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neither here nor there
Doctor Who Meta: The God Complex 
1st-Oct-2011 06:17 pm
I don't often do these, but kaffyr told me to. You all should read her post on "The God Complex," because it's brilliant and really helped me think about what bugged me about the episode. And it's the series finale tonight, so why not. Um, spoilers for "The God Complex," in case you missed that.

This season has been a bit hit-and-miss with me. I liked series five, liked it a lot, which was a relief. The last two years of Tennant's reign were not my favorites, the relative awesome of Donna Noble notwithstanding. This series has so much going on, and, as it always is with Moffat, I don't think I can accurately judge the storyline until I know the whole storyline, which may or may not happen tonight. (All you peeps that have already seen it, be kind and keep your spoilers beneath your fezzes.) I like Amy, I love Rory, and I've even found the love for River, a character I initially hated. But this season has felt very...crowded. Great episodes have happened (The Doctor's Wife), a couple of meh-ish episodes have happened (Night Terrors), and then there's the bad episode, The God Complex.

I was always taught that a good critic starts off with positives, so here's what I liked. The atmosphere was delicious. The horror movie vibe was strong and enjoyable. The walk-on characters were good, even when they were shortchanged by the script. There was some nice banter. The cinematography was pretty.

But as the Doctor has told us, it's all about the story, and this story has sand foundations.

Toby Whithouse (creator of Being Human) was the writer for this one, and he comes in with an agenda. This is an episode that's presumably about faith. I say "presumably" because Whithouse is working from a highly anemic definition of the term, and what the episode really does is condemn even the sickly definition Whithouse employs. Faith in this episode is equated with religion; specifically, rites and rituals intended to counter or protect a person from the realities of life. The faith = religion definition is seen in our walk-ons. Rita is a Muslim who actively practices her religion. Joe is devoted to superstition, and his practice includes symbols and rituals to protect his luck. Even Howie's dedication to his conspiracy theories has a ritualistic feel to it; he must be active and devoted to his participation in the forming and spreading of his conspiracies. Interestingly enough, these are characters that die in a kind of euphoric madness, repeating the phrase "praise him" while a variation on a minotaur comes to feast on their emotional smoothie.

Setting aside the fact that the whole nourishment-from-emotions thing a) doesn't make much sense, b) was done better in Monsters Inc., and c) opens up a whole new can of worms, the setup here is very emphatically religious. The Minotaur in Greek mythology was the unholy offspring of a woman and a bull. The bull in question was a gift from the gods intended as a sacrifice; the failure of the monarchs to make that sacrifice resulted in the Minotaur. The Minotaur, mad and violent, was imprisoned in a labyrinth and fed on a diet of ritually sacrificed virgins. He was ultimately killed by Theseus, mythic hero only one step down from godhood and founder of Athens. Which, incidentally, is symbolic of a new social, cultural, and religious order. So religion is very much entwined with the idea of the Minotaur, and to have him scurrying around feasting on characters of faith...well, it's starts getting very sticky, analytically. On the most simplistic level, we understand that religion as Whithouse defines it doesn't save anyone; in fact, it does the opposite, and leaves them dead.

This brings us to Rory and Amy. One of the major flaws I saw in the episode came from this line, delivered from the Doctor to Rory: "You're not religious or superstitious, so there's no faith for you to fall back on." Aside from this proving that Whithouse doesn't have much insight into what faith actually is, this line sets up a stark contrast between Rory and Amy. Amy "has faith" in the Doctor. She built shrines to him as a child, made dolls which could be seen as idols, calls on him in times of trouble, and assumes he is a being with greater wisdom and power than she. Rory has no such ritualistic, religious devotion. Rory's relationship with the Doctor is open-eyed. He understands the Doctor is dangerous, the Doctor makes mistakes, and the Doctor has a great capacity for destruction. Leaning a teensy bit to the side of conjecture, Rory even has the age to understand the Doctor in a way no one else can, because of his stint as a plastic Roman. The important bit, though, is that because Rory doesn't have a ritual or a catchphrase or a symbol to cling to, it's assumed he has no faith.

