“So what do Time Lords pray to?” Another episode of such quality can only serve to strengthen my faith in the supreme Moffatt. He’s shown he’s capably of putting together a series of consistently good stories, but with season six he raised the bar, and besides finally addressing the awkward problem of the ill-fitting story arc episodes with an amazingly compelling running story, we’ve had some great stand-alone episodes, including one that for me that has topped everything before. That The God Complex is not quite as strong is no criticism, in any other year it would probably have stood out, but deserves recognition along with the opener and The Rebel Flesh/The Almost People as a superb piece of television.
It’s a beautifully crafted episode in the sense that the clues to the Doctor’s fatal mistake are all in full view on screen from the pre-title sequence up to the moment he realises his terrible error. And, like in The Waters of Mars, it feels like his error has real consequences and not just for him, but for Amy too. Even the device of having only the Doctor hear the Minotaur (“What’s that Sooty? You feel old and you want to die?”) worked well, “I wasn’t talking about me” being so well signalled but brilliantly executed to emphasise the Doctor’s complacency.
It even made me regret not having seen The Horns of Nimon.
This episode is packed with the very stylised montages and shift is point of view that have become an established part of the tapestry of the show – it’s odd to recall how such sequences in Eleventh Hour (showing a glimpse, a recognition or an association) felt like a jarring departure from the established style. And while this is certainly his best episode to date, Toby Whithouse’s episodes are never short of gags and this had some cracking one liners in it (“did you just say ‘it’s okay, we’re nice?'”).
With respect to accumulating companions, the Doctor has always happened upon someone with precisely the requisite qualities at just the time when there’s a vacancy, so it’s lovely to see his reaction to Rita: clever, sarcastic, devout and brave. “She’s good. Amy, with regret, you’ve fired.” Rita would have made a fantastic companion, so and it’s another indicator of the quality of this story that it can call upon the writing and performance that could have established a long-term character purely to serve this 45-mintues piece.
The departure of companions is always hugely problematic, too. It’s always difficult to write them out in a way that makes sense of their leaving (or the Doctor’s leaving them), as is made explicit “you can’t just drop me off like we shared a cab” but “what’s the alternative? Me standing over your broken body?”. So again, it’s an accomplishment that one of the best companion departure scenes is here, despite the fact I very much doubt that this is the last of Amy and Rory (I’ve seen no spoilers, don’t tell me whether I’m right or wrong). But it’s necessary because the act of destroying Amy’s faith in him is a necessary consequence of the Doctor’s actions in this episode if the resolution to carefully built up to is to have any meaning.
So, the big unanswered question: what did the Doctor see in his room? We heard the cloister bell, and the popular theory online seems to be it was the Doctor (as suggested by the line “Who else?”). There were too rooms we did see in the episode that weren’t accounted for as being the fears of a known character: the PE teacher who the Doctor saw, and the clown, who he didn’t. Could it be the clown? It’s a long shot, unless it’s connected with @lone_locust’s Phantom Jester theory. I’m not so sure, but for me the really interesting question is Amy’s, since it’s not the fear but the faith that matters here. So what does the Doctor believe in?