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Elizabeth Sandifer

Elizabeth Sandifer created Eruditorum Press. She’s not really sure why she did that, and she apologizes for the inconvenience. She currently writes Last War in Albion, a history of the magical war between Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. She used to write TARDIS Eruditorum, a history of Britain told through the lens of a ropey sci-fi series. She also wrote Neoreaction a Basilisk, writes comics these days, and has ADHD so will probably just randomly write some other shit sooner or later. Support Elizabeth on Patreon.


  1. Jarl
    August 11, 2014 @ 12:29 am

    The scene in the kitchen (salon? I can't remember, I got the sense of it being both, plus an aquarium…) shot almost entirely in mirrors was fascinating. I suspect Jane has something to say about it…


  2. Aylwin
    August 11, 2014 @ 12:33 am

    mitigates against


    I do mostly try not to do that sort of thing, for all the usual reasons. But I'm only human.

    At least I've taken that bullet now. Everyone else make proper comments.


  3. Alex Antonijevic
    August 11, 2014 @ 1:53 am

    So, repeatedly calling Rory "Mr. Pond" and other variations would be misandry, then.


  4. Brightcoat
    August 11, 2014 @ 3:03 am

    Misandry isn't real, FYI.

    Someone else will undoubtedly phrase this better, but "making fun of a man" and "making fun of a woman" have different cultural connotations because of the existence of patriarchy.


  5. jane
    August 11, 2014 @ 3:12 am

    You betcha.

    That scene is set in the Pasiphaë Spa, which has all kinds of connotations. Of course it draws on the Greek myth of the Minotaur, but a part of it that's generally overlooked. It is Queen Pasiphaë who makes love to an avatar of Poseidon, God of the Ocean, an avatar that is a shining, starlike, foamy white bull. Pasiphaë gives birth to the Minotaur, and King Minos secrets him away in the Labyrinth.

    So the scene isn't a recapitulation of the more famous Theseus winding a thread through the Labyrinth. It's harkening to falling in love with a deity, and a deity of Water at that, one of the major thematic symbols of the Moffat era. Inside the beauty parlor is the bowl of goldfish (red, white, and black, our alchemical trio) and a glass waterfall that acts as a mirror itself.

    And then there's the fact that this is, in fact, a Beauty Parlor. Another recurring motif: the word "beautiful." We got a lot of it last week, but it actually goes back into the Tennant era, though it certainly wasn't a prevalent then. Some variation of "beautiful" is how the Doctor describes monsters. Here, too, looking through the eyehole. Here too, when Amy becomes enraptured: "Oh, he is beautiful."

    So at this point the show has already established that what a thing is and how it appears are not the same thing. Which is why the incessant use of mirrors is so fascinating, because they're not, at this point, a simply vanity, but pointing to something else.

    They point to a Question: "Who are you?" Which is, perhaps, the question of the series.

    Now obviously the labyrinth of mirrors in the beauty salon sets up a juxtaposition of the Doctor and the monster. As Phil suggests, this is not a particularly high bar to reach. Nonetheless, it's a technique that's been consistently employed throughout the series, with Amy coming to the forefront in the "monstering" process this season. In this respect The God Complex takes a step backwards, reverting the Doctor/Monster dynamic and ignoring Amy's capacity for monstrosity — and hence the capacity for monstrosity that exists in all of us.

    (to be continued)


  6. Alex Antonijevic
    August 11, 2014 @ 3:33 am

    In the pursuit of equality between men and women, this doesn't really hold up.


  7. jane
    August 11, 2014 @ 3:35 am

    But what Hurran does in the Pasiphaë Spa is absolutely stunning. Again, as with The Girl Who Waited, we see the superimposition of images, but even though the Doctor/Monster juxtaposition is old hat, Hurran puts an interesting twist on it by using some interesting set pieces (literally the props on the set) to make that superimposition happen.

    It's all mirrors, of course. First there's the ordinary mirrors that the Doctor has set up in the spa. But Hurran is able to turn those mirrors into a labyrinth, by making the "corridors" the corridors of perspective rather than the literal corridors of the hotel itself. The camera is the creator of space, here, doing so much more than simply recording a space that already exists. So what is the camera? God? Praise the camera.

    Anyways, the Doctor and Minotaur get shown from multiple angles, their images split into two simply the use of multiple mirrors reflecting each other, until they finally come to see each other through a "looking glass" — which in this case is a glass waterfall, which renders a blurry but dynamic reflected image. It's this reflection that Hurran uses for superimposition, rather than layering multiple shots into the same frame. And as has been the case since Moffat's tenure began in earnest (back in the Davies era, no less) the likening of Water to a Mirror persists, which of course has implications for the Ponds.

    When the Doctor's spell is broken, the glass shatters, and the water ceases to fall. The shots become fractured, and fractalized. The Minotaur breaks the window of the rear door, next to Rory. Howie's glasses are broken. And Amy is told to attend to the fish.

    The fishbowl is much more interesting as a symbol and metaphor than the Doctor/Monster juxtaposition. It's more complex, because unlike the "dark hero" stuff it's actually relevant to the question of what the Camera is.

    First off, the fishbowl integrates some of the primary motifs we've been talking about. We have glass, we have water: the fishbowl is a kind of mirror, but because it doesn't offer any literal reflections, reflecting on the fishbowl takes a bit more work.

    Oh, yes, there's also the fish themselves: black, white, red — these represent the stages of nigredo, albedo, and rubedo in the esoteric art of alchemy. Not to mention that fish themselves have been a recurring motif in the Moffat era from day one, from flying fish and Jim the Fish to fish fingers and custard. (Clara Oswin Oswald invented fish, you know.)

