This was the creepiest episode of Doctor Who in quite some time, despite the hilarious bits mixed in. And it appears we're not done taking apart the myth of the Doctor as great savior. All in all, a pretty great episode. Spoilers ahead...
So I think I owe an apology to everyone who said that the Doctor wasn't done reaching his lowest point after "A Good Man Goes to War." Clearly, there is a bit of an arc going on here, and it's still playing out.
In "A Good Man," the Doctor confronts once and for all how much his hype has gotten out of hand, and how many people apparently believe in him as some sort of "mighty warrior." He relies on his legend one time too many, and as a result he loses Amy and Rory's baby. And his hubris gets poor Lorna Bucket and that nice Sontaran nurse killed.
The Doctor promises Amy and Rory he'll get their baby back — actually, he promises their child will be safe, but they take it to mean that he's promising to get their baby back. And he fails, and Amy and Rory are left with the not-very-good consolation prize of their baby, as a middle-aged person, pretending to be their juvenile delinquent childhood friend. Amy and Rory seem to get over this disappointment rather quickly — and I'm beginning to agree with those who think the Silence must have been there, messing with their minds.
And then in last week's "The Girl Who Waited," the Doctor confronts a future Amy whom he's failed totally, who now hates him and mocks him using the terms she once used to show affection for him. She's an exaggerated version of the ways in which the Doctor has failed the present-Amy, such as promising to be right back and taking years to return.
And then there's this week's "The God Complex," where the Doctor finally sees how his act, his blustery confident "I'll work it out" act, leads people to place too much faith in him, and ultimately gets them killed. It's a bit different from the "Doctor turns people into weapons" notion that Russell T. Davies explored during the Tennant era. Here, it's that the Doctor's swaggering overconfidence makes people depend on him instead of believing in themselves — which isn't entirely fair, given how much his companions tend to wander off and solve problems on their own, most of the time. And by the end, we find out that the "God Complex" of the show's title is actually the Doctor's god complex, not the hotel. Or maybe it's both.
We already know that the Doctor is marching towards his death by that lake in Utah, and now it seems like he's being broken down, bit by bit, first. His myth dies before he does. (And I'm not sure, but was the "Doctor is a clown" room Amy's room? I love the "don't talk to the clown." UPDATE: As various people have pointed out, the room with Young Amy is Amy's room. I knew that. Sorry about the mixup.)
It's actually a pretty interesting arc, and my only reservation is that I wish we'd gotten a bit more of it — the story about the weird kid and the magic cupboard is feeling more and more like it doesn't quite belong in this half of the season, although I'm not sure that the pirate episode would have been any different, really.
What really sold this episode for me is Matt Smith's performance, especially when he loses it after the death of Rita the awesome med student, trashing a big part of the hotel reception area in his fury. And amazingly, Amy misreads the Doctor's mood, thinking that this is just him being eccentric and lovable on his way to working things out. Because that's what the Doctor does — he works things out and saves everybody — and too bad if a few redshirts, like Rita, die along the way first.
Amy gives a huge speech about a third of the way into the episode, in which she says:
I've been with the Doctor a long time, and he's never let me down. Even when I thought he had, when I was a kid. He came back. He saved me. And now he's going to save you. But don't tell him I said that, because I think the smugness would be terrifying.
And then Rory says a moment, "Every time the Doctor gets pally with someone, I feel the overwhelming urge to notify their next of kin." And it's weirdly terrifying, because it breaks into the mood.
So in "The God Complex," they get trapped in a weird hotel in space, that's basically a labyrinth, complete with a minotaur that kills people. And each of the rooms has someone's worst nightmare in it. The Doctor believes that the hotel is trying to use fear to destroy people, so he encourages everyone to rely on their faith — like when he tells Howie to keep telling himself it's a CIA thing. And he encourages Rita to fall back on her Muslim faith. And of course, he encourages Amy to believe in him, like he always does.
And then it turns out the monster doesn't prey on fear — it preys on faith. By the time the Doctor figures this out, it's too late for Howie and Rita — and nearly too late for Amy. He has to do a "Curse of Fenric" on her, destroying her faith in him. However, unlike the Seventh Doctor's speech to Ace in "Fenric," the Doctor is clearly telling Amy the truth, or at least one version of it. He is a vain old man who keeps young Earth people around to admire him and tell him how clever he is. (Liz Shaw was right all along!) And he screws up his companions, until they have the sense to get away from him.
(Was anybody else a bit miffed, though, that the Doctor's big revelation comes along with suddenly calling Amy "Amy Williams", as if he's finally transferring ownership of her from himself to Rory? Or saying that she should become her own person, by becoming an extension of Rory? It was an odd choice.)
And so, for only the third time in his career, the Doctor evicts a companion from the TARDIS. (The other two times, by my reckoning, are Susan and Sarah Jane.) I sort of wonder if this isn't really the end of Amy and Rory traveling with him full time — I don't think they're back, properly, in next week's "Closing Time." And I wonder if the Doctor will only interact with the past versions of them, from when they were in Utah before, in the season finale. Or at least, it seems possible the Doctor will mostly see them when he returns to Earth from now on, the way he occasionally caught up with Martha Jones after she left him. This feels very much like the Doctor's send-off to them — giving them their last chance at a normal life.
Oh, and what — or who — do you think was in the Doctor's room? I'm guessing it's something related to River Song, but you never know. Maybe it was a giant statue of Adric.
And yeah, it's an episode that references "The Horns of Nimon" and gets away with it. Amazing.
And then there's Rita, who's clearly set up as a potential new companion — the moment the Doctor meets her, he tells Amy she's fired. I'm sure some people will wind up hating Rita, because she's too smart and too competent and too cool, but I absolutely loved her — the only question in my mind, early on in the episode, was whether she would die or turn out to be evil by the end. She had the Donna Noble thing of standing up to the Doctor and not really believing his nonsense. Like when she asks why it's up to him to save her. And when she questions what, exactly, sort of Doctor he is. And she really does notice things, and make connections, and figure things out, the way Rose used to back in season one. She has all the makings of my favorite new companion — which means, of course, she's doomed.
And I guess that's the point of Rita — we get to see the beginnings of a companion relationship, only to see it end really horrendously early on. This show isn't quite willing to kill off an actual companion, the way it did back in the 1980s, but this is the next best thing. The ultimate wake-up call to the Doctor.
Oh, and I also did love Gibbis, the cowardly alien from the most conquered planet in the galaxy, who's in charge of putting up nice trees so the invading forces have some nice shade to march in. He's a bit of a one-joke character, but it's a very, very good joke. "I just want to go home and be conquered and oppressed!" Heh.
All in all, I'm feeling pretty excited about Doctor Who again, what with last week's episode and now this week's. Here's hoping it's all leading up to something magnificent.