Churl and I had the chance to watch the Doctor Who fiftieth anniversary special together in theatres this past weekend. And while each of us enjoys considering the deeper questions in television programmes like this, we both agreed that the 50th was, at its core, primarily just a good romp. [A few spoilers follow.]
That doesn’t mean, of course, that there weren’t interesting questions in the story. The episode revolves around the conclusion of the Time War, an event which has been oft-referenced during Nu-Who but never seen. We already know, as a result, that the Doctor is the one who ended the Time War—an act which took the lives not only of the Timelords’ enemies (the Daleks) but also of the Timelords themselves. To prevent the destruction of the universe, the Doctor sacrificed his own people. Or, put less charitably, in saving countless others the Doctor committed the genocide of his own race.
The 50th anniversary special (The Day of the Doctor) brings our attention back to this event. In fact, as the show is about time-travel, it actually takes us back inside the event, back to the Moment when the Doctor must decide whether the ends truly justify the means—whether the end of the Time War is worth the destruction of Gallifrey. This episode, as a result, is heavy on moral questions. And they are quite explicitly asked here: a past incarnation of the Doctor (who has yet to make the choice) asks future incarnations whether the horror of what he did/will do still haunts them. “Did you ever count how many children there were on Gallifrey that day?” he asks. In other words, did these future Doctors ever look back and wonder how many children died as a result of this decision. The past Doctor wants to know how they live with themselves; he wants the benefit of their retrospect even as he still wrestles with whether he will make the choice or not.
It brings us back to the Moment when the Doctor must decide whether the ends truly justify the means—whether the end of the Time War is worth the destruction of Gallifrey.
I won’t say anymore than that here; you really should just watch the episode yourself. But since we’re talking about Doctor Who and deeper things, allow me to highlight a few interesting articles about Doctor Who and religion.
The BBC has an interesting retrospect on religion in Doctor Who over the past fifty years in a recent article by Andrew Crome entitled “Doctor Who: Time travel through faith.” The thesis in short? “Doctor Who has continually engaged with important religious themes across its 50-year run.” Dr. Crome takes a broad stroke approach to the topic.
For a more frequent discussion of Doctor Who and its relationship with religion, readers may want to check out James F. McGrath’s blog “Exploring our Matrix.” Dr. McGrath, a member blogger for the Progressive Christian channel of Patheos, frequently discusses recent episodes and news regarding Doctor Who. His site is definitely worth watching for new posts on Who.
It’s also worth noting that the above two writers (Dr. Crome and Dr. McGrath) recently collaborated on a new book entitled Relative Dimensions in Faith: Religion and Doctor Who. The book includes essays by 19 scholars discussing such topics as “Doctor Who and the Apocalypse,” “The Role of Christian Imagery in Russel T. Davies’ Doctor Who Revival,” and “The Church Militant?” [If anyone feels inclined to get me this book, I wouldn’t say no to it!]
Finally, readers may want to catch up on my earlier post here on A Christian Thing as well. Entitled “Doctor Who: Religion and the Limits of Human Reason,” I examine the role of gods and demons in the Doctor Who franchise, with particular attention paid to Tenth Doctor stories “The Impossible Planet” and “The Satan Pit.”