Well, it's taken me two weeks to say it, but I can finally say it.
The God Complex is empty. Empty halls, lined with doors that promise something but open onto empty rooms.
The thing is as impersonally welcoming as a hotel. It boasts some impressive guests, and they provide us with some magnificent moments, but they're already thinking about checkout time.
The conversations, the contemplations, are the ones born in hotel lobbies and bars; conversations ending in promises — to connect again, sometime, somewhere, email me — that get lost in the rush to catch the shuttle to the airport. Contemplations born of drinks and boredom, turning on casual bromides and careless philosophizing that
fall apart like wet cocktail napkins.
And the hotel itself is built on shifting sand, its existence as transient as its guests.
Oh, Toby Whithouse, if you'd only had understanding the size of a mustard seed.
It could have been a fascinating, memorable episode. Faith and friendship, where one strengthens the other and where it can weaken it; what faith can do for and against human hearts and souls; faith as sustenance and faith as poison — all of those are fodder for good drama and good speculative fiction at any time, and they slot into this season of Doctor Who beautifully.
But you got it wrong.
"You're not religious or superstitious, so there's no faith for you to fall back on."
That is, I think, the most important line in The God Complex, because it is the singularly most foolish and, thus, a clue to why the episode didn't work for me.
I've known since I watched TGC the first time what I didn't like about it. But it's been hard to write cogently or coherently about it. I've been a little afraid of coming off as angry rather than analytical.
It's because The God Complex is all about faith. And, while I don't believe in god much, I believe in the power — the secular, practical power and reality — of the thing called "faith". That being the case, I think I've been afraid of having my comments interpreted as that of an injured and insulted believer.
It isn't so, but you still probably deserve some of my particulars to understand where I get my definitions.
I grew up in a house of religious faith. It was a good place; the lessons I learned were about a god of love, and were filled with light, not hell-fire.
The house was also a place of books, and the people I loved assumed that god wanted us to use the minds with which we'd been gifted.
I won't go on at length about why both were true. It has to do with the difference and historical divergence between Southern Baptists and Northern Baptists, and with growing up in the home of the oldest continuing Baptist university in Canada.
The end result, however, is that I did not grow up thinking that loving god and loving learning were mutually exclusive or incompatible.
I wasn't raised to think god set intellectual boundaries beyond which I couldn't go at the risk of my eternal soul. Just as god had no boundaries, neither did, nor should, the realm of thought; the only boundaries to either were those of love, and the boundaries constantly expanded rather than contracted.
Exploring god or the realms of thought in either ever-expanding reality was, necessarily, an active journey. Thinking of faith as a passive thing, a blind assumption of, or dependence on, a set of beliefs to the exclusion of logic, observed reality, or the evidence of my own eyes, was illogical.
I eventually abandoned the specific religious faith of my family. But I didn't abandon my understanding of faith, one that was informed by a muscular and open-ended search for knowledge, rather than the parochially insular closed circle of dogmatic belief.
Toby Whithouse thinks of faith as blind assumption, as passive certainty that something will take care of one, without one doing anything on one's own.
He equates it with dependence, either upon luck (Joe) or assumption (Howie) and most of all he equates it with something that is, at base, inherently wrong.That's why, looked at through the lens of my understanding of what faith is, The God Complex fails. Utterly.
Whoah! She's just gone mental, she has! Everything she's said is just the opposite of what we know, we absolutely know, about faith! She's got to be wrong!
Well, yes. It's true that dictionary definitions of faith seem to lean toward the "blind assumption" interpretation. The World English Dictionary's first definition is, "Strong or unshakeable belief in something, esp. without proof or evidence."
But that isn't the only definition. In some dictionaries, it's not even the first definition. At dictionary.com, which is based on the Random House Dictionary, the first of nine definitions of the word is "Confidence or trust in a person or thing." That doesn't sound very blind. In the same dictionary, you don't have to go down too much further to run into another definition: "Belief in anything, as a code of ethics ..." I believe in a code of ethics, and I'm pretty certain that is neither a superstition, nor wrong.
And down just a little farther is the definition that most closely hews to the Latin and mid-13th century Old French origins of the word itself: "The obligation of loyalty or fidelity to a person, promise, engagement, etc."
That is to say, that is a faith that one keeps, rather than has. In that sense, faith is the act of promising your fidelity to someone, or something. Not blindly accepting or excusing that thing — promising fidelity does not have anything to do with removing one's brain.
Which brings me back to that quote again, and why it made me realize Whithouse's basic lack of understanding.
Rory is not only a man of faith, he is a man of faith in both senses that I recognize: in terms of confidence and in terms of fidelity.
He has faith in himself, and his abilities — but that faith doesn't include blind assumption that he will get things right all the time, or that he always succeed on his own.
He has faith that there are answers to answers to mysteries and solutions to problems — he doesn't blindly assume that he, or the Doctor, or anyone, will always or ever find those answers or solutions. But he doesn't for a minute believe the answers aren't out there. (In fact, when we first met Rory, he had faith in his own observations — something weird was going down at the hospital, no matter what anyone else said — but he took the trouble to document what he saw. Believe, and verify, that was Rory, and that's a thinking faith.)
Perhaps what I'm talking about doesn't meet everyone's definition of faith. To some, faith may indeed equal superstition. But when I heard that sentence fall from the Doctor's lips, I knew that Whithouse's understanding of the concept he'd placed at the center of his story was superficial and imperfect as far as I was concerned.
And because he misapprehended the nature of faith, he made faulty assumptions about the nature of the faith people had in each other.
When it comes to the relationship between Amy and the Doctor, he mistook clear-eyed friendship, trust and fidelity for blind, assumption-ridden and superstitiously slavish servitude to an unrealistic vision. How could I believe, therefore, that a five-minute conversation with an obviously loving Doctor could make Amy fail to keep faith with her friend, when 12 years absence, unending lies, and a stolen child hadn't?
And if that scene fails, then the entire story fails; as full of hints of brilliance as it was, as graced with good characters and promising possibilities.
If a story is going to be built around the idea of faith, the story-teller had best understand his building blocks. Otherwise, the building will be faulty. And that's the case here. It's more than the case — Whithouse subscribes to a concept of faith that misunderstands its subject so monumentally that, of necessity, his tale has no interior structural integrity, and no emotional believability.
Ultimately, The God Complex is worse than empty halls and empty rooms; it's a premise based on a mistake. It's a promise with a lie at the center and the center not only fails to hold, it falls in on itself, dragging everything else down with it.