The Doctor's God Complex

Being 10 and 1 things about Doctor Who's The God Complex. Spoilers - goes without saying.Some awesome direction. The God Complex had some really good stuff thanks to director Nick Hurran, who also did last week's The Girl Who Waited. Disturbing flashcuts to collages of "Praise him." Strange disjointed images and odd angles. Transitions like the one that goes from the whistling boiling water to the sonic screwdriver. He creates a real atmosphere, a look unlike any other piece of Who ever, and still manages to pack an emotional punch at the end. There's a lovely use of mirrors too, in an episode that is very much about facing who you are. Very clever throughout and worth the price of the ticket regardless of what else is in the episode.

Fear. One of the things the episode claims to explore is the characters' fears. Certainly, we find out what scares the guest cast, but the Doctor, Amy and Rory? The Weeping Angels could be anybody's fear, and indeed, Amy doesn't necessarily drawn to that room (nor does anyone). Her fear is actually represented in the room with young Amelia Pond, a fear of the Doctor not coming back for her. Or is it his? A fear of letting Amy down? A shared fear? The script seems to call for this being Amy's room, but a case could be made for either, and both characters face that fear and dispel it, giving the capacity for moving on. I'm not sure how to take the bit where the Doctor opens a room and hears the cloister bell. Is it his room? Does he see a future death? It doesn't have the usual effect on him, nor does he die (if The Impossible Astronaut is to be believed) anywhere near the TARDIS. My take is that he saw or heard the captured TARDIS crying out, a further piece of the puzzle leading him to understand the truth of the prison.
The most invaded planet in the universe. Quick parentheses while we're on the subject of facing and accepting your fears - the frequently invaded planet bit could have been tiresome and silly, but it's got that Douglas Adams edge to it which always seems to work in Doctor Who. A real hoot! And of course, it tied into the themes of the episode since the Doctor and Amy also had to accept defeat in order to beat the Minotaur, which itself wanted to be defeated and released from its pointless eternal existence. The concept of the happily invaded planet taught the characters that contentment can be found if one only accepts change, even if that contentment comes at the cost of some freedoms. If Amy's story is about growing up - and going by the Peter Panisms, it is - her room shows her going from little girl to married woman in but a moment. And then she must end the honeymoon and get to work on her adult, married life. More on this below.

Faith. What gods do Time Lords believe in? One wonders, since the show has played them AS gods. But we get no answer here. Perhaps they believe in themselves, and certainly, the Doctor is an example of that. Rory, it seems, has no faith, which is surprising and sounds dodgy. Surely he believes in his love for Amy. He is the Boy Who Waited. He seems unsure of things, but surely, he's sure of THAT. The key is probably that the minotaur draws specific people to itself, and that only Amy is the target. It doesn't matter what the Doctor and Rory believe in, because the minotaur doesn't want them. It's Amy's faith in the Doctor has allure for the monster, and it's what Amy must lose to free herself from the Hotel. The Companion's journey in New Who is to move from belief in the Doctor to belief in oneself, something that's enacted here and frees Amy from the trappings of her "Doctorly" life (i.e. monsters).

Exorcising the crush. It's a beautiful and touching scene. The plot tells us Amy loses "faith" in the Doctor, but it's more than that. He makes he see that he isn't so special, he isn't perfect, and in so doing, makes her stop idealizing him. It's in that way that she becomes "Amy Williams", as opposed to "Amy Pond" the Companion, with her unchangeable name and action figure clothes. Though there was no question she loved Rory, and the Doctor wasn't going to interfere with that, she was nevertheless drawn to him, his life and what he represented. With the illusions about her "Peter Pan" dispelled, she can now give herself entirely over to Rory. I've seen some disappointed and even angry comments about this, as if Amy had done the unfeminist thing and taken her husband's name. They're being too literal. She doesn't change her name, the Doctor does. It's a symbol. And if Amy winds up taking Rory's name, so what? There's nothing wrong with that either.

Saying goodbye. If this is the end of the road for Amy and Rory, it's a beautiful, happy ending. Not because they get pricey gifts, you understand, but because they made it out alive and better people, something RTD never quite gave his companions. And of course, it's not really the end so long as the duo are linked to River Song, and they will appear in the series finale after a short one-episode break (if The Girl That Waited was a Doctor-Lite affair, then this will be the Companions-Lite episode). Karen Gillan announced that she would be returning for Series 7, but will she be a full-time Companion, or simply make one or more guest appearances? As of now, while I love these Companions dearly, I do hope this is their real disembarkation. The Doctor has given them a happy ending and I don't want anything to spoil that. This is their "...and they lived happily ever after".

