Doctor Who: God Complex, aka The Characters Un-Complex

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In which the writer, Toby Whithouse, borrows from one terrible Classic Who episode and one very good one...

Which is fitting because I don't know how an episode can be simultaneously so wonderful and so terrible. It has become abundantly clear that the writers have been spinning their wheels until they could get rid of the Ponds, and though I'm sad to say it, it has happened not a moment too soon.

We would all have been better off if Moffat hadn't decided that River was the daughter of the Ponds. That revelation has given no narrative payoff whatsoever, and has only served to make the Ponds seem unlikeable and irresponsible.

I won't be sorry to see them again, but I won't care particularly about them one way or another. Even my deep love for Rory Pond will not save what's happened to Amy.

Well, La-Di-Da

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"How can you be excited about a rubbish hotel on a rubbish bit of Earth?" Goodbye Amy Pond. You will absolutely not be missed, not with a worldview like that.

On the one hand, it was gratifying to know that the writers not only recognized how weak a character Amy has become but actually wrote that into the episode:

"Oh, you're good. Oh, she's good. Amy, with regret, you're fired."

Although, with that statement, I knew that shiny new Person of Color was dead (Rule #214: You can be animal, vegetable or mineral, but if you're colored and you aren't a recurring character, you're toast).

On the other hand, Amy Pond has never been less likeable. When the Doctor had an emotional response to the death of someone he liked and respected, she shook her head!

You watched a real person die, and die bravely. SAY SOMETHING!

It's fine for Rory to show no reaction. He already knew that Rita would die. Check out the look of hate he gives the Doctor when he realizes the Doctor has drawn his love into yet another life-threatening situation:

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He's very aware that they're not just daytripping through time and space, even when Amy isn't. And when the Doctor pointed out the past tense of Rory's statement, we know that he's already decided to leave, that he's checked out from the adventuring.

Breaking the Faith

I'm not just harping on about the writers' poor characterization of Amy because it's fun (though it very much is). It has created a serious narrative problem in this episode: it was far too easy to disabuse Amy of her faith in the Doctor.

Think about how that faith came about.

He showed up in her room for five minutes, and that was it. Then she waited for 14(?) years. In that time, she developed a near-psychopathic obsession with him. So how can he suddenly just reason her out of it? Of course he can talk sense to young Amy, she hasn't been damaged yet. But our Amy would need more than words to destroy her faith in the Doctor, even for a moment. As the previous episode demonstrated, it took decades of believing herself to be abandoned in a medical facility for that to happen!

Watch this scene from Curse of Fenric, a near identical moment when the Doctor must break Ace's faith in him to defeat Fenric and save their lives:

See that? The stakes are real. Ace's belief in the Doctor is built on the fact that he sees her for something more than what she sees in herself. He had to specifically challenge that. And most importantly? Even when she finds out he was lying, she's still angry.

Amy just wants to...carry on doing exactly the same thing. If they're leaving anyway, she could have expressed an actual desire to leave, rather than being dropped off unceremoniously. The Doctor sees her as a child that needs to be tended to, and he's right.

People who actually experience a loss of faith don't tend to be smiley afterwards. Whithouse was clearly trying to make some statement about faith, but its exploration was utterly shallow.

"Forget your faith in me."

"Ok! Cause faith is a switch you can flip."

"Our anthem is glory to...[insert name here]."

When the Doctor tells her that now she must be Amy Williams, I had the unhappy realization that he is exactly right: Amy has no conception of herself apart from the men she aligns herself with. I can't be upset with the Doctor for pointing that out, since the writers haven't included anything in the show to contradict that.

I had high hopes that this show would contradict the long-standing trope that women don't have stories to tell after they get married, but no. Post-marriage Amy behaves like that has completed her life, that there's nothing more she could want or have. Not even a baby. Not a career, not vagabondism, not a quiet shop selling peanuts in Mexico, nothing.

Why does Rory have no faith? Isn't it abundantly clear that he believes in Amy? Or maybe he doesn't anymore, which would be a nasty though unsurprising (and not OOC) turn for Rory to take, given that he just saw an Amy die, an Amy he believed to be the real Amy. Not for the first time, the Doctor sends the companion off with a character who might well come to hate her.

The Doctor's Agenda

The director of the episode went completely nuts with the angles, drawing shots from Orson Welles and Fritz Lang, but he did make one inspired choice: flipping from young Amy to old Amy in the Doctor's eyes.

Of course the Doctor simultaneously sees his companions as themselves and their even younger selves (to him, humans must permanently resemble fetuses, after all). He feels guilty about disappointing that young girl, the same way that parents feel weirdly disappointed when their children find out Santa Claus isn't real (you created the lie in the first place, you assholes!).

