“The God Complex”
Transmitted 17 September, 2011
“I’d forgotten that not all victories are about saving the universe.”
The Doctor, Amy and Rory land the TARDIS in what appears to be a 1980′s luxury hotel. The unlucky few inside are frightened for their lives, desperately attempting to escape a monstrous beast preying on their very fears. Each room in the hotel is unique and tailored to a specific guest. In time, each occupant loses his/her sanity and praises the creature sworn to destroy them. Thankfully, the Doctor, monster-slayer extraordinaire, has arrived with his gadgets, gimmicks and mad ideas to save the day. Unfortunately, the threat posed by the monster is more complex than originally thought and that misunderstanding could cost them all their lives.
The God Complex is very unusual for ‘Nu-Who’ in that it is so very traditional. It features a pedestrian setting doubling as an alien one, several quirky supporting characters in danger and the Doctor as their only hope against a silly monster. Seriously, I thought for sure that Matt Smith was going to help the poor sod out of the massive headdress when the Minotaur fell in a heap in the hallway. In the past, whenever a cast of supporting characters have been introduced the focus has moved to them rather than the monster since a more character-centric approach is more modern and appealing for RTD and Moffat. In this case, the supporting cast were utilized wisely and sparingly, allowing the rather splendid plot to expand on its own and for the Doctor to play a more familiar role of detective and hero.
I’ve brought this up before, but Smith’s Doctor has had very little to actually do in the past few episodes. He has lost the spotlight to River Song or the Ponds each week when the program is still named after him. Many have criticized this as a sign that Moffat is uninterested in writing for the Doctor and more attracted to River Song or Amy Pond. That theory falls flat with this week’s installment, however. In the God Complex, the Doctor has a sudden awakening of sorts as he meets a brave and intelligent young woman named Rita whom he would usually whisk off for a life of quarries and near-death experiences. He sees himself in a new light as someone who entices innocents to come with him, placing their lives in jeopardy and often causing their death. The Doctor places his companions in situations where only he can save them. Rita calls it what it is, a God complex, a failing that the Doctor recognizes as possibly fatal. At first I put off this plot thread as a novel idea but one that would ultimately end up getting cast aside.
The quartet of survivors seem an unlikely lot, an online blogger named Howie, a devout Muslim nurse named Rita and a cowardly alien named Gibbis (played incredibly well by David Walliams). After the loss of both Rita and conspiracy theorist Howie, it becomes clear that the Doctor’s advise on finding inner strength through faith was a fatal error. Each occupant isn’t just afraid but full of a specific faith that kept them going. It is that faith that the monster prowling the halls uses as a doorway into their psyche, turning their personal beliefs into an undying devotion to death at the Minotaur’s hands/paws.
The Doctor’s companion Amy is drawn to her own ‘room’ in which she sees herself a young girl endlessly waiting for her childhood mythical hero, the Doctor, to arrive. The Doctor kneels by Amy’s side and disarms her faith in him, telling her that he is not perfect and not worthy of her faith. Echoes of Curse of Fenric occurred to me when the Doctor unraveled Ace’s faith in him in order to defeat his enemy. In that case, it was more of a trick than anything else. In this story, the Doctor is being sincere (another angle I did not expect). Since the program returned in 2005, the Doctor has become a folk hero more than anything else, able to defeat any creature and quell any invasion. The 10th Doctor took that concept to another level and transformed it into hubris. The 11th Doctor seems to be facing this aspect of his persona in a different manner.
After finally defeating the Minotaur by depriving it of Amy’s faith, he decides that the time is right to end their friendship while the pair of them are alive and in one piece. It was a touching moment, reminiscent of the Hand of Fear in which the Doctor leaves Sarah Jane Smith behind to face a threat too dangerous for her. The new Doctor Who program has consistently insisted that it is more character-driven than its predecessor and more interested in telling compelling stories than schlocky adventures but honestly I have not really seen much evidence to support this claim until now.
I know that Amy and Rory are hardly out of the series (there have been hints from Karen Gillan that we will see her next year), so this farewell can hardly be final, but the moment justified all of the stories in which Amy and Rory took attention away from the Doctor and all of the compassion and touching concern that the Doctor had for his companions.
I have forcibly restricted myself from reading spoilers (for the first time in about 6 years) about the upcoming last episodes (my heart sank however, when I read that the finale is entitled ‘The Wedding of River Song’), so I have no idea where this series is headed, but I am very impressed with this week’s installment that honored so many ideas that previous stories have explored. The Doctor knows that he is about to come face to face with a fate so deadly that it could destroy those he loves so dear and he has to finally admit that he isn’t a god-like being at all. He’s just a mad man in a box. It’s the flipside to the 2nd Doctor who operated under the facade of a buffoon but was actually a cunning mastermind or the 7th Doctor who seemed to be a silly little man with a goofy accent but was secretly a being of immense power.
The 11th Doctor is about to come to terms with who he is and the path that his life has taken… and is likely not going to be pretty. The viewer does not get a glimpse of the Doctor’s nightmare room, but from the first moment that I saw the image of the sad clown in the God Complex, I thought of this incarnation of the Doctor. Despite his numerous near-death scrapes and successes against power-mad conspirators, he may just be a clown himself.
The 11th Doctor remains an inspired incarnation of the Time Lord as he seems to be operating under the remote control of his subconscious. Madly pressing buttons and rewiring devices with some scheme known only in his most secret thoughts, he is as in the dark as anyone else. Several moments of the 11th Doctor’s character have revolved around his apparent confusion and befuddlement at his own actions, hoping that he got it right rather than knowing that he is the supreme authority (as the 10th incarnation had).
It would certainly play into his interaction with Amy. If he were a super powerful being that should be feared and fought as Madam Kovarian and her crew no doubt feel, there would be no reason to fear facing her army again. But if he won first time out of luck… maybe it would be best to face the music alone this time.
Next week: ‘Closing Time’