The Best of Doctor Who: No. 5, “The God Complex” (06.11, 2011)

Written by Toby Whithouse

Directed by Nick Hurran

“I stole your childhood and now I’ve lead you by the hand to your death. But the worst thing is, I knew. I knew this would happen. This is what always happens. Forget your faith in me. I took you with me because I was vain, because I wanted to be adored. Look at you, glorious Pond. The girl who waited for me. I’m not a hero. I really am just a mad man in a box. And it’s time we saw each other as we really are. Amy Williams. It’s time to stop waiting.”

I was very disappointed in season six of Doctor Who. After how great season five was, the messy season that came unraveled at the end seemed pretty poor by comparison. However, it still had some wonderful moments, especially including this little disconnected one-off episode tucked away in the middle of the unraveling.

The Doctor, like any truly complex character (or actual person), contains numerous contradictions, one of which is his combination of guilt-ridden self-loathing and arrogant self-love. While the self-love is more apparent and pretty clearly a mask for his guilt–“I am so impressive!”–the self-loathing is an important part of his character and extraordinarily powerful, and his speech to Amy is one of the two strongest examples. (The other will come up later in the countdown. In fact, it will be tomorrow’s episode.)

The episode begins with a terrifying setting: a dumpy ’80s hotel, complete with cheesy music and garish decor. Slowly, the Doctor and the Ponds discover that the rooms in the hotel are filled with everyone’s greatest fears, ranging from a giant gorilla to insulting teenaged girls. A Minotaur travels the halls, somehow taking away those who finally crack from the fear (though what it does with them is completely unknown).

Eventually, the Doctor figures out that the Minotaur is feeding on people’s faith, using fear to make people cling to that faith. Amy and Rory have been safe, he says, because they don’t believe in anything. The college student believes in conspiracies, the Muslim believes in God, but Amy and Rory don’t have a faith to feed off of. And then, it finds one in Amy–her faith in the Doctor. The Doctor decides that the only way to save her from the Minotaur is to convince her to forget her faith in him, giving her the speech above. He attacks her faith, using his self-loathing, and it works. It’s a turning point in their relationship, as he for the first time loses his power over her, as she is left wondering about the accuracy of his description and perhaps for the first time recognizing how little the Doctor thinks of himself.

It’s also noteworthy how well Karen Gillan and Matt Smith play the scene. If there is one scene that makes the perfect example of how much Gillan improved over the course of her run on the show, it’s her reaction to the Doctor’s speech. And the earnestness with which Smith delivers it, countering his usual goofiness, is a significant part of why it works.

It’s an episode that gives us a fantastic horror setting and then uses it to play out an important aspect of the Doctor’s personality as well as of his relationship with Amy Pond. And it has its own sense of humor, even if it’s much more serious than most episodes. Horror with a sense of humor and an understanding of the Doctor and his relationships–what more can you expect from Doctor Who?

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