Wednesday 3 June 2020

Story 223 - The God Complex

In which the Doctor attempts to take Amy and Rory to another holiday resort destination, but the TARDIS instead materialises in what appears to be a sprawling hotel on 1980's Earth. As they look around they discover a number of portrait photographs adorning the walls. Under each name is a word - a person, a place, an object or an emotion. The place seems to be deserted but they come upon three individuals when they go downstairs to the hotel lobby. There is a young nurse named Rita, a young man named Howie and a mole-like alien named Gibbis, who comes from the planet Tivoli. This world has a reputation as the most invaded in the universe, and its inhabitants are cowardly by nature. They actually welcome oppression, as it is the only way of life they know. There is one other person with them, but he is tied up in the dining room. He is named Joe, and he is surrounded by dozens of identical ventriloquist dolls. He appears to be quite mad, and claims that he used to have an irrational fear of these dummies, but not now. The Doctor notes that all his personal jewellery bears a gambling motif. When they learn that they are trapped in this hotel, with all the doors and windows bricked up, the Doctor leads everyone to the TARDIS, but it has vanished. Rita explains that somewhere in the hotel is a room designed for each person who comes here - containing something that they fear above all other things. The Doctor warns everyone not to be drawn towards any particular room, after Joe claims that someone is about to come for him and feast. Bizarrely, he seems to be looking forward to this.

Joe is strapped into a wheelchair and removed from the dining room. Gibbis suggests that he be left behind for whatever is coming for them, in order that they might be spared. Rory discovers that Howie believes in conspiracy theories, suspecting that they are being held in some kind of government experiment. A page from a notebook is found, belonging to a policewoman named Lucy. She writes about her fear of being attacked by a gorilla, which she encountered in her room. She talks of the thing which will come for her, and writes about praising it. Rory sees a door marked exit, but no-one else sees it, and they are forced to flee as they hear some animal approach. Howie is compelled to enter a room in which there is a group of girls. They mock him as he begins to stammer. He undergoes a mental upheaval, and begins to speak of praising whatever is lurking in the hotel. Hiding from it, Amy finds herself in a room containing two Weeping Angels, and she assumes that this must be her room. However, she is not alone and Gibbis and the others are with her. Joe is killed by the creature, and now Howie must be restrained so that he doesn't succumb to the same fate. The Doctor decides to use him as bait so that he can observe the creature. Rita also feels compelled to enter a room, where she sees her father berate her for her lack of ambition and failure to get the grades to become a doctor.

Once again, Gibbis thinks only of his own safety and allows Howie to escape. The young man is killed. The Doctor discovers that the thing which is hunting them is a massive Minotaur-like creature, which he deduces might be distantly related to the Nimon. He recalls how they set themselves up as god-like beings on the planets they wished to conquer, demanding tribute from the locals. The Doctor is horrified to discover that Rita is to be the next victim. She takes herself off alone to die, to save the others. The Doctor finds that he also has a room - No.11. What is inside, he expected to find...
It transpires that the Weeping Angels were never intended for Amy. They were for Gibbis, as they were creatures which his people could never be oppressed or dominated by in the same way as other invaders. Amy's room proves to be one containing her younger self, sitting waiting for the Doctor to come back and take her away. The Doctor had thought that the Minotaur was feeding on fear, and so had encouraged everyone to have faith is something which would hold that fear in check. He realises that he has been totally wrong. It isn't the fear which the Minotaur feeds on, but the faith. He has put his friends in even greater danger. When the Minotaur comes to the room to attack Amy, the Doctor must break her faith him in. When this happens, the Minotaur collapses. Without faith to sustain it, it cannot survive. The hotel surroundings vanish and they see that they are really inside a space vessel, equipped with holo-emitters. The Doctor learns that the Minotaur was once worshipped on a planet, whose inhabitants eventually turned against it and trapped it on this craft, where unwary travellers would be trapped to feed it. The creature dies. Realising the danger that he has recently been putting his companions in, the Doctor decides that it is time for them to stop travelling with him. He takes them to Earth, where he has obtained a house and car for them. They will remain his friends, but will not be joining him in the TARDIS any more...

The God Complex was written by Toby Whithouse, and was first broadcast on 17th September 2011.
The idea of setting a story in a strange hotel came from Steven Moffat, who had toyed with the notion for a Christmas Special. A woman was to have been staying at a very grand hotel at Christmas time, but would have found that everyone had vanished and the place had become a maze, where the corridors and rooms moved around. He even had Helen Mirren in mind for the role of the woman. Moffat had been inspired after staying in some large hotels on business trips, where all the corridors looked the same on every floor and it was easy to get lost in them. The idea was given to Whithouse to develop as a story for Series 5, but was then held back for the sixth series. This was because of the Weeping Angel story being set in a maze. The notion of the hotel becoming like a labyrinth inspired Whithouse to have as his creature a Minotaur-like being, and it was easy to link its appearance and modus operandi to the Nimon, which had featured in the 1979/80 story The Horns of Nimon. Whithouse already had a keen interest in Greek mythology. He populated the rooms with things which he himself found creepy - such as clowns and ventriloquist dummies.