    (to be continued)


  8. liminal fruitbat
    August 11, 2014 @ 3:58 am

    If we were starting on an even playing field, maybe not. We aren't.


  9. Brightcoat
    August 11, 2014 @ 3:59 am

    "Misandry" is like "Reverse Racism". Of course there are going to be individual incidents of men (or white people) being discriminated against due to their gender (or race). And that's not fun and it's an asshole thing to do.

    However, Men (and white people, but I'm ending the parentheticals now) have so much institutional power (what feminists call "the Patriarchy") that jokes at the expense of "men-as-a-group" DO NOT THREATEN their influence on society.

    In contrast, patriarchal culture frequently and pervasively infantilizes women. Standards of beauty for women emphasize and encourage neoteny and submissiveness, and stigmas still exist, even in 20-fucking-14, against unmarried or otherwise independent women.

    So when The God Complex describes ["Amy Pond", the (ostensibly) more independent, self-assured character who DOESN'T IDENTIFY HALF OF HER NAME based on her relationship with a man] as "helpless" and says that she has to take her husband's name in order to grow up and be happy and safe, that plays right into centuries of misogynistic cultural attitudes. It's grotesque.

    (Not to mention that the "Mr. Pond" jokes are themselves kinda misogynistic, NOT misandrist, anyway. Rory being called "Mr. Pond" doesn't make fun of men-as-a-group, it makes fun of RORY by saying that his more "traditionally feminine" role in the Pond/Williams relationship is somehow intrinsically funny and unusual.)


  10. William Whyte
    August 11, 2014 @ 4:01 am

    If there was equality, it wouldn't, but there isn't, so it does.


  11. Froborr
    August 11, 2014 @ 4:03 am

    It's actually a misogynistic joke. The joke with "Mr. Pond" is that Rory is the less assertive member of the relationship, therefore "the woman," therefore loses his name.

    The idea behind "Mrs. Williams" is that a woman maintaining her own identity is childish, only by adopting a label that represents validation by a man does she become an adult.

    Two different concepts, but both are rooted in the idea of masculine dominance.


  12. Froborr
    August 11, 2014 @ 4:04 am

    Or what Brightcoat said, yeah.


  13. jane
    August 11, 2014 @ 4:24 am

    The "fishbowl" shots are intertwined with the camera — we know this from the final sequence, as we see the Doctor through the "fishbowl" of the Time Rotor juxtaposed with Amy looking out her window. So let's consider the camera for a second. It's an Eye, with a curved window, which permits a view of something that we understand as being "inside a shot." In this sense, the fishbowl speaks to what we're doing with cameras — the bowl itself is like a lens that at once allows us to view what's inside the water, with a modicum of clarity and yet necessarily with a modicum of distortion. The fish are the subject of the shot.

    Hurran plays with the fishbowl throughout The God Complex. It's hard to tell how much of this is scripted, and how much of it is of his own design — because other than that single line in the Spa where the Doctor tells Amy to get the fish, the fish aren't ever directly referenced again.

    So, the next time we see the fish, with Amy tending to the fishbowl (as seen through the space of the stairwell) it's when the Doctor is talking with Rita and the shot comes directly after she says, "That's quite a god complex you have there." This time the juxtaposition is between image and dialogue, at a jaunty angle.

    The next time the fish appear, it's without any dialogue at all. Gibbis (sounds like a waxing moon) approaches the fishbowl — which we see from behind the fishbowl, i.e., from the perspective of the fish — and he snatches them away. We cut to the security monitoring room, a wall of old tv sets on the wall, "Oh, you beauty!" the Doctor says. And then, while the Doctor focuses on Rita's rapture and capture by the Minotaur, Gibbis furtively takes the fishbowl to the kitchen and eats them, which is only made explicitly apparent after Rita's death, through a shot of that particular security monitor.

    The security room ostensibly provides a "god's eye view" of the hotel.

    And juxtaposed with this shot of the eaten fish is Rita's plea to "not be seen" as it's happening, but to be "remembered" as she was before she was robbed of her faith. (Amy declares that Rita has "disappeared" as she enters the monitoring station.) And again, Hurran layers this scene with cinematic irony — Rita, like all the other people who die in the hotel, is bathed in a spotlight, before the shadow of the minotaur engulfs her, for all of us to see.

    So Gibbis is the monster who looks through the fishbowl and eats what he sees. This is juxtaposed with our heroes consuming the image of Rita as she's "eaten" by the monster.

    But this means that the camera itself is a monster. And so, too, are we, looking into the fishbowls of our television sets, eating up what the camera has to offer. No wonder that Charlotte Abigail Lux is at one point literally depicted as a Security Camera within the Library.


  14. Heath
    August 11, 2014 @ 5:26 am

    I surprised at the amount of praise and acceptance this episode is garnering. I don't like it. I don't care for it at all. The set-piece works well enough, but I wish it was really a "Doctor shows up in the Shining" rather than the convoluted mess that it is. I've watched this episode three times now, and each time I'm left unsatisfied.

    The Doctor has played the "you shouldn't have faith in me" thing before, and frankly it was done better by 7. But I'm also one that doesn't buy all the 'dark' and 'dangerous' Doctor stuff they try to push here. (And it is a main reason I'm quite wary of the new direction their teasing for Capaldi).

    But I just don't care for the episode. I suppose it is spooky enough, but I can't follow the logic of the plot. Perhaps the fault is mine, but I'm usually capable of at least saying "oh I see what you're trying to do here." In this instance, not so much.


