I was loving “The God Complex” for most of the episode. The story of Team TARDIS being trapped in what resembles a 1980s-style hotel — along with three others at the mercy of a monster trying to scare them into worship — was really appealing to me. It reminded me both of Twin Peaks and of The Shining at various moments. The psychological nature of the fears involved were more adult than usually dealt with on Doctor Who, and this was a great dose of real fright after the disappointing “Night Terrors.” Up until about three-quarters of the way through, I was loving every minute.
Immediate spoilers ahead.
Then I suddenly started feeling less sure about the whole thing. I couldn’t put my finger on it — it was still the same interesting story, and the performances were some of the strongest yet — but as the ending played out, there was something that was rubbing me the wrong way. And then it hit me:
Everything I loved about Amy Pond had been unceremoniously destroyed in what appears to be her last episode as a full-time companion.
Amelia Pond’s Story
From the very beginning, and as I’ve mentioned before, Amy’s story has largely been about her transformation from a childish, obstinate “Alpha female” to a mature, more trusting, more comfortably vulnerable woman. She started out suspicious of everyone, including the Doctor and Rory, almost daring them to let her down, because she was so sure they would. In the two seasons we’ve shared with Amy, she’s become a woman who is strong enough to trust, to believe. Whereas she started out not being comfortable enough with intimacy to even acknowledge Rory as her boyfriend, she’s ended up being his biggest champion and seeing him for the hero he is. Whereas she started out being resentful of The Doctor for keeping her waiting, she’s grown up enough to realize that, whether The Doctor is on time or not, he always will come back when he says he will. She might not be able to trust his handling of the TARDIS, or his attention span when faced with a shiny thing, but she can always trust his intentions with her, and the fact that he genuinely cares for her and will always try. Even Older Amy, from “The Girl Who Waited,” was able to overcome her bitterness and realize that no matter what The Doctor does or doesn’t do, holding on to her faith in others, this new but integral part of herself, is so important, because the alternative is “hell.”
Now, suddenly, Amy is told there is no Santa Claus, having faith is bad, and then gets dropped of at home. The end.
It feels like everything that has been built up in Amy for two seasons has been shattered for the sake of a plot device. What makes it worse is that she also doesn’t seem to have any faith in herself here, which is strange and unlike the Amy Pond we’ve gotten to know. Once it was determined that the “alien minotaur” was feeding off of faith, and The Doctor started encouraging her to lose her faith in him, I was sure that she was not only going to increase her faith in The Doctor, but in Rory, and in herself. I was sure that she was going to decide to defeat the monster by overfeeding it, causing it to overdose on the very thing it craved. I was sure that Amy Pond, she who’s spent two (of our) years tearing down her walls and learning to love and trust, would’ve become so filled with faith energy that the monster would’ve exploded!
Instead, The Doctor takes charge, throws Amy’s faith to the wolves (as if it’s his to take or give away), and then brings Amy and Rory home, giving them a new car as if by staying alive this long, they’ve just won a game show.
A lot of people have a problem with Amy, because they see her as an example of a “woman in a refrigerator.” I love Amy, because she’s learned not to fight. Fighting is easy, especially for her. At the start, Amy fought with everyone all the time. She fought against the world, constantly. Her journey, for me, was about learning humility; learning that you don’t have to stand on your own against the world all the time. It’s funny, but I can’t help but think of Harry Potter as a comparison. His journey was similar. At first, he thought he had to defeat Voldemort on his own, that it was his lonely cross to bear, but by the end of seven books he learns that his friends are what make him strong. It’s interesting to me that, when a man makes this discovery, it’s revelatory. What? He’s learned to ask for directions? How big of him! He’s becoming so sensitive! Yet a female character like Amy has to overcompensate because she’s a woman. Not only is she never allowed to suffer, lest she fall into the “women in refrigerators” trope, but she’s also never allowed to put herself into another’s care. Because that would be weakness.
It’s so... womanly.
