Sunday, January 13, 2013

Headgame Hotel

I haven't written that much about television on this blog. Certainly I haven't done a single episode review like this. But I feel sort of compelled in this case. Plus there's video up for a relatively recent Doctor Who that's not on a paid download site or a shifty semi-legal operation that might have to take all its videos down soon. So:

"The God Complex", from September 2011.

A good rule of thumb in writing fanstastic material - any material really - is to just go for it. Don't feel you have to justify anything. Find what interests you and hit it. Toby Whithouse does this right. He starts with the premise of a creepy Overlook-ish hotel, one with Escher bends in the architecture. Then he fills it with seemingly every creepy cool thing he can think of. Sad clown? Seen briefly, but here. Crowd of evil ventriloquist dummies? Check. Obviously fake gorilla? Oh yes. And the "obviously fake" aspect is interesting. Back in the late 80s, when the budget barely covered the show's reduced schedule, playing up the fakeness of the visuals in a Brechtian way was par for the course. In the 21st century Doctor Who is a big deal with a big CGI commitment, so going the Poverty Row route is going against the grain.

I also love the way director Nick Hurran plays with the format in these opening moments, alternating between regular footage, security cam video, and typed text. The editing soon slows down to a human level, but the sense of disorientation remains.

Some of the guest characters are certainly types. Gibbis, the Wind in the Willows fugitive, seems to embody those French jokes all of us Yanks were yukking it up over when Operation Iraqi Freedom started. And Howard is the prototypical wally/anorak/nerd/dork/what-have-you. This is perhaps by way of contrast. Rita is a whole other story, and a very sad one.

Interestingly Whithouse subsequently wrote another DW episode called "A Town Called Mercy", which some have taken as a kind of Christian allegory. This, on the other hand, seems like a frontal assault on the whole idea of faith, starting with the title. So did the writer have a huge philosophical turnaround? Probably not. Close examination finds they're not really at these thematic extremes. In this case, the minotaur has been exiled and imprisoned by the people who no longer worship him. Of course they've sent him out without thinking about the fact that he'd be, you know, feeding on people. So not so wise.

Mainly, though, I love this because of all the weird things going on at that haunted hotel. As if there's any other kind.


susan said...

After reading your take on the God Complex I was interested in watching at least some of the episode because you've made it sound pretty interesting. Unfortunately Idaho Public Television appears to be one of those web sites whose videos can't be accessed from here. Canada can be funny that way - haven't been able to watch the short Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert bits since we got here (can watch entire shows) but were bored with them anyway.

You're right that the best part of watching Dr. Who in the old days was in seeing the cheesy sets and cheesier monsters. By the 80's (post Tom Baker and even with him paired with Romana) we'd pretty much lost interest. A couple of years ago we watched one of the modern episodes on Netflix but weren't caught up by the excitement. This one does sound entertaining and I love the idea of them using all those old horror film tropes in the hotel. I'm just sorry I can't see it myself.

Ben said...

Ah, I had neglected to think of that. Yeah, TV websites take steps to make sure they're content doesn't cross borders. Although it would make sense for a public broadcasting channel to put their content out there and get an international donor base. Still, I'd recommend seeing this one. Halifax public library system probably carries the DVDs.

There was a lot of interesting behind-the-scenes business when Tom Baker was on the show. The producer on a lot of his good early episodes was eventually fired because a public scold was angry about the violent/scary content he was putting on the air. That made the next producer more cautious. It also meant Baker was the only one with job security, which showed.