  15. Richard Pugree
    August 11, 2014 @ 6:53 am

    Yeah this joke has really disturbed me the whole way through. It works well enough in AGMGTW I suppose – with 'Melody Williams is a geography teacher, Melody Pond is a superhero', the joke is about the actual names.

    But in all the other instances, like this one, it's really jarring and uncomfortable. While I'm not of the 'Moffat is a terrible misogynist' brigade, it's moments like this which expose how easily he falls into jokes based in some really backwards heteromasculinity, which just aren't necessary and leave a bad taste.

    Still- I love this episode else, and a great essay.


  16. Ombund
    August 11, 2014 @ 7:01 am

    I partially agree, but I don't think either the blog itself or the comments so far have been espousing anything like universal praise. I've always thought that the visual style of The God Complex is striking without ever being able to quite articulate why (so thank you, Phil), but as you say apart from the odd scene the story itself isn't anything special. Of course the visual style of a piece of television makes an equally important contribution to its effect and so it's a perfectly legitimate aspect to focus on, but at the same time if the episode as a whole was as good as The Caves of Androzani you obviously wouldn't just be focusing on the direction, despite the equally revolutionary work of Graeme Harper on that occasion.

    This episode, alongside A Town Called Mercy, is what puts me firmly in the ambivalent camp when people suggest Toby Whithouse as a future showrunner. Vampires of Venice is solid and School Reunion is great but both of those seem to draw their power from the richness of the location and the return of Sarah Jane respectively rather than solely on their own merits. Without anything else to hang onto I find Whithouse's episodes sorely lacking, not terrible by any means but not particularly memorable either. I had a similar response to Being Human too. I don't know if we can draw any conclusions from the fact that Whithouse hasn't got an episode in series 8.


  17. Matthew Blanchette
    August 11, 2014 @ 7:24 am

    Well, you could say the same thing about Nick Hurran not having a single episode in Series 8, and only one episode (albeit the all-important one) after the two he directed as part of Series 7a.


  18. Alan
    August 11, 2014 @ 7:38 am

    " I suppose it is spooky enough" I didn't even think it was spooky. They were going for "The Shining." To me it was more like "Rose Red," in which Stephen King mistakenly thought that if you threw a bunch of random images and scenes that were creepy when they showed up in other works, they would be even creepier strung together. A creepy hotel with a room full of creepy puppets and a creepy crazy guy quoting a creepy nursery rhyme. Honestly, it just felt tiresome to me.


  19. David Anderson
    August 11, 2014 @ 7:56 am

    I felt that the people being aware of their own psychological dissolution was the emotional draw here. The idea of knowing that you were turning into someone going willingly to your death.

    I fully agree that the losing faith scene is here far weaker than the scene in Curse of Fenric. That's because it's far more obviously the right thing to do on Amy's behalf at that point in time, and there's far less cost implied for it. It's doubtful that it's really seen as a cost at all, as opposed to Amy growing up. Whereas there's no doubt that in Curse of Fenric it's something that the Doctor and Ace have to try to repair. The crucial scene there is as much the scene afterwards where the Doctor has to show that he genuinely feels how he hurt Ace.


  20. Ben
    August 11, 2014 @ 8:49 am

    "Amy Williams" is a way for the Doctor to break his faith in Amy as much as he breaks her faith in him. He doesn't tear her apart like he did Ace back in "Curse of Fenric" but tries to posit her as someone he doesn't really know.

    Do I believe that myself? I don't know. My love for this episode might make me a little gullible. But consider that for the next handful of episodes in which Amy and Rory are still around, the Doctor goes right on referring to them as the Ponds. (Beyond that, too. "Pond" is the magic word in The Snowmen.) So I don't really find it credible that Whithouse would be so out-of-the-loop in terms of character dynamics either.


  21. Ben
    August 11, 2014 @ 8:50 am

    Oh, I also want to say that I did a literal-as-in-literal-not-as-in-figurative Laugh Out Loud at the caption on this one. Well done, Phil.


  22. Ben
    August 11, 2014 @ 8:54 am

    Pretty much what everyone is saying. "Misandry" may exist but it's an overused word. When you hear hoofbeats think of horses, not zebras.


  23. Robert Lloyd
    August 11, 2014 @ 9:08 am

    There's simple "making jokes about men" and there's outright "saying hateful things about men".

    The former is, as was said, largely harmless. But the latter definitely exists, is often harmful and unhealthy (though often understandable), and could indeed qualify as "misandry".


  24. Robert Lloyd
    August 11, 2014 @ 9:13 am

    It may not be terribly relevant to the main thrust of the conversation on this story, but I do want to mention a potentially huge missed opportunity: Rita, whom the Doctor even hints at being a worthy replacement for Amy, and would almost certainly be a more interesting companion.

    Of course, her loss is one of those that makes the Doctor's adventures feel that much more real, frightening, and tragic.


  25. Adam Riggio
    August 11, 2014 @ 9:30 am

    The more I consider the information we have about Season 8, the less I'm able to predict precisely how it will go down. If Moffat has managed to do anything throughout his tenure, it's surprise me.

    For example, Nick Hurran isn't directing, but Ben Wheatley is. Some of the less impressive writers from the Moffat era are writing, like Stephen Thompson and Mark Gatiss, of course, whose quality is unpredictable. But they also have Phil Ford, one of the best writers from SJA contributing to the Moffat era for the first time, and the impressively innovative Frank Cottrell Boyce. As well, Gareth Roberts is back, which always makes me grin like an idiot.

