By C. Robert Dimitri | TV | September 20, 2011 |
By C. Robert Dimitri | TV | September 20, 2011 |
“…offer a child a suitcase full of sweets and they’ll take it. Offer someone all of time and space, and they’ll take that too, which is why you shouldn’t.”
The Doctor, Amy, and Rory find themselves in an alien simulation of an Earth hotel (with shades of The Shining in its décor) with hallways that seem to possess a constantly shifting labyrinthine mind of their own designed to manipulate visitors. Said hallways quickly conceal the TARDIS after their arrival. Each room houses a holographic representation of a fear meant for a specific visitor, and when that person encounters that fear, he or she is overcome by the compulsion to mutter the mantra of “praise him,” thus summoning a minotaur-like creature that wanders the halls to kill him or her.
Already in the hotel are Rita, a Muslim physician, Howie, a nerdy conspiracy theorist, and Gibbis, an alien whose race has a long-standing tradition that allows their own conquest as a means of staying alive. All three were snatched away from their normal lives. Also restrained in a room full of his manifested fear (ventriloquist dummies) is Joe, who eagerly calls for his own death at the hands of the monster and warns them all that with a room for everyone - including The Doctor - the creature will come for each of them in time.
The Doctor quickly takes a shine to clever Rita, joking that she could be Amy’s replacement. Rita theorizes that they are in Gehenna, the Islamic hell, Howie believes that they are in a secret underground city in Norway designed to protect select citizens from a planetary collision, and Gibbis simply makes quips about his willingness to surrender.
The six of them wander the halls searching for clues with Joe still tied to a chair and pushed by a dolly. Driven by odd compulsion and forced to flee from the monster, Howie and Rita meet their fears: a room full of laughing women teasing him about his stutter and Rita’s father berating her for earning a B in mathematics, respectively. The seeds for their own mental breakdowns and calls for the creature are thus planted. Amy, Gibbis, Rory, and The Doctor meet a room of Weeping Angels. Amy guesses this might be her fear, but it seems to belong to Gibbis. Joe escapes his bonds and happily meets the creature. The Doctor finds him dead in a hall sans injury; his life force spontaneously disappeared.
Howie begins inviting the creature to take him as Joe did, and The Doctor devises a trap. Using the sonic screwdriver and an intercom to broadcast a restrained Howie’s pleas, he lures the creature into a room with the help of Rory, Amy, and Rita, who barricade the doors. (Rita and Amy hide in a room with someone’s manifested fear of a clown while waiting to spring the trap. Coulrophobes should appreciate Amy’s admonition to Rita: “Don’t talk to the clown.”)
The Doctor speaks with the bellowing creature and learns that it wants to escape this hotel as much as they do; it is driven by irresistible compulsion to kill people. The Doctor seems to be making headway until Gibbis - hoping that another sacrifice will placate the creature to spare the rest of them - releases Howie. Howie’s calls from the hall inspire the creature to break through the door that Rory is holding and track and kill Howie.
The investigation of their mysterious prison continues, and The Doctor takes a moment to invite Rita to join him on the TARDIS. Either this will be our new companion, or as so often happens when The Doctor attempts to recruit a new companion, this means that Rita has been given the narrative death sentence. Unfortunately for her, we are dealing with the latter scenario, as she immediately separates herself from the group and begins to praise the creature. The Doctor finds a hotel surveillance center and shares a final conversation with her over the phone. Holding on to her faith, she refuses his request to save herself, and at her request The Doctor does not watch the creature take her. The Doctor responds with hotel-accoutrement-shattering rage as Amy and Rory awkwardly watch.
The Doctor realizes that it is not fear that lures the creature. The faith that people utilize when faced with their fears is what it devours. Amy begins the “praise him” chant, and The Doctor and Rory rush her away from the approaching creature with cowardly Gibbis still tagging along. Amy’s faith in The Doctor is what caused this place to trap them here, and in order to save her, The Doctor must break her faith in him.
He tells her, “…I stole your childhood and now I’ve led you by the hand to your death. But the worst thing is I knew. This is what happens. This is what always happens. Forget your faith in me. I took you with me because I was vain — because I wanted to be adored. Look at you, glorious Pond, the girl who waited for me. I’m not a hero. I really am just a madman in a box, and it’s time we saw each other as we really are.”
With Amy’s faith broken, the creature dies for lack of a food source, and The Doctor comforts it as it passes. The hotel disappears, revealing that they are in a prison ship designed to hold this minotaur-like creature that demands worship, a cousin of the Nimon (an alien from the old Tom Baker days in the second episode I remember watching). Its punishment was keeping it alive with a constant source of faith-food, although it does hardly seem fair to indiscriminately scoop up random innocent victims simply to maintain this punishment. With the creature’s final words, it tells The Doctor that for an ancient creature that travels across the universe with so much blood on its hands, death would be a gift. The Doctor assumes it means itself, but it clarifies that it is referring to him, thus hinting at the death we know is soon upon him and reminding him of the mortal dangers that Amy and Rory face.
After dropping off Gibbis, The Doctor takes Amy and Rory home, where he has gifts waiting for them: a new flat and Rory’s favorite sports car. What sort of money scam did The Doctor pull to set this up? Has he been moonlighting back at Craig’s old job - see last season’s “The Lodger” - in his spare time to save money? Has The Doctor used time travel to accrue vast wealth in case he ever needs it?
Amy realizes that he means to leave them there, and as sad as she is, she tells Rory that he has saved them once again by ending their adventures before one of them ends up dead. The Doctor assures her that he will turn up again. As he puts it: “Bad penny is my middle name. Seriously, the looks I get when I fill in a form…”
Amy asks The Doctor to send River to visit her mother on occasion, and on the departing TARDIS, The Doctor is a lonely, sad figure at the console.
I thought this was a good episode. The fears were fun, and the mood established by the editing of those overcome with the need to “praise him” was effective enough for the creepiness factor, even if that big minotaur did seem almost as cuddly as fearsome.
What made the story work above all else was the poignant climax, reinforced by The Doctor’s eagerness to find a new companion earlier in the episode. I expected The Doctor and Amy to part ways on sour terms, but breaking her childhood faith in him with the image of that little girl waiting for him as she sat on her suitcase was a rough way to achieve the task.
Surely The Doctor with his copious wisdom must have learned by now that his adventures endanger his companions. As often as he might have been reminded of that over many seasons of adventures, “The God Complex” and the rapport that Matt Smith and Karen Gillan have established gave the concept sufficient punch.
I do have a couple outstanding questions.
What was in The Doctor’s fear room? I’m guessing that was River Song that earned the reaction line: “Of course. Who else?” The woman wants to kill him and marry him; both are worthy of fear.
As Amy asks, in what does The Doctor have faith? Only Rory was shown an exit from the hotel because of his lack of belief in religion or superstition. I might wonder why Rory’s faith in Amy does not qualify if Amy’s faith in The Doctor does, but that quibble does not loom as large as the concept of possible salvation for The Doctor, whose death draws nearer.
Next week, the aforementioned Craig returns for “The Closer,” the sequel to last season’s “The Lodger.” That should give us a light solo adventure for The Doctor before we reach the season-ending gravitas of “The Wedding Of River Song.”
C. Robert Dimitri is afraid of flying but leans upon his deep, abiding faith in Dr Pepper and grilled cheese sandwiches. Praise him!