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

Doctor Who: The God Complex (and the Complex God) September 17, 2011

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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