    Also, the characterization of Capaldi's Doctor is probably not going to be as alienating as most of us fear. Judging from a couple of the clips that Moffat has authorized for news items (particularly his and Clara's exchange from Into the Dalek: D- She's more than my assistant. C- I'm his carer. D- Yes, she's my carer. She cares so I don't have to.), he'll probably just be sarcastic and bitchy. Some of his interviews have suggested returning to some of the characterization from the black and white years, when the Doctor couldn't always be trusted that he knew what he was doing or that he had everyone's best interests at heart. The Tennant and Smith eras saw the Doctor becoming very explicitly heroic, a heroism that even informed the darker aspects of their personalities. I suspect Capaldi will return more unpredictability and its attendant danger to the role.


  26. David Anderson
    August 11, 2014 @ 9:30 am

    I think there is a way in which (mostly male dominated) sections of the media present men as infantilised or emotionally oblivious in a way that is harmful in the long term. In the short term, it presents men with permission and license for immaturity and selfishness. The Men are from Mars / Men Behaving Badly ideology.
    But also there's a distinction between making fun of a man because he's a man, and making fun of a man because he's socially awkward. (The second can be genuinely harmful for men but of course even more so for women who are socially awkward.)


  27. David Anderson
    August 11, 2014 @ 9:45 am

    I think that much as I admire this story, it feels out of place in Season Six, or even anywhere in the Moffat era.
    Rory asks why when he sees the Doctor getting on with someone he wants to inform their next of kin. That's a perfectly reasonable comment to make within the frame of reference of the Davies-era. But the Moffat-era hasn't operated like that. I think the 'Everybody lives' criticism of the Moffat-era is misplaced. But the potential companion who dies before they get into the TARDIS is a Davies-era staple.
    Likewise, Amy has always been played by Gillan, and usually written, as someone who doesn't think the Doctor is entirely reliable. Amy here is being written more like a generic Davies-era companion than in her usual character. Assuring other people that the Doctor will save everybody is not Amy's usual conversational gambit. (The only comparable speech I can think of is the 'that man is your father' speech in A Good Man Goes to War, where it's Rory she's thinking of.)


  28. jane
    August 11, 2014 @ 9:49 am

    In terms of gender dynamics, I find little difference in calling Amy a "Pond" versus a "Williams," given that one is her father's name and the other her husband's, so hinging accusations of misogyny on what naming convention is employed I find a bit tiresome. Both names are equally reflections of patriarchal culture, and if anything the fact that "Pond" goes unquestioned shows just how deeply the name of the father runs.

    A far more interesting reading, given that Amy's story is all said and done with now, comes from the fact that she's had four different names, and those names have their own meanings based not only in their own etymologies and connotations, but also what they've meant and signified in terms of the show.

    So, first there's the etymological take: "Pond," of course, refers to a body of water, of water that isn't in motion but is more or less still. "Williams" derives from Wilhelm, which is as literal as it sounds — "will" plus "helmet," which was taken to signify "Warrior" (which is rather interesting, given how the Warrior has been deconstructed this season). "Amelia" means "work," but also "industrious" and "fertile" — in other words, a creative force. "Amy" is not actually a derivative of "Amelia" but rather means "beloved."

    Beyond this, though, are the meanings the characters ascribe to her various names. As a child, "Amelia Pond" is likened to "a fairy tale" by the Doctor. When she grows up she drops half the fairy tale, taking on the name of "Amy." And this is striking, because so much of Amy Pond's journey is about balancing her fairy-tale life (traveling through time and space on adventures) and ordinary life in the real world (which includes her various jobs and relationships, including the one with Rory.)

    Notice how after she ends up in New York, she still maintains this balance in her naming: "Amelia Williams," half fairy-tale, half grounded. She's simply reversed the polarity of her neutron flow. But to be called "Amy Williams" is to be thrown out of the world of Faerie altogether, which is exactly what happens here.

    So I don't think the show is "being misogynistic" simply by having the Doctor call her "Amy Williams" any more than it's being misogynistic to call Rose a "Tyler" — which is a name handed down to her by her father, Pete — and especially in the context of the Doctor trying to break Amy's faith in him, an effort that culminates in her expulsion from the land of Faerie. Likewise, Rory's acceptance of being called a "Pond" is a signal that he's accepted the call of Faerie, of traveling with the Doctor, something he's learned from Amy. Indeed, the same applies to calling Rory's father a Pond — because being a Pond is to be a part of a faerie tale, as well as to be a kind of mirror.


  29. jane
    August 11, 2014 @ 9:50 am

    Perhaps the strongest argument against the naming/misogyny line, though, comes from Amy's daughter. River, of course, has adopted her own naming convention, eschewing and yet simultaneously honoring her given names. Like Amy, River reverses the polarity of naming flow, putting one name in front of the other, but she adds the twist of translating those names through "the language of the forest" — the Forest, of course, being intimately connected to the land of Faerie.

    She isn't a Pond or a Williams, she's a Song, a name that comes to her from an eternal loop — for "Melody" was named by Amy after Melody herself. The problematic "Pond" becomes her first name, but transformed from a static thing into something dynamic, into flowing water which represents the passage of Time itself. And just as Amy's naming reflects her being wed to both Faerie and Ordinary, River's naming reflects how she's given herself over completely to the land of the Fae.


