Flux, ed. Paul Driscoll

The six-part 2021 season of Doctor Who was produced under pandemic conditions, and by the time it ended, I was myself recovering from my bout with COVID and didn’t feel inspired to write about it. A year later, after the broadcast of The Power of the Doctor, I returned to Flux and wrote:

So. The 2021 six-part story, Flux, was a mess. There’s no kind way of putting it. I actually like John Bishop as new companion Dan Lewis; I love Barbara Flynn, whatever she is in; I was really thrilled by Thaddea Graham as Bel, the first semi-regular Irish character in almost sixty years [of the show’s history]; and there were some good spine-chilling moments, such as the destruction of Dan’s house and the Doctor being transformed into a Weeping Angel.

But unfortunately the plot made very little sense, and the climax took place largely offscreen. Of course it was filmed under serious constraints due to the pandemic, but that doesn’t excuse the writers from sitting back and thinking about what they were really trying to convey. For all their faults, Russell T. Davies and Steven Moffatt generally remembered that they needed to please their audience as well as indulging their own inner impulses. I felt that Chibnall had lost the run of himself.

I rewatched it again for this blog post, and felt very much the same. This time around I had various plot summaries to hand, which helped me make a little more sense of it; but TV science fiction at its best, unlike say opera, is not normally one of those art forms which requires the consumer to follow along with notes. I love Whittaker as the Doctor, but there are far too many moments where she is attempting to carry the full burden of audience interest through facial expressions and body language, and not helped by the dim studio lighting, the lack of other actors to interact with, or (crucially) the script.

Once again, I did like the fourth instalment, Village of the Angels, much more than the rest – a coherent plot which is more than adequately explained, higher production values, and interestingly the only episode of the six for which a co-writer (Maxine Alderton) is credited alongside Chibnall; and it ends with one of the best visual cliff-hangers ever, as the Doctor herself becomes a Weeping Angel. Interestingly, when I surveyed the Internet Movie Database for the top-rated episode of each era and spinoff of Who, Village of the Angels was a clear winner for the Thirteenth Doctor.

In his editorial foreword, Paul Driscoll explains that the fact that there are six very tightly linked episodes provided a challenge for the Black Archive series. What they have done is to commission six essays from six different authors, topped and tailed with shorter pieces by Alasdair Stuart.

Stuart’s introduction reflects on the terror of the time, when Doctor Who became to an extent a pandemic coping mechanism.

James Cooray Smith’s essay on The Halloween Apocalypse, ‘Apocalypse? Now!’, starts by reflecting on Chris Chibnall’s previous career and how different his Doctor Who turned out to be from his previous work, looks also at the importance of Liverpool as a setting and 31 October as the date for the episode, and recognises the weaknesses in the characters of Karvanista, Swarm and Azure; as I like to say, their means and motivation are never made entirely clear.

Emma Reed’s ‘A History in Flux’, looking at War of the Sontarans, examines the role of history (and fictionalised history) in Doctor Who, especially the Chibnall era’s emphasis on women in history. It also explained to me what the Temple of Atropos stuff was meant to be about, a point which had escaped me on both viewings of the story.

In ‘The Primordial Division’, Once, Upon Time is examined by Philip Purser-Hallard. I found it a thoroughly confusing episode on both viewings, and rather hoped that everything would come out right with the rest of the show. Purser-Hallard explains to me much better what is going on than the actual script did. He makes a number of interesting observations also about the role of double identities in the story and the Jungian resonances, but basically he enjoyed and was interested in this episode and I didn’t, and he doesn’t sell me on it. The second paragraph of his piece is:

She’s perfectly correct, as ‘The Halloween Apocalypse’ has already shown: in the Ravagers’ introductions, Swarm was confined to a cylindrical energy shield, supposedly ‘since the dawn of the universe’, while Azure was reduced to ‘Anna’, a human woman living with her partner Jón in the far north of Iceland, without recollection of her extraterrestrial past.

Village of the Angels was broadcast on the worst day of my bout with COVID in 2021, and I did wonder when re-watching if it would hold up to re-watching. I’m glad to say that it did, and as noted above it’s my favourite episode of the series. I therefore had high hopes of Oliver Tomkins’ analysis, ‘The Angels Have the Goggle Box’, and they were fulfilled – it’s an in-depth look at the Weeping Angels, where the come from in terms of story and what they mean, why they are frightening and what they do, and how they break the fourth wall. Tomkins also looks at how the Bel plotline integrates into the Flux story.

