SPOILER ALERT for Doctor Who, series 6.
It just might be the understatement of the year to say that in this half of the season, the writers are pulling out all of the heartbreaking stops. Last week we were floored and moved by the tragic beauty that was The Girl Who Waited. And this week, we are presented with an extraordinarily fantastic episode that is possibly even more heartbreaking and tragic: The God Complex.
No one comes away from this with a happy ending. By the end of this episode, every character we meet is either dead or forced to say farewell to a dear friend who has changed their lives irrevocably. And that statement applies equally to Amy, Rory, and the Doctor. No one is happy, and everyone’s heart is broken.
In a way, it’s not surprising that we are confronted with Amy’s faith in the Doctor so soon after The Girl Who Waited. There, we see her faith in the Doctor disappear in its entirety, as she waited and waited until she could wait no more. The version of Amy we have in this episode has not gone through that, but we as the audience know the consequences of waiting for the Doctor. And this episode is about Amy--and the Doctor himself--realizing those consequences.
We cannot even imagine how horrible these experiences and realizations must have been for Amy. She has known the Doctor for practically her entire life. His presence and absence have shaped her childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. So it’s not surprising that even though he’s let her down, even though she has waited and he has not come, she still has an unbelievable amount of faith in him: “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.”
But this time, for him to save her, he has to convince her that her faith in him is misplaced. He sees how her faith in him has hurt her and will ultimately destroy her. And on a subconscious level, Amy knows it too--she walks into her fear-room and she sees her tiny self, sitting on a suitcase, waiting for a man in a box that will not come. But on a conscious level, she still can’t accept it. How can you face the knowledge that what you have loved and blindly believed in your whole life is a lie? So the Doctor has to lay it out for her. No holds barred. He tells it to small Amelia, and he tells it to grown Amy (the direction of that scene was positively beautiful, by the way). Her faith has been misplaced. The Doctor is not a god. “Forget your faith in me. I took you with me because I was vain. Because I wanted to be adored. Look at you. Glorious Pond. The girl who waited for me. I'm not a hero. I really am just a madman in a box. It's time we saw each other as we really are. Amy Williams, it's time to stop waiting.” *
To lose that faith--to lose what has driven your life--has to be the most unimaginably shattering experience. And of course, after she comes to this realization, she can’t stay with the Doctor. She needs to move past him, she needs to start her own life. Her life with Rory. And maybe, some day, she will come to terms with this. But for now, we can’t see her as anything other than utterly shattered. As shattered as the Doctor is at the prospect of letting the Ponds go.
So as we leave the Ponds behind and see the Doctor alone in the TARDIS again, we ask ourselves: “Where does he go from here?”
Because if there’s anything more heartbreaking than having the Amy’s faith crushed, it’s having the Doctor’s faith shattered at the same time. Yes, the Doctor takes companions because he likes to show off, showing off all of time and space like he would show a kid a candy store, to use the reference he made himself. He’s not necessarily a hero. But he’s certainly not a villain either. He’s more complicated than that. And if he’s screwed up the lives of his companions, he’s saved the universe every day, mostly making it home in time for tea.
The God Complex is interesting because it is, to our knowledge, the first episode in New Who to really question what the Doctor does to the universe. Not just his companions, but the universe. Random people he defends, planets he saves, civilizations he rescues -- what if, despite his good intentions, he’s not doing good after all? What if his intentions aren’t good? As Rita puts it, “Why is it up to you to save us?”
Rory, seeing the Doctor in a new light after last week’s episode, is a quiet yet disturbingly accurate critic. We’ve been reminded again and again that death follows the Doctor and his travels, that there are very few days when everybody lives. But it’s sort of been justified, because as much as he would like to, we know he can’t save everyone. And we know what a world without the Doctor is like. And yet, Rory reminds us that no matter what grand cause or outcome they are dying for, people are still dead. “You've forgotten that not all victories are about saving the universe.” The Doctor knows it -- but it seems he’s forgotten, lately. And he needs to remember, because with the unknown fate that is hurtling towards him, he needs to appreciate all the small, wonderful moments he can. The big victories might be few and far in between.
And yet, perceptive though Rita’s question is, and interesting though the Doctor’s answer is, and heavy though the effects take on his conscience, we as viewers know there’s no choice. No one gave the Doctor the authority, the responsibility to save people, so yes, in that way, it is a god complex. But it’s part of him. It’s who the Doctor is. “He saves worlds, rescues civilizations, defeats terrible creatures and runs a lot.” If you take away his god complex, who is the Doctor? What is he? Is there anything left? The answer, of course, is no. And though blind faith in the Doctor does harm people, it is, in a way, what he operates and relies on.
And if the Doctor has no one left to believe in him, no one left to be with him in the TARDIS on his adventures, the question becomes: What does he have left to live for? That question would not be nearly as pressing or terrifying if not for that looming death date at Lake Silencio in Utah. The Doctor knows that he is going to die, and that he is going to die soon. And what happens when he thinks he has nothing left to live for? That, as i09 so poignantly put it, his myth dies before he does? I think there are some important parallels between the preview for the next episode with Craig and what happens to Ten after Donna departs. The Doctor is trying to put on his happy-go-lucky face, to find people and things that will make him forget his pain. But what happens when that pain comes back to crash down around him? I think we can all agree that this season is not going to end with the Doctor’s actual death. It can’t. Time can be re-written. It must. But the journey towards that point is going to be utterly heart-wrenching. I am so afraid that the Doctor is just going to let his death happen to him. And that it is going to take River, Amy, or Rory--possibly all three--to pull him back out of that pit of despair. To prove to him that even if his companions can’t have blind faith in him, his life is still a life worth living for.
It remains to be seen whether the Ponds will rejoin the Doctor. We believe that this isn’t the last they’ve seen of him, that they will at least make an appearance in the series finale. But beyond that, without looking at casting spoilers, it’s really unknown. Previous to The Girl Who Waited, I could not have imagined Amy leaving the Doctor. And now, she’s not only contemplated it, but it’s effectively been done. Amazing how much has changed in two episodes -- two brilliant, marvelous, heartbreaking episodes. We stand in awe, writers. In complete awe. And a tear or two.
* We are both miffed at the implications of the whole “Amy Williams” thing, but this seems to be neither the time nor the place to discuss it.