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“Doctor Who”: “The God Complex” Review (SPOILERS)

I certainly was not expecting this episode to end how it did. From the trailer, I, like most people I think, assumed this would just be another standalone scary-thing episode in the same vein as “Night Terrors,” but Toby Whithouse’s “The God Complex” turned into something far deeper and more impactful.

If last week’s “The Girl Who Waited” was about Amy’s relationship with Rory, and Rory’s relationship with the Doctor, “The God Complex” was about Amy’s relationship with the Doctor, and his relationship with himself and companions in general. While a good portion of the “plot” of the story doesn’t make as much sense as it might, the overall emotional impact of the episode and its reflection on its characters was spot on.  To anyone saying the Steven Moffat era lacks the complex character arcs of the Russell T. Davies era, I point you in the direction of this series. I don’t think I’ve seen a series of Doctor Who MORE about character. I don’t think that’s what any of us expected.

The episode begins, as so many do, with the TARDIS landing somewhere that nobody knows where it is.  In this case, it’s a perfect replica of a 1980s Earth hotel, complete with clashing decor, long hallways, and weird, twisty staircases.  They had been trying to go to a planet with 700 foot tall people you can only speak to with the help of hot air balloons. It always seems like the places they try to go sound way cooler than where they actually end up. But no matter.  Also, does the Doctor call Rory “Mickey?” Is that what he says? I can’t tell.  Regardless, this hotel is not as it seems. In the pre-credit sequence, we see a young police woman roaming the halls, going into various rooms and seeing apparitions of creepy things until finally she enters HER room, where the brutal gorilla that frightened her as a child resides.  It is at this point that she begins to chant “Praise Him,” and a large, horned creature comes to get her.

From this, it would seem this is a haunted, Shining-type hotel with all manner of nastiness lurking in the rooms. However, naturally, nothing is as it seems.  The crew almost immediately meets four more people, three Earthlings and an alien sheep from a constantly-conquered planet, and find out that all them awoke there with no memory of how they arrived.  Over time, each of them sees their darkest fears and to overcome them, they begin worshipping the Minotaur creature, eventually dying when it feeds upon their worship. Turns out, it’s a prison for the Minotaur which automatically captures people, shows them their greatest fear, gets them to renounce whatever beliefs they carry in favor of worshipping the creature, who then feeds on them.

Some things in the episode that didn’t make sense: 1) Why would the prison look like an Earth hotel if it captured people from all over the universe? 2) Why would an alien prison be made to look like something from Earth in the first place? 3) How is a prison sitting in outer space able to even abduct people from all over the universe? 4) Why is it that when people start praising the beast, they see the printed words “Praise Him” in various fonts?  That last one’s less important. Whatever the plot holes involved, the idea of the Minotaur, a relative of the Nimon for us Classic Who fans, is an interesting and different one.  This half-season seems to be fixated on the idea of bad guys that aren’t really bad.  None of these four episodes yet have actually had a proper villain. “Let’s Kill Hitler” had River and/or the Teselecta, “Night Terrors” has the little alien kid, “The Girl Who Waited” had the handbots, and now this one has the Minotaur who doesn’t want to do what he’s doing.  Remember when there’d be a bad guy in every episode? I’m not necessarily saying this is a bad thing, but it’s just happening a lot.  Thank cripes for next week when we get the Cybermen back. Nothing sympathetic about that lot.

Of course, Nimon cousin aside, this episode is really about the Doctor. He realizes, finally before it’s too late, that the Doctor makes his companions believe in him wholeheartedly and that can, and often does, lead to their death.  In a scene reminiscent of “The Curse of Fenric,” the Doctor tells Amy she has to lose her faith in him, that he’s not a hero, just a madman in a box.  The character of Rita was a great addition and will join the ranks of companions who might’ve been.  She’s the one who first seeds the idea in the Doctor that he’s big into being worshipped, or at the very least admired, and how dangerous it is.  He knows he leads people into danger, sometimes death, and yet he still tries to recruit her with the promise of a box of sweets and all of time and space.  No matter how good his intentions, he is sort of like an intergalactic drugs pusher, using the promise of adventure to get innocent people to come aboard.  Matt Smith, perhaps better than any other Doctor (I look forward to your letters), can portray quiet self-loathing and pained remorse without going too far or too big with it.

