Doctor Who: The God Complex (and the Complex God)

Today’s episode of Doctor Who, with the title “The God Complex,” was bound to have interesting things to talk about if you are interested in religion and science fiction. But the episode offered far more than I anticipated, and the title (like quite a few recent titles of Doctor Who episodes) turned out to refer to something other than initially expected. Spoilers lie ahead, as do speculations about some of the mysteries, puzzles and clues.

In the episode, the Doctor, Amy and Rory find themselves in what looks like a hotel but is clearly something else. It is made to look like a hotel, and is filled with unwitting guests, and rooms which include one with the worst nightmare of each arrival. We’re told that once you see what is in your room, you realize that it could never have been anything else.

Perhaps at this point we can ask what was in the Doctor’s room – we’re not shown, but we hear the ringing of the cloister bell and hear the Doctor say “Of course it’s you.” The room’s number was 11 – and the current Doctor is the eleventh, which might suggest that what is in the room is connected with his impending death, the idea that he will only live to this eleventh life. Amy’s room was number 7, and it contained young Amelia Pond – presumably age 7. But who did the Doctor see in the room? I think the most likely option is the impossible astronaut destined to kill him – but for fans whose minds turn to the classic series, having him see the Valeyard would also be pretty cool.

The most interesting non-regular character in the episode was Rita, not only because she had the insightfulness and wit to have become an excellent companion, but also because she was a Muslim. Was she the first explicitly Muslim character to appear on the show? She proposes that the hotel is in fact Jahannum – i.e. hell – and she is unafraid because of her faith and her confidence that she has led a good life.

But more than these specific religious elements in the episode, and the fact that faith is a major focus (the show even has the Doctor asked at one point what time lords pray to), the character of Rita is particularly important because she is the one that uses the phrase “the God complex” – and she uses it in reference to the Doctor and his belief that it is his responsibility to save everyone.

The notion of having a God complex has occurred previously this season. It was hinted at in “Let’s Kill Hitler” when the Doctor said of the time travelers seeking to punish Hitler that it was clear who they thought they were. We had a hint that the same group created the prison in which the Doctor and his companions inadvertently landed in this episode, since the way the illusory hotel depixelated resembled the “robot” from “Let’s Kill Hitler.” The idea of sending people to a “hell” like this one would be in keeping with their expressed aims.

This season has seemed to have a persistent theme of communicating that the Doctor really is just a madman in a box, not someone upon whom it is possible to rely with absolute trust and certainty. But does that make him a complex god, or simply a Gallifreyan with a God complex?

There was a lot more that is worth talking about in the episode. If you’ve seen it, please chime in about what you thought, and where you think things are headed in the last two remaining episodes of the season!

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  • garylapointe

    I thought that was going to be the house from the start of The Impossible Astronaut…  It wasn’t…

    But the front door was TARDIS Blue.  So if this is some kind of a dream…

  • BadWolf739

    I think the TARDIS was in the doctor’s room

    • bluebox

      you’re a dumbass

  • L_vegeta

    I think it was the sound of a dead TARDIS. Hence the of course who else.

  • L_vegeta

    if you go back to Seaosn 3 episode 12 35 minutes into it the Doctor is talking about the master canabalizing the tardis and it makes the sound we hear and when he looks in he surveys the room instead of focusing on one point

  • littlebluebox

    I am gonna say it’s a Timelord due to a clock ticking sound. At first I said Master! cuz of the drum sounds…. but there’s 5 drum sounds and not 3 so that’s improbable. badwolf think’s it’s a tardis cuz you can hear similar sound of a tardis before the Doctor open, and when you look at the close up of his eye it looks like the reflection of tardis’s marque sign. I still disagree with him.  