This is where the episode collapses like a house of cards. I think most people can agree that faith and religion are by no means the same thing, nor are they mutually inclusive. From what I can see, Whithouse was attempting to make Amy's loss of faith in the Doctor a triumph over religious practice. This is especially true considering she leaves/is left at the end of the episode. If we assume the real enemy of the episode is religious ritual that (destructively) flies in the face of real-world evidence, Amy's departure is a triumph over religion. Her separation from the Doctor negates the image she has of him as a kind of god, one that drops her and Rory into inexplicable situations but never fails to fish them out again. For Whithouse, this is a good thing. This isn't mindless, drone-like acceptance of conjecture over fact. This is an acceptance of the world As It Is.

Here's the problem I see: the whole premise is false.

First off, Rory has faith. Rory has faith and to spare. Rory believes in things, believes fiercely, believes loyally, believes unconditionally. Rory's beliefs are his lodestone, what he uses to orient himself in a strange, often terrifying existence. Rory believes in his own capabilities (how many times have we heard he's a nurse?), Rory believes in the ultimate goodness of people (don't hurt us, we're nice!), Rory believes in Amy and what he shares with her (2000 years), Rory believes in the Doctor. Even though his faith doesn't come with trappings of ritual or the belief in the Doctor's infallibility, Rory still believes in the Doctor. Simply because his faith isn't ritualized doesn't mean it is nonexistent or any less potent than any shown by the other characters. Furthermore, Rory's faith undermines Whithouse's assumption that faith is a denial of the real world. Rory is almost painfully aware of how many ways the world has of cutting his legs from beneath him, and he believes anyway. Talk about faith. Despite his acceptance of the evidence surrounding him, Rory continues to cling to his real, valid beliefs, which completely destroys any kind of point Whithouse even began to make.

Secondly, Amy's faith is neither broken nor lost. This, I think, is almost more of a character mistake rather than a concept one. Whithouse clearly doesn't know what he's dealing with conceptually, but while the kind of faith Amy has in the Doctor may very well be religious in some of its aspects, in viewing the Doctor as a higher being than herself, she'd be right. Amy cannot travel time and space on her own, nor can she regenerate, nor can she speak a billion languages including Baby, nor can she compete with the Doctor intellectually. I don't think the kind of faith Amy has (or keeps...please, do yourself a favor and read kaffyr's post for more on that) is either unfounded or a bad thing. But above and beyond that, the kind of faith she has can't be broken by a pretty three-minute speech. She watched her baby be stolen from her very arms, and that wasn't enough to make her stop believing in the Doctor. Do we need more evidence than that? Because if need be, we have it. Time and again, bad things have happened, bad things have happened at the Doctor's hands, and Amy continues to believe in him. And more often than not, the Doctor does exactly what she believes he will. Even as he pleads with her to abandon her faith in him, the Doctor is proving Amy's belief valid. He's doing everything he can to save her, and against the odds and any kind of logic, he does. Doctor, you're good, you're very, very good, but no speech is enough to shatter a belief cultivated in childhood, nursed through horrific circumstance, and affirmed every step of the damned way. Just wouldn't happen. If I were to beta this, I'd slap an OOC sticker on it and demand a rewrite.