OTHER

-Can we stop with the running around corridors? The classic series typically had four episodes of 30 minutes each, and usually needed a bit of padding to keep the budget down. There's no excuse in 42 minute episodes, and this is the third episode in as many weeks with pointless scenes of wandering around.

-When Rory makes jokes about being a henpecked husband, there's no evidence whatsoever that Amy is so commanding anymore, so it just feels like cheap jokes that are in the script for the sake of...cheap humor.

-Can't wait to find out who the new companions will be! Will we finally get River in the Tardis?

-I'll be back with a non-Pond centric analysis later in the week (I had to cut so much material from this post, I have 4 full posts ready to go!)

And the biggest question of all: what's behind door #11?

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44 Responses to “ Doctor Who: God Complex, aka The Characters Un-Complex ”

  1. You highlight a big point - Amy after her "loss of faith" behaves to the Doctor almost exactly the same as she did before that loss.

    The inconsistency in Amy's characterisation is making her almost impossible to comprehend.  She's strong-willed!  She's unpredictable!  She's independent!  She's unpredictable!  She loves her baby!  She's unpredictable!  She shows absolutely no sign of loss regarding that baby!  She's unpredictable!

    She now appears to have become the "mad child", the one who just doesn't see the real dangers of the world, and who is shepherded by wiser, saner men.

    I wouldn't get my hopes up about any new companions.  The actress has been confirmed as coming back next season.

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  2. ***SPOILERS***
    I think she's only been confirmed for a couple of episodes, but I might be wrong. Perhaps the show will turn to a more episodic format, with companions along for some episodes but not all.
    "Mad Child" syndrome is the best diagnosis. Though that makes me want to look at Doctor Who through the lens of Wide Sargasso Sea...

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  3. Indeed, what was in room number 11? The Doctor himself? River? A collection of his dead/stranded/memory-wiped companions? Or, as some wag on Twitter posed on Saturday night, David Tennant? Honestly, I have no idea but I hope the pay-off is a good one.

    Personally I liked this episode rather a lot, although I do agree that the characterisation of Amy this season has been all over the place and the Pond-Williamses' time in the TARDIS has reached its natural end. Amy and Rory have been through more in two seasons than the vast majority of long-serving companions ever did (ahem, Tegan).
    On the subject of budget savings, is it just me or have the last three episodes all been relatively low-cost - almost to the extent of being 'bottle shows' - with varying combinations of minimal locations, guest stars and so on? Not that that's a bad thing necessarily, but I guess they needed to balance the books after the US road trip and Gaiman's episode.

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  4. I laughed out loud when someone suggested that room #11 contains Rose.
    I think it's a Timelord, or a number of Timelords, returning from the great beyond to punish the Doctor for his many transgressions.
    The past three episodes have been cheap, but to the credit of the producers, this is the only one that actually "looked" cheap, with all the crazy camera angles and shoddy blur effects.

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  5. The 11th Doctor told us what was behind door #11 where the Cloister Bell chimed. "Of course. WHO else?"

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  6. Good point. The Master? Himself?

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  7. It's certainly a far cry from the past, when every episode looked cheap!

    I know the unusual way the episode was shot has irked many, but I kind of liked it. I wasn't at all keen on the repeated flashes of "Praise him", which was just gimmicky, but there were shades of Blair Witch, Super 8 and Cloverfield about some of the other shots that positioned the episode away from the standard Who story.

    And, at the end when it all dissolves away to a grid-lined holodeck-like room, I was half expecting Captain Picard to walk through the door ... ;-)

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  8. Great write up, especially in spotting the link with Curse Of The Fenric. Sly McCoy is my favourite Doctor, so it's always a pleasure to see him brought up in a positive context! (Just no-one mention Time And The Rani...).

    I'm glad you mentioned the point about Amy's faith being so easily lost, as it was one of my key annoyances with an episode other people seem to have been inexplicably praising to the hilt. In my write-up (http://xandermarkham.blogspot.com/2011/09/youre-fired-doctor-who-review.html) I set everything up to make that point - check that opening paragraph - then barely mentioned it again. Oops. It seems that we're pretty much in agreement on the bulk of this episode.

    As for Room 11, I don't particularly care what was supposed to be in there as I'm not convinced that the writer went in with a clear idea other than to tease fans, but it did strike me that the house Amy and Rory were left at looked like it was numbered... 11. We shall see...

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  9. Lol I also thought holodeck! I also thought Tron though (original Tron).
    When I rewatched the episode on my computer, I realized that the tv broadcast wasn't in widescreen, which made the camera angles a lot sharper! Watching it in widescreen, I liked the experimentation a lot better.

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  10. They've been confirmed as "back" but as "stay at home companions"...which to me sounds like Martha after she exits in season three.

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  11. lol. Neil Gaiman?

