‘KKLAK’ is a nonsense word that means everything to us. Phrases like ‘a pleasant, open face’ and ‘a wheezing and groaning sound’ are filtered through our minds from the biblical Target novels of our childhood. I remember the ‘capacious pockets’. Playing Doctor Who as a child didn’t mean wielding a sonic screwdriver, it was as absent from Who as it was present. No, it meant filling my pockets with any old crap I could find and pretending I would need to find a use for it when hanging off a cliff, or battling a ‘walking mummy’ (our name for the monster in The Pyramids of Mars) or ‘green ghosties’ (who knows?)
It’s one of my favourite things about the Doctor, his suddenly producing items from his pockets. He does it in The God Complex and it makes me smile. I’m not sure how often Doctor Matt made me smile; most of the time spent watching him was about reconciling things in my head. The Doctor had changed by this time; he no longer explored and used wisdom to figure things out, now he was a walking Wikipedia – he knew everything necessary to explain a plot wherever he landed. Moments of charm were no longer quiet laughs shared between Katy Manning and Elisabeth Sladen with Doctors Jon and Tom, they were highly scripted back-and-forth repartee.
Still one thing remained the same… the companions were always upstaged by the guest stars, and yet they still remained higher billed. This isn’t the case in most television drama. In most shows, the regular cast are the stars – they get the juicy plot lines, they are the centre of the story, and guest stars only exist to shred out a few lines. But in Doctor Who, it’s the guest stars who make the episode. David Walliams is one of those British stars who crosses all boundaries. Ostensibly a comedian, he is one of the most successful children’s authors around (however much he writes like a lazy Roald Dahl), a judge on one of television’s most popular shows and a regular on chat shows across several channels. He is also a profoundly queer screen presence – he disrupts the stability of most shows he is in by toying and flirting with men, and by behaving in an atypically masculine manner. So he is a shoo-in for the natural camp of Who. In series seven, all we were mainly getting was a lot of pouting from Karen Gillen.
There is a strong tradition in Who of gods being either false or evil. There is no benign, benevolent presence within its universe. It is replaced by a somewhat banal belief in the amazingness of humanity, and more interestingly, in moments when the Doctor himself starts to believe he is god. The ‘Complex’ of the title refers to the Doctor himself. After all, the climax of the story relies on the Doctor breaking Amy’s faith in him. The new series has a complex relationship with the old series. It knows that the vast majority of the audience for it doesn’t even have the cultural memory of ‘the one with the maggots’ anymore. So it is free to play with moments from the old series and recycle anything that comes out in the wash. The fact that this is a weak cover version of a moment in The Curse of Fenric is irrelevant. Even for fans, the moments on the screen are limp when compared to what we read in Target novels or remembered watching in our childhoods.
(Reading the novelisation of Warriors from the Deep I had no real understanding of maritime terminology and thus imagined every scene set on ‘the bridge’ as happening… well, you can guess the rest.)
Climaxes of stories in new Who have become something else. I remember looking at the clock in Russell T. Davies episodes and wondering what on Earth he was going to do for the next fifteen minutes. Nowadays, the plot ends, and then there are scenes of emotion. Back on Day of the Daleks, Paul Bernard refused to film the coda to the earlier TARDIS time travel scene because he felt the story was done. Now, climaxes can seem premature, they can be thrown away and come at some quite strange times.
Despite the imaginative use of inserted shots within the episode, The God Complex does seem to conform to the notion that modern television is just crap movies. Doctor Who has always been able to turn this into a strength, if not visually, then thematically. The Shining (1980 – Stanley Kubrick) is used as a touchstone – but there we gain an insight into the psychosis of a violent abuser. Here we get a typical creepy clown. By the time we’ve reached the set of the cheapest looking spaceship the series has done yet, we realise that the God isn’t complex, he’s kind of trite.