As noted before, Doctor Who is riddled with religious references, like a U2 record but without the faith. The God Complex was, as the title suggests, even more full on, but different. The difference was that rather than deal with religious institutions and symbols (Clerics, Angels, nuns, monks) it dealt with personal faith.
Plot synopsis: the Doctor, Amy and Rory find themselves in a hotel, which turns out to be a prison for an alien Minataur. The Minataur feeds off faith, 'an emotional energy', so the prison is regularly restocked with people who have strong faith (of various kinds). For each person, there's one room which contains their most primal fear, that throws them back on their faith, which in turn puts them at the mercy of the creature. From this point, they lose their minds and start to worship the Minataur, and to welcome death at its hands. The Doctor tries to save them, but realises that it's only by destroying people's faith in him as a saviour that he can actually protect Amy and Rory. The episode ends with the Doctor dropping A&R at a house, claiming to be saving them by leaving them alone, rather than exposing them to risk and probably death by travelling with him.
Here's a few quotes:
1. Quotes from sane characters
"why is it up to you to save us? you've got quite a God complex there" (spoken to the doctor)
"I'm a Muslim. Don't be frightened."
"It's not fear, it's faith: faith in conspiracy theories, luck, religion...." (the Doctor)
"they descend on planets and set themselves up as gods, which is fine until the inhabitants go all secular and make them a prison." (the Doctor)
"you must believe in some God or something...who do Time Lords pray to?" (Amy, to the Doctor. The Doctor is uncomforable at the question and deflects it)
2. Quotes from mad characters
"he has forgiven my inconstancy and soon I shall feast...praise him, praise him"
"the gaps between my worship are getting shorter, it's like contractions, It's all so clear now, I'm so happy, praise him, praise him."
"bring me death, bring me glory, my master,my Lord, I'm here, come to me, I'm waiting here for you, he has promised me a glorious death, praise him, praise him....I was lost in shadow but he found me. His love was the beacon that ledme from darkness to light and now I am blinded by his majesty, humbled by his glory, praise him"/'That's quite enough of that' (Doctor)
"I can feel the rapture approaching like a wave"
There's nothing crudely insulting here - the Muslim character is portrayed sympathetically enough - but look at the associations:
- religious faith is put on a par with faith in luck and conspiracy theories.
- faith in a saviour figure is a bad thing: even when they're out of the hotel, the Doctor wants to stop Amy and Rory depending on him or trusting him.
- praise, worship and religious ecstasy are symptoms of madness, and the object of praise and worship is actually destructive and dangerous.
"an ancient creature, drenched in the blood of the innocent.. for such a creature death would be a gift" This line is nominally about the Doctor, setting up the series finale, but put me in mind of the miniseries The Second Coming, starring Christopher Ecclestone (the last but one Doctor). In it, God comes to earth in human form, but eventually is persuaded to kill himself to prevent all the suffering which religion brings. The writer? Russell T Davies, rebooter of the Doctor Who franchise.
So on the surface the faith of the one religious person is respected, but beyond that any references to faith are wholly negative. Even the Doctor himself, who is the one constant saviour figure, has to try to persuade us that to believe in him is toxic. Yeah, right, and what will he do next week I wonder......? Yet Amy's question, and the Doctors discomfort, still echoes: who do Time Lords pray to? In other words, is there any higher power, is there anyone greater than you, or have you enthroned yourself?
Other reviews at vicariously (serious feminist deconstruction, a great read), not a sheep, exploring our matrix.
- Liberal values makes the point that there are some subtle differences in the Doctors character in this episode. Last week (The Girl Who Waited) the doctor greets Amy and Rory with the words 'in the flesh!'. I'm pretty sure that at least one of the Doctor, Rory and Amy is Flesh, a doppelganger, rather than the original. I'm guessing it's the Doctor. So the death of the Doctor in the finale/opener only takes one of them out.
- Suddenly Amy and Rory don't seem that bothered about their lost daughter, and quite happy to let the Doctor just disappear with this elephant sized bit of unfinished business. Sorry, but that doesn't work.