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  12. Omg, so much to say here. Yes, I was thrown that Rory "doesn't have faith in anything." Shouldn't he have faith in Amy?

    I took the fact that the Doctor broke Amy's faith that fast is because she was finally ready to let go. Think about all she's been through in the last season--fleshed, baby stolen and lost, last week her 55+ year old self left behind to die. She's been kidding herself this whole time that he's some kind of savior...i think I have so much to say on *that* subject I might need to write a whole post on it...and finally she just opened her eyes to what a fool she's been.
    But for all that, does she want the adventuring to end, to have to return and face real life? Well, if someone offered *you* all time and space, would you?

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  13. Mike Stop Continues19 September 2011 06:16

    I just read that book! Fascinating comparison.

    I must say I agree about the poor characterization of Amy, but I tend to forgive Doctor Who a lot of storytelling errors. I can only theorize it has to do with the writer's omnipresent suggestion to "Praise Him".

    Maybe you're right. Maybe we should be more critical.

    Nevertheless, if you want a more hopeful review:
    http://tvgeekarmy.com/post/viewPost/doctor_who_the_god_complex_the_doctors_demon/8cf23c7a6348155e6ee1e29e0b28fc6f

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  14. himself. totally, totally himself. 

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  15. lol. but WHICH himself.

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  16. I agree with you completely.

    Can I just say that as a fellow Rory lover I was appalled (sp?) by the fact that what the Doctor thinks of as a fitting pay-off for Rory (other than not killing his wife, I guess) is a shiny red sports car.

    I'm not really sure I remember examples of Rory being particularly materialistic. Wanting desparately to settle down, yes, but yearning after and being placated by sports cars and nice houses in what looked like Bath, no. This man confronted fleets of cybermen for you Doctor! He has shown goodness and compassion AND died helping you out! Don't demean the poor guy.

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  17. I agree.

    Though I suppose it's a step up from death? Maybe not. I thought that was horribly OOC as well.

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  18. I really want to write a letter to Steven Moffatt which simply says: 'Dear Mr Moffatt, WHAT ABOUT THE HORMONES?'

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  19. *just testing please ignore*

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  20. Lol. During this episode, Craig literally shouted "testicles!" at Amy (It's a Coupling joke for those of you who don't know, another Moffat show)

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cLmGN9nLUoo

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  21. Curse you! I have descended into a youtube Coupling spiral.

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  22. me too! it's all over. Goodbye productivity.

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  23. Janelle (Sci Fi Tv Nerd)19 September 2011 10:26

    Thanks for the comment! 

    I agree with you, the old Amy would never have fallen for the Doctor's lies when he was trying to get her to lose her faith in him! 

    Where it seems you want to see River and the Doctor travelling together, I would probably stop watching if she became the new companion! I find her character very irritating.Also, shouldn't they be trying to get baby River back a little harder, or are they not worried about it any more? Anyone else wonder where the baby is?

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  24. The faith thing was more specific. It wasn't just 'believing in someone', it was having faith that your life is governed by higher powers/forces. Whether that's the lucky horseshoe, Allah, the CIA, or the Doctor. 

    Rory just doesn't believe his life is controlled by any higher being or force. It doesn't mean he doesn't love or believe in Amy. 

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  25. Not only did the Doctor's room totally contain himself, but that was totally his unanswered answer to the "What do Time Lords pray to?" question too. 

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  26. It was just pointed out to me that near the end of the episode, when the hotel coverts to the alien vessel and the minotaur dies, the door that had the child Amelia inside also has a "do not disturb" sign.  The sign falls off once the door disappears.

    Does this mean that room was the Doctor's?  If so, why would his room contain little Amelia?

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  27. I'm pretty sure they were different rooms. Amy's room was 7 (the age she was when she met the Doctor). The Doctor's was, of course, 11.

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  28. I didn't hate this episode. But it didn't impact me on an emotional level at all. After the episode, I sat and wondered what I would write about it. I had to think about it awhile and what I came up with is, "This is the Doctor accepting his fate and saying goodbye in a bit of an asshole way." They won't miss him as much if they realize he's not a good person.

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  29. great review! I agree with the stuff about Amy, some of the other writers this season have no idea how to write her

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  30. That's absolutely right. Young Amy was in room 7, while the Doctor hung the Do Not Disturb sign on his room, 11.

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  31. Which probably means, sadly, that Moffat doesn't have a great handle on her himself.

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  32. It took me a couple of days to think about it as well. I didn't hate the Doctor in it at all, in fact he's never seemed more like the Doctor of old, but I'm glad to see the back of the Ponds.

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  33. WHAT BABY? lol.

    I understand why you might not like River, but I do quite love her. I dont' think she'd be great as a permanent companion though.