In “The Girl Who Waited,” the Doctor got to see the result of his failure to save Amy, a bitter, angry woman, and also that he grooms others to be like him, forcing Rory to do things he flatly opposes.  In “The God Complex,” the Doctor now sees that it’s his companions’ faith in him that can lead to resentment, bitterness, and failure.  But he, too, had a room in the hotel.  He also believes in something wholeheartedly and fears something enough to manifest it.  Though we never actually see it in the episode, it’s fairly clear to me what it was. When the Doctor opens HIS door, fittingly room 11, he looks in and says, “Of course. Who else?” As he shuts the door, we hear single ring of the cloister bell from the TARDIS. As we’ve seen in “The Doctor’s Wife,” the Doctor adores the TARDIS and knows it to be his one true companion.  He believes in it entirely and fears losing it.  So subtle, but also blatantly obvious if you think about it.

The episode ends right where I wasn’t expecting it to end, but right where it needed to.  After all he’s done to them, he drops off Amy and Rory at their new flat, with a brand new sports car.  He’s choosing to make them leave before he hurts them any further.  This is a gesture no other Doctor has made and one that shows the Eleventh Doctor, for all his lying and deceit, is indeed a good man. Surely they’ll return in the finale, but if the story of Rory and Amy ended this season, as much as I like both characters, I would not be sad about it.  There isn’t much else to do with them as characters and they deserve a happy ending. Whether they actually get one is another story entirely…

On first viewing, I wasn’t sold on the episode as a whole, but upon reflection and second viewing, after knowing what the episode actually was, I knew it to be another fantastic episode for the season.  While not as scary as I wanted it to be, even though laughing dummies is certainly one of my many fears, “The God Complex” delivered in its exploration of the Doctor and the nature of his relationship to companions.  For the second week in a row, Nick Hurran’s direction was fantastic, in a completely different way than with “The Girl Who Waited.”  Let’s hope he gets added to the permanent roster along with Toby Haynes and Adam Smith (if they hopefully bring him back).  David Walliams from Little Britain, a huge Doctor Who fan himself, gave an interesting performance as Gibbis, the sheep person, but the entire guest cast was great.  Not surprisingly, Smith, Gillan, and Darvil were brilliant, and, in particular, the end scenes between the Doctor and Amy were compelling and moving.  It’s times like this you realize the Doctor isn’t just a hero, a savior, a god; he’s a guy who makes friends and wants what’s best for them, even if it means leaving them alone.

Next week’s episode looks great. It sees the return of Craig (James Corden) from Series 5’s “The Lodger,” as well as my favorite villains, the Cybermen.  Let’s take a look at Gareth Roberts’ “Closing Time”:

Hooray for things!!!!

-Kanderson thinks you could praise him. If you wanted. Or maybe just follow him on TWITTER.

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  1. Josh Man says:

    @HK in reference to Matt Smith playing the clown, they admitted it was him at the Doctor Who panel at Comic-Con in San Diego when they showed clips from this episode.

  2. HK says:

    A couple people have been saying that Matt Smith is playing the clown. Is there confirmation on this? I keep looking at photos of that scene and I have a hard time believing it…

    Also, I agree with the apple and rub-ix cube things. They are so blatant – I can’t tell if they are red herrings or very important to the next few episodes (only two left!)

  3. Livius says:

    How crazy would it be if The Doctor and his Ganger were switching places the whole time.

