The Husbands of River Song And the Road to Emmaus

In The Husbands of River Song, River has no idea that the Time Lord she loves and holds dear has regenerated. As a result she kept expecting the Doctor to look and behave a specific way. This of course leads to some amusing instances. For example, when the Doctor gets to pretend that he does not know that the TARDIS is bigger on the inside and he gets to give what he thinks is the proper reaction to being confronted with this fact.

And of course, it’s always amusing to see the Doctor’s reaction when River opens up a hidden cabinet of whiskey or when she explains that pressing a particular button would evacuate the waste on deck seven. Not to mention the sarcastic comment she makes as he watches River make out with Ramone.

DOCTOR: Urgh! Doesn’t it get dull after a while? As an activity, it’s not hugely varied, is it? 
RIVER: I’m so sorry. This is my husband, Ramone. 
DOCTOR: Another one? Are you going to kill him, too? 

In addition to making snog comments and witnessing how River acts  when she’s not aware of the Doctor’s presence, the Doctor also gets to learn not only how River feels about him (which I am sure he knew all along) but also how she believes the Doctor views her.

FLEMMING: You’re the woman he loves.
RIVER: No, I’m not.
FLEMMING: She’s lying.                                                                                                                                 RIVER: The Doctor does not and has never loved me. I’m not lying.
CYBORG: Confirmed. The life form is not lying.
FLEMMING: Impossible. This is a trick.
RIVER: No, it isn’t.
pizap-com14740729946411  And one of the funniest and poignant scenes is when the River finally realizes that the Doctor is standing right beside her:

RIVER: When you love the Doctor, it’s like loving the stars themselves. You don’t expect a sunset to admire you back. And if I happen to find myself in danger, let me tell you, the Doctor is not stupid enough, or sentimental enough, and he is certainly not in love enough to find himself standing in it with me! 
DOCTOR: Hello, sweetie. 
RIVER: You are so doing those roots. 
DOCTOR: What, the roots of the sunset

Watching River and the 12th Doctor interact, especially when River doesn’t realize she’s with the Doctor is pretty funny and amusing. For the most part. Then there are the scenes mentioned above. Where River essentially says that she doesn’t think the Doctor loves her. When she discovers that the Doctor is standing next to her and he starts lightly teasing her about her comments about the sunset and stars, she tries to play off her statements that she was just talking to keep them alive. But what we the audience knows, what River knows, and what the Doctor knows is that there is an sliver of truth in her statements. The Doctor isn’t particularly known for being apt at giving and receiving love. While one could argue that perhaps he shows love in a different way, it’s hard to argue with the fact that he can be incredibly selfish. And while he cares deeply about those he travels with, he is also known to use them; sometimes for a noble great purpose, sometimes just because he can be self-centered and selfish. He does care about River Song. But it is easy to see why she would have felt as if he didn’t love her back.  But I can imagine how it must have felt to be convinced that the Doctor was not by her side, only to look over and discover he was there all along. It’s not a conventional declaration of love, because well the Doctor doesn’t do that, but it does demonstrate that he does care for her and that he is there for her.

The thing is, when we get to know and love people, our familiarity can blind us. When we meet someone new, especially a potential friend, romantic partner, or even business partner or colleague, we are paying attention to every little detail. We might have preconceived notions of a person, it’s hard not to. But if we want to get to know a person we try not to hold on too tightly to those preconceived notions. But when we know someone or more accurately when we think we know all there is to know about a person, we stop trying to learn about them.

