Almost done counting down my favorite episode from Matt Smith’s time as the Doctor!
It is no secret that the Doctor hates himself. Death and destruction follow him.
VASTRA: The Doctor has been many things, but never blood-soaked.
SIMEON: Tell that to the leader of the Sycorax, or Solomon the trader, or the Cybermen, or the Daleks. The Doctor lives his life in darker hues, day upon day, and he will have other names before the end. The Storm, the Beast, the Valeyard.
There is blood on the Doctor’s hands. The species/people he had to kill or let die in order to save others, the people/species that he failed to save, those who died trying to protect the Doctor, and of course, the Great Time War where he committed a double genocide in order to save the entire universe. The eleventh doctor is known for his love of fezzes and his insistence that bow ties are cool. Yet beyond his child-like wonder and obsession with fezzes, lies a darkness and self-hatred that festers in his soul. The Doctor is always running away, figuratively, (when he puts off saying goodbye to River Song for example) and literally as he travels throughout the universe. But in the end, he can’t run away from himself.
In The Name of The Doctor, we see how his shadowy past has endangered his friends, Strax, Vastra, Jenny, and Clara. The Great Intelligence’s hatred of the Doctor leads him to kidnapping his friends and even killing (albeit briefly) Jenny.
WHISPER MEN: Tell the Doctor. Tell the Doctor. Tell the Doctor.
CLARA: Tell him what?
HOLO-SIMEON: His friends are lost forever more, unless he goes to Trenzalore.
Time traveling and trying to save the universe comes at a price. He is able to save whole planets, but many individuals die, he defeats a villain but he has many more enemies who want nothing more to see him destroyed and who will use his companions and friends to get to him. During his adventures, it is easy for him and his companions to forget about the ramifications of their actions, especially when it seems as if everything always works out in the end. Yet in Trenzalore and in his tomb the Doctor is forced to admit that his travels are more than a fun romp throughout the universe. At first he refers to the bright tangle of shining white energy tendrils as, “the tracks of my tears.” When prompted by the Great Intelligence the Doctor explicates:
DOCTOR: Time travel is damage. It’s like a tear in the fabric of reality. That is the scar tissue of my journey through the universe. My path through time and space from Gallifrey to Trenzalore.
Yet the reason why this episode is one of my favorites has less to do with the Doctor and his shady past and more to do with the love exhibited by his friends. The Doctor hates himself yet he is loved ferociously by Vastra, Jenny, (maybe Strax?), Clara and of course River Song. One of the more popular Bible verses that is often quoted in a variety of contexts states: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13). And in this episode, Clara, especially demonstrates her love and devotion for the Doctor by being willing to essentially die to save not only him, but by extension the universe. When the Great Intelligence enters the Doctor’s time stream Vastra explicates:
VASTRA: He’s being rewritten. Simeon is attacking his entire timeline. He’s dying all at once. The Dalek Asylum. Androzani. A universe without the Doctor. There will be consequences.
Clara pretty quickly figures out what she needs to do even at the cost of her own life.
CLARA: If I step in there, what happens?
RIVER: The time winds will tear you into a million pieces. A million versions of you, living and dying all over time and space, like echoes.
CLARA: But the echoes could save the Doctor, right?
RIVER: But they won’t be you. The real you will die. They’ll just be copies.
CLARA: But they’ll be real enough to save him.
Clara, knows at least intellectually that the Doctor has committed a double genocide. As a companion she knows the Doctor isn’t perfect and she knows he has a dark past, yet she loves him anyway and she focuses on his bravery and kindness even when the Doctor only sees his failures. Her whole purpose in life is to save the Doctor and everything else is of secondary importance:
In this episode, Clara is presented as always being there for the Doctor, saving him, even when he couldn’t see or hear her. Even in his darkest moments, he was never alone. She watched over him protecting him as he ran around the universe.
I think I can safely assume that none of us have ever committed a double genocide, and most of us, (though of course not all) have never had to take another life in order to save others or in self-defense. Yet many of us often walk around with a sense of guilt, shame, and a deep self-hatred. We feel unloved and as utterly and completely alone. But just like Clara was always there for the Doctor, even when he could not see or hear her, I would argue that we aren’t alone.
For some, God is that benevolent presence that is always there for us, especially during our darkest moments. In seminary, I’ve been exposed to various theological notions, and the theologies that I have been most attracted to are those that claim that God is with us when we suffer.
In The Crucified God, Jürgen Moltmann rails against the classic notion of God (dating back to the patristic period/early Church period) that presents God as unfeeling and uncaring:
A God who cannot suffer is poorer than any human. For a God who is incapable of suffering is a being who cannot be involved. Suffering and injustice do not affect him. And because he is so completely insensitive, he cannot be affected or shaken by anything. He cannot weep, for he has no tears. But the one who cannot suffer cannot love either. So he is also a loveless being.
For Moltmann the crux of the faith is that God not only suffered for humanity but did so willingly so that humanity can recognize that we are never truly abandoned or alone:
When God becomes man in Jesus of Nazareth, he not only enters into the finitude of man, but in his death on the cross also enters into the situation of man’s godforsakenness. In Jesus he does not die the natural death of a finite being, but the violent death of the criminal on the cross, the death of complete abandonment by God. The suffering in the passion of Jesus is abandonment, rejection by God, his Father.
James H. Evans, in his book, We Have Been Believers explicates that for African Americans, Jesus as co-suffering has been vitally important especially during periods of slavery and societal oppression. He points out that in African American theology, “God suffers with suffering humanity, at the side of those seeking freedom and liberation when possible, and those seeking succor and survival when necessary.”
In my opinion Christianity (or any religion) is at its best when it discusses the love of God and God as co-sufferer.
I think in a world where many struggle with isolation, depression, and shame, it is important to live a life of love towards others. It is important to emphasis a theology of love. Clara loved the Doctor-even when he refused to tell her everything and even when he kept secrets from her, she was still by his side. He hated himself and only saw the evil, she loved him and pointed out the good. The Great Intelligence stated, “The Doctor’s life is a open wound. And an open wound can be entered.” And it was Clara and her love, which helped heal said wound. In the same way, as unbearably sentimental as this sounds, I think that love can help heal our wounds and brokenness. But the trick is, we have to allow ourselves to experience said love.