Disclaimer: As a newbie whovian, I am still making my way through the Tennant era episodes available on Netflix. As a result, my opinions expressed here are subject to change, especially once I start watching Matt Smith’s portray of the Doctor. The examples used and arguments made may not be relevant once I catch up. Nevertheless I wanted to express the thoughts swirling through my head thus far.
Part two in a three part series. Part one can be read here.
God is perfect and all powerful
In traditional Christian thought, God in all of his manifestations (the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) is absolutely perfect. God the Father is a stern but loving Father who demands absolute obedience, Jesus Christ is the sacrificial lamb willing to die for humanity, and the Holy Spirit nudges the believer to obedience and helps the believer discern God’s will.
God, as a perfect being knows the past, present, and the future. He knows history as it really happened, and he knows what each and every person will do. (Though to what extent He controls the future depends on one’s theological bent…). I was taught that God saw pain and suffering and sometimes He intervened sometimes He didn’t. Since He was God He could intervene whenever He wanted. He chose to intervene and he chose not to. For example, if someone got into a horrible car accident but survived when the injuries or impact should have killed them, the situation was viewed as an intervention from God. God chose to get involved and save that person. Just as He chose not to get involved in other cases where people involved in accidents died. Furthermore, God didn’t always intervene in atrocities because He wanted to allow humans to practice their free will.
God, as an all perfect all knowing being is given a pass. He can witness a rape or know it is going to happen and choose not to get involved in order to protect humanity’s free will, and the faithful will not view him as a monster. A human being, flawed and weak, who does not intervene when possible, is rightfully condemned.
The Doctor lies, makes mistakes, and fails.
The Doctor isn’t human. He is a timelord, and as such he can travel throughout time and space. In one episode he can be in present day London, and in the next on a completely different planet. His life span is incredibly long and when near death he can regenerate and change his appearance. He still has all of his old memories but his physical appearance differs, his voice and style of dress changes, and he has different personality quirks. Because of his age and ability to travel anywhere in any time period he has a vast array of knowledge. Yet he looks human and he also has flaws and weaknesses. He is not perfect.
The Doctor, who travels to places of trouble and intervenes and saves billions of lives, can’t save everyone. Death is a constant present in his life. Death is such a constant in the series that the episodes where no one dies are a pleasant surprise. Towards the end of the episode , “The Doctor Dances,” (1:10) the Doctor is beyond himself with happiness because in this case, no one is killed in his attempts to avoid large scale catastrophe.
The Doctor: “You want moves Rose, I’ll give you moves. EVERYBODY LIVES, ROSE. JUST THIS ONCE. EVERYBODY LIVES!”
In the episode: “Forest of the Dead” (4:9) River Song elegantly explains what the Doctor and every single person knows about death:
River: When you run with The Doctor, it feels like it will never end. But however hard you try, you can’t run forever. Everybody knows that everybody dies, and nobody knows it like the Doctor. But I do think that all the skies of all the worlds might just turn dark, if he ever, for one moment accepts it .
But as River Song explains, on rare days things are different:
Everybody knows that everybody dies. But not every day. Not Today…Some dies are special. Some days are so, so blessed. Some days, nobody dies at all.”
In most episodes people die and the Doctor faces impossible choices that save the lives of some, while causing the deaths of others.
“The Fires of Pompeii” (4:2) perfectly illustrates that point. In order for the Doctor to save the world he needs to kill 20,000 people.
The Doctor: I can invert the system, set off the volcano, and blow them up, yes. But…that’s the choice, Donna. It’s Pompeii or the world…if Pompeii is destroyed then it’s not just history. It’s me. I make it happen.
Donna: But the pyrovile (rock-based humanoids from Pyrovillia) are made of rocks. Maybe they can’t be blown up.
The Doctor: Vesuvius explodes with the force of 24 nuclear bombs. Nothing can survive it. Certainly not us.
Donna: Never mind us.
The Doctor: Push this lever and it’s over 20,000 people.
The Doctor looks absolutely heartbroken and horrified and he hesitant. Donna puts her hand on his and they pull the lever together.
The God I grew up with had absolutely power to re-write history and to ignore scientific laws. Yet He chose to cause the deaths of some while sparing others. He chose to intercede in some tragedies while ignoring others. . As a Fundamentalist I was expected to take the Bible literally, so it did not make sense to me that God would intervene during certain time periods and situations, yet also care about free will. It seemed as if God only cared about free will when it suited Him.
Yet the Doctor can save some people and He does. But sometimes, no matter how hard He tries, He can’t. Earlier in the “Fires of Pompeii,” he explained to Donna that Pompeii was a fixed point in time and that as a result he could not change what happened without disastrous consequences. However, as the episode unfolds he has to come to terms with the fact that he causes the deaths of 20,000 people and there is nothing he can do to change it. He does not have absolutes power. He can’t save everyone, but he can save some.
As he and Donna run back towards the TARDIS, Caecilius and his family-the family they had spent a good portion of the episode with reach out to the Doctor.
