The God Complex Review
Clint Hassell reviews The God Complex, the eleventh episode of Doctor Who Series 6.
“The God Complex” stands as an ideal episode of Doctor Who because it tells a universally-appealing story that, at the same time, could only be told on Doctor Who. Picking up on themes from “Night Terrors,” this adventure asks viewers to consider what makes them most afraid. Clowns, failure, abandonment, Daleks – everyone is terrified of something (for me, it’s drowning). Writer Toby Whithouse understands well Steven Moffat’s motif of finding the sinister aspects in everyday objects to create a sense of terror on screen.
Bonus points to Whithouse for incorporating so much Doctor Who mythology into the episode. Not only does a Sontaran, a Sister of Plentitude, and the Weeping Angels all make an appearance, but Amy blurting out, “Praise him,” recalled the time in “Flesh and Stone” when an overtaken Amy was forced to count backwards. The overarching concept of the Doctor’s relationship with his companions is revisited as well. In ways, “The God Complex” is a pivotal episode within Amy and Rory’s overall story, and yet, unlike, say “A Good Man Goes to War”/“Let’s Kill Hitler,” the checking off of Moffat’s “epic storybeats” list does not interfere with the narrative. It is possible to tie an ongoing storyline into a stand-alone episode and not lose passive viewers; “The God Complex” demonstrates how it can be accomplished.
Why was Amy’s door numbered 7, specifically? Because that was the age when she first met – and was subsequently abandoned by – the Doctor. Unsurprisingly, the Doctor’s room is number 11. Upon opening the door, he says, “Of course. Who else?” indicating that his room contains a person familiar to him (if not also the viewer). So, who? I don’t think it’d be the Master, or Davros, or the Dream Lord, or River, as he’s not afraid of any of these characters. My guess is that the Doctor saw himself, and that he is either afraid of who he could become, or of who he is now to his companions, and that affects his decisions later in the episode.
In retrospect, I feel this episode is very similar to “School Reunion.” That episode also tackled universal fears (that teachers are secretly monsters; that your boyfriend still loves his ex-girlfriend; that he will replace you with a younger girl) while remaining firmly entrenched in the Whoniverse (previous companions Sarah Jane Smith and K-9 were reintroduced to the revived series; Mickey Smith becomes a companion). That’s a tall order for any series, and yet “School Reunion” accomplished it’s goals with heart, and stands as a favorite episode among fans. Heck, it’s responsible for The Sarah Jane Adventures spin-off! It should come as no surprise that “School Reunion” was also written by Toby Whithouse, who adds another impressive episode to his résumé with “The God Complex.“
I appreciated that “god complex” ended up being a play on words – both being applicable here.
My favorite character moment occurred as the Doctor accosts Gibbis for being willing to sacrifice the possessed Howie; the Doctor is respectful of Gibbis’ ancient civilization, understanding that he is terrified, and angry that his cowardice places Howie in danger.
I found it amazing that everyone in this episode – especially Amy and Rita – were able to believably maintain their faith (a pivotal plot point) and not compromise who they are as characters. It makes sense that Amy’s faith is the reason the TARDIS crew became trapped – it was strong enough to recreate people in the universe resulting from the “Big Bang 2” – and, if you think about the Series 5 episodes (though not Series 6, and we’ll talk about why in a second), Amy has shown remarkable, blind faith in the Doctor. Who didn’t tear up a little when the Doctor was speaking to Amy and he saw her as the younger Amelia? It was touching to hear him finally refer to her as “Amy Williams,” an indication that it was time to let go of her “Pond” childhood, and embrace adulthood and her married life.
As a quick aside – and this is my only complaint this week – I hate that the Doctor gifted Amy and Rory with a house and a car. Why can’t the experience of seeing “all of time and space” be its own reward? Yes, it was special when the Doctor gave a winning lottery ticket to former companion/newlywed Donna – partially because she could never remember her adventures. This time, it not only feels like a rehash of the close of Donna’s story, but it cheapens the Doctor’s message that “there’s a bigger, scarier adventure waiting” for Amy as a wife. Adult life is a little easier with no mortgage or car payments.
I loved the character of Rita and laughed when the Doctor “fired” Amy (though, curiously, not Rory) to be replaced by Rita. Unfortunately, I knew the moment the Doctor offered to take Rita on board the TARDIS as a companion, that she was doomed to die. We’ve not picked up a new character to serve as a companion in the middle of a series in six years – not since Adam and Jack in Series 1 – though Toby was responsible for bringing two previously-supporting characters (Mickey and Rory) on-board, so I was hopeful.
So, why should we not be considering character arcs from Series 6 when analyzing this episode? Because, I’m beginning to think that much of Series 6 takes place after this episode. Note that when he leaves Amy and Rory, there was no mention of “Oh, he’s leaving us again, like after we got married,” or, “again, like when he went looking for River,” or, more importantly, “We can’t let him go – we haven’t saved him from being killed in Utah yet!” What if “The God Complex” starts the break with Amy and Rory that we see the Doctor end, via TARDIS-blue envelopes, at the beginning of “The Impossible Astronaut”? Yes, I realize that Amy states, “If you bump into my daughter, tell her to visit her old mom sometimes,” but I think that line may be a red herring. If Rory can speak of future events in the past tense (“All the time I spent with you in the TARDIS”), why can Amy not as well? This also raises the question, when the Doctor states, “For a creature such as that, death would be a gift . . . . I wasn’t talking about me,” is the series foreshadowing an event the audience already knows will occur, or is the Doctor referring to his own death, about which he is aware? The answer changes depending on the chronological order of the episodes. No matter how you organize this Series’ episodes, there are giant continuity problems, so I’m hopeful that the finale will explain the timey-wimey issues in the narrative.