I am counting down my favorite episodes from Matt Smith’s era. For a more personal entry about this episode click here.
7. The God Complex
One usually associates faith with belief in a deity figure yet the reality is faith cannot be reduced to simply a belief in a particular religion or deity figure. In this episode we encounter characters who have placed their faith not just in religion, but in luck, CIA conspiracy theories, or in an outside force (such as an invading army) that will be able to save them from their circumstances. And of course, Amy believes in the Doctor. Why shouldn’t she? Here is a flesh and blood being, who has the technology to travel through time and space, and who has repeatedly saved the world/the universe and her. He has never let her down. The older Amy from, The Girl Who Waited -the Amy who was left behind by the Doctor for 36 years, the one whose faith in him is shattered, has ceased to exist and the Amy that we see in this episode is the Amy whose love and devotion for the Doctor remains unchanged and unchallenged.
Hebrews 11:1 states: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” The rest of Hebrews 11 goes on to discuss the faith of the major figures in the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible: Abraham, Moses, etc who had faith in God’s promises but did not live to see said promises fulfilled. (For example, Moses saw the Promised Land, but never entered it. Abraham was promised a multitude of descendants, and while he did see the beginning of the fulfillment of that promise through Isaac, he did not live to see the promises fulfilled in full.) The tension of faith lies in believing in something that has not yet occurred without losing one’s gripe on the here and now. Faith, especially religious faith, is often criticized as being naive and childish, but does faith (religious or otherwise) necessarily require a suspension of one’s critical thinking skills? Is faith simply a way for people to deny “reality?” Is faith always harmful?
Amy’s faith in the Doctor has stunted her emotional growth. After the Doctor left her for the first time when she was seven, her whole life began to revolve around her imaginary friend. She made Rory dress up like him, she drew pictures and made dolls of her raggedy Doctor, and she refused to believe others when they insisted she was not real. While I admire her strength and stubbornness, as well as the self- assurance she demonstrated as a child when she refused to believe others who told her that her experience was not real, her faith and hope that the Doctor would come back prevented her from growing up.
Even as an adult traveling with the Doctor, her faith remains unshaken. Amy knows the Doctor is not perfect. She knows that the Doctor sometimes fails to save everyone. But her faith is that no matter how many other people die, the Doctor will always save her. Her faith says that he would never knowingly put her in harm’s way.
But the Doctor, as intelligent and courageous as he is, makes mistakes. Mistakes that cost people their lives. In The God Complex the Doctor thinks he has the alien Minotaur figured out. He asserts that the Minotaur feeds on fear and as a result he tells those who still survive to hold onto their faith. He doesn’t care what they have faith in, so long as they continue to have faith.
And the others believe him. Why shouldn’t they? He seems to be the only one that has even an inkling about what is going on. Yet his advice only served to strengthen the Minotaur, not weaken it.
Rory, even though he does to a certain extent trust the Doctor and the Doctor’s vast knowledge, does not have faith that the Doctor will automatically make things better. Rory is often parodied as a silly, absent minded, brave but lovable fool. But Rory sees right through the Doctor. In The Vampires of Venice Rory lets the Doctor know in no uncertain terms how dangerous he can be: “You know what’s dangerous about you? It’s not that you make people take risks, it’s that you make them want to impress you. You make it so they don’t want to let you down. You have no idea how dangerous you make people to themselves when you’re around.”
In The Girl Who Waited, when the Doctor forces Rory to choose between “his” Amy and the Older Amy, Rory tells him with disgust, “This isn’t fair. You’re turning me into you.”
Rita, also sees right through the Doctor. “Why,” she asks. “Why is it up to you to save us? That’s quite a God complex you have there.”
Amy, however, continues to view the Doctor through her seven year old eyes: as a hero who can do no wrong. And the Doctor, in order to prevent any more deaths, in order to save Amy and Rory, has to destroy her faith in him. He has to reveal who he is-not her imaginary friend, not some all-knowing deity figure, not a hero, but “just a madman in a box” who lapses into periods of selfishness and who puts his companions-sometimes knowingly, sometimes not in harm’s way.