No jealousy. Toby Whitehouse wrote this and it may be interesting to compare it with his School Reunion in Series 2. In that episode, Rose Tyler and Sarah Jane Smith proved to be jealous of each other. Rose was fiercely territorial about the Doctor, and perhaps it's something that develops when the Doctor has a single Companion. In The God Complex, the Doctor takes an immediate shine to Rita, quickly sizing her up as a potential Companion. At no time does Amy resent the attention or compliments bestowed on Rita. Doc11 and Amy have a much healthier relationship than Doc10 and Rose (or Martha, for that matter) ever had. A sign of Amy's readiness to go out into the world with Rory? Her attachment to the Doctor isn't proprietary.
Nimon! The Horns of Nimon had perhaps one of the worst Doctor Who monsters of all time (debatable) - bull-men on platform shoes ambling through outer space labyrinths. The God Complex would have it that its minotaur is a descendant or cousin of the Nimon, and the facts support the theory. Not quite the return of an old monster, but good enough for me!

Monsters and Doctors and Gods. In its play on mirrors, The God Complex explores the idea that the minotaur and the Doctor are analogous. Both are gods who live in infinitely transmutable pocket universes. The Doctor's God Complex is that he believes only he save everyone, and that may be as thoughtless and instinctive as the minotaur's compulsion to feed on his captives' faith. Repulsed, the Doctor removes his own divinity (in the eyes of Amy) to defeat the minotaur, thereby killing the immortal being. In both cases, divinity is lost and shown to be a "complex", a persona, not a fact. Does the Doctor in fact see himself reflected in the monster? A man playing at being a god, kidnapping people and forcing them to face their fears so he can "feed" on their worship of him? The case could be made.

Why a hotel? Why is the minotaur's prison an old hotel? Because it fits the themes of the episode. A hotel is repetitive, a mirroring of doors, floors and corridors. It becomes a maze with few distinct sign posts. The hotel is generic and impersonal. Individuality gets lost in the series of similar rooms where all there is of the inhabitant is their baggage. Similarly, the characters are lost one after the other, giving themselves over to a homogenized faith, losing their identities as the minotaur feeds on them.

Spot the guest. Did you play the game? Who's on that wall of guests? There's a Sontaran and a Silurian, plus a Tritovore, a Hoix, a Cat Nun and a Judoon. Their fears are sometimes visible. The Sontaran fears defeat, for example, and for Lady Silver-Tear, it's the Daleks. Because the Doctor says the pictures are part of the illusion to scare the guests, it's possible they don't represent actual people the minotaur has fed on. It may be more important to look at the portraits in the context of the show's mirror effects, reflecting the psyche of those viewing them. Rory's face is reflected in the Judoon and Sontaran, two aliens from martial cultures, just as Rory spent time as a Roman. Coincidence? What about Amy? Reflected in Lady Silver-Tear's portrait? She's got a water-themed name too.

A lot of food for thought. And this may be one episode that could lead to reinterpretation each time it is viewed.

13 comments:

Colin Smith said...

Well, huzzah! A review of Dr Who that's both enjoyable and lacking all that unsettling nit-picking and snottiness which accompanies so many Who-fan's writing. Thank you :) I enjoyed what you wrote, agreed with what you said, and can only clap from the cheap seats.

My suspicion about the Ponds, however, is that they'll be with the DR right up to the big anniversary. I'm usually wrong about this, but if the Dr is losing faith, then the season finale would be a perfect place to have it restored to him by those he's cared for.

Siskoid said...

Thanks Colin. I think I'm generally quite positive and un-snotty when it comes to Doctor Who. I'm not one of those Whovians who discriminates and says things like "That's not Doctor Who" or "It's not like the good old days". I find something to love in each era, Doctor and companion. Even if it's light-hearted mocking. ;)

You may well be right about the Ponds' tenure. Perhaps The God Complex will an Ever After immediately undercut by tragedy, or our finding out that settling down just isn't in their blood and that there's nothing wrong with that.

They could have their own spin-off as far as I'm concerned.

Anonymous said...

Pulling guesses out of my ass: the Doctor's fear is a long long existence of ruining his friends' lives, which made him decide to take Amy and Rory home and to see to their well-being. After 200 years of alone-time, the Doctor might have a change of heart and keep adventuring with Rory and Amy.

And here's why I think he has to keep adventuring with them again: because there is still the unresolved matter of their kidnapped daughter. Even if they know how that story is supposed to end, can they really let it lie without acting? Not the Lone Centurion, no way no how.

Speaking of Rory and faith, I remember how well his faith in Amy played out in "The Curse of the Black Spot": 20 seconds of CPR followed by completely giving up. It's slightly possible that Rory realizes Amy's got her limits, and when all seems lost he'll have to count on himself. No delicious consumable faith in there.

snell said...

None of the reviews I've read noticed the similarity to The Curse Of Fenric, when the 7th Doctor had to shakes Ace's absolute faith in him in order to save everyone. That was the very first thing that occurred to me while watching. Surely a purposeful similarity, no? The Doctor has to keep his companions from "praising him" too much, as that's dangerous. And compare to Rory, who as part of his "no faith," has no such illusions about the Doctor ("you're making me like you," and he doesn't like it).