‘Doctor Who’s Mother’, by James Mortimore, looks at Survivors of the Flux, considering the colonial framing of the Time Lords (vis-à-vis the Shobogans, and the rest of the universe), and looking at Tecteun and representations of motherhood in the show.

Finally, we get to The Vanquishers. In ‘The Three Doctors… and a Sontaran Stratagem’, Matt Hills is disarmingly frank about its failure to provide satisfactory narrative resolution, and puts this down to Chibnall’s emphasis on surprise. He then looks at the triple-Jodie Whittaker Doctor in the episode as a tribute to The Three Doctors, and reflects on how a fannish show-runner reacts against fannish expectations. It’s a good explanation of what the episode was trying to do, though again I do not feel that it succeeded.

Alasdair Stuart’s conclusion, ‘You are the Universe, Doctor’, defends the whole sequence of episodes, though as will have become apparent, I am not convinced.

Incidentally there are six ways of arranging three different things, and I have arranged the episode title, essay title and essay author’s name differently in each of the previous six paragraphs.

In sum, I did learn quite a lot from this Black Archive, largely because it explained to me what several of the episodes were supposed to be about. I’m afraid that underlines to me that the entire thing was a failure of art. I prefer to understand my TV at the time that I watch it, rather than waiting until I read serious analysis two and a half years later. But you can get it here.

From here on in, I’m switching to doing just one Black Archive write-up per month, as I am catching up with current releases all too quickly.

The Black Archives
1st Doctor: Marco Polo (18) | The Dalek Invasion of Earth (30) | The Romans (32) | The Massacre (2)
2nd Doctor: The Underwater Menace (40) | The Evil of the Daleks (11) | The Mind Robber (7)
3rd Doctor: Doctor Who and the Silurians (39) | The Ambassadors of Death (3) | The Dæmons (26) | Carnival of Monsters (16) | The Time Warrior (24) | Invasion of the Dinosaurs (55)
4th Doctor: Pyramids of Mars (12) | The Hand of Fear (53) | The Deadly Assassin (45) | The Face of Evil (27) | The Robots of Death (43) | Talons of Weng-Chiang (58) | Horror of Fang Rock (33) | Image of the Fendahl (5) | The Sun Makers (60) | The Stones of Blood (47) | Full Circle (15) | Warriors’ Gate (31)
5th Doctor: Kinda (62) | Black Orchid (8) | Earthshock (51) | The Awakening (46)
6th Doctor: Vengeance on Varos (41) | Timelash (35) | The Ultimate Foe (14)
7th Doctor: Paradise Towers (61) | Battlefield (34) | The Curse of Fenric (23) | Ghost Light (6)
8th Doctor: The Movie (25) | The Night of the Doctor (49)
Other Doctor: Scream of the Shalka (10)
9th Doctor: Rose (1) | Dalek (54)
10th Doctor: The Impossible Planet / The Satan Pit (17) | Love & Monsters (28) | Human Nature / The Family of Blood (13) | The Sound of Drums / Last of the Time Lords (38)
11th Doctor: The Eleventh Hour (19) | Vincent and the Doctor (57) | The Pandorica Opens / The Big Bang (44) | The Impossible Astronaut / Day of the Moon (29) | The God Complex (9) | The Rings of Akhaten (42) | Day of the Doctor (50)
12th Doctor: Listen (36) | Kill the Moon (59) | Dark Water / Death in Heaven (4) | Face the Raven (20) | Heaven Sent (21) | Hell Bent (22)
13th Doctor: Arachnids in the UK (48) | Kerblam! (37) | The Battle of Ranskoor av Kolos (52) | The Haunting of Villa Diodati (56) | Flux (63)

Vincent and the Doctor, by Paul Driscoll (and Richard Curtis)

This is one of my favourite New Who stories. I wrote of my 2011 Hugo votes:

1) Doctor Who: Vincent and the Doctor. Yes, I do plan to give my first preference to the writer of The Tall GuyBlackadderMr. BeanFour Weddings and a Funeral, and The Vicar of Dibley. (Not forgetting his first great work with The Heebeegeebees.) I thought this was the outstanding Who episode of last year, the best since Blink, and my biggest difficulty in deciding which others to nominate for the Hugos was a fear that if I nominated any of them, Vincent might be crowded out. But luckily we got through that stage OK; hopefully the Alternative Vote will see the award go where it ought.

