In the eleventh episode of the sixth series of Doctor Who, the Doctor and his companions are dropped into a hotel with twisting corridors and an impossible layout. In each room, however, is something designed to frighten one specific person, which summons…oh, just read the review, because it’s time for Mark to watch Doctor Who.
I’ve seen the comparisons made quite a few times around the web since Saturday night, and I’ll echo them here, since it deserves repeating. “The God Complex,” while ultimately different, felt like a long love letter to both The Shining and House of Leaves. I’m sure that the latter is merely what I read into it, and I’m okay with that. But the setting of this episode evoked both a sense of physical horror and wonder that both of those titles created so wonderfully. I think that series six has had some of the most gorgeous cinematography in Doctor Who history. Here, we see how the repetitive nature of the impossible geography of that hotel leaves us feeling disoriented, claustrophobic, and out of our own element. I’m sure the crew only used two or three actual sets to gives the immense size of the hotel, and that’s a feat in and of itself. It contributes to just how creepy this is, and it’s a visual reference to those same long shots of hallways that evoke images from The Shining or techniques of Hitchcock.
But House of Leaves really is the quintessential example of a building defying any sort of logic and acting as a living entity, and nothing is more terrifying to me out of everything here than the fact that the hotel in “The God Complex” could shift, so much so that something that should be right behind you is no longer there. Oh god, I can’t spoil any of you who haven’t read it, but seriously…okay, I’ll make a thread in the comments below because I just have ~so many feelings~ about how “The God Complex” and House of Leaves are basically best friends on the astral plane, and all of us who have read it can just hug one another about one of the best books ever written.
Yet this episode also brought up something else in me: more so than any episode of Moffat’s/Eleven’s run, this made me think of the older Doctors. I think we’ve all noticed how Doctor Who has changed tonally since Moffat started running the show. But all throughout this episode, I felt this story could have involved any iteration of the Doctor, except maybe the first one. That being said, Eleven needed to see this to realize what his relationship with his companions had truly come to.
I think most of the fandom has come to realize that things are…well, they’ve been a bit fucked up for the Ponds. Obviously, that’s because these episodes were written this way, but in terms of the internal logic, Eleven is a version of the Doctor who has, in his own words, been running for quite some time. After the events at the end of Ten’s run, he turned into a man who refused to face his guilt and took companions on to temper those feelings. Amy (and then Rory, but mostly Amy) was an escape for him. But in the process, he ingrained himself in the psyche of young Amelia pond, who became the Girl Who Waited. Twice. What has he done to Amy?
The best part about “The God Complex” (and, actually, one of the only minor flaws I found in the episode) was the fact that this whole episode seemed to be just a single monster-of-the-week episode. In fact, the ending would not have made sense at all if we hadn’t taken a thirty-minute journey through that alien hotel in order to arrive at the conclusion the Doctor does. (And to be fair, that does make the climax seem a bit rushed, but this episode needed to spend time and space with the people in that hotel to have the emotional weight that it does.)
“The God Complex” seems straightforward enough: the alien hotel has rooms containing the fears of the people that are captured and brought there. The references to being “seasoned” or “ready” for the minotaur seemed obvious, too. Perhaps the minotaur would only consume those who had been “seasoned” by fear, which is why rooms existed specifically only for one person. But then it became clear that the entire “Praise Him!” motif and repetition made absolutely no sense once you thought about it. Why would the characters suddenly lapse into saying that, and then believing that the minotaur was someone to praise?
“The God Complex” does a fantastic job of taking what seems obvious and then twisting it around. The surreal nature of the entire thing helps, but as soon as the Doctor begins to peel away the layers of the mystery, we find that our preconceived notions about this place and the minotaur itself are incredibly wrong. We were led to believe that the minotaur was an evil, horrific creature, but like “The Beast Below” in series five, appearances can be lies. The minotaur was suffering, aching for its death, operating almost entirely out of instinct.
And even the hotel itself wasn’t quite what it seemed, and you could feel the horror when the Doctor realizes that he has inadvertently sent two people to their death by telling them to cling to anything that might get them through this. The minotaur actually fed on the energy generated by having faith in something or someone, and the rooms, mere illusions, were attempts to turn a person towards their system of faith, thereby making them victims of the minotaur. It’s a fascinating concept by itself, but I’d missed all the parallels before this. This was specifically about Eleven and his relationship with Amy, because Amy had grown to depend on him. It’s now more present and ever: the Doctor knows he is facing his last days. The secret that was supposed to be kept from him is a secret no more. I do think the parallel between the minotaur and the Doctor was a bit blatant, but I’m ultimately fine with that. As I have said a quarter of a million times, I love character parallels, and I think that the execution was necessary and rather brilliant. The Doctor, an ancient creature to whom death would be a gift. It almost fits too perfectly, doesn’t it?
The episode did give us a great cast of side characters, and you have no idea how badly I wish Rita could have been a companion beyond this episode. Hell, I thought for a while that we were leading towards this happening anyway, but no. No, Doctor Who just teases me with awesome and then takes it away from me. God, they even got hers and Howie’s fears FRIGHTENINGLY CORRECT. I had a parent who would yell at me for not getting A’s on EVERYTHING. My mother was Rita’s father! THIS IS AN EERIE THING TO SEE ON TELEVISION. Also, I was liveblogging the episode while watching it and suddenly realized the irony in doing so. WHAT IF THE MINOTAUR SENT ME TO THE HOTEL. oh god.
But really, two episodes in a row, Doctor Who. You’ve made me tear up twice in a row. I was shocked initially to see the Doctor not only force Amy to stop having faith in him, but to drop her and Rory off at their house. He was forcing two companions off the TARDIS, having come to terms with the fact that his arrogant behavior had put them in danger enough times already. Amy’s goodbye is sad enough, but it may be the best end for a companion aside from Martha Jones, who left willingly. I think we’ve needed to see this on Doctor Who for a long time, especially after “The Girl Who Waited,” and I am happy to have this as canon. The Doctor apologizes to Amy for upsetting her life so much, for using her as a method to hide his guilt and fear, and for putting her and Rory at risk so many times. It’s such a mature thing for Eleven to do. He does promise Amy that he’ll see Amy and Rory again, but he doesn’t have much time until his linear death, so are we getting close to the end of Rory and Amy’s time? I’m not sure yet, and the thought makes me sad. I’ve really grown to love having Amy and Rory around and I know it would be hard for me to grown into someone else.
Okay, no more sad thoughts. How about this: what was your favorite line in all of “The God Complex”? Because SWEET MOTHER OF GOD, there was so much fantastic dialogue in this episode. I really love the fast-paced Doctor episodes, and this one was a treat to watch.