  4. Rekabmot says:

    I had a lot of trouble following this episode. So much of what they said was incomprehensible to me. I was constantly rewinding scenes trying to understand them. Their accents were thicker than I can ever remember them being.

    Strangley this feels more like a build to a series finale instead of a season finale. It feels like they are trying to shut it down. Since that isn’t what is happening I am having trouble keeping up.

    Also didn’t Tom Baker release Sarah Jane safe and sound? Landed the Tardis and said something along the lines of here you are.

    I also noticed and was confused by the apple and the rubics cube. What the hell was going on with fish?
    I thought that the Doctor saw himself in room 11.

    I have hope that this will all work out in a satisfying way that allows for another season of Doctor Who.

  5. Thomas Gates says:

    The thing i noticed on why the prison was configured the way it was is that the computer was glitching and it was stuck on that hotel (i assume very similarly to the chameleon circuit), but it still picked up on peoples fear and made them revert to the most basic instincts which allowed something to convert their belief into a useable from of energy.

  6. Nick says:

    The only problem I had with this episode was about the minotaur himself. Maybe I missed something but it seemed like he was given this space station/starship to travel around and abduct believers to feast on by people who had gotten too advanced and stopped believing. It makes no sense for them to do that to others, maybe I misunderstood and it’s the remaining believers that built his “sanctuary” but that wasn’t the impression I got from the episode.

  7. uncanny expat says:

    “This half-season seems to be fixated on the idea of bad guys that aren’t really bad. None of these four episodes yet have actually had a proper villain. “Let’s Kill Hitler” had River and/or the Teselecta, “Night Terrors” has the little alien kid, “The Girl Who Waited” had the handbots, and now this one has the Minotaur who doesn’t want to do what he’s doing. ”

    I picked up on this too and wondered if it’s significant or intentional. If you go back to the first half of the season, you also had the Black Spot doctor program and possibly the Astronaut.

    @sal: I think it was just that Gibbis ate the fish (noticeable if you pay attention to the surveillance monitors.) Probably just a quick moment of comic relief.

  8. Vincent S says:

    I thought this episode was so great. It was awesome that the minotaur is just some story element or something. I thought they’d finally explain the Suntaren (?) nurse, the lizard lesbian (mini story kinda explains itself on the war episode) and other persons on “A good man goes to war”. Fraking love this two episode win streak! hehe, so good that they moved the pirate episode in front of the season. I agree on the gangers, it’s feels like a get out of jail card.

    :'( all of this good feelings bubbling inside… whatever it is that’s in the last episode is going to break my heart even harder. Uggh, Why do you force me to love you only for you to break my heart, Moffat!!!

  9. Also check out my badass TARDIS tattoo:

    (yes, work in progress. It will receive the TARDIS blue in 3 weeks.)

  10. @Kyle
    Read my post above! I think it’s the ganger from Rebel Flesh.

  11. sal says:

    Sooooo…. what was up with the fish?

  12. Ryan says:

    I love the subtle little reference towards the Fergs there in the 6th paragraph.

  13. Robin Burks says:

    I think I loved this episode because it reminded me of the Doctor Who I always enjoy. He’s investigating beasties and chasing monsters and trying to find out why the aliens are doing what they’re doing. At its basest form, it’s a very good episode. However, I love the realization he’s having about how he may not be the best thing for his companions and the scene where he’s leaving Amy was emotional for me, even though I haven’t really liked her a lot through this season.

    Both Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill are signed on for another season, but like you, I feel that maybe their time has come because I’m not sure where else their story can go. Amy has always been touch and go, for me, personally, and I feel that her only purpose on the show was to serve as River Song’s mother.

  14. Josh Man says:

    A few things I’m surprised you didn’t mention, although some of them were caught by commenters,

    The Doctor eats an apple, but hated apples in The Eleventh Hour.

    The Doctor solves a Rubix Cube, when the Doctor found it hopeless in Night Terrors

    and the Clown in the room was played by Matt Smith.

