As a big fan of The God Complex, I was very much looking forward to digging into the associated Black Archive release from Obverse Books. For the uninitiated, these are book-length essays analysing every TV Doctor Who serial, and so far, there’s not been an instalment that’s been anything less than brilliant, enlightening, and essential for any book shelf.
Paul Driscoll’s study of The God Complex is an in-depth, thought-provoking, and extensive examination not only of Toby Whithouse’s masterpiece but also Doctor Who as a whole.
This shouldn’t come as a great shock: the Series 6 serial really cuts to the heart of many themes that run throughout the series, namely the Doctor’s torments. Yes, his God complex. How does this affect his relationship with companions? What about other people he hasn’t taken aboard the TARDIS? And what happens if we put our faith in the wrong party?
Much of this is discussed in the latter three-quarters of the book; before we come to that, Driscoll pleasingly mulls over the histories of minotaurs, mazes, and hotels. Unsurprisingly, he draws parallels with Stephen King’s The Shining, but there’s also an unexpected discourse on George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four.
Though I’ve been desperate for The Black Archive to finally tackle a story from the Eleventh Doctor era, it’s a shame the essay wasn’t written after The Lie of the Land, Whithouse’s most recent contribution to the series – especially as Driscoll does such a solid job of putting The God Complex into the wider context of Doctor Who itself. Nonetheless, the book works well in retrospect, allowing readers to draw parallels between Orwell’s dystopian novel, The God Complex, and The Lie of the Land. (I’d be interested to hear what Paul thinks of Toby’s Series 10 serial actually; there’s very little subtlety to Lie, whereas this Archive goes to great lengths to point out the delicacies of Complex.)
Unless you specialise in mythology and the media, you’ll learn a lot from the first 40-odd pages of The Black Archive #9; the remaining 118 (ish) pages aim to shine a light on aspects of the serial you might’ve missed or, as previously discussed, aspects that tie into the wider mythology of the show.
Obviously, faith is a key part of this. That’s faith in a higher being – whether that’s something religious, in some other intangible force (like luck), or indeed, in the Doctor. The God Complex finds a solution from The Curse of Fenric, and Driscoll does bode on that story too, followed by a briefer section on Gridlock.
Religious arguments intertwine with discussions of fear, including the different types of fear and how these are (or aren’t) represented in The God Complex. I found some statements conflicted. He says, for instance:
“Of the three elements of good horror, The God Complex works brilliantly when it comes to creating tension and unreality, but is far less effective in drawing the viewers into its world through relevance.”
Now, The God Complex is distanced from reality, from our society, but elsewhere, the book essentially goes to prove just how relevant the story is. Indeed, in the very next section after that quote, he talks about martyrdom and mental health!
This Black Archive really attempts to deconstruct the Doctor, and I also found it unnecessarily harsh on our poor Time Lord. He does gain some redemption, in recognising himself as the problem and saving Amy and Rory from further adventures (temporarily, at least) at the episode’s conclusion.
Still, these are small complaints given the amount of details Driscoll pulls from the piece. Heck, the final chapter is all about – what else? – fish. I always liked the small inclusion of the fish tank, those little creatures doomed to be eaten by Gibbis. Their symbolism seemed obvious, but again, Driscoll considers other viewpoints that make such tiny scenes gain greater significance than before.
The book has incredible ambition, but Driscoll treads the line nicely between focusing enough on The God Complex and talking about its wider relevance to Doctor Who. And while one or two points might be a little laboured, I have no doubt that some readers will feel enlightened by the ones I wasn’t particularly taken with.
It’s also an engrossing tome, and ultimately rewarding. This is another great instalment in The Black Archive, and actively encourage Obverse Books to give more time to the Eleventh Doctor era.
The Black Archive #9: The God Complex is out now from Obverse Books. You might want to invest in a “PLEASE DO NOT DISTURB” sign while you’re at it.