Two weeks into the 2020 lockdown, I was one of those who participated in the Twitter watchalong of the episode.

I also found that it was the top-rated Eleventh Doctor episode on IMDB.

Rewatching it again for this exercise, I still loved it a lot. It looks gorgeous, it sounds gorgeous, the acting is spot-on and the script sparkles. I have two reservations: the actual monster bit is slightly surplus to requirements, and at the end, the exhibition of van Gogh’s work would certainly have displayed his dates of birth and death rather prominently. I’ms also still irritated that a teaching moment in Dutch phonology was missed. As I wrote at the time, in the name “van Gogh”:

1) the ‘a’ is very short and low, heading towards a short ‘o’ in English.
2) both the ‘g’ and the ‘gh’ are pronounced as a softer version of ‘ch’ in Scottish ‘loch’.
3) ‘Vahn Goff’ is completely and utterly wrong. (And if you thought it was ‘Van Go’, I don’t ever want to talk to you again.)

I like his art, and we saw some at the Kröller-Müller Museum a year and a half ago. I’ve also read two biographies in graphic novel format. He’s a fascinating character who left us an evocative legacy, and Richard Curtis pushes it just far enough in Vincent and the Doctor.

Bechdel fail, I’m afraid; the two title characters are both men, and apart from Amy there is no named female speaking part. (We are told Giselle’s name after she is dead.)

Paul Driscoll’s Black Archive monograph is one of the longer and more substantial ones. Like the last one I read, on The Haunting of Villa Diodati, it links a historical story about real-life historical creators to the actual biographies and works of those creators. I found it much more successful, I think partly because I like the story much more but mainly because Driscoll has written a better book.

The first chapter, “The Voice of the Writer”, looks at the career of Richard Curtis and how Vincent and the Doctor flows from a lot of his previous themes, and also the very personal one of his sister who he lost to depression a year before the episode was written. I’ve seen less than half of the films and stories referenced, but I am convinced of a linear narrative thread connecting Vincent with About Time and Blackadder: Back and Forth. It’s detailed and well argued.

The second and longest chapter, “The Voice of the Artist”, starts by looking at other screen treatments of van Gogh’s life and death, then looks at how the episode treats him as tortured genius vs visionary artist, and finished by looking at van Gogh’s own letters for indications of how he himself saw his art.

The third chapter, “The Voice of the Monster”, looks at the monster as a metaphor for mental illness and considers how Doctor Who portrays trauma more generally. Its second paragraph is:

In a lengthy scene cut during post-production, the Doctor tells Amy that artists often see real things that nobody else notices. As they prepare to head off in the TARDIS to meet Vincent for the first time, he shows her various examples from Fuseli, Bosch, Munch and De Goya3. The Doctor’s point is that nightmares and monsters cannot always be dismissed as flights of fantasy on the part of the artist. The monster in The Church at Auvers (1890) painting reminds him of a fairy tale he’d read as a child. He cannot be sure, but he sets off on the presumption that the creature is real and not a product of Vincent’s imagination.
3  TCH [The Complete History] #65, p94f.

The fourth chapter, “The Voice of the Paintings”, looks first at how little the visual arts feature in Doctor Who outside the Moffat era and then at how much Moffat emphasised them, and then looks at several specific van Gogh paintings and the way in which they are used in the episode.

A brief conclusion considers the story as a fairy tale.

An appendix lists 46 (!) different van Gogh paintings that appear in or are referred to in the episode.

As I said, this was a long but meaty Black Archive, and I recommend it. You can get it here.

