“Everything has its time, and everything dies,” says the ninth Doctor in response to Rose’s plea to help Cassandra. Instead the Doctor chooses to watch passively by as Cassandra explodes and (seemingly) dies. Despite the fact that I now know that Cassandra will make another appearance in a future episode, I still find the Doctor’s lack of compassion and his destructive anger to be unnerving. Nevertheless I still understand and even empathize with his impulse.
In “The End of the World” we are given more insight into the psyche of this angry, wounded and lonely Doctor. Even fans who grew up watching Doctor Who in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, can still relate to Rose when she tells Raffalo (an alien space plumber, who is extremely likeable and meets an unfortunate end, the first of many deaths to take place in this episode) “I just hitched a lift with this man. I didn’t even think about it. I don’t even know who he is. He’s a complete stranger.”
We can certainly understand Rose’s desire to know who this stranger is and her frustration when he refuses to give her a straight answer. We, as an audience are demanding the answers to the very same questions. Who are you Doctor? (A question, that I think, is central to the show’s survival. No matter how many seasons or episodes we watch, we will never know the Doctor completely, especially since he regenerates every so often into a “new person” and each new incarnation of the Doctor has its own personality quirks while still retaining certain “Doctorish” elements)
The Doctor has so many secrets to guard and so much pain to hide away. But despite his tough guy exterior, he is looking for companionship and for someone to show sympathy and compassion towards him. He finds that in Jabe, a treewoman from the forest of Chem. We and the Doctor don’t know her for very long. When the episode starts, the earth is set to be destroyed in 30 minutes, so he (and us as the audience) know Jabe for a very short amount of time, but she is still able to get behind the Doctor’s stoic attitude, even if only for a moment.
Jabe: And what about your ancestry, Doctor? Perhaps you could tell a story or two. Perhaps a man only enjoys trouble when there’s nothing else left. I scanned you earlier. The metal machine had trouble identifying your species. It refused to admit your existence. And even when it named you, I wouldn’t believe it. But it was right. I know where you’re from. Forgive me for intruding, but it’s remarkable that you even exist. I just wanted to say how sorry I am.
Jabe then puts her hand on his arm, and the Doctor places his hand over hers as a tear falls from his face. In that moment, we are allowed to see for a fleeting moment all the pain, sorrow and guilt that the Doctor is holding in.
It is in that one moment where the Doctor’s shields go down and we see how much pain he is in, that we are given a bit of insight that allows us to understand his indifference towards Cassandra’s death. Jabe, was able to reach out to him and temporarily remove his mask because she was sympathetic and “real.” Often times, when we come across people who are suffering, one of our first impulses is to say, “I know what you are going through.” And while there are occasions where we have similar life experiences, and we might be able to relate to what they are going through, there are certain situations where we honestly have no idea what the other person is going through and to pretend otherwise is to trivialize their own unique pain and suffering. But Jabe, in just a few sentences, is able to convey her sorrow and acknowledge that his pain and suffering is something that she cannot even begin to fathom. But by reaching out to him, she is letting him know, that perhaps he is not as alone as he thinks.
But then Jabe dies. She allows herself to be killed so that the Doctor can save the others on Platform 1. And understandably, the Doctor is livid. He has seen and caused so much death and destruction and for what? So that a “bitchy trampoline,” as Rose referred to Cassandra can profit from the deaths of all those onboard Platform 1, so she can afford her numerous surgeries. Surgeries that keep her alive, but only just.
As Rose points out: “I would rather die. It’s better to die than life like you, a bitch trampoline…You’re not human. You’ve had it all nipped and tucked and flattened till there’s nothing left. Anything human got chucked in the bin. You’re just skin, Cassandra. Lipstick and skin!”
Yet Cassandra’s desire to live forever and her blind ambition for money renders her unable to feel compassion or empathy. Her selfish actions results in the death of Jabe, someone that the Doctor knew only for a short time, but who provided him with the compassion and sympathy he needed. Yet all the anger he has buried within him, from the time war and any other trauma he has experienced has rendered him unable to show compassion and mercy to Cassandra.