And finally, we have to look at the way Moffat's story arcs are constructed. I can't remember who said it now, and for that I apologize, but some very perceptive viewer described Moffat as a symbol writer. He doesn't construct characters or plots, he fashions symbols. Everything is representative, and everything returns to one central theme: hope. Moffat is not in the business of selling the world as a dark and frightening place from which there is no escape. He doesn't shrink from the fact there are horrors in the world. There are. The monsters are real, and they are terrifying, and some of them are coming to get you, be that in your bedroom or your neighborhood or your own mind. But Moffat's manifesto as a writer is hope prevails. Hope always wins. Time can be rewritten, River Song can be saved, the victims of the Weeping Angels can live happy, if displaced lives. At the end of the day, it's hope, love, and yes, faith that triumph, every single time. The road to that hope might be dark and dangerous, but that hope never fails. Whithouse wrote a story where faith kills, and the Doctor can't be trusted. If Moffat is good at anything, he's good at proving just how much we can trust to the hope the Doctor symbolizes. We need that kind of faith, whether it's like Rory's, that knows how scary the world is but trusts anyway, or like Amy's, that recognizes there is something bigger out there and that something bigger is ultimately kind. Religion might kill, but faith doesn't, and that's the point Whithouse missed. Doctor means healer, Forest Folk set aside; with a Doctor, you have hope. Faith in hope is rewarded, in this universe at least. I appreciate the issues we've seen the Doctor face with his limits, limits than include, you know, not being an actual god, but this was a really poor way to try to enforce that point. We know the Doctor isn't a god. And like Amy and Rory and River and Craig and Donna and Jack and Sarah Jane and Martha and Rose and everyone else who's ever needed just a little help fighting their monsters, that does not diminish our faith or hope by a single jot.

Here's to the finale, folks. May it be light years better than this episode.
2nd-Oct-2011 12:57 am (UTC)
Oh. Basically, I just thought it was a bit of lameness instead of a profound agenda. People who think they don't have faith (and I'm sorry, but *everyone* has faith in something) misunderstand the nature of faith. Hence the choice to use it as a plot device-- after all, everyone who's had a monster that ate emotions always ate something negative-- like fear (so common I can't single out a particular instance); hatred (ditto) or despair (like the Dementors. I supposed that the writers thought it clever to use a positive emotion like faith.
The problem is faith is NOT an emotion. Faith is NOT merely a feeling.

Those who are depicted as having faith in the episode are preyed upon because of that faith. Yet the fact of being a victim does not invalidate what they believe in. Personally I do not think a person such as Rita, who was devout in her own belief would be so easily overcome-- hence the lameness. A person like her would know to declare the truth of her faith even in the absence of a feeling of faith.

Believing is not the same as feeling.

But I don't expect most TV or movie writers to understand this, so perhaps I was less disturbed by the overall lameness of the plot, but was moved by the great atmosphere and electric performances.

And of course you are right about Amy and Rory. Amy still has faith in the Doctor; a more mature and thoughtful faith than her wide-eyed faith as a child. And Rory has unshakeable faith, most especially in his love for Amy and in all those other things you mentioned.

Even when faced with evidence to the contrary, the Doctor has faith in the amazingness of humans.

Ah well!

Oh...the lamest part to me of all of it was that simply saying the phrase "Praise him!" out loud suddenly triggered this change, even if the person was simply reading or repeating what another person had said. That was just too silly for words.

Edited at 2011-10-02 01:00 am (UTC)
4th-Oct-2011 12:42 am (UTC)
Well, I could be overreaching, but I think Whithouse did a lot of these things deliberately. But deliberately done or not, it was pretty lame.

I don't think that saying "praise him" actually triggered the change; I think all the characters (except the Doctor) only said "praise him" after they'd been taken over or whatever. Getting them to say it at convenient moments was just a clever bit of script writing that wasn't actually very clever.

Oh, what am I saying, it was all disappointing.
2nd-Oct-2011 04:14 am (UTC)
Yes. This.
You and kaffyr have made me feel better about this episode because now I can dismiss it as badly written even for its own agenda, rather than an abomination.

Whithouse loses all credibility because he doesn't understand Rory, let alone not understanding the nature of faith. A lot of people don't understand the nature of faith, but if you're going to write for Doctor Who, you darn well better know the characters.
4th-Oct-2011 12:43 am (UTC)
I think all of the characters were poorly served by the script. So much of the episode just felt out of character, and then to have all this other...stuff... Ugh.
12th-Aug-2012 01:34 am (UTC)
I cannot believe I didn't see this when you posted it, or if I did, I somehow neglected to tell you how much I enjoyed it!

The things that really stood out for me were your spot-on description of Rory, and your extremely accurate description of what sits at the core of Moffat's writing.

Thank you so much for writing this, and I'm so glad I got to read it, no matter how belatedly.

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