It’s been an odd second half to the season; after a first half mostly composed of action-romps which bled into the unsatisfyingly hectic farce of ‘Let’s Kill Hitler’ the second half has mostly comprised more static, even sombre fare.
No doubt this is an impression bolstered by the decision to swap ‘Night Terrors’ and ‘The Curse of the Black Spot’, but I’m rather liking the shift in tone. The three most recent episodes have all been solid, quietly impressive standalones.
Or ‘stolid’, perhaps, given that none have truly stood out as classics and there’s a slight sense that each script has failed to reach its full potential. And to enjoy these three episodes it’s necessary to ignore the massive discontinuity from the revelations and emotional fallout of ‘Let’s Kill Hitler’ to the largely business as usual episodes that follow. I can understand that some aren’t willing to do that.
Nonetheless each episode in its way showcases Doctor Who as character-based horror-SF, with the Doctor stood front and centre as the acme of the unreliable hero. I’m a fan of that version of the series.
For me ‘The God Complex’ is more successful as a creepfest than ‘Night Terrors’, even if (like that episode) it doesn’t quite manage to be creepy enough. The plot is fairly linear Who – a group of characters trapped in an enclosed environment with a sinister threat whose true nature is gradually exposed. Expendable supporting characters are expended, the mystery is unravelled, the Doctor is wrong, and ultimately wins the day.
It’s the execution that I like: little grace notes and moments of finesse. For example, although some of the supporting characters are stereotypes, the Muslim doctor is a nicely sketched character and her faith is both material to the plot and honestly dealt with. David Walliams’ guest turn is perhaps overly cartonish in concept, but it mimics so precisely a Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy sensibility that I enjoyed it on that level. His later moments of darkness are pleasing in modern Who which often doesn’t have the running time for the nuanced character portraits we might have seen in Classic Who at its best. The Hotel setting with echoes of The Shining is well-realised, the idea of the rooms is a strong one, the monster is effective, and the “praise him” captions and rapid jump cuts are quite innovative for this series.
The biggest grace notes are those of the Doctor and Amy. The double meaning in the title is really the theme of the story, with the Doctor painted as something of an emotional leech who parallels the alien minotaur. But the Doctor is never less than sympathetic even when revealing his more selfish impulses. Matt Smith is a powerhouse when he gets to be sombre, and it’s only at these times that I can see something to the “old eyes”. I like his disillusioning of Amy because, even though it recalls the Doctor and Ace in ‘The Curse of Fenric’, it genuinely feels like a man telling some simple home truths — and perhaps admitting them to himself. It’s a gentle let down compared to the artificially harsh words in ‘Fenric’, but far truer. The ending of the episode, in which he ‘saves’ Amy and Rory by leaving, and in doing so restores her faith, is a deft touch.
And I *know* this almost certainly won’t be the last we see of Amy and Rory, and so I know it’s not a real goodbye, but it feels like one, and it works, and I’m a sucker for that kind of thing.
EDIT The less good bits, for balance:
* The Gorilla. Man-in-Suit!
* The Dork
* The fact that large chunks of the plot actually made very little logical sense, particularly the decision to holographically re-create a 1980s hotel even though one of the captives was an alien. But somehow I take this as read for Doctor Who.
* The Weeping Angels. Nice cameo, but wasted really.
* By the same rationale the Doctor should never have another companion, or is only willing to endanger newcomers. Then again he remains vain, reckless and in need of company.