Developments So Far:
In last week’s intriguing and heart-breaking “The Girl Who Waited,” Rory was faced with the choice of having to save either a younger or older version of his wife, Amy (a choice that was forced on him by the actions of the Doctor). Ultimately, the Old Amy chose to stay behind and let the younger Amy live. Though sad, and somewhat unfair, we now see that Amy Pond does have the chance to develop into character far stronger and more proactive than the one she has been. It also began to tease both the Doctor’s irresponsibility and cold-bloodedness, and Rory’s growing frustration with his manipulative behavior.
Going forward, there has been a great deal of concern among the fanbase that major emotional issues, especially in the case of Amy and Rory, have been getting ignored by the writers to a frustrating degree. With two major events in the last three episodes that should rock them to the very core – the loss of their daughter’s childhood and the sacrifice of Old Amy – it remains to be see whether this will continue to be the case, or if more attention will be paid to the continuity of their characters.
Also still looming over all is the fact that the Doctor now knows when he is going to die, and the toll that will take on him as the story goes forward is still to be discerned.
On that note, and this week’s episode being called “The God Complex,” I think this may mark a good time to reflect on the Doctor and his character evolution over the last six years.
In the series’ relaunch in 2005, the then-Ninth Doctor (Christopher Eccleston) was initially portrayed as something of the altruistic and noble do-gooder that we all knew and love, albeit one with an unmistakable death drive. That Doctor was still grief-stricken by the fact that he was the only member of his race left after the brutal Time War between the Time Lords and the Daleks, and as such showed a vicious willingness to destroy the monsters he pitted himself against for the sake of humanity’s salvation. During his subsequent time with the companion Rose Tyler, however, the Ninth Doctor mellowed considerably, being reminded of the joy that still existed in the universe, and the compassion that truly defined him as a character.
After transforming into the Tenth Doctor (David Tennant), the Doctor still displayed a healthy love of living things, but also grew to be a more formidable and dangerous opponent to his adversaries, driven by what had largely become a very a strict sense of ethics and order but also a boundless enthusiasm and amusement towards their best efforts. It became almost Tennant’s trademark as the Tenth Doctor to be whimsical and jokey in the face of danger one moment, only to turn on a dime and show godlike indignation towards his enemies the next. In a big way, this is kind of what made Tennant’s run as the Doctor so successful and beloved, he could be funny, but also a genuine, brainy badass. It wasn’t long before the character’s reputation had begun to precede him in some of the stories (especially in those penned by current showrunner Steven Moffat), and throughout the subsequent seasons the odds against him would become more and more insurmountable, only making it more and more amazing whenever he finally managed to overcome them.
In the very final appearance of the Tenth Doctor, the two-part special “The End of Time,” it was learned that the Doctor was actually the one who “destroyed” his own people, his hand forced after the Time Lords proved willing to destroy all of existence in order to defeat the Daleks. Though subsequently glossed over during the subsequent transition between Russell Davies and Steven Moffat’s relative tenures as showrunner, it remained an important point as Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor was introduced that the Doctor’s name alone was enough to strike fear in the hearts of the most advanced and dangerous alien civilizations. In his dynamic first episode, “The Eleventh Hour,” the Eleventh Doctor saved the world from being incinerated by an alien race – in twenty minutes – and then caused that same race to flee the Earth forever with one word: “Run.”
Throughout Moffat’s tenure, the Doctor has only gotten more confident in his own abilities, often to the point of arrogance, which ultimately culminated in the kidnapping of Melody Pond/River Song and her training as the deadly weapon against him – and by humans, no less. Since that time, the Doctor has experienced a somewhat notable change in persona, including an inconsistent change in wardrobe and a lessening in his enthusiasm, which became even more pronounced after he found out the date of his death. Which means, once again, the Doctor finds himself again on a death drive, this time towards what now appears to be his own ultimate destruction.
We open with an Earth woman in a British police uniform, Lucy Hayward, wandering the interior hallways of a very clichéd, Eighties-style hotel, looking through a few of the rooms as she narrates. Inside each room is a person, creature, or thing that appears like it’s directly pulled from the catalogue of collected phobias: clowns, photographers, gorillas, etc. Writing in a journal, Lucy describes how “you don’t know what’s going to be in your room until you see it.” Intercut among a number of harsh jump cuts is the eye of some kind of strange monster…one whose breathing seems almost labored. Writing in her journal, Lucy describes being “so happy” now. Her last words, written over and over, are “praise him.” We hear the monster approaching, and even get it’s point of view, as it advances on the rapturous Lucy, and then we cue the credits.