“God save us, Doctor!”
He looks at them and enters the TARDIS. Donna shouts at him insisting he can’t leave them.
Donna: You can’t just leave them!
The Doctor: Don’t you think I’ve Done enough? History’s in place and everyone dies.
Donna: You’ve got to go back! Doctor, I’m telling you, take this thing back…It’s not fair.
The Doctor: No, it’s not.
Donna: But your own planet…it burned.
The Doctor: That’s just it. Don’t you see, Donna? Can’t you understand. If I could go back and save them then I would, but I can’t. I can never go back, I can’t. I just can’t. I can’t.
Donna: Just someone. Please. Not the whole town. Just save someone.
The Doctor takes the TARDIS back and surrounded by a blinding light reaches out his hand to Caecilius and tells him and his family, “Come with me.”
The episode ends with the Caecilius’ son, Quintus being told by his mother to give thanks to the household gods. Their shrine has a carving of the Doctor, Donna, and the TARDIS.
Even when the Doctor initially refuses to go back and save someone, it is not out of a preserve desire to see other people die but because he is hurt. 20,000 people have died, what could saving one family do? Donna is there to remind him the value of a few lives, especially in the face of so much death. The Doctor isn’t an all powerful mighty God. There are limits to what he can and cannot do.
While my church taught me to worship an all might powerful God-who could intervene when he desires, who does not need to obey the laws of science I found such a concept of God not only unbelievable but incredibly cruel. The common argument I heard was, if God wasn’t all powerful than that means He is weak and does not have complete control, who wants to worship a God like that? But as I grew older, I realized I didn’t want to worship a God with all the power in the universe, who seemed to arbitrarily choose when to get involved and when to stay back. In theory, the God of my childhood had no restrictions. The Doctor does. There are certain moments he cannot change or it will cause even more death and destruction, there are lives that he cannot save and sometimes he has to kill. He also gets angry, he is not always compassionate but his anger is not driven by a narcissistic need to be worshiped but out all the death and destruction he has seen, failed to prevent, or inadvertently caused.
AMENDED: Just finished watching, “The Waters on Mars” and the Doctor’s action and his attempts to overcome his limits reminds me of the manic and supposedly omnipotent God of my youth. In the episode the Doctor at first tells Captain Adelaide Brooke that she and her crew were going to die. She was going to denote the nuclear option causing their deaths and yet saving earth. When Adelaide begs him to find a way to help and change her future he responds: “Adelaide, I swear, I can’t. I’m sorry, but I can’t. Sometimes I can, sometimes I do. Most times, I can save someone. Or anyone. But not you. You wondered all your life why that Dalek spared you. I think it knew. Your death is fixed, in time, forever. And that’s right.”
Yet as he leaves, he is able to hear their screams, their frantic attempts to stay alive and he remembers that he is the last time lord. That reminder sends him back to help Adelaide and the remaining crew. He and Adelaide have the following conversation when he returns:
But you said we die! For the future, for the human race.
Yes, because there are laws. There are Laws of Time. Once upon a time there were people in charge of those laws, but they died. They all died. Do you know who that leaves? Me! It’s taken me all these years to realize the Laws of Time are mine and they will obey me!….
The Doctor eventually is able to save Adelaide and her two remaining crew members but instead of receiving the thanks he deserves, Adelaide sets him straight. He’s gone too far.
But I’m supposed to be dead.
Not any more.
But Susie, my granddaughter, the person she’s supposed to become might never exist now.
Nah! Captain Adelaide can inspire her face-to-face. Different details, but the story’s the same.
You can’t know that. And if my family changes, the whole of history could change. The future of the human race. No-one should have that much power.
(backs away) You should have left us there.
Adelaide, I’ve done this sort of thing before, in small ways, saved some little people. But never someone as important as you. Oh, I’m good!
Little people? What, like Mia and Yuri? Who decides they’re so unimportant? You?
For a long time now, I thought I was just a survivor, but I’m not. I’m the winner. That’s who I am. The Time Lord Victorious.
This is wrong, Doctor. I don’t care who you are. The Time Lord Victorious is wrong.
That’s for me to decide.
Is there nothing you can’t do?
The Doctor believes he has unlimited power to do what he wants, when he wants.
The God I grew up believing supposedly had such power. He could save people at will, stop horrible events from happening or he could kill people and orchestrate tragedies. The God I grew up learning to fear was a monster. He was an egomaniac, who demanded to be worshiped Normal “laws” or rules of decency and compassion didn’t apply to him. You angered Him by not worshiping or believing the correct things, fine off to hell. You were not part of His chosen people, oh well, “sorry you need to die to make room for MY people.” The God I grew up with chose who was important and who wasn’t who was worth saving and who wasn’t When humans displayed such tendencies, I was taught to distrust them because they were behaving like “God.” Yet no one questioned why one would even want to worship or believe in a God who behaved in such a manner.