Into the top 3 now and this is an episode I feel is really underrated. Like The Doctor’s Wife, The God Complex is one of those ‘weird’ but wonderful Doctor Who episodes where you try to explain the story to somebody and just end up sounding absolutely bonkers. The thing about this episode though is that it’s not entirely a standalone story, it feeds into the ongoing arc of the Ponds from the previous episode (The Girl Who Waited) and brings us to the beginning of the end of their journey with the Doctor.The TARDIS lands in what appears to be an empty hotel from the 1980s which, in reality, is actually a prison ship floating through space and abducting people to convert their faith into an energy source for the Minotaur.
A few words on the Minotaur – it certainly isn’t the best looking monster we’ve had, but this isn’t an episode about the budget and action. The God Complex is a sombre, emotional study of where the characters are in their journey, it’s about the themes of faith, it’s about the Doctor’s own ‘god complex’, it’s about coming to terms with one’s mortality, and it’s about a creature who has grown tired of killing but exists with an overpowering instinct to keep doing it, as the ship is programmed to provide it a constant food supply.The Minotaur is a tragic figure in the story and mirrors the Doctor in many of ways – the universe is the Doctor’s prison, his companions are the ‘food supply’, and his instinct to interfere are what leads to him getting ‘too big’ to the point where he loses sight of the promise he made and the name ‘Doctor’ comes to mean ‘mighty warrior’ instead of ‘healer’. The way in which Series 6’s themes connect and interweave across so many different stories is fantastic, it’s some of best writing the show has had in my opinion and it’s supplemented by the amazing talent of everybody involved in the making of the show.
An ancient creature, drenched in the blood of the innocent, drifting in space through an endless shifting maze. For such a creature, death would be a gift.
The God Complex also provides a plethora of throwbacks to episodes from the previous seasons of the show. We get various kinds of cameos from Sontarans, Daleks, the Sisters of Plentitude, and the Weeping Angels. Amy blurting out “praise him” when her faith in the Doctor is exposed further mirrors the time in Flesh and Stone when the Weeping Angels force her to count backwards. Toby Whithouse did a great job of incorporating these references without making them ‘tacky’, in a hotel where every room contains the greatest fear of the people the ship has abducted we were bound to come across some old favourites and this alone is an amazing concept. This is the kind of fear that Doctor Who manages to do best, psychological terror – it’s not the physical threat of death that looms over the characters, but the prospect of them doing something as simple as opening a door and seeing the thing they fear most in the room.
Even the Doctor has a room, a room which he opens near the end of the episode and remarks “who else?” as the Cloister Bell sounds in the background. This is something which has been a great source of mystery for about 2 years, but the latest BBCA trailer for Time of the Doctor has shown that we might actually get a peek at what was in that room.The support characters in this episode are brilliant as well. Rita, Howie, Gibbis (played by David Walliams) and Joe were given some excellent material to work with for the episode which is reinforced by some of the mad-but-brilliant cinematography and camera work. The hotel feels infinite, we get long shots of the camera going up staircases, rounding claustrophobic corners which all look the same and so on. There’s also these rapid shots of the characters’ faces when they start to praise the creature which flashes on them laughing, crying, smiling and looking confused as their faith is used to destroy them.
I love scenes where Matt Smith gets angry, after Rita’s death he starts smashing things in a fit of rage before regaining his composure and sitting quietly at a table. There’s also more subtle instances where the Doctor shows his disgust and contempt for Gibbis which I thought were really powerfully written.
So why did the TARDIS end up in this prison ship? Well, if the ship is programmed to abduct people of faith to convert it into a food supply then what could be a better meal than a person whose faith is so great it was able to bring the Doctor back after he was erased from existence? Amy trusts the Doctor at every turn, her greatest fear is the night she waited for the Doctor and he didn’t show up back in the very first episode of Series 5. This was the cause of a great deal of emotional fragility in Amy’s life because she placed her trust in somebody who let her down, this episode ends with the Doctor telling her that she needs to let him go – another tear-jerking moment as we see Amy switch between being an adult and her 7 year old self (funnily enough, her room number in the hotel was room #7). This links back to the very first time Amy entered the TARDIS and the Doctor told her that him being “a madman with a box” will save her life one day – it literally does.It was incredibly touching to see the Doctor refer to Amy as “Amy Williams”, indicating that Amy can now let go of her childhood (which has always been likened to that of a fairytale) and embrace adulthood and married life with Rory. After comforting the creature as it dies, the Doctor decides that he’s gone too far and needs to let the Ponds go before he ends up standing over their graves like he has with previous companions.
AMY: It can’t happen like this. After everything we’ve been through, Doctor. Everything. You can’t just drop me off at my house and say goodbye like we’ve shared a cab.
DOCTOR: And what’s the alternative? Me standing over your grave? Over your broken body? Over Rory’s body?
A part of me kind of wishes that this was the end for the Ponds, the perfect end to their journey with their return in The Wedding of River Song and their cameo in The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe’s ending being the last we see of them. Series 7A could have been about the Doctor travelling alone again. But, on the other hand, I loved the Ponds too much and wasn’t ready to say goodbye to them quite yet – nor was the Doctor, it seems.
Overall, this really is a fantastic episode and easily makes my top 5 list. I’m often wary of single-part episodes as a series draws to a close, but the latter half of Series 6 managed to pull off most of the episodes perfectly in my opinion. The Girl Who Waited and The God Complex feel like such natural successors to The Eleventh Hour, they develop the Ponds’ story and the Doctor beautifully and focus on the psychological effects of your fears, beliefs and prejudices. The God Complex will forever be an episode I’ll remember for all the right reasons.