Sunday, 1 July 2007

Is Doctor Who Catholic?

Series three of the new Doctor Who series concluded yesterday evening. Having been a huge fan of the show since about the age of seven, I was delighted when eventually it returned to our screens back in 2005. Since then Russell T Davies and crew, have delighted fans both old and new, with a spectacular show which is complex enough for the adults and entertaining enough for the children.

This is all well and good you might say, but what, if any is the relevance of this for a Catholic Blog? Well, first of all, I’m a huge fan of the show, in fact I would even say it has been hugely influential….but that’s another story. Anyway I’m a huge fan and, having to remain alone at Seminary for several weeks, in order to fulfil my civic duty of Jury Service, gives one time enough to think and reflect on a number of things, Doctor Who being one of them! Secondly (as if I need a second reason!) I was struck by the excellence of the series finale, and in particular some of the themes which, I’m going to argue, are loaded with Christian Imagery.

In fact I’ve always been impressed with the morality of the Doctor, their was something about this, seemingly celibate, mystical man who would march into a dying situation with his TARDIS, Sonic Screwdriver and unswerving passion to do what is right,- at all costs. From early on in the classic series it was clear that who ever this ‘Doctor’ was he was a moral force, a force for good in a seemingly chaotic Universe.

The Doctor is Pro-life, for all life. The universe of Doctor Who is of course very different to our own, but a consistent theme in classic series which, has been faithfully carried over into the new is the Doctor’s stance on the right to life. Be it alien or human, they all have the right to life. One of the clearest examples of the Doctor’s position is illustrated in the first episode of the second (New) series, ‘New Earth’. In this episode, in the far distant future an Alien Order of Nurse-Cats are on the new planet Earth. They run all the Hospitals and can cure all diseases, but at a cost. The Doctor discovers that the cats have bread a race of people that they keep in suspended animation in huge prison-like arrays. These people are referred to as ‘the meat’. There sole purpose in life is to act as hosts for all the diseases of the other patients. The cats, don’t have a problem with this, the Doctor naturally is appalled; “You want to take this to a higher authority, I am the highest authority, it stops here” The Doctor tells them curing people at the cost of other peoples lives is unacceptable, a perversion of the medical ethic. This perhaps is not without its parallels today? Naturally the Doctor saves the day, freeing and heeling this specially bred ‘human’ race.

This is of course only one example. It is, however, consistent throughout the shows history, the Doctor has fought for the right of all life forms, to life.

I want to focus, however, on the last three episodes of the season three. (Last of which aired 30th June BBC1) There are consistent themes that always run throughout the show, there is the Pro-life theme of course, but also themes of sacrifice, forgiveness, love, hope, and vocation to name but a few. Space and time will not allow me to expound all of these and this is not the forum. These themes, however, all seemed to culminate in Saturday’s Finale.

In Saturday’s episode, ‘The Last of the Timelords’ The Doctor finds himself on board the Master’s (The Doctors Nemesis, rival Timelord, completely Evil and a little unhinged!) ship hovering in the clouds above the earth. The Master/ Mr Saxon has become prime minister of Great Britain by hypnotising the population through something called the ‘Archangel network’ (15 Satellites orbiting the Earth, gently beaming suggestions into people’s heads). The Master has control of the whole planet and has freely decimated whole continents in order to build huge rocket silos to wage war on the rest of the Universe.

The Master has also used a device on the Doctor that has accelerated his age almost to the point of death. The Doctor is reduced to a pathetic Golom-like creature that is locked in a cage for the Master’s amusement. Martha Jones, the Doctor’s companion managed to Tele-port to Earth, seemingly to escape. Unknown to the Master the Doctor, however, had managed to give Martha instructions before escaping. Martha, for the next year would travel the Globe, telling people about the Doctor, about how he had saved the Planet many times before, without any of them knowing, more importantly she instructed them all at a certain time to concentrate on one word, a name, The Doctor. The Doctor being a Timelord, and over the period of a year, (whilst being imprisoned by the Master) managed to tap in to the telepathic frequency of the Archangel network. When at the same point in time millions of people all concentrated on The Doctor, he was able to tap into that energy and use it to free himself, reverse the aging process and stop the Masters plans. As the Master himself said, he was thwarted by “the power of prayer”!

There are then, a number of themes in this episode worthy of attention. Of course it goes without saying that this is a science fiction programme, not a Christian production. I’m sure that many who work in the production of Doctor Who wouldn’t see things the way I do, yet even so I argue these themes/images are present.

Martha then, travels the world bringing hope to a desperate situation by proclaiming news that will free these people who are in physical and mental bondage. Her role is not dissimilar to an Apostle. As a result Martha changes, she matures as a person, but more than that she seems to find herself, afterwards things are clearer. At the end of the episode she leaves the TARDIS crew. Her love for The Doctor is unrequited, and she is ok with this. She realises that she has responsibilities on Earth, she finds her vocation.

There is of course this obvious reference to prayer. Although this is not so much supernatural as natural, there is an image here of how when people speak out in Faith and in once voice, things change the world can be saved, there is hope.