And while it is easy to judge the Doctor, how many of us would truly have done any different? Or even if we would have reacted differently, how many of us, can understand, at least a little bit his actions. I can. While I haven’t fought in a time war or any war, I have grown up in a low income environment, with an emotionally abusive and neglectful mother. I grew up in an environment where my voice was silenced or ignored, especially by those more powerful and privileged. And when I see how that cycle continue-how the poor are often ridiculed and ignored, how society and those in power tend to discriminate against the weak and oppressed. I get angry. I get angry because while each situation is unique, and I would never want to deny that, I can relate to feeling ignored and pushed around. I can relate to being viewed as less than human. I especially get angry when reading about individual accounts of physical or emotional abuse or neglect. I can understand the Doctor’s angry which caused him to deny mercy and compassion.
I think that if we were honest with ourselves, we would find that is something we all struggle with. I mean you can see that clearly in the Biblical text. Now, as I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts, I do not take the Bible “literally,” nor am I sure I even identify with the label, “Christian” anymore. I, however, think that what we believe, both individually and as a society matters. And because I grew up Christian, and Americans still overwhelming identify as Christians, I choose to study theology.
Anyway, in the Biblical text you get a wide range of human emotions expressed through the various characters, including God. God is portrayed alternatively as loving and compassionate, and also as vengeful and spiteful. That doesn’t surprise me, since humans as a whole and individually exhibit both compassionate and vengeful tendencies. It is a struggle that goes back for thousands of years (if not more) as evidenced by the Biblical text.
But what matters is what side we choose to emphasis in our daily lives and in a crisis. The Doctor is visibly struggling with balancing compassion with what he has been through and suffered. That struggle is vividly familiar to those who wrote the Biblical text. One must remember, that during much of the time period when the Bible was being composed, especially the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament) the Israelites were an oppressed minority. They were suffering incredible violence and were often persecuted because they were different, and as a result they are struggling to understand why this is happening to them as well as trying to hold out hope that things will get better. As a result we have a God that can be both compassionate and merciless.
Which is why you can have verses and chapters that alternate between portraying a wrathful, vindictive God and a loving, compassionate God within the space of a few pages. Isaiah 34:5-7 (The Message) states:
Once I’ve finished with earth and sky,
I’ll start in on Edom.
I’ll come down hard on Edom,
a people I’ve slated for total termination.
God has a sword, thirsty for blood and more blood,
a sword hungry for well-fed flesh,
Lamb and goat blood,
the suet-rich kidneys of rams.
Yes, God has scheduled a sacrifice in Bozrah, the capital,
the whole country of Edom a slaughterhouse.
A wholesale slaughter, wild animals
and farm animals alike slaughtered.
The whole country soaked with blood,
all the ground greasy with fat.
While Isaiah 35: 1-7 (The Message) says:
Wilderness and desert will sing joyously,
the badlands will celebrate and flower—
Like the crocus in spring, bursting into blossom,
a symphony of song and color.
Mountain glories of Lebanon—a gift.
Awesome Carmel, stunning Sharon—gifts.
God’s resplendent glory, fully on display.
God awesome, God majestic.
Energize the limp hands,
strengthen the rubbery knees.
Tell fearful souls,
“Courage! Take heart!
God is here, right here,
on his way to put things right
And redress all wrongs.
He’s on his way! He’ll save you!”
The New Testament is similar. You have verses detailing the love of God and then you have the book of revelation, written at a time when the early Christians were facing persecution, and therefore you have verses about God’s wrath. (Compare 1 John 4:8 with Revelation 8).
What matters is which nature we choose to nurture. Will we feed our compassionate and loving side, or allow anger and vengeance to dictate our life? And of course that is a struggle we will not always win. But what side we choose to consistently display, will show others who we are. Rose wanted to know who the Doctor was, well by allowing Cassandra to die, the Doctor partially answered her question.