    In my post on this episode,

    I note that having the main actor play a role in makeup and without speaking lines (in other words, a part that could have been played by an Extra on the cheap) is definitely done for a reason, as is having the Doctor eat a food it has been established that this regeneration does not like, and play with a toy (and solve it without even mentioning it) that it has been established just two episodes ago (and yes I realize that originally the Night Terrors story was supposed to be in the first half of the season).

    All of this points to questions about the Doctor’s identity, but doesn’t point at the Doctor being a Ganger necessarily, since the Ganger Doctor was an exact copy of the Doctor and would also have suffered from Apple-dislike and Rubix Cube ineptness.

    Also, you say, “This is a gesture no other Doctor has made” and yet the very first Doctor does almost exactly the same thing locking his granddaughter Susan out of the TARDIS in The Dalak Invasion of Earth. So not only has the Doctor made this gesture before, but it happened to the very first companion of the show!

    Sorry, a bit nitpicky, but you know how we Whovians can sometimes be.

    Overall, good review, keep ’em coming!

  15. Emily says:

    Ok, Karen, Matt, and Arthur have all already signed up for season 7. So, they are coming back. To clear up confusion, he drops them of in the flat because it’s a set up for the doctor to send the letters that we saw in the beginning of the season (the invitation to Lake Silencio). The season is going backwards… it’s confusing…. I know….

  16. BungeeBall says:

    Am I the only one that thinks that Rory isn’t the Rory that was travelling with the Doctor from the start of this season?

    In this episode he speaks of traveling with the Doctor in the past tense. Rather than admit his slip of the tongue he denies it.

    Hes the only one of the group that is shown an Exit out of the maze and no room. That means he fears nothing and has faith in nothing as well. Rory at the start of the season had fears about many things.

    Ever since the Battle of Demons Run hes been much braver and stands up to the Doctor much more.

    I think some time during that Battle he was taken by the Clerics and his future self stepped in to keep the timeline intact. I think hes been brainwashed or just switched sides and is the person that kills the Doctor in the lake.

    When Rivers secret was being revealed and Amy was going to shoot her Rory raced in to stop her, his contempt for the Doctor has gotten greater since then, and hes been much more his own man in many ways.

    If its true my guess is that he was told by the Clerics how River is going to die and he thinks that by killing the Doctor he will stop that future event from happening to her.

  17. Kyle says:

    Does anybody else think something is up with The Doctor? The Apple he ate (As I recall Apples were not something he likes (Series 5 episode 1)). Also he plays with a Rubik’s Cube, Something else he doesn’t like (Series 6 Episode 9). I wonder what’s going on. Why does The Doctor eat a food he doesn’t like and play with a to he thinks is rubbish?

  18. three toes of fury says:

    loved the episode however didnt it kinda-sotra (exactly) feel like a mash up of the movie the Cube and the setting from The Shining? Actually early in the episode, just as they setup the whole “random people pulled into changing environment”, the Doctor has a rubics cube…i wasnt sure if that was a subtle reference to the movie?

  19. Dean says:

    One thing… I haven’t actually seen that serial so for all I know I’m completely wrong, but didn’t the first Doctor do a similar-ish thing with Susan in terms of making companions leave for their own good?

  20. Great review!

    I don’t think I was as positive about the episode as you though. I think the biggest problem in the episode was that it was too easy for the Doctor to take Amy’s faith away from her.

    But so many of the problems in the narrative of this episode stem directly from the writers having no idea of Amy as a character, as I discuss in more detail here:

  21. penty says:

    I had assumed Rory’s speaking in the past tense was an accidental drop of seeing the Doctor killed at the lake.

  22. Mr. Miskatonic says:

    To elaborate. He obliterated two races entirely. He failed them, but he saved us in the process. Technically, Time Lords and Daleks were killed because of his love for humans. If humanity (his salvation) turned on him forever, what could he do with himself?

