The God Complex

Review by Mark Bousquet

“THE GOD COMPLEX” – Series 6, Episode 11, Story 221 – Written by Toby Whithouse; Directed by Nick Hurran – The Eleventh Doctor, Amy, and Rory end up at the Overlook Hotel. Well, okay, not the Overlook, but a creepy hotel where your biggest fear awaits you in one of the room, and a minotaur with sparkling blue eyes waits for you to praise him so he can come eat your faith. Lots of people have been killed and now the minotaur wants Amy. Relax, the Doctor saves her … but then dumps her. Because The Doctor Decides It’s Time For Rory And Amy To Step Off The TARDIS Ride.

Every so often I come across an episode that doesn’t contain a whole lot of stuff to talk about. Welcome to THE GOD COMPLEX, a perfectly fine episode where perfectly fine stuff happens, but doesn’t leave me with a whole lot of stuff to chew on after the credits roll.

The Doctor, Rory, and Amy end up at a hotel where people are dying by what appears to be succumbing to their biggest fears. Lucky for us, this episode is written by Toby Whithouse, who’s written two cracking good episodes prior to now: VAMPIRES OF VENICE and SCHOOL REUNION. THE GOD COMPLEX isn’t as good as either of those episodes but Whithouse knows how to put a script together and so what we end up with here is a competent, taut story that gets obliterated at the end by the Doctor’s decision to drop Rory and Amy off at home and take off alone.

That’s the risk of long-form storytelling, of course – sometimes the ending of an episode trumps the episode itself, especially when the ending is disconnected from the episode that precedes it. If the Doctor’s decision to part ways with the Ponds was driven by the episode, the ending would feel like a cohesive extension of what transpires, but in COMPLEX it feels more like Whithouse got to write an episode and then Steven Moffat came in and wrote the ending. I don’t know if that’s true, but the feeling I get is that the ending was pre-determined, that nothing that happens in COMPLEX actually leads to making that ending, and that we would’ve gotten this ending no matter what.

A couple observations leads me to this conclusion. The first is the ending from last week’s THE GIRL WHO WAITED, where the Doctor effectively killed Older Amy in order to save Present Amy, all to save Present Amy the hardship of 36 years of living alone. Rory had some stinging words about how the Doctor was trying to turn Rory into the Doctor, and the look on the Doctor’s face when Older Amy was trapped outside the TARDIS suggested that he knew he had gone too far, that his desire to protect Amy had caused him to kill Amy in order to keep her from suffering.

The second comes in this episode, where Rory refers to his time in the TARDIS in the past tense. Still, when the Doctor drops them off it comes as a bit of a surprise because the show has done such a terrible job setting up this departure. Whithouse does what he can to muster up some traction for the Ponds’ departure, introducing Rita, a smart, competent woman whom the Doctor makes overtures to about coming aboard the TARDIS. She’s a wonderful character, an insightful, open-minded Muslim Brit who can stand much closer to the Doctor’s intelligence than Amy.

With her blue medical scrubs, sharp intelligence, and willingness to stand up to the Doctor, it’s hard to miss what Whithouse is suggesting here – that Rita is playing Martha Jones to Amy’s Rose Tyler.

I’m not suggesting that Amy is a cut-out Rose, of course, but simply that Amy, like Rose, is someone who is younger and more unsettled in her life, while Martha and Rita have careers that required years of schooling and know who they are to a far greater degree than their younger counterparts. The way Whithouse deploys both Rita’s intelligence and the Doctor’s initial flirting with her suggests that the Doctor is already preparing himself for a post-Pond life by looking for their replacement (or, at least, noticing that their replacement has just presented herself). At the same time the Doctor is remarking that Rita is as clever as a clock, Amy is pulling a scrap of paper out of her pocket that she found in the hallway and is just now remembering to bring to the Doctor’s attention. When one woman is being all clever and the other is being all forgetful, it’s hard not to see this as a transitional moment.

Rita doesn’t make it out of the episode alive, however, and so the Ponds’ replacement is still yet to be found. Of course, since we know that Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvil have signed contracts for next year, and that the Doctor tells Amy he’ll see her again, and that we know (from THE IMPOSSIBLE ASTRONAUT) that he sees them again relatively soon, it’s hard for this split to have much emotional impact. It’s sad, but it’s not a moment that sticks with you. This isn’t the Doctor leaving Amy behind a Russell T. Davies Invisible Plot Wall, and while that’s a definite Good Thing, it does make me wish they’d played the moment with a bit less sadness.