The Black Archives
1st Doctor: Marco Polo (18) | The Dalek Invasion of Earth (30) | The Romans (32) | The Massacre (2)
2nd Doctor: The Underwater Menace (40) | The Evil of the Daleks (11) | The Mind Robber (7)
3rd Doctor: Doctor Who and the Silurians (39) | The Ambassadors of Death (3) | The Dæmons (26) | Carnival of Monsters (16) | The Time Warrior (24) | Invasion of the Dinosaurs (55)
4th Doctor: Pyramids of Mars (12) | The Hand of Fear (53) | The Deadly Assassin (45) | The Face of Evil (27) | The Robots of Death (43) | Talons of Weng-Chiang (58) | Horror of Fang Rock (33) | Image of the Fendahl (5) | The Sun Makers (60) | The Stones of Blood (47) | Full Circle (15) | Warriors’ Gate (31)
5th Doctor: Kinda (62) | Black Orchid (8) | Earthshock (51) | The Awakening (46)
6th Doctor: Vengeance on Varos (41) | Timelash (35) | The Ultimate Foe (14)
7th Doctor: Paradise Towers (61) | Battlefield (34) | The Curse of Fenric (23) | Ghost Light (6)
8th Doctor: The Movie (25) | The Night of the Doctor (49)
Other Doctor: Scream of the Shalka (10)
9th Doctor: Rose (1) | Dalek (54)
10th Doctor: The Impossible Planet / The Satan Pit (17) | Love & Monsters (28) | Human Nature / The Family of Blood (13) | The Sound of Drums / Last of the Time Lords (38)
11th Doctor: The Eleventh Hour (19) | Vincent and the Doctor (57) | The Pandorica Opens / The Big Bang (44) | The Impossible Astronaut / Day of the Moon (29) | The God Complex (9) | The Rings of Akhaten (42) | Day of the Doctor (50)
12th Doctor: Listen (36) | Kill the Moon (59) | Dark Water / Death in Heaven (4) | Face the Raven (20) | Heaven Sent (21) | Hell Bent (22)
13th Doctor: Arachnids in the UK (48) | Kerblam! (37) | The Battle of Ranskoor av Kolos (52) | The Haunting of Villa Diodati (56) | Flux (63)

Doctor Who (1996) by Paul Driscoll (and Doctor Who, the-book-of-the-movie, by Gary Russell)

I missed the broadcast of Doctor Who: The Movie (as we now call it) in 1996, because I was fighting an election campaign at the time. I ought to feel grateful to the 95.9% of voters who supported other candidates in the election and liberated me to follow my subsequent career; but for some reason I hold the 4.1% who did vote for me a little closer to my heart. I did not see it until ten and a half years later, when I wrote:

It really did take me until last night to get around to watching, for the first time, the 1996 Doctor Who TV movie. I think it looks fantastic. The inside of the Tardis, especially, but also the other scenes, hospital, party, city, the policeman riding his motorbike into the Tardis, the lot. The final scenes with the Master, the Doctor and the Eye of Harmony are impossible to look away from. I think it sounds good as well. The arrangement of the theme tune is the only one to take serious liberties with the original and get away with it. (Apart from the original 1963 version, the only good opening music for the TV series is the present one. Though the opening titles for the Tom Baker era are the best of the classic series.)

There is, of course huge violence to continuity which can only really be dealt with by assuming that the post-regeneration Doctor and body-transferring Master were deluded in their statements. There is really no way the Doctor can be half-human. We suspect that Gallifreyans and humans can mate (see Leela’s departure, and the follow-up in Lungbarrow), but the Doctor has made so many remarks over the years about his own separateness and difference from humanity that I must assume he doesn’t mean what his eighth incarnation says. Also the Eye of Harmony was on Gallifrey on the Tardis as far as I remember. (Though Wikipedia has some heroic retconning on this topic.) 

But in general I come down in favour. I think McGann, Ashbrook and Roberts are great. I also liked the links to continuity both forward and back – McCoy’s appearance for the first twenty minutes, McGann’s fondling a scarf as he decides what to wear; but also of course (a point that was new to me) the Doctor looking through Grace’s letterbox, a scene repeated by the Ninth Doctor and Rose in the very next episode (nine years later). Sure, the plot was just a bit threadbare, and the revival of the dead companions at the end a bit silly (if repeated for Captain Jack in The Parting of the Ways); and I can see why this did not lead to a revival of the series’ fortunes. But it is far from embarrassing.

When I came to it again at the very end of my 2009-2011 rewatch, I wrote:

And last but not quite least, forward another three years to The TV Movie. It actually has a lot of good points – the repeated motif of eyes, a lot of the business of the Doctor explaining himself to himself as well as to the rest of the world, the comedy moments mixed with SFnal horror. Daphne Ashbrook is channelling all of the female Classic Who companions, with added snogging (and in fairness a much more complicated love life than most companions arrive with); Eric Roberts is I think rather good with the somewhat two-dimensional character he is given, though of course it’s difficult for Old Who fans to accept a Master without either a beard or poached-egg eyes. The script tears big holes in continuity about the Doctor’s genetic heritage and the location of the Eye of Harmony, but I think it does make sense in its own terms (apart from the reset button that allows the dead companions to be resurrected); however, it just doesn’t lead on to great things in the way that An Unearthly Child did thirty-three years before.