Seen as a whole, Amy Pond has had what is usually a male character’s journey, which was made all the more interesting because she was also a mother. Now, writer Toby Whithouse has taken that away in one fell swoop, souring what appears to be Amy and Rory’s last episode as companions. The Doctor’s talk about Amy having a “bigger, scarier adventure waiting for [her] in there” with Rory, as well as Amy asking The Doctor to tell Melody to “visit her old mum sometime,” seem like tacked-on attempts at implying that Amy will hold onto the faith she’s lost one way or another, but by then it’s too late.
The Doctor as God
While it seems that Amy’s character had to be sacrificed in order for this to happen, there are some amazing things happening in “The God Complex” relating to The Doctor’s character arc. As I mentioned last week, we see in Eleven the culmination of lessons learned by Nine and Ten. Since Doctor Who’s return in 2005, we’ve seen The Doctor go from scarred and haunted, to so sure that he was doing good in the universe that he became borderline megalomaniacal. Eleven’s journey has been about balancing that out, and here we see him confronted with another “ancient creature drenched in the blood of the innocent drifting in space through an endless shifting maze,” which forces him to confront the worst parts of himself. Two people die because of his faulty hypothesis, and he realizes that the biggest complaint about him — one that both River and Rory make, that what makes him dangerous is that those who follow him don’t want to disappoint him — is true. By learning this truth now, he gets to do one better than Nine or Ten, and seems to have actually learned from past mistakes. Rather than waiting for a huge catastrophe to take his companion away from him, in leaving Amy now, The Doctor is being preventative.
Last week was Karen Gillan’s show, but this week it was all about Matt Smith. One of the things that make him such an amazing Doctor is his ability to convey childlike wonder and ancient wisdom all at once, and in this episode he’s at the height of his power. In the final scene with Amy, he was such a defeated old man, and when the tears welled up in his eyes as he bid Amy goodbye, I was reminded of William Hartnell’s sad, far-off look as he left Susan behind. Smith’s physical acting is amazing, and watching him wordlessly stand hunched over wringing his hands alone at the TARDIS controls in the final shot was heartbreaking.
This is not to say that Gillan wasn’t great in this episode. She was, and the power of The Doctor and Amy’s goodbye scene rested largely on her shoulders. Another stand-out was Amara Karan as Rita, who was so interesting to watch that I wish she would’ve lasted long enough to take The Doctor up on his offer to show her time and space.
As a standalone story, Toby Whithouse wrote a solid, frightening, entertaining script. However, for the reasons cited above, I don’t think it fits in well with the rest of the season, and it is hugely flawed character-wise. I question Steven Moffat’s judgement, too, in letting this episode stand the way it is.
Had a story like “The God Complex” happened earlier in the season and with a different ending, I might be able to look more favorably upon it. As it stands now, it’s a disappointment.
I’m very much looking forward to the return of Craig (of “The Lodger” fame) next week! Might he be The Doctor’s new companion? Will Craig and his wife be the new Mr. and Mrs. Pond? Or will Craig travel in the TARDIS alone, so that he and Eleven can rock a Second Doctor/Jaime-style bromance? Or does this have nothing to do with anything? (Probably.) Stay tuned!
Doctor Who airs on BBC America Saturdays at 9PM ET.
Teresa Jusino will never give up her faith. She can be heard on the popular Doctor Who podcast, 2 Minute Time Lord, participating in a roundtable on Series 6.1. Her “feminist brown person” take on pop culture has been featured on websites like ChinaShopMag.com, PinkRaygun.com, Newsarama, and PopMatters.com. Her fiction has appeared in the sci-fi literary magazine, Crossed Genres; she is the editor of Beginning of Line, the Caprica fan fiction site; and her essay “Why Joss is More Important Than His ‘Verse” is included in Whedonistas: A Celebration of the Worlds of Joss Whedon By the Women Who Love Them, which is on sale now wherever books are sold! 2012 will see Teresa’s work in two upcoming sci-fi anthologies. Get Twitterpated with Teresa,“like” her on Facebook, or visit her at The Teresa Jusino Experience.