Monday, September 01, 2014

Doctor Whumanist: Can the Physician Heal Himself?

The rebooted Doctor Who has a pretty thorough track record of raiding the cupboard marked 'Christianity' and smearing the contents:
 - Not one, but two lots of deadly angels, the stone ones, and the 'Angel Hosts' on the spaceship Titanic.

 - The clergy are now an armed unit of soldiers, who work for the Church of the Papal Mainframe, the evolution of the present church into a military authority. The Church decides the Doctor is a threat to the universe and a whole series is centred around their despatch of River Song to assassinate him.

 - Monks: oh yes, headless monks, not very pleasant either.

 - Confession: has its own species, the grim looking 'Silence', who maintain confidentiality by making people forget they've ever met them. Bad lot. Another enemy for the Doctor to save the world from.

 - And the Daleks recast as evangelical fundamentalists worshipping their Emperor and zealously destroying everything in their devotion.

 - religious faith portrayed as a self-destructive mania

meanwhile creating secular/scifi analogues of spiritual practice: e.g. the regeneration of David Tennants Doctor through the 'prayers' of the planet via the Archangel satellite network (actually, people all thinking about him at the same time), creating a computerised form of eternal life, and an updated Exodus story broadcast around the Passover season.

The casting may have changed, but the Richard Dawkins subplots haven't: here's a dialogue clip from Episode 1 of the new series:
"I will not die I will reach the promised land" (robot baddie)

"There isn't any promised land, this is just a superstition that you've picked up from all the humanity that you've stuffed inside yourself." (Doctor)

Here we go again....

Both episodes have ended with a mysterious character, Missy, who seems to know the Doctor, welcoming people to Paradise, the promised land, 'Heaven'. Here beginneth the story arc for the current series, and I somehow doubt that 'Heaven' will turn out to be paradise.

CS Lewis wrote the Narnia books as a deliberate attempt to appeal to the imagination and feeling, rather than reason, to commend the Christian message. Worship, sacrifice, resurrection, judgement, were experienced positiviely by the characters (and the reader) rather than described in theological words. Doctor Who seems to be doing the reverse: working its way through the Christian imagination, and recasting everything in it as either villanous or imaginary.

And yet the parasite needs the host in order to feed: Episode 2 has the Doctor trying to save the soul of a Dalek (his words), by appealing to how he felt when he saw a star born, and how that feeling showed him the truth about the universe. How postmodern, thinking with our feelings. The doctor tries to change the Dalek by putting himself into the Daleks mind, who has a conversion experience as the Doctor redescribes the universe to him: "I see beauty, I see endless divine perfection"  which the Doctor encourages him to make it a part of himself, put inside himself and live by. Is this a scifi/humanist version of the Holy Spirit? But the Dalek goes off the rails, because his saviour is himself not whole: "I see into your soul Doctor, I see beauty, I see divinity, I see...... hatred. I see your hatred of the Daleks, and it is good!" And back to EXTERMINATE it goes, just with a different target.

The Doctor asks at the end of Clara, 'Am I a good man?' to which she responds 'I don't know, but I think you try to be and that's probably the point.'

Great line, and I'm impressed by a lot of the scriptwriting so far. But even as Doctor Who debunks faith, it actually makes a profound point: yes we can change, but we need a power to change us that isn't itself tainted by the same thing we are. An imperfect saviour will not do. What we put inside ourselves, what we live by, what we are saved by, has to be entirely pure in order to work.

(use the 'doctor who' tag for previous posts on moral/spiritual issues in Britains favourite sci fi show)


  1. Thanks for posting a comment on Doctor Who from a Christian perspective/understanding (I've been hoping someone would). When I watched the first episode at 3am (yes I'm a Who tragic) and 12 came out with the superstition line my blurry brain went AHHH!!!! Steven Moffatt pushing his atheistic wheelbarrow again. Don't forget "A Town called Mercy" with it's dodgy understanding of mercy/forgiveness/grace. Oh, and the episode with the Minatour thingy "Praise Him" and Amy had to lose her "faith" in the Doctor to be saved. If you're brave enough to read some of the Who fanblogs, there is lively discussion on the meaning of every episode and how it relates to "Doctor Who Canon" - so in a way people are talking about profound things. Anyway, I like to think of Jesus Christ as THE Lord of Time. Enough rambling from me.
    Gerry from Western Australia (PS enjoy reading your blog)

  2. Thanks for the comment - I've blogged on 'A Town Called Mercy', which was fascinating and on the 'faith' episode,

    I don't scour the fanblogs, but find that the scifi and fantasy genres seem to have scope to process spiritual issues, whether it's the Matrix, Spiderman (I'm probably the only person on the planet who thinks S3 is the best one) or Lord of the Rings. It seems a lot more overt on Who than it was before, and with a clearer anti-faith and anti-Christian agenda, but at the same time I'm also glad that it's trying to make us think and wrestle with moral issues.