Knowing what we do now about Who since 2005, The TV Movie feels like a dead end in continuity, though I was surprised by the number of elements have been first properly seen here and carried through to New Who – including some of the musical themes, which are very close to some of Murray Gold’s work. But of course that is the narrow TV viewer’s perspective; the Eighth Doctor continuity goes on in comics, books and audios, in three separate streams, all rooted in these 85 minutes of movie.

McGann, once he has regained his memory and before he gets tied up, is a rather good Doctor; he combines a wizardly young fogey with a bit of an air of surprise and almost annoyance that the world is not quite as he would wish it to be. He is at his best with Daphne Ashbrook, and fans of McGann’s audio performances will remember that the high points there tend to come with interaction with India Fisher’s Charley Pollard and Sheridan Smith’s Lucie Miller. Whereas the more alien Doctors of Old Who were alien because they were hiding their nature from us, the Eighth Doctor doesn’t even fully know himself. It would have been nice to have had more of him.

Watching it again, it annoyed me a bit more. The pacing is generally off, and it’s difficult to imagine how this could have developed into a successful TV series (as indeed it didn’t). All power to McGann, however, a very nice chap in real life.

The second paragraph of The-Book-Of-The-Movie, by Gary Russell, is:

For Dr Grace Holloway, still dressed in her now crumpled ballgown, it began drearily. She woke up and heaved her face up off her desk and tried to massage some life into her right cheek. It had taken the full weight of her sleeping head all night, and she imagined that someone could jab a needle right through it and she would still not feel a thing.

When I first read it in 2007, I wrote:

This was the novel of the TV movie, written by Gary Russell (two of whose other Who novels I have read; I liked one of them). Not really a lot to say about this; he has stuck fairly closely to the script, padding out the introduction a bit more, wisely not expanding on the Doctor’s demi-humanity. I see that I found the visuals and the acting particularly attractive in the broadcast version of the story, and inevitably those get lost in the transfer to the printed page. But it’s basically OK.

Actually I liked it a bit more this time around, perhaps because I re-read it so close to re-watching the original version of the story. A lot of the incidental characters are given significantly more back-story. The Doctor himself comes over as a bit more of an enigma, which was possibly wise. I’ve also read enough Who spinoff fiction now to realise that Russell is among the best of the writers in the stable. You can get it here.

Paul Driscoll’s monograph on The Movie is one of the longest so far in the Black Archive series, featuring an introduction by Matthew Jacobs and a long interview with him as an appendix. Jacobs loves it.

I am compelled and intrigued by patterns Paul can see that were never intended, and delighted by the patterns he has seen that so few people have ever spotted that were absolutely intended. / Intended or not, his observations are always valid and entertaining. This is without doubt the most thorough and complete analysis of the TV movie I have ever read – and there have been quite a few. If I had any idea what I was writing in 1995-6 was going to be analysed this deeply, I might never have started!

The introductory chapter, “Anxious Voices in the Wilderness”, frames the TV movie in the context of the times, not just the hiatus in Doctor Who production but the uncertain international situation.

The second chapter, “He’s Back, But It’s About How”, looks at the extent to which the TV movie does (and doesn’t) rely on Doctor Who continuity,

The third chapter, “Coming to America: Refining the Britishness of Doctor Who”, looks in depth at the extent to which the Doctor’s Britishness, and the show’s British roots, shaped the story. The BBC were much more involved in the scripting process than I had realised. The second paragraph of the third chapter is:

As the most extreme example of the two cultures combining in Doctor Who, The Movie sheds much light on how Britishness is defined and mediated through the programme, as well as the effects of globalisation and Americanisation on the character of the show. Yet despite the movie’s explicit privileging of Britishness, Danny Nicol’s 2018 dissertation on Britishness in Doctor Who as a whole lacks any notable references to the production or story2. One possible explanation for this odd omission is that Nicol excludes from his study any elements of British culture that he considers to be non-political, such as the emotional restraint conveyed by the term ‘stiff British upper lip’3. The Movie prioritises the personal over the social. Structural or societal evils such as repressive governments or greedy multinational corporations, so often the focus of the Doctor’s ire, are entirely absent from the story. However, by Nicol’s own admission, ‘Britishness’ as a term is intrinsically political and the lack of political and social engagement in the script of The Movie is in itself a political act. Besides which, as we shall argue, the Britishness of the Doctor in the movie runs far deeper than his English accent and fondness for tea.
2 Nicol, Danny, Doctor Who: A British Alien? (2018).
3 Nicol, A British Alien, p31.

