“How scary is this week’s Doctor Who?” asks my younger sister.
I’ve been away for two weeks sunning myself in Spain but she still expects me to be a barometer for the potential fear factor in our favourite TV show. Unprompted by me, her kids - aged seven and ten - decided for themselves to give Mark Gatiss’s Night Terrors a wide berth after its overt scare-the-kiddies stance and “Save me from the monsters!” trailers.
Apparently, the ads for The God Complex have been similarly unnerving. But thanks to incredibly frustrating tech issues abroad, I’ve only just been able to view the whole episode and decide how to forewarn my sister’s children…
It’s got a stalking Minotaur, a creepy clown, rooms full of ventriloquist dummies and Weeping Angels… It taps into our deepest fears with hotel corridors lined with bad dreams… It toys with the concept of faith, and the dependable Doctor is obliged to shed his mantle as a reassuring hero. Plus, there’s a hugely poignant ending…
So yes, they must watch it! I’m a cruel uncle. Besides, I must say, my other sister’s two kids, who are even younger (four and nearly six), sit through all these terrors and psychodramas impervious and enthralled.
This is a third stab at Who for Toby Whithouse, the mastermind behind Being Human. He also penned last year’s enjoyable romp The Vampires of Venice and 2006’s School Reunion with Sarah Jane Smith, which I adored. “Of the episodes I’ve written,” he tells me, “this is my favourite by a mile. The cast are wonderful and isn't the direction stunning?”
I’d agree with that, and believe Whithouse’s script is clever and original, although of course you don’t have to be particularly alert to spot allusions to Greek mythology (the Minotaur in a labyrinth), George Orwell’s 1984 (Room 101 containing Winston Smith’s worst fear) and to the eerie hotel in The Shining. Even that movie’s carpet-level tracking shots are re-created here.
Fans will know that the Minotaur has shown up in Doctor Who before, fleetingly – and in hilariously duff costumes – in The Mind Robber (1968) and The Time Monster (1972). Bull-headed aliens also appeared in 1979’s The Horns of Nimon. That was the nadir for fourth Doctor Tom Baker, yet it’s pleasing to hear the 11th Doctor refer back 32 years when mentioning this Minotaur is “a distant cousin of the Nimon”.
David Walliams is endearing as Gibbis, a craven-hearted critter from Tivoli, “the most invaded planet in the galaxy”. Though larded with latex, he’s still very David Walliams and reminds me of Jonathan Harris as the cowardly, screamingly camp Dr Smith from Lost in Space.
The God Complex is a clever title. It sums up the story’s milieu and pinpoints the Doctor’s Achilles heel. His need to impress and fashion new acolytes (including Rita) is thrown into sharp relief when he has to demolish Amy’s faith and feeds neatly into the sorrowful severance from Amy and Rory. “Amy Williams. It’s time to stop waiting,” he tells her, as he sets them on a new life. And I must say I was thrown by their departure, but they’ll be back for the season finale…surely?
We’re on a roll here. As well as the impressively intricate season arc, these fabulous standalone episodes make the series feel more and more like a high-class sci-fi anthology.
What did you think of The God Complex? Post a comment below and let us know.