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New Who 6.11, The God Complex

I should have posted this review nearly two weeks ago now, but was feeling very sluggish at the time, thanks to what ms_siobhan calls 'the ladygrims', and just didn't have the surplus brain-power while also greeting new students and finishing articles. I seem to be back to normal now, but still had to prioritise my article until I knew I had managed to meet the deadline for it. Still, any time before the season finale counts, right?

Anyway, this story was pretty damned good for me, and certainly one of the stronger episodes of the season, but I felt it didn't quite have the same emotional weight as The Girl Who Waited. Part of that, of course, is because the emotional weight of the previous story should still have been hanging pretty heavily on Rory at least, if not Amy and the Doctor as well, in this one. I mean, doesn't the younger Amy have questions about exactly how she was rescued, and what happened to the older Amy afterwards? But apart from a brief comment about Rory speaking of his time in the TARDIS in the past tense, the last episode might as well not have happened for him or Amy - and nor, indeed, might any of their experiences from earlier in the season. The more this happens, the more the interactions between the characters feel hollow to me, and I think that is a real pity. I'm not only person to be feeling increasingly dissatisfied about this, either - see e.g. Andrew Hickey in the penultimate paragraph of this post for a good expression of the problem.

In fairness, obviously one of this episode's major jobs was to address the Doctor's role as an arbitrary god-figure claiming control over his companions' lives, draw out the parallels between him and a traditional monster-figure (the nearly-Nimon), and bring it all to a head by making him decide to take Amy and Rory back to a safe life on Earth. So on paper at least we are starting to see some acknowledgement of the traumas which they have all been through together. But even that trajectory felt somewhat empty to me. I mean, we've had much the same thing with the Tenth Doctor very recently, and in any case of course we know as the Doctor says goodbye to Amy and Rory that this isn't really the end, so it's hard to whip up the appropriate emotional engagement with the scene.

Oh well. Meanwhile, I did like the realisation of The God Complex. Obviously I particularly loved the re-imagining of the labyrinth with the minotaur at its heart, and in some ways felt sorry for Toby Whithouse that Doctor Who has used that idea before, especially since The Horns of Nimon just isn't in the same league as this story. But I'm also glad that the Nimons got an explicit shout-out, because for all the heavy-handed hokiness of the story which featured them, I absolutely love them as monsters! I also liked the attention drawn to the fake '80s setting of the hotel, starting with the cassette tape and carrying right on through the cheese plant and the Rubik's cube. It meant that the characters were operating in a metaphorical film-set again, while the running up and down corridors made the reference more specific - it's an archetypal Doctor Who set-up, acknowledged as a pretence.

Mirrors have been rather prominent throughout this season, as appropriate given the doppelgangers and parallel universes which have also been scattered throughout it, and I wasn't at all surprised to see them cropping up in this story too - particularly in the Pasiphae Spa, where the Doctor first confronts the nearly-Nimon, surrounded by mirrors and water-features.

I was also particularly struck by this image very early on in the story:


It's not quite as obvious from the screencap as it seemed in live action, but on the wall behind the Doctor's head are a pair of bull's horns, and the angle of the shot makes him appear to be wearing them, nicely fore-shadowing the parallel with the nearly-Nimon - whose name, too, later turns out to be lost, just like the Doctor's (as we were carefully reminded the following week). The apple he's eating is surely Significant as well. Not only does it recall the story of Adam and Eve, and thus give us a Doctor who is apparently casually and maybe even hubristically unperturbed by any higher power, but it also recalls his first meeting with Amelia / Amy, and the role which the apple with the smiley face carved into it played in the process of winning her trust in the first place.

The opposite end of that process comes in this story as well, with Amy's faith in the Doctor now explicitly acknowledged as misplaced, an active danger to her, and in need of breaking to save them all. I knew as I watched it that I had seen that basic story-arc playing out in Doctor Who before, and am very grateful to parrot_knight for saving me from having to scroll through endless episode synopses to work out where: Seven and Ace's The Curse of Fenric, which is of course also from this story's theme-world of the 1980s.

Meanwhile, I liked the basic cabin-fever set-up, and especially Rita, the Muslim woman who gets to be the 'clever one', and even outlives two out of the three male guest characters. On the whole I felt that her character was presented with a great deal of positivity and dignity, but I did feel some disquiet when we got to the point where the Doctor explained that the nearly-Nimon had been sucking people into his prison because of their faith, so that he could feed on it. This means that in the end, when Rita (like the other characters with their own equivalents) dies for being generally religious, she is unfortunately also dying specifically for being a Muslim. I think the problem here was equivalent to the fundamental problem with the Drahvins in Galaxy Four - that what the production team were trying to do was present a strong and clever and interesting female Muslim character, but that meanwhile they hadn't quite picked up on the fact that the particular situation which they put her into meant that she effectively ended up dying because she is a Muslim. The comparison with the Drahvins is rather unfair, because overall, her character is portrayed almost infinitely more positively than theirs. It's a very near miss. But it still went a bit awry there at the end.