Post credits – we come upon our TARDIS crew. Apparently, after being taken on a wrong turn by the TARDIS (after attempting to go to a planet that, as described, would probably not been possible on this show’s budget), the Doctor, Rory, and Amy have materialized in the very strange hotel, looking upwards through a tiered spiral stairwell that goes up countless floors. Though not being their original destination, the Doctor is nonetheless delighted: despite not being on Earth, they’ve arrived in an incredibly detailed recreation of a “rubbish” hotel. While he fawns over the room, Amy and Rory notice some framed photos lining the wall of people and creatures of various races, all of which list their names and some incident or person (Daleks, sabrewolves, photographers, that brutal gorilla, etc.) Ringing the bell at reception, they are suddenly confronted by three terrified people: a woman in a surgeon’s dress, a nerdy blogger, and a cowardly, humanoid, mouse-like alien and in bureaucratic dress (who immediately surrenders). Though they initially treat the Doctor, Amy, and Rory as a threat, the surgeon determines quickly that they’re just as much a prisoner as they are. The Doctor falls in love with her industriousness immediately, and even jokes about firing Amy. Upon being asked, they all bring the Doctor up to speed…the hotel appears unbelievably massive, the walls move, and the doors and windows are all walled shut. In short, there’s no way out. And as an added bonus, it seems, the rooms have “bad dreams” in them.
Trying to return to the TARDIS, they, of course, find it missing. The Doctor then asks if there are any other guests, and they tell him about Joe, who is, literally, “tied up right now.” Down in the dining room, Joe is tied to a chair when the Doctor and company walk in, surrounded by laughing ventriloquist’s dummies that are dressed just like him. Finding Joe to be completely cracked, the Doctor attempts to question him, allowing the madman to basically give the rules of the hotel: there is a room for everyone there, and once they find it, they will be “saved.” Joe goes on to ramble that nothing matters anymore; he has conquered his fears, and now he is waiting to be “saved by him.” Carrying the still-restrained Joe out and back to reception, the Doctor warns everyone not to enter any rooms they may be drawn to, and not to let anyone out of their sight.
The group then begins wandering the hallways of the hotel, and begin encountering all sorts of strange occurrences. Howie, the blogger, eventually wanders off into a room, and is confronted by a gaggle of beautiful women, who mock him for his geekiness. Truly terrified, he begins muttering, “praise him.” The Doctor pulls him free, and they keep heading onward. Soon a loud grunting can be heard from down the hall, and the Doctor tells them all to hide. Rita and Joe head into one room, which contains Rita’s nightmare – her disapproving father. Becoming terrified, she, too, begins uttering “praise him.” Amy, Rory, the Doctor, Howie, and Gibbis, the alien, wander into another, which contains the infamous Weeping Angels. The Doctor soon determines that they are actually harmless illusions, and turns his attention to the peephole in the door, so as to see the monster as it passes by.
The monster appears to be a large and terrifying hoofed creature with antlers. After making a move toward the Angel room, it becomes distracted by Joe, who has magically slipped his bonds and made his way into the hallway. In an almost religious fervor, he kneels, just like Lucy had, while the monster approaches him. The Doctor bolts out the Angel room, just in time to see Joe’s feet disappearing around the corner. Bolting after them, he turns the corner and finds only another hallway, just like the one he just came from…and then another, and then another…just like a maze (or perhaps I should say, labyrinth). After becoming good and lost, the Doctor turns around and finds Joe kneeling and leaning against the wall, dead.
In the bar area of the dining room, Gibbis is still mulling over the Angel room, which was apparently his fear. As a member of the most conquered people in the galaxy, he fears the Angels because they destroy instead of enslave. Amy tries to give him a pep talk, reminiscing about her life dreaming about the Doctor, and how he will save them all, enforcing her hero worship of him. As she gets up, Gibbis seems pleased by the thought that “her room is still out there.” She and Rory look across the room, where the Doctor is talking to Rita, who has made tea for everyone.