Since taking over the show, Moffat had started to reposition the Doctor away from being just a traveller and explorer. It was now being stated by various characters that he had some great cosmic reputation, and this wasn't always positive. To many races he was a warrior, steeped in blood. We see this here as the Doctor communicates with the dying Minotaur. It speaks to him of a lonely traveller with many lives on his hands, whose end is now fast approaching. The Doctor assumes the creature is thinking of itself, until he realises that it is actually referring to him. In the previous episode, Rory had berated the Doctor for putting himself and Amy into danger through his recklessness, and this is reinforced in this story as the Doctor gets the Minotaur's motivation entirely wrong, putting everyone in even greater danger, having got them to rely on their faith instead of their fear. Previously, only Jo Grant had been seen to have a life away from the TARDIS whilst being a companion, as she was based at UNIT HQ for some of the time. We don't know if she lived on site or had some sort of flat nearby. (We shan't count Liz Shaw, as obviously the Doctor had no working TARDIS at this time). Every other companion appears to have lived on the TARDIS throughout their travels. Amy and Rory become the first companions since Jo to now have a life away from the Doctor, as he gifts them a house at the conclusion of this story.

The guest cast is headed by comic actor and writer David Walliams. He is a lifelong fan of the programme, as is his Little Britain partner Matt Lucas (which was why they chose Tom Baker to narrate their comedy series). Walliams had previously co-written and appeared in a trio of comedy sketches for BBC 2's Doctor Who Night, with Mark Gatiss. Walliams was initially concerned that his character would be wearing full prosthetics, but later said that they allowed him to properly express himself, and he was still recognisable to the viewers.
Rita is played by Amara Karan. She becomes the latest in a long line of 'companions who never were'. The Doctor has met a few people he thought might make a good companion - only for them to then die (e.g. Astrid Peth, Lynda with a Y).
Howie is Dimitri Leonidas, who had come to fame as a regular on BBC children's series Grange Hill (acting then under the name Shane Leonidas). More recently he has been a regular on the crime drama Riviera.
Joe is Daniel Pirrie, who had just appeared in the soap Hollyoaks. Caitlin Blackwood returns as young Amelia Pond. The Minotaur is portrayed by Spencer Wilding, who will return periodically to the series as a creature performer (most recently as the lead Dreg in Orphan 55). His most high profile role has been as the new incarnation of Darth Vader, as seen in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.

Overall, not a bad episode, with some very surreal visual imagery. The regulars are well served, and each of the guest artists has their moments. The Minotaur is mostly only glimpsed throughout, but when we do finally get to see it it is an excellent creature design.
Things you might like to know:
  • Another inspiration for this story is clearly George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, in that it features rooms within which are people's greatest fears (e.g. Room 101). Joe quotes part of the nursery rhyme "Oranges and Lemons", as does Winston Smith in Orwell's book.
  • A visual inspiration appears to be the Overlook Hotel from Stanley Kubrick's film adaptation of The Shining.
  • Another story about people being killed by their greatest fears (this time not because of the faith this generates) was 1971's The Mind of Evil.
  • And the resolution of the Doctor saving his companion by destroying her faith in him is similar to 1989's The Curse of Fenric.
  • As well as the cameo from the Weeping Angels, we glimpse some other old monsters amongst the portraits hanging on the hotel stairwell. These include a Sontaran, a Silurian, a Cat Nun, a Hoix, a Tritovore and a Judoon.
  • Producer Marcus Wilson is one of those pictured - the man whose greatest fear was Plymouth.
  • The original scripts had another character named Edward, who was very right wing and believed in authority and discipline. He was very self centred, and some of his material was given to Gibbis.
  • Some of the rooms' occupants are left unexplained. One has a clown with a red balloon, whilst another has a bullying gym teacher. It is clearly stated that Rory does not have a room here as he lacks faith (which is why he alone is able to see an exit). However, this doesn't quite ring true as we know he has faith in Amy, and in another story - The Doctor's Wife - he mentioned having a sadistic gym teacher whom he greatly disliked.
  • The Doctor's room - naturally enough No.11 - we don't get to see inside. We only hear the TARDIS cloister bell, and he remarks that its contents don't surprise him. This naturally led to all sorts of fan speculation, which wouldn't be answered until Matt Smith's final episode more than two years later.
  • This is the fourth Doctor Who story to feature a Minotaur, or something based upon it. We've already mentioned that it is related to the Nimon, but Minotaurs had also previously featured in The Mind Robber and The Time Monster
  • We mentioned that Amy and Rory become the first companions since Jo not to live permanently on board the TARDIS. Actually, from this point on, every companion has been seen to have a home to go to between TARDIS travels, including the current trio.

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