  30. Adam Riggio
    August 11, 2014 @ 9:55 am

    One of the basic rhetorical points of Phil's post today: the role of The God Complex in the "Doctor's Death" arc of Season Six is immaterial to the actual importance of the episode. In that arc, this is meant to be the point where the Doctor comes to believe that his risky, adventurous lifestyle ultimately does more harm than good: there's a lot of unnecessary and affecting death among the supporting cast, and he only wins by crassly breaking the faith of his most loyal companion that season, Rory already having had his faith broken in "The Girl Who Waited." This is where the Doctor accepts that the universe might be better off without him, and "Closing Time" is a glimpse of the Doctor's own epilogue, a couple of days in a long unseen arc of him visiting old friends around the universe before he marches to his inevitable.

    But, as Phil's analysis over this season has revealed, the conclusion of that arc is not all that important. All the really progressive work this season has done appeared to great success in "A Good Man Goes to War" and after a very difficult redemptive reading of "Let's Kill Hitler." As far as the themes of the season go for their legacy in Doctor Who, the "Doctor's Death" arc was an elaborate shell game with ultimately trivial consequences (just like how the Doctor himself, diegetically, escaped from the trap of his own death, a shell game that allowed him to begin adventuring again without the pressure of season-long arcs).

    So, since the Eruditorum has already worked out the ultimate purposelessness and meaninglessness of the "Doctor's Death" arc, it must ask what else could be meaningful about "The God Complex" despite the heavy-handed way it deals with that explicit season arc. One way is to rebut the Moffat-hates-women account of his tenure, where the "Mrs Williams" line provides probably the thickest slice feeding the misogyny accusation. Phil's conclusion seems to be, basically, blaming Toby Whithouse and faulting Steven Moffat for not catching this in the clusterfuck of Season Six's back half production disaster.

    Most importantly, it cements the radical new directorial style of Doctor Who that Moffat and his crew would experiment with over Season Seven, using the language of cinematography to frame Doctor Who stories not as worlds, but primarily as narratives. And almost as importantly, it provides the framework (without our knowing it at the time) for the new template of the Doctor-Companion relationship where the Companion no longer abandons her life for the TARDIS, but incorporates her relationship with the Doctor into her pre-existing life. This last has, I think, even more potential longevity than the new concept of narrativity, which largely depends on having skilled directors who can use the camera in creative ways on television. Although the BBC's international flagship adventure show can attract very good directors (and writers with the prestige and skill of Neil Gaiman and Frank Cottrell Boyce), you're not always guaranteed a really good director. But even a mediocre writer can get a dramatic or interesting scenario out of this new Doctor-Companion relationship because it introduces so much more character complexity.

    I have a distinct feeling that Danny Pink is going to be Clara's boyfriend (and make for a fascinating reiteration of Barbara-Ian), given Capaldi's teasing about his line, "And no hanky-panky in the TARDIS!" Can't wait, myself!


  31. Bennett
    August 11, 2014 @ 11:47 am

    @jane Since reading this Eruditorum post yesterday I have been deliberating over how I could state my case for this line as an integral part of the motifs, themes and character arcs of the Moffat era. Thank you for doing so with your usual eloquence, and for drawing so much more from it than I even dared think possible.

    Not only do I consider your reading to square perfectly with the authors' intention, I also cannot see how anyone could dismiss it this side of The Time of the Doctor. We have just stood witness to a year of Moffat playing in the gaps between what someone's name is, what someone is called, and what someone actually is in a very Carrollian manner – much to the chagrin of the fans who believe Doctor Who can only be understood through lists, databases and trivia answers (and the delight of those who see it as a big ball of wibbly-wobbly, fictiony-wictiony stuff). I have no doubts that Amy's "four name arc", as conceived, exists in a similar space.

    Of course, if there is dissonace between the intended reading and the wider audience reading, then there is still some problem. Perhaps the line was ill-informed. Perhaps it even resulted in material social damage, in some small way. But I think that it was a risk worth taking, and a cost worth bearing, if the alternative is having such playfully literary authors shy away from motifs, themes and character arcs out of fear of misreadings.


  32. Daibhid C
    August 11, 2014 @ 1:27 pm

    I've got a new analogy for misandry: disablism.

    Disablism is the opposite of ablism, just as misandry is the opposite of misogyny. Every time you see a building that has lifts and ramps, but no stairs, that's disablist. Because a building with no stairs for an able-bodied person to use is exactly equivalent to a building with no ramps for a wheelchair user.


  33. jane
    August 11, 2014 @ 2:07 pm

    @Bennett: Part of what makes the scene so dissonantly interpreted, I think, is that it's so ambiguously constructed, which I attribute more to Hurran than I do to Whithouse. The images themselves are not as amenable to the sort of literalist comprehension you allude to as, say, the dialogue.

    So it's the dialogue, the most tangible detail, that people latch onto. But what does it mean that Rory is hanging onto the door and shunted into the corner when the Minotaur enters the room? And what do we make of the fact that the camera switches back and forth between Gillan with Blackwood sitting in Amy's position? Especially when the Doctor is saying, "It's time we saw each other as we really are."

    This latter point is rarely addressed, partly because it's not cut and dried. Is the camera saying that Amy is seeing herself as a little girl, or is it reflective of the Doctor's perspective? Is it the Minotaur's? The hotel's? Is it supposed to reflect authorial intention, or even implicate the audience?

    Obviously, the camera is not "objective" — which Rory's door stunt should have made obvious, and even if it didn't, it's a fair signal. No, Amy's body is not literally switching back and forth between childhood and womanhood. What we can say, then, is that the camera is functioning as an unreliable narrator, which is congruent with the unreliable narration of the Doctor's story, hence his words, hence "Amy Williams."