Christians, at least Christians in America, seem to think that we know all there is about Jesus and God. I know I fall into that trap. Maybe even more so since I got an M.Div., which to be honest, I have been mainly using to annoy evangelicals who pretend they are interested in having a conversation but really just want to convert me to their way of thinking. But there is this sense of, “I don’t need to learn anything else. I have a degree.” Or for Christians who don’t have an M.Div. it’s, “I go to church every Sunday.” Or “I read the Bible every day.” Sometimes these assumptions don’t cause too much harm. We go about our day, holding onto our ideas about Jesus and God and make it through life. Sometime however, what we think about God can cause harm. Because when we go around saying, “well this is God. Or this is Jesus” then we need to think about what or whom we are excluding. When we paint Jesus as a beautiful, blonde hair white man, what are we saying about women and people of color? When we envision Jesus as sinless and flawless and God as a punishing judge, how then do we view those in the prison system or even those who society projects as being dangerous and lawless (ie black men and women, Native Americans)? When we act as if Jesus is/was American and God is on our side, then what are we saying about the young kids, and the men and women who are being slaughtered by American bombs and guns? When we present God as police officer, judge, juror, and executioner, then how do we react when a police officer slaughters a young black boy, a mentally ill person, or an unarmed man or woman? Our ideas about God can have life and death consequences. Our ideas about God can expose how we view the “other,” whoever that “other” may be. Our ideas about God in fact prevent us from knowing God.

The Bible is filled with stories where the disciples are unable at least at first to recognize Jesus. One of the most popular is found in Luke 24:13-35. This story is often referred to as, “The Road to Emmaus.” Two disciples are asked by a strange man what they were discussing. And they talk about Jesus and the miracles that he did and they talk about the hope they had, that seemed to be dashed when Jesus was crucified:

“He was a man of God, a prophet, dynamic in work and word, blessed by both God and all the people. Then our high priests and leaders betrayed him, got him sentenced to death, and crucified him. And we had our hopes up that he was the One, the One about to deliver Israel. And it is now the third day since it happened. But now some of our women have completely confused us. Early this morning they were at the tomb and couldn’t find his body. They came back with the story that they had seen a vision of angels who said he was alive. Some of our friends went off to the tomb to check and found it empty just as the women said, but they didn’t see Jesus.” (The Message,  24:19-24)

The man responds, “So thick-headed! So slow-hearted! Why can’t you simply believe all that the prophets said? Don’t you see that these things had to happen, that the Messiah had to suffer and only then enter into his glory?” Then he started at the beginning, with the Books of Moses, and went on through all the Prophets, pointing out everything in the Scriptures that referred to him.” (The Message, 24: 25-27)

But it isn’t until the two disciples are about to eat and break bed with the strange man that they recognize that it was Jesus and like a ghost, he vanishes.

Like the disciples, we can be “so thick headed! So slow hearted.” We have these ideas about Jesus and God that we hold on so tightly that we allow them to blind us. Like the disciples, like River Song, we don’t recognize the person standing right next to us. Who is Jesus? Jesus is Tyre King, the young boy shot and killed by police for carrying a BB gun. A young boy that so many are condemning. But then again when we view Jesus and God as   police officers guarding the gates of heaven, keeping certain people out, then it is not surprising that we believe the words of police officers and will do anything to justify the death of someone who we consider to be unworthy of love and life.

Who is Jesus? Jesus is the children and women and men being killed in the Middle East because of the United States “War on Terror.” But when we view Jesus and God as synonymous with the American soldier and the military, then of course we don’t give a second thought to the people being forced to live through a 9/11 experience every day.

Who is Jesus? Jesus is the Palestinian child being shot dead by an Israeli soldier. No, this isn’t an anti-Semitic claim. Christianity has blamed Judaism for the death of Jesus and has used it as an excuse to bully, kill, and discriminate against Jewish people. And although some Christians stood up against Hitler, far too many were all too happy to go along with his “final solution.” But recognizing the horrors of the holocaust and how Christians have discriminated against and killed Jewish people, does not mean that one needs to blindly accept what the Israeli government does. Many Christians are using faith to blindly support the Israeli government because they believe that is what God wants and demands. But do we really want to believe in a God that is ok with shooting children in the head? Do we really want to believe in a God that endorses collective punishment? In the Bible, we have stories about a God that endorsed slaughtering people and taking over land. That was how one community/nation understood God a long time ago, and they weren’t the only ones. Ancient Babylonians, Persians,  etc also believed that their gods were telling them to take over land. Do we still want to hold onto that idea of God today?

