“Doctor Who: The God Complex” – Monsterless Monsters

And so we arrive at The God Complex. Much more fun than The Girl Who Waited. This is having the tooth pulled with Novocaine.

Spoilers lurk herein. Read At Your Own Risk.

One of the best things about Complex for us old ‘n creakies who remember the original series is the “monster” — in quotations for reasons that we’ll get to — which is the ever-glorious Nimon, from the eponymous Horns of the Nimon which featured Graham Crowden in a truly spectacular bathrobe as far as I can recall and a lot of running around in a maze’y thing with shiny walls. I no longer have any idea what else happened except I’m sure the Doctor sorted it all out and everyone (who survived) lived happily ever after.

Not so here.

This maze’y thing bears much more resemblance to an unused Fawlty Towers set than to the Minotaur maze the original episode was referencing. The decor is beige, beige, and vomit-colored with highlights of baby– well, you don’t want to know. There’s a wall that looks to be “Employee of the Month” photos. There’s horrible Muzak that you can’t turn off. And there isn’t any way out. This is, perhaps, the nightmare that John Cleese had while writing Fawlty Towers.

The Doctor, plus Ponds, arrive and shit starts to hit the fan. There are ventriloquist’s dolls, a humanoid hamster with a political agenda (David Walliams, I adore you), lots of rooms you shouldn’t open, and some tea. If you want a blow-by-blow, there’s an excellent one (with some typos) on the TARDIS Index File.

Depending on how you look at it, this is an episode without a monster or with two monsters or with only one monster that isn’t the one you think it is. The most benevolent way to look at it is the no-monster theory: the Doctor and the Nimon are both just doing what they do. In the one case, forcibly rescue people; in the other, force them to confront their worst fear. Not entirely dissimilar, if you think about Eleven’s recent hijinks.

The two-monster theory is a little more depressing. The Doctor and the Nimon are still doing exactly the same things but they become less — neutral. It’s hard to see either of them, really, as being neutral in this. So much of the Doctor’s self-image in this eleventh incarnation, so much of how he wants to present himself to the universe at large, has become bound up with a picture of himself as A Good Man, something he self-evidently is not: he even says he isn’t in A Good Man Goes to War (that’s Rory, quite obviously). But he wants people to think of him as one; he wants to be the hero, the one who sweeps in from nowhere, fixes everything, and sweeps off again leaving everyone with a lollipop and a smile.

In this scenario, the Nimon is at least only doing its job. It has no particular self-image bound up in it and, in fact, it would really rather prefer to be dead rather than to have to keep on judging the poor sods who keep being plunked down in front of it. It’s old. It’s tired. It wants to be done. At the very least, it would like to put its feet up for the evening and have a bun.

The one-monster theory is even more depressing: the Doctor’s it. There’s really no way around it. The Nimon is doing its job — an unenviable, rather grubby one, true, but since it’s the warden of a prison — you don’t really expect it to give out gold stars and pats on the head. It’s there to punish and it does it. The Doctor takes away choice and personal agency, calls it saving people, and expects them to be grateful and happy. Rita, one of the best characters in this episode, calls him on it more than once — for the last time as she’s going out to face the Nimon, having seen her worst fear.

Unfortunately, Rita doesn’t survive long enough to have a restraining influence on the Doctor; I rather wish she had — she would have been a great occasional character. She works very well as a foil to Amy in this episode since Amy is remarkably passive, rather literally sitting back and waiting for the Doctor to rescue her in an uncharacteristic way. Of course, this sets up the Doctor’s final monologue about how she has to stop believing in him so the Nimon can’t trap her but — it all rings a little hollow since we all know that the only thing that will destroy Amy’s real, blood and bone belief in the Doctor is death. Hers, not Rory’s.

Between Girl Who… and Complex the middle of the second half of the season is pretty dark. There’s a lot going on in these two episodes and most of it isn’t that happy: fear of abandonment, fear of age, loss of a loved one, control by an outside agency, the aftermath of painful personal choices, the list could go on.

And you know the end of the season — Wedding of River Song — is careering right towards us and that’s just going to be as much fun as nothing at all, right? Well, don’t get too worried; for a Moffatt end-of-seasoner, it’s not that painful.

But between then and now we have the pure joy that is Closing Time. Or will be, next week.

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