    So is the camera (and hence the direction) reflective of the Doctor's POV? Does he see Amy as a little girl when he calls her "Glorious Pond" and as a full-grown woman when he calls her "Amy Williams"? If so, why does Amy revert to a little girl again as he gets up to leave the room? And likewise, if Amy is seeing herself as child and adult according to the Doctor's invocations, why does she become a child again at the end of the scene?

    I do not think the camera is so literally representative of perspective. Harken back to when the Doctor realizes that he can use the security cameras, and leaves Rita in the stairwell. We see her in the black-and-white video feed (hmm, black and white, a metaphor of clarity) and when she says "Praise Him" we get two splices of Rita, in color, one of her screaming in terror and the other grinning in bliss. The black-and-white Rita, on the other hand, is neither terrorized nor enraptured, but is at first relieved, then concerned.

    So the camera isn't just representing self-reflection. It's getting to something deeper and more fluid than that, possibly into the subconscious of the characters.

    The key to understanding that scene in Amy's room, I think, is the very obvious direction that Blackwood is taking as it closes out — she pointedly looks away from the Doctor and back to the window, twice, and given how good Blackwood has been in her other stints on the show, I can't attribute this to the amateurish inexperience of a child actor. It's deliberate. So what's it supposed to convey?

    That time before she had faith in the Doctor, before her mere hopes were confirmed — that time when she had doubt and disappointment, when she was wounded. Looking out the window, like a fish in a fishbowl.

    And if this is the case, then I'd say it's very much Hurran trying to turn the narrative from the blithe carelessness of naming conventions to the truth of Amy's psychology, a truth that is anything but misogynistic.


  34. Anton B
    August 11, 2014 @ 2:08 pm

    Isn't everyone having their own 'Room 101' the bait and switch here? The rooms containing one's greatest fear only being created, it turns out, in order to generate faith for the monster at the heart of the Labyrinth to feed on. The designer of the Labyrinth in mythology was Daedalus who, with his son, escaped the King's death sentence by inventing a primitive flying machine. His son Icarus had no fear and dared to touch the sun, his hubris punished when the glue melted and his wings dropped away. Starting from this Greek classic the layers of literary analogy here peel away like a half remembered nightmare dissipating on the retelling. Room 101, from Orwell's 1984 -the torture room at the centre of a beaurocratic labyrinth containing individually tailored objects of fear- is designed to instill faith in Big Brother not, as in most state torture chambers, to glean information. The state is less interested in what the individual knows than in how much. The purpose of Winston Smith's job at the Ministry of Truth is to narrow language down so that eventually thoughtcrime becomes impossible. Doubleplusungood. Ironically, for our concerns, the levels of beaurocracy in Airstrip One and its labyrinthine political architecture was inspired by the job Orwell had at the BBC in the 1930s.

    Rather than Orwellian, The God Complexis the kind of scenario people often call Kafkaesque; mistaking Franz Kafka's proto-surrealist meditations on the uncanny to be merely satire on the petty bureaucracy he experienced in his job as an insurance clerk. (Little known fact. Kafka, apocryphally, invented the safety helmet). I would argue for Kafka's position as one of the founders of SF. He predicted the horrors of Nazism and Communism as instruments of totalitarian rule thirty years before Orwell. However his writing was more concerned with imagery and metaphor than direct political allusion. As is The God Complex. The story hangs suspended in a web of fear (yes) referencing classic Who (the Nimon) and leaving a long strand of uncertainty not only regarding Amy's faith in the Doctor but in the mystery of what awaits the Doctor himself in Room 11. Of course no one expected Moffat to actually pay that off in the Eleventh's final story but of course it had to be the crack in time and space. What did you think it was? The Doctor himself? No he was in another room entirely. And Amy dealt with that one. "Don't talk to the Clown!"


  35. 5tephe
    August 11, 2014 @ 2:11 pm

    I'd like to thank Phil, and a lot of the commenters here, for opening my eyes to why so many people love Moffat's era of Doctor Who. It's not something that I can feel myself, but I can see and understand now how so many people do.

    And I don't want to be a sour voice at the party, so let me just stick up for a moment for the traditionalists. The literalists, as it was somewhat derisively put last Eruditorum post.

    I like, and think there is a deeply underrated art to, the telling a straight narrative well. When I see new directorial approaches that are based on the camera, viewer, and setting all being subjective, and as Phil says: subjective not from the point of view of any character, or supposed viewer, but from the perspective of the narrative itself… I don't at that point think: Wow! What a great new way to approach televisual storytelling!

    I think: Huh. Cute. But, uh… how exactly am I meant to either understand, or care about what I am watching. Oh, I get the techniques that are being used, but I am not able to invest in a character that is actually a metaphor. To the point where the show declines to show those characters going through what genuine people would actually go through emotionally, given the set of events that happened to them.

    Like Jack Graham said: I didn't want to see sci-fi rape in Doctor Who again. But if they're going to put it in, then I absolutely want to see it dealt with directly. And if that is too full on for a mainstream family focused franchise to handle, and you still feel it's important to include that theme, then you need to work harder and find a way to do it.

    I guess I'm just a literalist.

    I find jane's readings frankly revelatory, and love them, but don't for the life of me pick up on one quarter of the symbolism that she does, and likely never will. I don't know nearly enough about alchemy, for starters.


  36. Ben
    August 11, 2014 @ 2:30 pm

    If Clara and Danny are An Item, I wonder how the Doctor means to stop hanky-panky? Daily doses of saltpeter with breakfast?