The fourth chapter, “Who Am I? Reimagining the Doctor for a New Audience” looks at the McGann Doctor’s literary roots in Frankenstein, Christ, superheroes including Batman, the Beast of Beauty and the Beast, Byronic heroes, Wild Bill Hickock and the operas Turandot and Madame Butterfly.

The fifth chapter, “The Doctor’s Nemesis”, looks not only at the Roberts Master but at the character before and since in terms of various villainous literary archetypes.

The sixth chapter, “How Well Do These Shoes Really Fit?”, looks at the continuities and discontinuities between The Movie and both old and new televised Who, starting with a strong comparison of the plot with that of The Deadly Assassin.

An appendix looks at audience reception of the movie as revealed from an online survey, and another appendix, as mentioned previously, interviews the writer Matthew Jacobs.

It’s a book that focuses very much on the script rather than on the production (except where the latter affected the former), but I still enjoyed it a lot. You can get it here.

The Black Archives
1st Doctor: Marco Polo (18) | The Dalek Invasion of Earth (30) | The Romans (32) | The Massacre (2)
2nd Doctor: The Underwater Menace (40) | The Evil of the Daleks (11) | The Mind Robber (7)
3rd Doctor: Doctor Who and the Silurians (39) | The Ambassadors of Death (3) | The Dæmons (26) | Carnival of Monsters (16) | The Time Warrior (24) | Invasion of the Dinosaurs (55)
4th Doctor: Pyramids of Mars (12) | The Hand of Fear (53) | The Deadly Assassin (45) | The Face of Evil (27) | The Robots of Death (43) | Talons of Weng-Chiang (58) | Horror of Fang Rock (33) | Image of the Fendahl (5) | The Sun Makers (60) | The Stones of Blood (47) | Full Circle (15) | Warriors’ Gate (31)
5th Doctor: Kinda (62) | Black Orchid (8) | Earthshock (51) | The Awakening (46)
6th Doctor: Vengeance on Varos (41) | Timelash (35) | The Ultimate Foe (14)
7th Doctor: Paradise Towers (61) | Battlefield (34) | The Curse of Fenric (23) | Ghost Light (6)
8th Doctor: The Movie (25) | The Night of the Doctor (49)
Other Doctor: Scream of the Shalka (10)
9th Doctor: Rose (1) | Dalek (54)
10th Doctor: The Impossible Planet / The Satan Pit (17) | Love & Monsters (28) | Human Nature / The Family of Blood (13) | The Sound of Drums / Last of the Time Lords (38)
11th Doctor: The Eleventh Hour (19) | Vincent and the Doctor (57) | The Pandorica Opens / The Big Bang (44) | The Impossible Astronaut / Day of the Moon (29) | The God Complex (9) | The Rings of Akhaten (42) | Day of the Doctor (50)
12th Doctor: Listen (36) | Kill the Moon (59) | Dark Water / Death in Heaven (4) | Face the Raven (20) | Heaven Sent (21) | Hell Bent (22)
13th Doctor: Arachnids in the UK (48) | Kerblam! (37) | The Battle of Ranskoor av Kolos (52) | The Haunting of Villa Diodati (56) | Flux (63)

The God Complex, by Paul Driscoll

Second paragraph of third chapter:

One of the more plausible interpretations of The Shining covered in the documentary movie, Room 237 (2012), is that the movie is a reworking of the Theseus and the Minotaur myth. At the end of the film Jack dies inside a hedge maze, a location that Kubrick added to King’s novel. The association of Jack with the Minotaur is foreshadowed elsewhere in the movie: there are moments when Jack appears taurine-like – as if he’s a bull about to charge; there is a poster of a skier who looks like the Minotaur beside another of a cowboy riding a bull; and in another scene, Jack’s wife, Wendy, makes a comment about leaving a trail of breadcrumbs, reminiscent of Ariadne’s thread. The God Complex is far more explicit in its mining of the Minotaur myth, but its association with The Shining extends far beyond this shared mythical inspiration.

Next in the sequence of Black Archive monographs on individual Doctor Who stories, which I am reading at the rate of two a month in an attempt to catch up. (Both this and the next one in sequence are numbered #10 on the cover, but it seems that this is really #9.)