The Doctor explains that Joe just died without a true cause of death. Talking about where they are and what’s going on, it is revealed that Rita is a Muslim when she speculates that they are in Jahannam (the Islamic perception of hell). The Doctor assures them that they are not; Amy then gives the Doctor some papers she picked up earlier: pages from Lucy’s journal. The Doctor reads them aloud. After he says “praise him,” Howie repeats it, almost against his will. While everyone is panicked, the Doctor restores calm by using the sonic screwdriver. Gibbis tries to convince them to hand over Howie over to the monster, but the Doctor puts him in his place. Using Howie as a conduit, the Doctor lets him tell him how they are all too distracted, so he’s focusing only on Howie for the moment. The Doctor then tells them all that the monster is feeding on is fear, so whatever the do, do not be afraid. Amy: “Then what are we going to do?” Doctor: “We’re going to catch ourselves a monster…”
Later, Howie is calling for “his master, his lord” while in the grips of his terror, while everyone else waits for the monster. As it turns out, the Doctor is using the hotel intercom to capture the creature, who appears now to be something akin to a Minotaur. Trapping him in a bathroom, the Doctor tries to communicate with him. The Doctor finds out from interpreting the creature that they are in a prison, and that they all are food for him, but not yet ripened. The Minotaur also reveals that he has been there so long he has forgotten his own name, and he only wants it to stop.
Meanwhile, in his fervor to be destroyed, Howie convinces Gibbis to let him go, so that it may assuage the Minotaur long enough to spare the rest of them. Before the Doctor can discover the whole story, the Minotaur goes after Howie, and soon the Doctor finds him dead. Gibbis then reappears, claiming that Howie broke free, but it’s clear that the Doctor doesn’t believe him.
Back in the hallway with the photos, which now includes Howie. When Rory approaches, the Doctor asks him if he’s found his room yet. Rory replies he hasn’t, and adds, somewhat pointedly, “After all the time with you on the TARDIS, what is there to be scared of?” He then adds a poignant moment, talking about how Howie had just finished overcoming his stammer, and that “not all victories are about saving the universe.” (As a former stammerer, I appreciated that.)
The Doctor then comes upon Rita, who he tries to cheer up by claiming that he’s going to get them out of there. When she responds “Why?” the Doctor becomes alarmed. She clarifies by stating, “Why you? Why does it have to be you? Quite the God complex you have there…” The Doctor then has his own introspective moment, where he mentions that he is the reason that Amy and Rory are here, and that it’s his responsibility to save them. The Doctor then notices that there are video cameras, and he goes off to find the room where their feed is located. After he’s gone, Rita approaches the camera, looks into it, and says, “Praise him.”
When the Doctor enters another hallway, he begins hearing chants of “praise him.” He is then drawn to a door marked with an “11”(what else?). Opening it, he looks inside, and states calmly, “Well of course, who else?” He places a “Do Not Disturb” tab on the door, and keeps moving, the contents of the room remaining a mystery.
Finding the security room, the Doctor watches Rita on the cameras moving down the hallway, away from the others. Using the phone to call one of the rooms, the Doctor contacts her and she states that she’s getting as far away as she can so that he can’t put himself in the way of the Minotaur when it comes to get her. She asks him not to watch him when the rapture overtakes her, and to remember her how she was. “Let me be robbed of my faith in private.” She drops the phone and waits for the Minotaur. Using the sonic screwdriver, the Doctor shuts off the screen before the Minotaur overtakes her.
Later, the Doctor, after smashing a few things in a rage over Rita’s death, sits down and tries to figure out the Monster’s true modus operandi. Despite being chided by the peevish and defeatist Gibbis, the Doctor realizes that the Minotaur feeds on faith. The fear only brings out their belief in what protects them, which is what the Minotaur then feeds on. Rory, who does not have any faith in being saved, has been immune, but Amy’s faith in the Doctor has left her exposed to the Minotaur. When she begins uttering, “Praise him,” the Doctor and Rory, with Gibbis tagging along, drag her away from the approaching Minotaur. Escaping into a room, they are revealed to the manifestation of Amy’s fear: herself, as a young girl, waiting for a Doctor who will not come (or, at least from her perspective, not anytime soon).