  37. jane
    August 11, 2014 @ 2:42 pm

    So while we're on the topic of Hurran's direction, and how best to interpret it, why not look at the opening teaser with Lucy Hayward? Because there's something there that I just saw, that I hadn't seen before, and I hadn't seen in anyone's commentary before.

    "Lucy Hayward" is an interesting name. "Lucy," of course, connotes "light." But "Hayward" is altogether more fascinating, I think, as an "officer of enclosures and fences." Specifically, a "hayward" or "hedge warden" wasn't just in charge of the hedgerows, but also a herdsman who kept track of cattle that strayed into or out of the commons, and who blew a horn to give warning of cattle transgressions.

    And of course, this has obvious implications for a story about the Minotaur — even more obvious than the shot of the Doctor eating an apple while juxtaposed with a set of horns hanging on the wall behind him. Lucy is dressed as an officer, in a story about a bull.

    But the other kind of enclosure that we're confronted with here is the enclosure of "light" — which is to say, the framing of a shot, a "light enclosure" or visual composition. And the teaser rather spells out just about all of Hurran's visual rules in play here.

    First, there's the kind of camera angles. Lucy open a door, and she's disoriented by a man behind an old-fashioned camera and his flashing light; this shot is done with a dutch angle, which resurfaces in the dining room with Joe and his dummies. There's the mirror shot, with Lucy's hand grasping the brass door handle to "her" room, which is repeated for both Amy and the Doctor. There's the "monster pov" shot, which is blurry as it zigs and zags down the hall. There's all the superimpositions: for example, when Lucy confronts that brutal gorilla, there are flashes of the book she's reminded of, as described by her narration when the Doctor reads her note later (which, again, reiterates the superimpositions, including the audio superimposition of her narrating in imperfect unison with the Doctor).

    And then there are the splices. "Praise him," of course. But there are some splices in Lucy's segment that have gone overlooked. First, when she finds her room: she's talking about the gorilla that scared her, and we see the book pages superimposed, but spliced into this imagery are two other shots — a girl holding a cake with eight candles on it, and a man in a gray jacket who is, well, rampant, holding out his hands like claws, baring his teeth, growling. Like a monster.

    But this deeper part of Lucy's trauma goes unspoken.

    The gorilla, I think, has come to stand for something else. Childhood sexual abuse, perhaps? Some other kind of daddy issue? You've had some cowboys in here. Regardless of the specific nature of the trauma, we're seeing a kind of time-travel here, these flashes of a past wounding.

    However, look closer: before Lucy enters "her" room, she enters another room, that first room being of a man behind an old-fashioned camera, with a flash of light. In this sequence, there's also a splice, that same splice of a little girl holding a cake with eight candles.

    The attentive viewer might remember that one of the pictures in the lobby has the caption, a caption that spells out the fear of having a photo taken. The more attentive viewer will remember that this caption belongs to Tim Heath, pointedly not a little girl. So Lucy's process of repressed trauma coming to light begins in someone else's room, and points not towards that brutal gorilla, but to a little girl.

    The father, that's her brutal gorilla.

    Talk about a god complex.


  38. jane
    August 11, 2014 @ 2:56 pm

    I have a distinct feeling that Danny Pink will give 'em hell, alchemically speaking.


  39. Pen Name Pending
    August 11, 2014 @ 3:32 pm

    I do think there was some missed opportunity with the ever-changing corridors, but this remains one of my favorite episodes (possibly my favorite of the season) because of the Doctor/Amy moments. The Doctor's guilt, Amy's blind faith, the general emotion of it all…I could relate to it a lot at the time.


  40. jane
    August 11, 2014 @ 4:22 pm

    The Clown Room is our room — specifically those of us who are fans of the Classic series, and became traumatized by its falling off the rails. It's the room for Anoraks.


  41. Jarl
    August 11, 2014 @ 5:39 pm

    Regarding River, she actually names herself twice. She's named Melody Pond after Melody Pond, and picks up River Song because the Doctor calls her River Song, because she introduced herself as River Song.

    Fixedy wicksedy, pointy wointy, timey wimey.


  42. Jarl
    August 11, 2014 @ 6:02 pm

    Coincidentally, as part of a discussion thread on an imageboard I will continue to define explicitly through my refusal to name, I took part in some photoshop fun regarding what might be in Room 11. I think the result speaks for itself.

    Speaking of, how dark is Matt Smith's interpretation? "Ten hanged men and an empty noose". Jesus, Matt.


  43. BerserkRL
    August 11, 2014 @ 7:49 pm

    I see Capaldi's Doctor as being in the vein of Hartnell + T. Baker + C. Baker.


  44. nimonus
    August 11, 2014 @ 8:15 pm

    "And I’m not entirely sold on the argument that the implications of this are even close to being worked out at the point where TARDIS Eruditorum sunsets. It’s a risky business, defining the present in terms of history, but all the same, I’ll hazard this hypothesis: the era of Doctor Who that we are in as of August 11th, 2014 began on September 17th, 2011."

    No spoilers, but from what I have seen so far, I think this is looking less and less likely. The Moffatt era MK2 will be a much bigger departure from the Moffatt era MK1 than Moffatt MK1 was from the RTD era, in tone, approach to its subject matter, and style. I'd even go so far as to say it will be a bigger break from anything we have seen before than the RTD era was in 2005.

    Perhaps some of the techniques Moffatt and co refined such as the ones you mention here will still play an important role, but if so they will be employed to very different ends.

    I can't wait to read your S8 reviews to see what you make of it all, even if, as this very essay demonstrates, much of what they are doing won't be entirely clear except in hindsight.


