This is one of those stories that I found myself gritting my teeth through needlessly.
Because it kept threatening to go somewhere badly, but never quite got there.
It's written by the guy who turned in last season's awful Vampires Of Venice. It's about faith, a subject rarely depicted with much understanding on television. It contains a muslim who at one point has to crack the absolutely cringeworthy joke "Don't be afraid." It also threatens to descend into tackling euthanasia. It has a pretentious title.
These are good conversations to be having in Doctor Who, but not without delving under the surface, and even then you have to know your subject. Faith is not merely a singular belief in times of trouble, but a whole way of living. For example, it takes faith to believe in what your five senses tell you. Perhaps a better word here might have been hope.
It's set in a building which contains a person's fears, much like Night Terrors a mere two weeks back, but no-one makes the connection.
The Doctor enters the room which contains his worst fear, but the makers cop-out and we don't get to see it.
The rooms can move, although this turns out to be irrelevant.
Like I said, this episode is almost going somewhere.
After last week, there are guest-characters again, but most of them are too shallow to make us feel afraid for them. Lucy and Joe are only really seen in their possessed form, while Gibbis and Howie are comic relief, so can't really carry much drama.
Howie is the Doctor Who universe's latest maladjusted straw nerd, and accordingly goes through the usual ridicule. When Rory - a fictional character who routinely travels through time and space - belittles Howie for believing in a conspiracy theory, Rory comes across as, well, somewhat tiny-minded. This is Doctor Who - just how many other episodes are there about a worldwide conspiracy being true? As Rory has recently been to the Whitehouse and met both Nixon and the Silence, maybe he's protecting a conspiracy?
Aside from the regular cast, that only really leaves Rita, who the Doctor keeps on saying is very intelligent, until she commits suicide. Given what a routine decision this has become in Doctor Who in recent years, the real sense of loss in the following scene is impressive.
Well, there's still the monster to connect with. He/it requires praise to survive, and achieves this by scaring its victims until they find some faith within themselves to withstand it. This is a great moment of revelation. However the idea that the monster then replaces that faith by possessing them and then consuming their minds is muddled, contradictory and contrived, but then this is a series about a body-changing alien travelling the universe in a Police Box.
I'm no expert, but having faith is just not the same thing as praising. I have faith in God's existence and goodness, but I cannot claim to really 'praise' him. I'm not knocking it, but it's always been a mystery to me why other Christians do this.
Accepting that the monster seemed to be feeding upon itself as much as its victims, everything here did hold together pretty well for me in the end. In fact I'd even say the whole thing was pretty well plotted.
The cast are not stupidly praising a monster, but being controlled by it to do so. (yet more zombies) Leaving the eleventh Doctor's worst fear to the viewer's imagination gets by, albeit by chickening out of identifying it. (I think it was River, but a waiting Valeyard would have been awesome) And the direction is absolutely great.
The Doctor's having to break Amy's faith in him is a good development, but really needed to feature him outright betraying her, instead of merely lying so badly.
The final scene suddenly features the Doctor dropping Amy and Rory back home. This isn't that well motivated by the preceding events, and features no reference by anyone to the Doctor's impending death. Which is a bit of a shame after all the episodes this series that have closed by referencing this plot point without needing to. You can read a sub-text in here, but you can equally not. Well, that'd be why it's called a sub-text. I guess I wanted some text too.
That the Doctor has given up travelling with a companion for the same reason before, only to later realise that that decision was a mistake, goes without saying. Literally.
It all felt a bit odd. I suppose that the final two episodes of this series will be written by Steven Moffat and revolve around that storyline. Perhaps my sense of unease is a good thing.
After all, that's how the Doctor must feel.