The God Complex is one of my less favourite episodes in one of my less favourite series of New Who, and I didn’t write it up at the time, nor did I recommended it in my epic “Which New Who to Watch” post. In case you need your memory refreshed, here’s the “Next Time” trailer:

It’s the one where the Doctor, Amy and Rory are stuck in a hotel with a few other characters, of whom the best developed is Rita, played by Amara Karan; but it turns out that the hotel is a prison for a Minotaur. Personally I didn’t feel that the plot held together at all, and the scene at the end, where the Doctor basically kicks Amy and Rory out of the Tardis to start their lives without him, was disappointingly underdeveloped. But others differ; here, for instance, is Matt Smith reflecting on what the story might have told us about the Doctor:

In a panel at Dragon Con 2017, Matt Smith revealed his own theory for what was in the mysterious Room 11 in The God Complex and it’s much darker than you’d expect. #DoctorWho #MattSmith pic.twitter.com/It95XFR3PJ

— Tom Bowen (@ThetaSigma2017) January 27, 2022

Driscoll is clearly also a fan of the story, finding a lot more depth to it than I had imagined was there. The chapters are as follows:

  • The symbolism of the Minotaur, and modern treatments of the story in and beyond Doctor Who;
  • The roots of the story in Orwell’s 1984 (surveillance in particular);
  • The roots of the story in The Shining, film rather than book (hotel horror, obviously, though he also blames it for the weakness of the closing scene);
  • The roots of the story in previous Who stories about bases under siege and about religion (though I think he misses a couple of interesting examples on religion);
  • A rather good chapter on fear and terror as storytelling devices;
  • A more confused chapter trying to work out what the story is trying to tell us about faith and religion;
  • A long chapter on the Doctor’s fallibility as a hero;
  • A chapter on the role of the companions in Doctor Who;
  • a concluding short chapter wondering what the hell the symbolism of the fishbowl is meant to be?

Driscoll likes the story more than I did, but is not unaware of its flaws. I went back myself and watched it again to prepare for this post, but I think it will be a while before I repeat the effort. You can get Driscoll’s book here.

The Black Archives
1st Doctor: Marco Polo (18) | The Dalek Invasion of Earth (30) | The Romans (32) | The Massacre (2)
2nd Doctor: The Underwater Menace (40) | The Evil of the Daleks (11) | The Mind Robber (7)
3rd Doctor: Doctor Who and the Silurians (39) | The Ambassadors of Death (3) | The Dæmons (26) | Carnival of Monsters (16) | The Time Warrior (24) | Invasion of the Dinosaurs (55)
4th Doctor: Pyramids of Mars (12) | The Hand of Fear (53) | The Deadly Assassin (45) | The Face of Evil (27) | The Robots of Death (43) | Talons of Weng-Chiang (58) | Horror of Fang Rock (33) | Image of the Fendahl (5) | The Sun Makers (60) | The Stones of Blood (47) | Full Circle (15) | Warriors’ Gate (31)
5th Doctor: Kinda (62) | Black Orchid (8) | Earthshock (51) | The Awakening (46)
6th Doctor: Vengeance on Varos (41) | Timelash (35) | The Ultimate Foe (14)
7th Doctor: Paradise Towers (61) | Battlefield (34) | The Curse of Fenric (23) | Ghost Light (6)
8th Doctor: The Movie (25) | The Night of the Doctor (49)
Other Doctor: Scream of the Shalka (10)
9th Doctor: Rose (1) | Dalek (54)
10th Doctor: The Impossible Planet / The Satan Pit (17) | Love & Monsters (28) | Human Nature / The Family of Blood (13) | The Sound of Drums / Last of the Time Lords (38)
11th Doctor: The Eleventh Hour (19) | Vincent and the Doctor (57) | The Pandorica Opens / The Big Bang (44) | The Impossible Astronaut / Day of the Moon (29) | The God Complex (9) | The Rings of Akhaten (42) | Day of the Doctor (50)
12th Doctor: Listen (36) | Kill the Moon (59) | Dark Water / Death in Heaven (4) | Face the Raven (20) | Heaven Sent (21) | Hell Bent (22)
13th Doctor: Arachnids in the UK (48) | Kerblam! (37) | The Battle of Ranskoor av Kolos (52) | The Haunting of Villa Diodati (56) | Flux (63)