  45. BerserkRL
    August 11, 2014 @ 9:26 pm

    [nothing is more important than my egomania]

    I have a couple of pieces about Kafka:

    [/nothing is more important than my egomania]


  46. BerserkRL
    August 11, 2014 @ 9:49 pm

    The Moffatt era MK2 will be a much bigger departure from the Moffatt era MK1 than Moffatt MK1 was from the RTD era

    Three of the five leaked episodes (two I liked and one I didn't) seem fairly traditional to me. The other two, not so much.


  47. Daru
    August 12, 2014 @ 12:44 am

    @ Jane – Yes there was another Warrior/Wilhelm who was thrown out of the Land of Fae in Old Amy wasn't there? I do feel that this ejection from the Otherworld hits at the subconscious truth to this scene. I agree with you and Bennett about how this scene could be misread as misogynistic, especially a Phil says that:

    "Everything else, therefore, has to be taken as something else." and "there’s an active ambiguity at times whether a scene is being shot the way it is because of what happens in it, or whether things are happening because of how a scene is being shot"


  48. Daru
    August 12, 2014 @ 12:51 am

    The episode would maybe not be spooky for many of us, but imagine how you would feel watching it if you were under the age of 10? I think it would have quite an effect. And for me the most disturbing thought has always been loss of control of my own mind, and I think this story portrayed that to great effect.


  49. Daru
    August 12, 2014 @ 12:53 am

    Yes that loss in the episode really hit home emotionally for me, more than anything else. I think that may have been the point, to drive the dangerousness of the Doctor's adventuring home.


  50. Anton B
    August 12, 2014 @ 1:36 am

    @jane. Nice. Another interpretation. It's the first Doctor's room. "So you're my replacements? A dandy and a clown."
    I just love Gillan's delivery of the line "Don't talk to the clown!" She pitches it as an admonition with a hint of bitter experience, she can't believe anyone would waste time by actually engaging the projection of someones worst fear in conversation. Don't you realise the clown is supposed to be scary and anyway it's a bit pathetic isn't it? Rather than the plain warning it might have become from a less nuanced actor, Gillan invests the line with a commentary on the whole 'the innocuous becomes monstered' trope of the show whilst reminding us that we know the one person who most certainly would 'talk to the clown' is the Doctor. The moment is sold beautifully by the clown himself (presumably under Hurran's direction) doing that slow turn to camera to meet our gaze, the audience pov. Will we talk to the clown?

    @BerserkRL thanks, I look forward to reading those. Sometimes egomania is our best resource. 😉


  51. nimonus
    August 12, 2014 @ 8:02 pm

    I've only seen Ep 1 and about 1/4 of Ep 2, but the longer scenes (and the weighty, complex content of those scenes) make for a program that feels radically different. Much of what had been strong subtext is now text, and the whole thing feels much less like the kids show adults love, and more like and adult drama kids are allowed to watch. Episode 2 feels like Game of Thrones meets The Sarah Jane Adventures.


  52. BerserkRL
    August 13, 2014 @ 12:30 am

    I've finally seen Ep. 2, just now (it eventually seeded) and I partly see what you mean. But it was also in many ways a revisitation of Eccleston's first Dalek episode. (Though the narrative structure was distinctively Moffatty.)


  53. Katherine Sas
    August 13, 2014 @ 6:06 am

    Thanks for all the naming deconstruction, Jane – hugely helpful.


  54. Katherine Sas
    August 13, 2014 @ 6:12 am

    Yes, I wouldn't want Rita to replace the Ponds, obviously, but she does stand out as one of the great companions who could have been. The actress does so much with a lot less screen time or emphasis than, say, Sally Sparrow or Reinette.


  55. Katherine Sas
    August 13, 2014 @ 6:27 am

    I can sympathize with what you're saying. Coming from a lit rather than a film background, it is much easier for me to "get" things like narrative, character, dialogue, etc. and I find I have a stronger emotional reaction to the RTD era than to the Moffat era where I have to parse through the visual logic to get to the metaphorical heart of the story. However, I do think that it's worth doing so as once (with the assist of Phil & Jane) I get there the result is very rewarding. I often find the Moffat era less viscerally satisfying, but hugely stimulating intellectually (although even that is a generalization – there are lots of times that episodes in both eras do both).


  56. TheOncomingHurricane
    September 15, 2014 @ 12:23 pm

    @Jane I think while it's a great idea and it works in terms of Moffat's metaphors and that's probably why he left it alone during editing (that's if he just didn't have time), you have to go full Death of the Author to make it so. Only the author isn't Moffat, it's Whithouse, and it's unequivocally a Whithouse line (there's a strange tendency in Tumblr circles to praise Whithouse for Rita and spew vitriol at Moffat for Amy Williams, I wonder why that is…), and you can tell that from what he says about it:

    “I think there’s a slight reluctance in accepting that she’s a married woman. He still calls her Amy Pond and can’t quite believe that she’s grown up and isn’t a little girl anymore. That’s why he calls her Amy Williams—he finally uses her proper, married name.”

    Yeah, there's no real charitable reading of that quote.

    I'd also like to point out in response to thread at large that the idea of the Mr. Pond jokes being from a misogynistic seems mildly ludicrous when Moffat has said on the idea of women being forced to take their husband's names (paraphrased because I believe it was a originally a tweet, so accessing it isn't easy since Moffat's left Twitter): 'I don't know why you put up with it. My wife certainly doesn't.' So then, the idea behind it isn't misogynistic, it's satirical. It's pointing out how stupid it is that one is forced to take the other's name by making the man the one without the choice.


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