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  34. I couldn't agree with your assessment of Amy less - and the fact that you acknowledge and try to handwave your own double standard regarding Amy and Rory's reactions to Rita's death pretty much destroys any credibility your opinion on Amy has with me. Amy has never been characterised as childish or as not wanting anything; you're projecting that disgusting misogynistic stereotype onto her.

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  35. It's frustrating that it seems like the writers can't ever have both Rory and Amy be interesting and have something to do in the same episode. I liked the subplot here with Rory's faith. I thought the Exit Door bit was really very clever - but it frustrates me to no end that Rory didn't have the gumption? curiosity? to actually go walking through it. If he had done that, then maybe, I don't know, he could've figured out the solution to the mystery instead of being the guy who put a broom through a door handle.

    Amy's big contribution was to 1. look bad in Rita's light (and oh, how I wish Rita had stayed), and 2. to have her faith broken, but since her attitude towards the Doctor doesn't seem any different before and after the break. (And you and I have talked a bit about the difference between Amy and Ace over at my page.)

    I'm less inclined to believe the Ponds are really gone, but if they are, well, you know what I think on that. :) Bring in the Gwen!

    http://atomicanxiety.wordpress.com/2011/09/18/doctor-who-is-it-time-to-have-gwen-cooper-replace-the-ponds/

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  36. Mary, I don't think I'm projecting. Would you like to provide evidence of your opinion?

    And I'm not sure what you mean by "double standard."

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  37. Evidence: the fact that Amy has been depicted as wanting really specific things -- like adventure -- from life? Just because she doesn't want a house and a car and a baby doesn't mean she doesn't want things. And the fact that she is very aware of who she is and what her damage is: she knows that she has trust issues and where they come from, and she knows that she's not insane despite having been told that she is, and she knows what she thinks about the way other people treat her and the way they treat each other, and she's motivated to save other people's lives and will step in when she sees an opportunity to do that. And she's focused, and pragmatic, and doesn't get distracted or start whining the moment there's a problem that needs solving (e.g. in "A Christmas Carol"). And that's pretty much the opposite of childish.

    And the explicit double standard of ONLY being angry at Amy for her "non-reaction" to Rita's death (or River's kidnapping) and not at Rory.

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  38. As I believe I argued, she doesn't even want adventure! She has no character or personality to speak of. And the fact remains that Rory DID react. You can see it in his eyes. He doesn't give a damn about the Doctor, nor should he at this point. But Amy should. That was her one character trait, caring about the doctor. That and this mysterious "feistiness" that seems to define her in absence of anything else.
    I'm not asking her to want material things. I'm asking her to have motivation to do anything of any kind. She has no agency, but what's troubling is that she doesn't want any.

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  39. Isn't it a bit of a cop out for the writers? Pond walks away happy
    not being destined to raise her own daughter? I don't buy it.Pond
    is the type of person  who cares about other people, the type of person
    who would go to the ends of the universe to find her baby and bring it
    back home, rather then let it be raised by a fanatical cult bent on
    brainwashing the child with a bent towards murder. Or she was in earlier episodes.So... Either a
    very poor ending for the Mr and Mrs Pond (Mr Pond... snicker) or they
    are coming back. Because I kept expecting Pond to say "What about my
    baby?" NOT "Tell my daughter to pop by now and then".

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  40. That is a great observation about Amy and Rory's new house! I wonder if there'll be a connection, or if it's just a random occurrence like everything else in this silly half-season.

    Lol. I have fondness for Time and the Rani, as it's the first episode I saw when it aired (I must have been 5?)

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  41. I wish Rita had stayed as well. But she's smart and a person of color, so no.

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  42. I don't understand how you can say that she doesn't want adventure when that's been her primary motivation since she was introduced on the show. Yes, the writing has failed her this year. But that doesn't erase everything that was established about her in series five and it's not a failure of her as a character -- it's symptomatic of what's wrong with the whole show right now. And the idea that she doesn't *want* agency when she spent the whole of "The Girl Who Waited" trying to define her own destiny, when she spent a summer trying to make contact with the Doctor re: Melody, when (unlike some characters) she actually asked the Doctor *why* he was kicking her off the adventure ... is really, patently ludicrous.

    And the idea that Rory has more characterisation than Amy is frankly ludicrous when he literally exists only in relation to her -- when she's the only reason he's even on the show.

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  43. I don't disagree with you that it's the whole show that's the problem, and it's the writers. Of course it's the writers' fault that she's badly written this season, Amy's not a real person!
    Rory has definitely shown character growth over the past season, and Amy just hasn't. She's a cipher, she doesn't come across as a real person at all. And yes that is the writers' fault. She shows no emotional continuity between episodes and she doesn't do anything by her own choice or action, she just waits for things to happen, or she drifts with the tide.

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