In this episode, Amy is forced to grow up. She is forced to let go of her childish faith in the Doctor and to stop viewing him as a deity figure and as a hero. However, this episode isn’t just about Amy’s faith. As Amy pointed out towards the end of the episode:
What does the Doctor believe? Who does the Doctor believe in? On the one hand, we know that the Doctor has an incredibly high level of self-loathing. He understands, more than anyone that he makes mistakes and that he can fail. Yet his self-loathing manifests itself in a need and a desire to fix and control events, people, and situations. Rita tells him he has a God complex. An interesting statement, especially for those of us in the audience who know more about the Doctor than Rita does. The Doctor repeatedly disparages any notion of him being a deity figure and he is extremely aware of the results of his actions and his inaction. He does not believe he is all powerful, and while he is extremely intelligent and often mocks other species who aren’t as intelligent, he knows he is not all knowing. How can he have a God complex? Despite his knowledge of his failures (perhaps because of it), he believes it is his responsibility to make things right and help others. He also believes that he can protect his companions. He might not be able to save everyone else-but he can protect his companions, even though there have been instances where he has failed to protect them (Rose was saved from falling into the void in Doomsday by the alternate reality version of her father, the Doctor couldn’t save Adric, not to mention the deaths of almost-companions, such as Astrid in Voyage of the Damned) he still believes that he will be able to keep them safe. He has to, otherwise, why keep taking on companions? He also believes that his actions and his “meddling” are for the greater good.
Sometimes his faith in himself, in his motives, and in his actions are shaken. And in this episode, his faith in himself is shaken to such an extent he drops Amy and Rory off back on planet earth, giving them their own house and car in the hopes of them living out a life without him.
AMY: Even so, it can’t happen like this. After everything we’ve been through, Doctor. Everything. You can’t just drop me off at my house and say goodbye like we’ve shared a cab.
DOCTOR: And what’s the alternative? Me standing over your grave? Over your broken body? Over Rory’s body?
He no longer believes in his ability to protect them from all harm. He has shown them new planets, taken them on the adventure of a lifetime, but at what cost?
Now based on this episode one might conclude that faith is overwhelming negative. I can’t speak for the writer of this episode, (Toby Whithouse) however, I would argue that faith itself isn’t necessarily always negative. In fact, a measure of faith is necessary to survive, for example, many people need to believe that their lives matter, even if it’s just to those around them or that despite the horrors and pain in life, that life is ultimately good and is something to be valued and cherished. In the Doctor’s case, his belief that his actions matter and that he is doing some good in the world is vital, for when he believes that his actions are meaningless or that all he brings is death, he becomes virtually useless and he runs and hides. Faith only becomes dangerous when it becomes so all-encompassing that it is viewed as beyond critique. (For example, when ten began to believe that the laws of time no longer applied to him.)
Gibbis’ faith led him to give up his autonomy, relying instead on others to tell him what to do, Howie’s faith made him blind to what was truly going on, and of course Amy’s unwavering faith in the Doctor has placed her and Rory in danger time after time and it stunted her emotional growth. Instead of viewing this episode as an all-out condemnation of faith, (for example Rita, who is Muslim is portrayed as brave and courageous, and while the fact that she is there seems to imply something negative about her faith, she is not presented as a stereotypical religious fanatic…Interestingly the show seems to critique religious faith, without resorting to some of the more obvious stereotypes.) perhaps we can view the episode as encouraging critical reflection on the nature of faith. How does our faith (religious or otherwise) contribute to a more just society? Or how does our faith allow us to relinquish personal responsibility and autonomy? Is our faith open to modification or does it demand strict adherence and rejection of new information?
It’s important to note that Amy’s faith in the Doctor isn’t completely gone. But instead of a, naive, hero-worshiping, uncritical faith, she is given the opportunity to have an adult, mature, faith.