At least from the Doctor’s point of view, this moment could have been played off as a sad, but temporary break, while Amy could have feared that it would have been more permanent, as the Girl Who Waited was once again put in that position by her Raggedy Doctor. The end of the episode sees Amy back at the window, staring up at the sky, indicating that for all of her “he’s doing this to save us” chatter to Rory, she’s not ready for her time in the TARDIS to be over.

It all makes you wish that Moffat would build this season like LOST if he’s going to raise these themes because we need more emotional connection from one episode to the next. When Amy tells the Doctor at their parting that if he runs into her daughter he should tell her to stop on by, it shouldn’t make the audience go, “Oh, hey, she’s mentioning her daughter! That’s new!” As much as I’ve enjoyed the Moffat/Smith era, there’s been this too-frequent disconnect between narrative arcs and emotional arcs. With narrative arcs, it’s totally cool to show us the crack in the wall following Amy across time and space, but emotional arcs need more than intermittent reminders. We’ve gotten a lot of emotional flash from moments like the revelation that Amy was a Ganger during the first half of this season, but very little follow up.

As for the episode itself, it’s competently put together and there’s nothing really bad or great about it. I love the villain that’s not really a villain (and a bonus point is given for tying the minotaur in with the Nimon from the Fourth Doctor’s time) and the equating of the minotaur with the Doctor deserves a fair bit of attention from audiences that it won’t get because of the ending. On his death bed (death floor, really), the minotaur remarks how “an ancient creature drenched in the blood of the innocent drifting in space through an endless drifting maze … for such a creature, death would be a gift.” The Doctor assumes the minotaur is talking about his own condition, but the minotaur corrects him, telling the Doctor he was talking about the Doctor. Coming after Amy’s question of “Who do Time Lords pray to?”, it cloaks the Doctor in fatalistic thoughts of his own mortality.

Looking back at the season, of course, almost everyone who’s talked about Series 6 has noted all the deaths, near-deaths, rebirths, and miraculous saves. The Doctor tells Amy that perhaps, for her, a greater adventure awaits her inside her new house, which is a promise of life, not death. Amy doesn’t think the Doctor can just leave, but he speculates about the alternative, about standing over her grave or Rory’s, and thinks this is what needs to be done. We know the Doctor now knows that he dies (or at least that the universe thinks he dies) at the lake in Utah thanks to the info he gleaned from the Teselecta, and so I wonder if this forced break between him and the Ponds is more about him preparing for his own demise rather than protecting the Ponds from theirs, or if, self-servingly, he’s saving them now so he can be sure they’ll play a role in saving him/faking his death/whatever really happens in Utah. I think until proven otherwise I’m going to believe he’s honestly offering them a gift of life, that he recognizes they’ve dodged the final bullet one time too many and it’s better that they get back to a normal life and he finds himself more competent traveling companions.

We know from the clips of the next episode that he’s not exactly all mopey, so I don’t think we’ll be living through a redo of Ten’s “I want to be alone” final days, but there’s only two episodes left and I don’t feel like we’re exactly steaming towards a resolution to all this death talk.

And again, we’re back at the fears I had earlier in Smith’s run, that if we’re going to get this semi-serialized story that the stand-alone episodes would get overrun by speculation of the greater story. The Doctor’s breaking of Amy’s faith in him in COMPLEX is reminiscent of what the Seventh Doctor did to Ace in THE CURSE OF FENRIC, though with far less vitriol here.

Though we should note that the Doctor breaks Amy’s faith, in part, by referring to her as Amy WILLIAMS, her married name, and not Amy Pond.

All told, THE GOD COMPLEX is a pretty good episode that gets overrun by it’s final few minutes, and given there’s only two episodes left this season, it’s hard to get too upset or emotionally distraught over the Doctor saying goodbye to Amy and Rory when all indications seem to them being back TWO episodes from now.

You’ll notice I said nothing about what the Doctor saw in his “room of greatest fear” because we don’t really have much to go on. “Of course it’s you,” he says, and then hangs the “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door. So who or what was inside? Daleks? The Master? The Time Lords? The Valeyard? The Dream Lord? David Tennant?

Don’t know. Don’t care. When the show gives me a reason to care, then I’ll start wanting to know.

Originally Published September 18, 2011

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