SALVATION THROUGH TIME-TRAVEL
SALVATION THROUGH TIME-TRAVEL
The spirituality of Doctor Who, by Greenbelt speaker and surefish blogger Philip Purser-Hallard.
This Easter saw the return of one of Western culture’s greatest heroes. A man whose heroism lay in peace, not violence, and who offered the hand of friendship to his enemies.
A man who brought great knowledge into the world, yet took ordinary men and women to be his companions. The Lord of Time, who died saving the world and was restored to glorious life.
Yes, Doctor Who was back. And it was, to coin a phrase, about time.
During the programme’s 42-year history, it’s never been difficult for Christian viewers to watch Doctor Who through the filter of our faith. True, the Doctor’s own worldview seems to be humanistic, scientific and notably unmystical, but his virtues of peace, tolerance and selflessness are ones we can hardly afford to ignore.
Still, the series’ recent revival, starring Christopher Eccleston as the Doctor and Billie Piper as his companion Rose, exceeded all the expectations of its Christian fans – not only in terms of its outstanding dramatic quality, but also in its spiritual leanings.
This was partly to be expected from scriptwriter Russell T. Davies – the man responsible for, among other things, the ITV miniseries The Second Coming.
When the Doctor calls Rose to follow him (telling her, ‘All you do is eat chips, go to bed and watch telly, while underneath you there’s a war going on,’) it’s bound to ring bells for those of us who remember Eccleston as Steve, the Son of God in Davies’ apocalyptic fantasy-drama.
Sure enough, the series goes on to show us more of the spiritual dimension of the Doctor’s universe than ever before. The TARDIS takes us to the End of the World, where we are introduced to the last human. We learn how a Dalek, of all creatures, can be redeemed (or very nearly).
We meet the ghostly Gelth, who look like angels but turn out to have been demonic all along; and ‘Margaret’ the Slitheen, the alien mass-murderer who’s given a second chance – literally ‘born again’, thanks to the Doctor’s TARDIS.
In Father’s Day, the episode written by Christian science-fiction novelist (and 2005 Greenbelt speaker) Paul Cornell, we see how Rose’s father (‘An ordinary man – that’s the most important thing in creation’) can be a hero, sacrificing himself to save the world – while, incidentally, bat-winged monstrosities attack a church.
We also watch, for the first time, the Doctor’s struggles with his own conscience. We see the consequences of his adventuring lifestyle, his fear of doing the wrong thing – and how he reacts when it’s brought home to him that he already has.
We see him choose between becoming what his enemies call ‘killer’ or ‘coward’, and with him we come to realise that ‘cowardice’ – the way of non-violence – is the better option.
And finally, we witness the showdown between a ‘false God’ – the Dalek Emperor, who has created a species in his own image – and Rose, who (again thanks to the TARDIS) has taken on a divine energy which might just represent the real thing.
The BBC’s trailers for the series weren’t joking when they promised us ‘the trip of a lifetime’.
And through it all, the Doctor is our guide. Kind, brave and selfless, he strives to save others through peaceful-yet-inventive solutions rather than through violence. Above all, he’s an explorer, a seeker after truth, always prepared to question and to learn.
As Christians we are called, of course, to follow Christ. It seems to me that, on our Christian journey, we could do worse than seeing ourselves also as companions of the Doctor.
www.infinitarian.com created and maintained by Philip Purser-Hallard.
All material © Philip Purser-Hallard 2005 except where otherwise noted, and not to be used without permission.
Greenbelt 2005 logo © Greenbelt Festivals 2005.