First of all, I’m aware how horribly late this is. It might be a bit briefer than normal, as I try and crank out this and some thoughts about Closing Time before the finale starts.

To begin with, I’m not a huge Toby Whithouse fan. School Reunion was lovely whenever it was about Sarah Jane and K9, but I detect the jolly Welsh hand of Russell T Davies in much of that material, and I honestly couldn’t have cared less about the standard-issue and barely coherent science-fiction plot it was grafted on to. Did those silly bat things want to eat the children or harness their brains? What was the Skasis Paradigm anyway? Why do I care?

Vampires of Venice was one of a number of stories from series five which I thought suffered badly from being composed largely of left-over-bits and pieces of other (generally better) stories, and so I wasn’t really looking forward to this one much. However, once it began, my wariness began to evaporate. I always enjoy stories confined to a single location – I appreciate the economy and the look forward to seeing the results of a creative constraint. The direction is particularly stylish and energised, with text flashed up on the screen to dramatise poor Lucy’s collapsing mental state.

The Doctor and co. arrive and meet a fairly standard-issue gaggle of cannon-fodder types who explain the horrible secret of this hotel with its shifting walls. I say standard issue, but actually they’re for the most part clearly differentiated, written with wit and played with style. David Walliams as eager-to-surrender Gibbis is terribly funny and Amara Karan makes a huge impact as never-was companion Rita. The large ensemble cast sidelines Rory and Amy a little but the central conceit of the rooms which hold your worst fears is a lovely one.

However, not all of the characters are as fresh or as interesting. Joe is well-played by Daniel Pirrie, but just serves as Basil Exposition. Howie is a tedious cliché, and among a lot of rather uninteresting “worst fears” (PE teachers, spouting hand-me-down lines about “doing it in your pants”, old monster costumes pressed into service, shouty parents who feel disappointed) his is the least interesting by far. An awkward teenage boy afraid of girls. What a waste. A brilliant mechanism for probing each of these characters’ deepest, darkest fears and we get this miserable shop-worn collection. We don’t even get to see what the Doctor’s was, which might have seemed sly and smart if everyone else’s was gangbusters, but here it just seems like a lack of imagination.

And then, as mysteries are replaced by answers, the whole thing completely falls apart. The scene of the Doctor talking to the minotaur is shot splendidly – I imagine there was deep concern here that the thing looked immobile, awkward and not a little ridiculous and consistently shooting it through other semi-transparent objects is a wonderful solution, but what on earth did the explanation mean?

Two new clichés of twenty-first century Doctor Who are pressed into service here. I mentioned Encounter At Farpoint when writing about The Soggy Pirate Rubbish which has basically the same dénouement as this episode. Star Trek, in most of its recent incarnations has suffered a bit by “Farpointing” all of its best enemies. Not content with putting a Klingon on the bridge, DS9 we had jolly Ferengi and in Voyager we had to put up with a friendly Borg. But the best movies – Wrath of Khan, First Contact – are the ones with genuinely evil villains who have to be destroyed. It might be more sensitive and new-age to make your villains well-rounded and understandable, but it’s much, much harder to bring your adventure story to a thrilling conclusion if all your bad-guy wants is a hug.

Then we have the other dominant cliché of modern Doctor Who – say it with me – The Automated System Run Amok. Not only do we have this for the arguably fifth time this year, here it doesn’t even make any sense. As with the leathery Anthony Head things in School Reunion, I’ve absolutely no idea who gains from having this demented prison operate in this bizarre way, nor why the minotaur was so powerless to stop it, not what the Doctor did to bring about its end. It reminded me a little of the Cylons in the (generally excellent) rebooted Battlestar Galactica, whose plan – as it was revealed – appeared more and more to be designed less to bring about what the Cylons claimed to want, but instead to be designed to create maximally dramatic psychological suffering for a small handful of humans. It’s fun for viewers to watch people face their worst fears (or it would have been if they had been more interesting) but what purpose does it solve?

Possibly the best scene in the whole episode was the Doctor ruthlessly dismantling his companion’s faith in order to allow his plan to work. This however, is a near-identical replication of a scene from 1989’s The Curse of Fenric, which uses the neat idea that vampires may be warded off by crosses, not it’s not the object itself that matters but the faith of the person carrying it.

A very frustrating watch – lots of wit, invention and energy, especially in some of the supporting cast, but a central idea which is poorly exploited and a resolution which fatally lacks energy or coherence and – despite Nick Hurran’s extremely accomplished direction – a very ropey looking monster. And then – that coda.

Rather like the Flesh two-parter, a rather run-of-the-mill script, redeemed by some excellent direction, is suddenly elevated by a single stunning scene which ties the events of the preceding story into the fabric of the season as a whole. The Doctor dropping Amy and Rory off in suburban luxury is not shocking in the way that Amy’s milky disintegration was, but it still calls the whole nature of the Doctor/Companion relationship into question in a profound way. I don’t think the Doctor has flung anyone out of the TARDIS since he locked the doors on Susan in until-recently-Dalek-occupied London. Yet, I imagine we’ll see Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill’s names in the credits next week, and I know they will be on the shores of Lake Silencio, so just what is happening here? Is this a genuine departure, with just a few loose ends to tie up, or is it a feint? Is this Adric on the bridge of the freighter his presence in the Radio Times listings for Time Flight notwithstanding, or is it Tegan at the end of that same story, apparently left behind, but picked up again before the next story is over?

In any case, The God Complex earns three, rather generous, stars.

So... what did I think of The Girl Who Waited?
So... what did I think of Closing Time?