Probably the most moving part of the episode comes at the end. The Doctor has defeated the Master, the Master runs into the corner of the room trying to get away from the Doctor; the audience is left wondering what the Doctor will do…. “You know what happens now don’t you” he says, “no” The Master interjects, The Doctor faces him, (Master cowering in the corner) “I forgive you” The Doctor comforts the Master both are crying, The Doctor out of pity and love, the Master because he cannot deal with The Doctor’s forgiveness.

So, there are a few quasi-religious themes and images in a TV Show what’s the point?

Well it all depends on how you look at it. First of all this is what people are watching, this is where people are at. The over night figures for last nights episode was eight million viewers. If we are to bring the Good News of Christ to this world, this culture that we are in. It is of use, I believe, to see where there are elements of the Gospel or images that we can use in order to present Christ to such a world. I believe that despite all the negative areas of our technological, media-centred multi-cultural world, The Holy Spirit is at work, even in the media, gently preparing the mission field for us, if only we be attentive.

It’s not limited to Doctor Who of course, (although we have to be critical, not every image or metaphor would necessarily be appropriate) yet as a fan, and as Seminarian I argue that in this programme in particular, there are lots of images that we can use to help convey salvific truths and mysteries of faith. Quite often with School children I use the image of the TARDIS to help explain how at the Sacrifice of the Mass, we are at the Last Supper, at Calvery and in the Presence of the Angels and the Saints.

So, to return to the title of this post, Is Doctor Who Catholic? The answer, probably not in the strictest sense. Is Doctor Who useful to us? I would say so!

God Bless (LG)


onthesideoftheangels said...

Previous doctors catholic?
most definitely yes....
[i.e. before Sylvester McCoy where every doctor since has had a nasty vindictive streak that punished]
Patrick Troughton, Jon Pertwee, Tom Baker, Colin Baker - these people exemplified catholic morality - especially in three instances - when Jon Pertwee tried to save the Silurians, on Atlantis where Jon Pertwee pleaded with Chronos for the Master's life and in Genesis of the Daleks where Tom Baker held the two wires which would destroy the daleks and he had an attack of conscience...

The last two doctors have been somewhat vindictive and merciless on occasion and have acted contrarily to their previous incarnations....

EA Seminarians said...

I see what your saying. But even these Doctors had there more-unsavoury moments!

William Hartnell in the first episode of Doctor Who, attempted to kill a caveman by dropping a rock on his head. He was only stopped by Ian, Barbara and his grandaughter Susan.

Colin Baker also was renown for his rather darker portrayal of the Doctor, as I write this I'm trying to remember a precise example....I'm struggling but.. yes, Revelation of the Daleks gives us a more violent Doctor in Colin Baker. Also he tried to strangle Perry immediatly after his regeneration.

Peter Davidson in Ressurrection of the Daleks would of killed Davros had he not been destracted.

As for Incarnations of the Doctor Post Mccoy, Paul Magann in the 97' TV Movie certainly was true to form with his attempting to save the Master from destruction in the eye of Harmony.

The Doctors we have in the new series, namely Ecclestone and Tennent are in many ways maturer characters. They are also in some respects 'damaged products' in so far as they are trying desperatly to come to terms with the Time War, and the role the Doctor played in sacrificing Gallifrey to end it. Admittedly these Doctors do have a more ruthless personality, yet I argue they are still within the mould of there predecessors.

I would say that the Doctor even as he is now, and despite his failings is still a morallly upright figure. In fact I would say that his weaknesses make him a more credible character

onthesideoftheangels said...

Sorry have to disagree...
These Doctors are simply not playing true to the character - The whole rose tyler storyline was ridiculous - two years of her bad acting and a 'romance' so inane it aggravated practically everyone over thirty - and Martha jones was wonderful [well, after the first episode anyway where they had her doing a terrible Rose-like accent which thankfully disappeared]

I really have to say that the doctor was never so arrogant. so childishly spoilt [and colin baker trying to strangle Peri [now SHE WAS an assistant!] was caused by problem in his regeneration] or so stupid!
The stories don't help either - the doctor is never in peril or compelled to confront great moral issues or act diplomatically - he just jumps in , throws his weight around and defeats the enemy - there is little sexual chemistry either - just blatant statements which ring hollow - think jon pertwee and Jo Grant, never was there a look on our screens except when Steed and Mrs Peel looked at each other.

The problem has to lie with Russell T Davies - only a gay man could think billie piper was sexually alluring or in possession of romantic charisma in any way.
It's obvious he loves doctor who, but he hasn't got that idolism that some of us have for the doctor himself.
Don't forget that RTD also did the reprehensible 'second coming' where the female 'Peter' murders Jesus!!!? because we don't need to 'do God' anymore.
...and as for Torchwood? I love John Barrowman but the crowd he was lumbered with and the frankly perverse storylines ?

Remember the hints during the silver nemesis that the doctor was infinitely more than he purported to be? I wish they would allow the doctor to become what he always was - an alien who loved humanity but loved truth and justice more.