Of course, you could contrast with Midnight, where the Doctor has no companions along, and therefore no one has faith in him, and things don't go very well. The Doctor needs someone who absolutely believes in him in order to function (at least on a meta, storytelling level--it takes a faithful acolyte to convince everyone that the Doctor is someone who should be listened to).

I should also note that Gibbis reminded me of Kovar Tholl from Mizar Two from the TNG episode Allegiance. Perhaps they could have a contest to see whose planet is really the most conquered...

Siskoid said...

Two great references, Snell!

Yes, it is like the ending of The Curse of Fenric, and I did see reference to it on Outpost Gallifrey, now that you mention it. And Gibbis blows Kovar Tholl out of the water, mostly be playing it for laughs.

snell said...

Of course, it should be noted that in a story critiquing the Doctor's "god complex"--his feeling that he needs to save everyone--we should notice that the story tells us that at least one culture was able to defeat the Nimon(esque) without the Doctor's help. But their solution--put him on a ship that randomly snatches innocents for him to murder--surely seems less than ideal, doesn't it?

(Almost as unideal as the Teselecta method of "justice"...hmmmm)

Cradok said...

Phew, big big episode here.

Everybody's fears didn't necessarily have to do with their death. Eleven isn't afraid to die. If anything, what Eleven fears is himself, what might happen if he lets himself become Time Lord Victorious. Properly so, rather than the brief flirtation Ten had with it. As for the lack of effect, Eleven is, I feel, much more rational and level-headed than he has been in the past, able to look upon his greatest fear and think nothing more than ‘Of course. Who else.’

Gibbs, oh so subservient, but in such a nasty weasely way. Fear, fear in spades, but no faith. Just the knowledge that someone else will be along soon to deal with his problems.

What do Time Lords have faith in? Who knows. What does The Doctor have faith in? Himself, his companions. What does Rory have faith in? Amy. Why was this faith not enough for the creature? Is it the difference between ‘faith’ and ‘belief’? The difference between trusting in something ineffable like luck, and trusting in gravity? Rory trusts in Amy, lives and dies for her, but doesn’t need to believe in something that he knows is certain, that Amy lives and dies for him.

On companions, I feel that while Nine and Ten had companions in part to keep them in check, or to keep them from being lonely (something he outright told them all), Eleven has Amy and Rory along because he enjoys travelling with them. They’re friends. So when he decides within seconds that Rita’s going to be coming along too, that just means the ‘road trip’ will be four instead of three. It’s part of the reason that Donna was my favourite of Ten’s companions; she was ‘just a mate’, while Martha got the short end of the stick coming and going – being told over and over it was ‘just a trip’ and constantly in the shadow of Rose, while at the same time wanting to be as special as Rose was, it’s no wonder she walked away – and Rose was the one that Ten had his faith in.

chiasaur11 said...

Well, if we're playing guesswork, then the Doctor's fear?

I agree. It's the Doctor. Has to be. Remembering the Dream Lord.

And Rory? I think the thing is, he doesn't believe anything is guaranteed to pull him out. He's killed his wife, more than once. His closest friend has forced him into impossible choices. His kid, well, whole ball of issues.

Rory doesn't fear or hope for anything, because there's nothing left on either angle. He's died, been through hell, and nothing got him out.

Would make a man less inclined to depend on rescue.

And the one survivor outside our core cast? The Doctor spent the whole episode breaking his hopes. Telling him his faith in cowardice was vile, letting him see how little good it does in a real disaster (Weeping Angels work there too. His faith was undermined, because the angels do not care if you surrender.)

Fascinating themes.

Siskoid said...

Oh I really like that last part, Chiasaur! It's true that what the Doctor does to Amy at the end is modeled on what he's done to Gibbis throughout. We can actually see how the Doctor figures it out, as opposed to being told.

boosterrific said...

I only just watched the episode on my DVR and have now deleted it, but I was under the impression that the Doctor's fear was disappointing young Amy.

When he sees his fear earlier in the episode, the Doctor puts the "Do Not Disturb" sign on the door to make a note of it. That same sign can be seen falling to the floor as the illusion fades post-climax. Isn't the sign falling from the very door from which the Doctor just emerged after forcing Amy to recognize that he is not invincible? That would mean that the room containing young Amy as she waits for help from the Doctor is the room of the Doctor's greatest fear, a fear of failed responsibility which the Doctor faces by forcing Amy to realize that he would eventually fail her as he fails all his companions.

That was my take on it, anyway.

Siskoid said...

I gotta check that! Fantastic observation booster!

Toby'c said...

I just want to point out that if you look carefully at the photos of people with their fears, one is captioned "Royston Luke Gold - Plymouth". That raises a lot of questions.

Siskoid said...

Yes, the place or the car?

 

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