Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Doctor Who: 2011

Episode 781: The God Complex
First broadcast: 7.10 pm on Saturday 17 September 2011
<< back to 2010

"Who else?"
Doctor Who: The God Complex (2011)
In The God Complex, the Doctor and his friends are trapped in a sinister hotel that isn’t what it seems. As well as the Minotaur stalking them, there’s the weird matter of the rooms. It seems (at first) that the hotel feeds on people’s fears. Somewhere, there’s a door for everyone, and beyond it the thing you’re most afraid of…

When the Doctor finds a door of his own he can’t resist taking a peek. But his response is quite unexpected. “Who else?” he says with a smile.

What did the Doctor see?

I’ve known a few people try to puzzle this out, assuming it would be the embodiment of his greatest fear. They suggest Daleks or Weeping Angels - or the Taran Wood Beast. There are some other options.

In The War Games (1969) the Doctor admits to his friends why he fled from his own people:
Well, I was bored.
Later, he’s horrified at the prospect of his travels being curtailed: he fears the loss of his freedom, of being forced to conform.

In The Mind of Evil (1971), he battles a machine that uses people’s fears to kill them. It torments him with visions of the Earth on fire and his failure to stop the calamity (events he witnessed in Inferno (1970), written by the same writer.)

In Planet of the Spiders (1974), he must face his greatest fear and return to the arachnid queen, even though it will kill him. But in doing so, he conquers that terror, doesn’t he?

At the end of Amy’s Choice (2010) it’s suggested that his greatest tormentor is actually the voice inside his own head. Perhaps he most fears his own capacity for evil: see his horror of the War Doctor and the Valeyard.

I also like the implied joke from the 2005 series, that Doctor Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf. Why would the Doctor fear Bad Wolf? Rose with golden eyes doesn’t just wield extraordinary powers, those powers threaten to destroy her – and him. But I think the thing the Doctor would find scary is that Bad Wolf suggests that events are pre-destined, that the Doctor is merely fulfilling a role someone else has contrived. His free will is an illusion.

(The trick, in both The Parting of the Ways (2005) and The Day of the Doctor (2013) is that he takes the initiative; but perhaps we could argue he’s been placed in just that position by the all-powerful being. How much is he free to choose?)

I’m not sure that, in The God Complex, the Doctor does confront his greatest fear. Soon after he’s seen what waits in his own room, he works out what the hotel wants from its victims:
It's not fear. It's faith. Not just religious faith, faith in something … Every time someone was confronted with their most primal fear, they fell back on their most fundamental faith.
What does Doctor believe in?

In The Day of the Doctor he explains that when he adopted his name, he also promised to adhere to a code of conduct.
Never cruel or cowardly.

Never give up, never give in.
The words are taken from Terrance Dicks’ description of the Doctor in The Making of Doctor Who (1972) - which I think would make a great title for an episode - and first cited in fiction as the Doctor’s personal code in Timewyrm: Revelation by Paul Cornell (1991).

But even if that's what he believes in, it doesn’t tell us what he sees in his own hotel room. Instead, I think the key words in The God Complex are how the Doctor defines the notion of faith:
Not just religious faith, faith in something …
That chimes with his explanation to Ace in The Curse of Fenric (1989):
I thought vampires were scared of crucifixes.

No, no, it's not the crucifix that frightens them, it's the faith of the person carrying it. It creates a psychic barrier, just like I did.
"Susan, Barbara,
Ian, Vicki, Steven..."
That’s just after he scares off the vampires [or Haemovores] by reciting something under his breath. We can't hear what he says but its clear from reading his lips: the Doctor’s unshakeable, monster-beating faith is a list of his former companions.

(Go see for yourself: the Doctor's act of faith on YouTube.)

In recent years, River Song and others have said it’s a bad idea for the Doctor to travel alone: he’s a better man with his companions. But that's not a new idea - it goes right back to the beginnings of the series. I argued in my 2002 piece that original companions Ian and Barbara,
“serve the purpose of ‘educating the Doctor to maturity and responsibility’”.
When we first meet him, the Doctor can be cruel and cowardly - ready to kill a wounded caveman just to save his own skin. It's Ian and Barbara who change him. The first time the Doctor battles the Daleks it's because that's his only chance of recovering the missing piece of the TARDIS. A year later, because of Ian and Barbara's influence, he dares to battle the Daleks not out of personal gain but because it's the right thing to do.

In that first year of the show, Ian and Barbara make him realise his moral responsibilities in travelling through time and space: he has to get involved in events, to battle tyranny, to fight evil, yet to remain a man of peace… They’re the ones who make him change his behaviour, who hold him to a higher standard.

So who else would he see gazing back at him in his room in the hotel?

Jemma Powell and Jamie Glover
as Jacqueline Hill and William Russell
as Barbara and Ian in
An Adventure in Space and Time (2013)
Next episode: 2012

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