  • Rrl9120

    So Amy and Rory are on sabbatical from their duties as Companions; I think the next few episodes will deal with the Doctor’s renewed quest for a solitary life (which of course never lasts, new friends and secondary companions will soon be introduced). River Song should reappear any day to deepen their romantic bond. By the by, wouldn’t it be nice to see another Time Lord/Lady bump into the Doctor, someone from before the Time Lock- seeing as he comes from a race of TIME TRAVELERS, who should cross each other’s paths once in a while??  
    The current series feels decidedly apocalyptic. The Doctor, I think, is undergoing a painful spiritual metamorphosis which began in ’05-  he is about to attain, through his and other’s suffering, the necessary wisdom to truly become the savior he desires to be

  • Evan Hershman

    What I liked best about the episode was the empathy the Doctor ultimately showed for the alien/Minotaur. Ultimately, he comes to realize that this creature that’s been imprisoned here is a lot like him… as he tells Amy, “I took you with me because I was vain… I wanted to be adored.” And it’s perfectly true of course– remember back in “The Impossible Astronaut” where the Doctor says to his companions, “I’m being extremely clever up here and there’s no one to stand around looking impressed! What’s the point in having you all?”

    The final scene where the Doctor comforts the dying Minotaur was wonderful.

    Also excellent and thought-provoking was the revelation that the Doctor himself must have “faith” in something to have been lured to the prison (“What do Time Lords pray to?”)

    • tarbox

      Evan Hershman — So does he leave Amy behind because she no longer adores him, or because he’s realized what a danger he is to her?

  • Slackerjak

    I don’t know if anyone noticed but the room the Doctor looked into was room 11 the same number as the number Doctor that he is.

    • garylapointe

      And Amy’s was 7, the same age as Amelia…

  • James F. McGrath

    I noticed it, and mentioned it in the blog post you comment on. :-)

  • Suedibny82

    Anyone have theroies based off the apple and rubiks cube?
    What happened to apples being rubish???
    He was frustrated with the rubiks cube in the cupboard episode.
    These have to be clues, but to what?
    (I was thinking they were things he’d thrown away, the apple, the rubik, even Amy…)
    Also, what about the room having himself in it, dead?

    • garylapointe

      Apples: The flesh doctor doesn’t think they are rubbish.

      Who’s room were they in at the end with Amelia in it?  Amy’s or The Doctor’s?  When the rooms dematerialized the Do No Disturb sign from room 11 fell to the floor right there…

  • Doug Chaplin

    The theme of faith, and breaking the companion’s faith in the Doctor occurred in the (IMO excellent) Sylvester McCoy episode “The Curse of Fenric”. Dr Who does retread ideas and plots, you know.

  • Alison Momberg

    I think that the doctor saw himself in the room. He fears himself, and what he is capable of. 

  • Chris Sissons

    For other characters explicitly identified as Muslim I think you have to go back to the Crusades advantures in the Hartnell era.  If memory serves this takes place in Palestine and features Saladin who is a sympathetic character and a mix of other characters some sympathetic and some villanous.  After all this apocalyptic, an entirely historic season with modern writers would be welcome.

  • Just Sayin’

    In real life the Pond actress was found in a hotel corridor, stark naked and whimpering.  Perhaps this is now the subject of recurring nightmares?

  • Valeyard

    The sound is definitely related to the tardis.  His eye shifted, giving the impression that he was looking at 3-4 specific points.  Maybe he saw himself or his past selves.  Whatever it was it convinced him to leave his companions and wander alone again.

  • Anonymous

    Great review!I don’t think I was as positive
    about the episode as you though. I think the biggest problem in the
    episode was that it was too easy for the Doctor to take Amy’s faith away
    from her.But so many of the problems in the narrative of this
    episode stem directly from the writers having no idea of Amy as a
    character, as I discuss in more detail here:

  • Joshua Toulouse

    Another thing I noticed was that Matt Smith also played the Clown, which, along with the Rubix Cube and Apple instances pointed out by a previous commenter, seem to point to something about the identity of the Doctor, perhaps even calling that identity into question.

    I talk about the episode and these various issues in my review here

    Good post, Dr. McGrath, thanks!