As the Minotaur tries to break into the room, the Doctor tries to get Amy to give up his faith in her. In a really beautiful scene, the Doctor confesses that he took Amy with him all of this time because he loved being adored, and that he isn’t a hero “I really am just a madman in a box.” During this sequence, Amy transforms into her younger self. “Amy Williams…it’s time to stop waiting.” Back as her older self, the loss of faith causes the Minotaur to start dying.
The Doctor moves to comfort him, stating that he’s severed the food supply, giving the Minotaur the space to die. As he does, the illusion of the hotel fades away, leaving them in a strange virtual reality room suspended in space. Going towards a console, the Doctor reads it and explains that the Minotaur is part of the Nimol, an alien race who visit planets and set themselves up as Gods. In this case, however, the Nimol was overthrown, and his former subjects imprisoned him in the “hotel,” which would periodically snatch up people from nearby systems who possessed ardent faith as a way of feeding it. The system became glitched, and began feeding on innocent people. The Minotaur willingly embraces death; the Doctor then describes him as an ancient creature, who is forced to wonder space trapped in a box while “drenched in the blood of the innocent,” for whom death would be a release. The parallel is so similar that the Doctor has to clarify that he isn’t speaking of himself. The Minotaur then dies, and the four survivors depart.
After having dropped off Gibbis, the Doctor materializes back on Earth in front of a beautiful townhouse and a sports car. The Doctor gives the Williams/Ponds the keys to both of them, exciting Rory, who, on Amy’s urging, heads into the house to investigate. In a nicely reserved but emotional scene, Amy and the Doctor talk, and its revealed that he’s leaving without them. “You haven’t seen the last of me…’Bad Penny’ is my middle name.” The ultimate reason he gives them is that he doesn’t want them to die. “If you bump into my daughter, tell him to look up her old mum sometime.” After a sad look, the Doctor gets into the TARDIS, and disappears. Rory then steps outside, holding some champagne and glasses, and asks “What’s he doing?” Amy: “He’s saving us.”
Our last image is of a forlorn Doctor looking around a big, empty TARDIS.
Well, a rather big one: no more Ponds!!!
Well, at least for now, since I doubt this will be a permanent situation. But still, it was a touching episode that kind of nicely wound down a lot of the dramatic, negative tension that had developed with the characters, while simultaneously giving us a needed break from the Ponds as the series builds toward the season finale. Which, presumably, will be the death of the Doctor (however that ultimately turns out).
On that note, this also represented some great development for the Doctor, as he is now in a very dark place, alone and possibly in a position to welcome the death that awaits him. It’s a nice reversal after being so self-consumed and godlike for so long that he’s now somewhat diminished and hopeless. Likely the end result will be something thoroughly Hegelian: one extreme leading to the other, and resulting in a synthesis of the two. I’m definitely intrigued going forward.
I really enjoyed this episode, even if some events going on in my own life made the ending difficult to watch. Obviously, there was a very real emotional crux to the episode, but I thought the main story was also very clever (with its obvious references to Greek mythology), with little touches of nuance along the way. And kudos to director Nick Hurran and the other creative personnel who crafted this episode, as this may have been one of the better, visually stylized episodes of the show that I have ever seen. Obvious inspired by films like The Shining and Seven, there were no end of jump cuts, Dutch angles, smash cuts, focus shifts, and p-o-v’s, but used well in conjunction with some superb framing and staging. Just an altogether great marriage of presentation, ideas, and performance, and another great episode in a season that’s becoming known for them.
“Whoever did this, I’m shaking his hand/her hand/tentacle.” – The Doctor
“We’re the most invaded people in the galaxy…our anthem is called, ‘Glory to (insert name here).’ ” – Gibbis
“At times like this, I think of my old school motto: resistance is exhausting.” – Gibbis
“It’s amazing…you’ve come up with a theory more insane than what’s really happening.” – Rory
“Everytime the Doctor gets pally with someone I’m always tempted to notify their next of kin.” – Rory
(Author’s note: I’m probably going to be shifting to normal episode reviews for these from here on in – this recapping style just isn’t for me, and not for the least of which is that they’re simply too time consuming for me and this blog right now.)