Meh, there's probably other stuff I would have said about this episode if I'd got round to writing it up earlier. It was clever and gripping, made good use of its characters, and dropped in plenty of interesting symbolism and continuity references for geeky types like me to chew over. But I think that will do for now. Here's looking forward to the season finale, and hopefully a few resolutions, tomorrow evening. :-)

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Comments

( 13 comments — Leave a comment )
parrot_knight
Sep. 30th, 2011 10:56 pm (UTC)
Absence of emotional weight is really felt in this half-series. We are skating dangerously close to Time-Flight territory, where Adric's death is dealt with in a perfunctory manner.
strange_complex
Oct. 1st, 2011 08:05 am (UTC)
Yes, indeed. In fact, in some ways the writers of the Fifth Doctor era did a better job of dealing with emotional weight than Moffat's team are at the moment. At least Tegan's eventual departure in Resurrection of the Daleks was linked with the traumatic experiences she had had while travelling with the Doctor. Russell T. Davies has changed the game, making us expect a far greater degree of emotional impact and plausibility than we ever got in the Classic series - and now that that change has been made, going backwards feels like a loss. The only way this season's long arc can now be redeemed in my eyes is if the finale includes the Doctor saying something along the lines of "Didn't you think it was strange that you never experienced any real grief when you lost your baby? Aha, well, that was because X, Y and Z mysterious alien forces were at work!", and then sorting it all out. I don't see much indication that that's going to happen, though.
kernowgirl
Sep. 30th, 2011 11:13 pm (UTC)
I enjoyed it very much, but agree about Rita, who was definitely a character that you didn't want to die. I did wish the doctor was serious when he fired Amy upon meeting Rita!

One of the things that struck me was that the doctor insisted early on that nobody else was dying--all part of the god complex, of course, but there's been at least a few instances where he's said that in the series (or promised a specific person that they wouldn't die), and he's been right, to the point that I was beginning to roll my eyes at it. Nice to see that trope lampshaded and killed off!
strange_complex
Oct. 1st, 2011 08:11 am (UTC)
Yes, that's true about the 'nobody dies' trope, although he isn't always right when he says it. I'm pretty sure he makes a similar promise early on in Voyage of the Damned, but then most of the people he's making it to do die, including Astrid. But yes - at this point in the series, where the story obviously required him to lose faith in his own ability to save people, that was certainly an effective way of doing it.
steepholm
Oct. 1st, 2011 10:01 am (UTC)
Do we know that it isn't the end when he parks Amy and Rory? I'm not up on the goss.

Perhaps the apple is this Doctor's emblematic fruit? Nine had potassium-rich bananas, of course - but I'll leave it to you to fill in the blanks...
strange_complex
Oct. 1st, 2011 10:48 am (UTC)
Yes - cast lists and promo pics show that they're in tonight's finale. Besides, it hardly felt like the 'real' goodbyes which we have seen with Rose, Martha and Donna (some of which themselves later turned out not to be so final after all).

An apple a day keeps the Doctor away, of course - so maybe it is also another foreshadowing of his coming 'end' (which won't be, of course).
steepholm
Oct. 1st, 2011 10:49 am (UTC)
Malus aforethought...
strange_complex
Oct. 1st, 2011 11:08 am (UTC)
Oh, you get a very big gold STAR for that:

Latin pun-making on a Saturday morning! There should definitely be a medal.
strange_complex
Oct. 1st, 2011 11:09 am (UTC)
(Bah, although my default journal style has apparently stripped out the gold-ness. You will have to imagine that bit.)
steepholm
Oct. 1st, 2011 11:16 am (UTC)
Thank you! And the gold showed up fine in my inbox. :)
maviscruet
Oct. 1st, 2011 11:15 am (UTC)
I have to say this was one of my favourite episodes for a while - I really enjoyed it. It was creepy, strange, and rather messed up.

The thing is I'm rather enjoying the "lack of emotional weight" compared to the later tennet era which made me role my eyes and go "Oh COME ON!" a lot.

My only problem with the series is that somehow I arranged to do something right over dr who this evening.... god bless iplayer what I say. Oh and I'd say Moffet has almost Lucas levels to disapoint with this climax. He's built up to it for 11 episodes if it's not a) a twist and b) something that has been referenced before I'll be upset..... So he's got a hard job ahead of him.
ms_siobhan
Oct. 1st, 2011 11:33 am (UTC)
Do you know I dislike Amy almost as much as I dislike the ladygrims ;-)

I did watch bits of the cyberman one last week (I was in and out of the kitchen) and I was heartily cheered that neither Amy or Rory were in any of the bits I saw. I quite liked the scarey cyber mouse thing too.
pingback_bot
Oct. 2nd, 2011 11:45 am (UTC)
Saturday, 1st October, 2011
User wnnb_darklord referenced to your post from Saturday, 1st October, 2011 saying: [...] with a review of the God Complex [...]
( 13 comments — Leave a comment )

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