  23. Mr. Miskatonic says:

    Am I silly for thinking he saw the Earth in the room? Think of all the humanity quotes etc and then the “Do not disturb” sign. Makes sense to me.

  24. Slughorn42 says:

    While we’re on the subject of companion deaths, here are some more names: Evelyn Smythe, Roz Forrester, Samantha Jones, Miranda, C’rizz, Lucie Miller. That is all.

  25. Livius says:

    Rory said “Well after all that time I spent with you in the TARDIS what was left to be scared off.” He said it in the past tense which means he’s scarred of something now. Maybe you’re right and he’s scarred of leaving.

  26. Sarah says:

    He calls him “Beaky” in reference to his nose. Remember at the end of Flesh and Stone when Amy tells the Doctor that she is getting married and he is asking who, he makes a gesture that Rory has a large nose. I thought it was a great throw back.

  27. Magnoliafan says:

    Anyone listen Kevin Smith’s smodcast this morning? He was explaining Doctor Who to his wife, it was actually kind sweet. They went over the ending to School Reunion and he started to cry.

  28. Maggie Kelly says:

    When Rory speaks in the past-tense ( while he and The Doctor are looking at the photos on the wall talking about fear), do you think he realized his and Amy’s time with The Doctor was coming to an end? The Doctor noticed it, then dropped it, do you think it’s something that will be answered in the finale? Did Rory simply misspeak? I think it’ll end up being something important… I just don’t know what…

  29. bahamut says:

    I’m guessing none of you saw it on BBC America? Otherwise someone would have mentioned the episode-ruining fast forward they did to accomodate it in the time slot. They speak fast enough as it is, and this made it nigh incomprehensible. It killed the impact of a lot of scenes and was very distracting. It honestly just ruined the whole episode for me. I just don’t get why they don’t let it run over the hour, like they do with Being Human, especially considering all that’s on afterwards is that recap special they’ve given 100 times.

  30. Kyle Anderson says:

    I would be very surprised and displeased if the gangers factored into the finale of the series.

    Also, @Chris Burgess,
    I always like to keep you on your toes. 😉

  31. ChelseaIRL says:

    @Michelle Leigh i noticed the apple thing, too! that bugged me. :/

  32. ChelseaIRL says:

    i completely agree about needing the second viewing. the first run through i was like, meh. the second time though, i thought it was brilliant. 🙂

  33. Nicole Marie says:

    People, people. We all know who the Doctor saw in room 11. It was Steven Moffat, the Doctor’s worst nightmare.

  34. Michelle Leigh says:

    Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill are signed on for the 7th season so they’ll be back.

    I’d like to think that The Doctor is in a different time line (maybe ganger)…see the whole rubik’s cube broken then completing it, and apple hatred then the love of apples.

  35. mechas8n says:

    One thing I really wanted was during the Doctors big emotional speech at the end where he says something like “Where should it end? On some distant planet. Standing over your broken body…or Rory’s body”

    I REEEEEALY wanted a little pause and “….again” there.

    Would have shot down the moment totally, going for the gag like that, but I really wanted that.

  36. Sawyer says:

    @Frank: Thanks for clarifying that. I know pitiful little about cars, and overreach a lot on theories, so it’s good to have a place like this where people rein me in.

  37. Livius says:

    I think the ganger plays a vital role in the finale.

    Interesting take on the Maze of the Minotaur, this episode.
    Also to the doctor, “An ancient creature drenched in the blood of the innocent. Drifting in space through an endless shifting maze, for such a creature death would be a gift.” Minotaur, “I wasn’t taking about myself.”

  38. elbueno says:

    In the preview for Closing Time, that Cyberman with the scar on his face (helmet?)…

    wasn’t that the Cyberman that was found dismembered (and later functional) in the Pandorica Opens?

