something of a dual edged sword. With the Minotaur dead, the Hotel is revealed to be a holographic maze on board a prison ship drifting through space, gathering tributes for sacrifice from across the galaxy, and the Minotaur is actually a distant cousin of the Nimon’s!
The Minotaur’s dying words proffers a chilling observation for the Doctor, one that may one day have far reaching repercussions for the TARDIS crew, as well as the Doctor himself. But before fans can start spitting fire and begin leafing through their discontinuity guides, the Doctor whisks Amy and Rory back home to Earth. Matt Smith, Karen Gillan, and Arthur Darvill are a joy to watch in this impromptu epilogue as each of them suddenly has to face up to the reality of what their adventures together now mean for them.
The God Complex is a disturbingly good horror story, one which sometimes meanders, but gently delivers its shocking ending with a euphoric charm that leaves us gazing in disbelief – much like Amy as she watches the Doctor walk out of her life. It blindsides you completely, and is one of the sixth seasons most startling twists so far.
The God Complex is a story guaranteed to mystify as much as it colludes with your imagination, and whether the secrets of Room 11 are really part of The Moff’s grand design or just posthumous supposition on our part, still remain to be seen. Loaded with more subtext than a Dining Hall full of ventriloquists dummies, and with more layers than a Rubik’s cube, Toby Whitehouse has dared to make us ask who, or what, a Time Lord might actually pray to. Not since the Curse of Fenric has the Doctor’s motives for choosing his travelling companions been called into question so literally, but The God Complex’s delicious juxtaposition of Ace’s dilemma has spawned another fine episode in a season that has continued to surpass all expectations.