  • James F. McGrath

    Thanks for pointing that out – I had missed that Matt Smith played the clown, and I do indeed think that that is significant. Maybe the question we should be asking is whose room contained the Doctor as a clown?

  • dan

    I’ll guess that the Doctor saw himself in the room…

  • James F. McGrath
  • David “The Professor”

    The apple and the Rubik’s cube:  this wasn’t The Doctor at all – it was his ganger.  They’re identical…except for little differences like a taste or distaste for apples.  We never actually saw the ganger killed, so that works.  The doctor has gotten separated from Amy and Rory at the beginning of Let’s Kill Hitler, so that leaves the possibility of a substitution they don’t know about.  What did the ganger see in Room 11 – he saw The Doctor, of course! 

    Any questions?  :)

    • garylapointe

      We did see the Ganger Doctor “melt” when he activated the sonic.  I’m only pointing this out since you said we never saw it killed.

      I agree.  The ganger may be a BIG part of this…
      Actually, the ganger and all the extra regeneration energy that River pumped into it (at the end of Let’s Kill Hitler).

  • Beau Quilter

    Amy: What’s it saying?

    Doctor: (quoting the Minotaur) “An ancient creature drenched in the blood of the innocent, drifting in space through an endless shifting maze. To such a creature death would be a gift.”

    Doctor: (as himself) Then accept it, and sleep well.

    Doctor: (quoting the Minotaur) “I wasn’t talking about myself.”

  • James F. McGrath

    I suspect that if the original Doctor dies and the Ganger Doctor survives, they could give him more regenerations, essentially letting him start over afresh with 12. But would fans accept a Doctor who was the same but different? I wonder if whether the two Doctors’ test of Amy’s willingness to accept the Ganger was also a test of fans’ willingness to accept him, too.

    • Valeyard

      I don’t think the 12 regenerations limit is going to be an issue.  In “Utopia” the master regenerates at the end.  If i remember correctly, the master was out of regenerations.  That is the reason he takes possession of Nyssa’s father, Tremas in “The Keeper of Traken”.

  • Paul KH

    I don’t think Matt was the actor playing the clown, I have seen screenshots and it really doesn’t look like him.

  • James F. McGrath

    It is hard to tell with clown makeup on, isn’t it? Has there been any definitive answer or evidence one way or the other about this?

  • James F. McGrath

    They could always say that the limit to the number of regenerations was imposed by Time Lord society, which having been relegated to a self-enclosed temporal bubble, is no longer an issue. 

  • Xenophon Fenderson

    I’m not sure what the Doctor saw in the room (the thought of the Doctor himself, alone, at the heat death of the universe some 1E100 seconds in the future, is enough of an existential horror for me), but to answer the more interesting question, I’m almost certain that the Doctor’s faith is in himself.  Or perhaps his faith is in the people that travel with him, and the thought of his being so alone for eternity is what would break that faith?  Very, very interesting.

  • EdwardTBabinski

    On my facebook page there’s a link to some deleted footage of Matt Smith as Dr. Who explaining to Amy why he takes companions with him. It’s so he can see the cosmos through new eyes, like parents do when they have a child that is looking at the cosmos with new eyes and the excitement and shared joy that elicits. 

  • Loveandpeacemeghan

    I think what was in the doctors room was Rory. By his facial expression, it looks like he knows the person, also, the tardis distress signal went four times which also suggests it has something to do with the master. But,  when Melody Pond regenerates Rory says, ” Does anyone else hear that banging?” 
    There was no banging.
    Also the doctor says, ” Who else?”  which also suggests that he knows the person. He never gets along with Rory anyway, and when the doctor dies, he never invites Rory,  Rory just came with Amy’s invitation expecting its for both of them.
    So I think Rory was in the doctors room.

  • Charlotte

    Maybe it was Rose or other companions that he’s let down?

  • Sam

    What I don’t get is how the doctor gets Amy to lose her faith in him. Can anyone explain? I feel like I’m the only one that doesn’t get it…

  • Jessica

    I think that the Doctor saw himself…