Next week I will upload my final post on Death, Doctor Who, and theology. However, I wanted to start my reviews of nuwho episodes…
In the reviews I won’t be focusing on technical aspects of the show, such as trying to explain whether or not a given solution to save the world makes sense, or whether or not something that was said or done in the episode contradicts what happened in an earlier episode or in the classic series. Instead I will focus more on any themes that might have a theological implication, even if it is not overt. For example, instead of focusing on, “wait, how exactly did this solution work?” I will focus on, “wait, what does this solution say about the Doctor and his compassionate or dark nature?” “What does this say about how we as a society view violence?” etc. furthermore, instead of giving in-depth summaries, I will presume that those reading the review have seen the episode in question at least once.
The episode Rose needs to introduce a fast paced plot, and more importantly allow the audience to get a snap shot about who exactly the strange man in black leather and with a blue box is. And we learn about the Doctor through the eyes of Rose, as we are invited to live vicariously through her as she asks questions that any of us might have, were we to meet the Doctor for the very first time. In this episode, the Doctor has some funny moments, such as when he is attacked by an Auton arm or his witty oneliners (picking a magazine in Rose’ apartment, he states: “That won’t last. He’s gay and she’s an alien.”) But nonetheless, one gets the feeling that something is a bit off about the Doctor. On the one hand, he is trying to save the world; on the other hand his indifference to individual life can be alarming.
When Rose asks what happened to Wilson, as she and the Doctor narrowly escaped the Autons, and then states, “he’s dead.” When he is in Rose’ apartment, he seems more interested in flipping through her magazines, checking himself out in the mirror (did he recent regenerate? The implication is yes, but with John Hurt in the picture for the 50th anniversary, who knows how that will/if it will impact the ninth Doctor and his story.) then listening to her talk. At one point she mentions, “they’re saying in the news they found a body…all the same, he (Wilson) was a nice bloke.-“
The Doctor’s outward indifference comes into sharp focus when Rose wonders if Mickey is dead.
-R; Did they kill him? Mickey? Did they kill Mickey? Is he dead?
D: Oh, I didn’t think of that.
R: He’s my boyfriend. You pulled off his head. They copied him, and you didn’t even think? And now you’re just gonna let him melt?
Eventually the Doctor’s attention is diverted as Mickey’s Auton head starts to melt, and he attempts to pick of the signal of the Nestene Consciousness. When they follow the signal to the London eye, Rose once again brings up Mickey.
R: I’ll have to tell his mother…Mickey. I’ll have to tell his mother he’s dead. And you just went and forgot him, again. You were right. You are alien.
D: Look if I dead forget some kid called Mickey…
Rose: Yeah, he’s not a kid!
D: It’s because I’m busy trying to save the life of every stupid ape blundering about on top of this planet, all right?
Now, to be fair, when they actually confront the Nestene Consciousness and they find Mickey is alive, the Doctor does state that him being kept alive was always a possibility. Yet Rose, rightfully wants to know why he kept that bit of information to himself. In response he asks to“keep the domestics outside…”
Yet in contrast to his dismissal of Rose’s fears for Mickey, when Rose suggests they just chuck the anti-matter at the Nestene Consciousness, he responds: “I’m not here to kill it. I gotta give it a chance.”
In this episode we see a tough, clearly hurting, Doctor who on the one hand seems to be indifferent towards the death of certain individuals, yet who wants to save “the stupid apes.” He tells the Nestene Consciousness: “This planet is just starting. These stupid little people have only just learned to walk, but they’re capable of so much more. I’m asking you on your behalf to just go…”
The Doctor also is intent on ensuring that the Nestene consciousness has a chance to leave, though by bringing the anti-matter, the Nestene consciousness assumes he was simply going to attack it. While he is being grappled by the Autons we hear the Doctor shout, “It wasn’t my fault. I couldn’t save your world. I couldn’t save any of them.” At this point, we, the audience have no idea what he is attacking about. We just know that he failed to save the Nestene Consciousness planet and that they (and unspecified others) have died.
The audience is left wondering about this Doctor. Who is he? What happened in his past? Who couldn’t he save and from what? Whatever it was, we the audience know that it has had a major impact on him. Clearly, this would be hero is deeply suffering. Sometimes, when a person goes through a traumatic experience their ability to emphasize (or demonstrate said empathy) is inhibited. This episode touches on a theme that will become prevalent in the upcoming seasons-the Doctor should never travel alone. Rose offers a chance to bring him some much needed healing. Yet despite his tough exterior, he does still care. He just needs someone to help him begin to heal and he needs someone he can trust.
Another theme in this episode is the possibility of there being more to life and to the world then simply going to work, eating chips, etc. In the beginning of the episode we see a quick snap shot of Rose’s life, getting up, hanging out with her boyfriend, going to work. Her life is normal, and yet one day at work, she meets a strange man, whose presence offers her dangerous, excitement and new opportunities. Clive tries to warn her about the Doctor: “The Doctor is a legend woven throughout history. When disaster comes, he’s there. He brings a storm in his wake, and he has one constant companion,…Death.”
Clive also explicates: “If he’s singled you out, if the Doctor’s making house calls, then God help you.”
One would think Rose would simply try to forget about him and avoid him. But she doesn’t. The Doctor represents an opportunity to escape from our dreary worlds and find something more. As we see again and again in upcoming seasons, his offer becomes almost irresistible. Going back to life after being exposed to excitement, danger, and the Doctor becomes extremely difficult.
This theme strikes a nerve with many people. How many of us, even just momentarily wish for something to happen that will allow us to escape from our everyday life? How many of us want to be able to be heroic and save the day, (as Rose did in this episode and will do frequently in the upcoming series) and meant someone so special, and so unique that we would be willing to drop everything and go?
For some people they express that desire through religion. How many religions offer a promise of a savior/personal God that will save us/protect us when things get rough? Or the promise of an afterlife, that will enable us to finally put our pains behind us? Or how about the theological notion of purpose: that God has a purpose and “calling” for each and every person on earth. Not saying that any of those beliefs are “good” or “bad” or “right” or “wrong.” In fact, that all depends on the person. Believing we have a higher purpose can allow us to venture through the tough situations in life and preserve. However, depending on what we believe our “calling” or “higher purpose” is, we might also alienate others by trying to convert them to our view of thinking. Believing there is an afterlife can bring some measure of comfort when we lose those we love, as well as when we go through painful situations, yet it might also cause us to disregard the life we are living in the here and now.
Rose, sets the stage for many of the themes that will be picked up over and over again in the upcoming years: the time war, the doctor’s need for companionship, and the human longing for some great big adventure/hero. A yearning that is often expressed through popular culture and religion.