  39. Leo says:

    Re: Beakey

    I think it was a playful jab at Rory’s nose. Remember the season premiere? The Doctor says he’s an agent on loan from Scotland Yard and that his codename is “The Doctor”, Amy’s is “The Legs”, Rory’s is “The Nose”, and River’s is “Mrs. Robinson”.

  40. Paul K.G. says:

    At first when they switched from the tenth Doctor to the eleventh, I was a bit reserved. Even in the first full season of the eleventh Doctor( Matt Smith) I have however, grown to like the subtleties of his expression since, as Nerdist mentioned, they are not overblown. With this specific episode I’m happy it turned out the way it did, since i was just saying to myself that it was time, and seemed that they were building towards moving on from the steady Amy and Rory story line. I think it’s a good move for this Doctor, as he seems to shine brightest when with strangers. Admittedly i was getting tired of these two companions and hoped that the writers would move on from them at least as the main attraction.

  41. Frank says:

    The sports car Rory got was a Jaguar E-Type (Top Gear recently did an episode dedicated to it on its birthday). I THINK the car “River” had was a Corvette or Fararri if memory serves (which it probably doesn’t).

  42. Chris Burgess says:

    @Scott – I’d be willing to argue Sara Kingdom doesn’t count as a companion, but Hartnell’s Doctor also lost Katarina; both died in The Daleks’ Masterplan. Adric is not the only companion to die. Hell, one could even throw Kamelion in that category if one was really masochistic.

    (Oh and Kyle, it’s a house, not a flat. I’d not be true to myself if I didn’t say that. 😛 )

  43. Tom Steele says:

    I agree with Michael, the Doctor’s greatest fear is himself, as hinted at with the Dream Lord in Amy’s Choice.

  44. I disagree that what the Doctor saw was losing the TARDIS. I think what he saw was himself… going too far and destroying everyone and everything he loves. And that includes the TARDIS.

  45. Scott S says:

    I think Peter Davison was pretty good at showing the pressure he was under with regard to companions, and he lost the only actual companion who actually died, Adric, then gave his life to save Peri later. Lots of people die around the Doctor, but he never manages to lose the people who travel with him very often.

    Knowing this is only the eleventh Doctor gave this episode a weird feeling, because it seemed almost like the show was winding down, not just these companions or this regeneration. I’m sure after this season they’ll bounce back to the weekly adventures, but it felt like something bigger was going on this week.

  46. Sawyer says:

    The sports car that the Doctor gives Rory, was that the same car we saw pre-renegeration River,(or Mels) driving in Let’s Kill Hitler? I wonder if there’s a connection there.

  47. SHOGUN says:

    Excellent review as per usual Kyle.

    I was truly caught off guard with the ending as well. I should have known since last week’s episode seemed like it was a pre-send off type episode.

    As for the episode itself, it was ok and seemed like this is what Night Terrors should have been. Rita would have been a nice new companion.

    I know Rory and Amy will be back in some capacity, since their story doesn’t seem completely finished yet. I will truly miss them and it will be totally weird seeing this incarnation of the Doctor (Matt Smith) without the two of them because all three of them came on together.

    I just started watching this show around the beginning of the summer, I know this is the norm and I should get used to it, but I really hate myself how I start getting attached to these characters and actors, whether it’s the Doctor or his companions, only for them to move on. Pretty freakin’ sad mang.

    ::sniff sniff:: I think I’m gonna cry! Ok maybe not.

    On a sidenote, does anybody think the Ganger Doctor could still be around?

  48. Wesley Marshall says:

    I’m in total agreement with you. And I totally missed hearing the Cloister Bell. I can’t wait to see how Moffat pulls of the finale. I mean he keeps saying in the Confidential episodes that the Doctor dies in the last episode. Moffat, how will you do this?! It’s driving me crazy!!

  49. Will says:

    GREAT episode. I thought the previews looked great but I was surprised at how much I liked it.

  50. tony says:

    I listened to that bit about 30 times … I think he calls him ‘beakey’ for some reason.