Our preconceptions about people can blind us to who they are-even if they are standing right in front of us. To be fair, River didn’t know the Doctor had regenerated and most of us won’t have to deal with people who frequently change their body and face. Yet preconceived notions can be just as disorienting and blinding. We see that in the story of the two disciples on the way to Emmaus and we see that today when preconceived notions about God and Jesus get people killed.  And it is difficult having to do the hard work of periodically re-evaluating what we think we know about other people, about God, about ourselves. Bu it’s worth it if it saves lives. And it’s not something we do alone. There’s a lot about God I don’t know and won’t pretend to know. But there’s one idea I hold on tightly too: that God is with us as we navigate this complicated, unpredictable, beautiful, messy, tragic, life.

DOCTOR: Mmm. What do you think of the towers?
RIVER: I love them.
DOCTOR: Then why are you ignoring them?
RIVER: They’re ignoring me. But then you can’t expect a monolith to love you back.
DOCTOR: No, you can’t.

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“I don’t think you want to become that man.”- The Temptation of Violence

DOCTOR: We can end this right now. We could save everyone right now.
AMY: This is not how we roll, and you know it. What happened to you, Doctor? When did killing someone become an option?
DOCTOR: Jex has to answer for his crimes.
AMY: And what then? Are you going to hunt down everyone who’s made a gun or a bullet or a bomb?
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In my introduction to preaching class (I am in the final year of the Masters of divinity program) the instructor asserted that no matter how many times a pastor has preached on a specific biblical text he/she should be able to craft a different sermon each time that takes into account their current context. In a similar vein, I decided to write a blog post on the above quote from the episode, A Town Called Mercy.I know have written on the episodes and the aforementioned quotes and to be honest I will be touching on a recurring theme on this blog which seems to be a variation of the biblical mandate “to love your enemies” (which has turned into an over-used cliché that masks the difficulty of such a task) and to follow Christ in trying to demonstrate a way of living that runs counter to the status quo of daily life.

In A Town Called Mercy the Doctor struggles with his own inner demons based on his decision to destroy galifrey (this is a pre-The Day of the Doctor episode) and the numerous instances where he has tried to save lives and failed. Yet in addition to his struggles with his own guilt, there is something pure, raw and relatable about his anger and his belief that killing Jex would not make Jex pay for his past actions but would also protect the town from the Gunslinger seeking to bring Jex to justice (or rather what the Gunslinger considers to be justice: Jex’s death) I at least, relate to the Doctor’s anger and his struggle with the temptation to believe the myth of redemptive violence: that death and destruction can ultimately bring about justice.

In the past few days, a handful of police officers have been killed and the police officers and politicians want to lay the blame of their deaths on the Black Lives Matter and police accountability movements. Despite the fact that the murder of police officers are down and that the numbers of officers killed by gunfire so far (24) nowhere compares to the numbers of civilians killed by officers, police departments throughout the nation have argued that there is a “war on police officers.” The injustice and absurdity of such an argument angers me. The fact that 786 people can be killed by police officers and over 100 of those killed are unarmed (and one should question the remaining deaths of those considered to be “armed,” especially if the only record of the incident is the word of the police officer) renders the assertion that there is a “war on police officers” to be disingenuous. To be clear, I am not arguing that police officers are “bad” in fact I find the dichotomy of “good” cops and “bad” cops to be false. I think most cops are regular people-with the strengths and weaknesses that we all struggle with. While there are cases of rogue cops-the larger issue is institutional.  The American legal system-including law enforcement is built on notions that foster white supremacy and compliance to authoritarianism. As citizens we are supposed to accept the idea that somehow black and brown people rare inherently more violent than their white peers. We are to acquiescence to the notion that the state can and should be able to kill with impunity-no questions asks. We are encouraged to comply with the state’s demands and actions in the name of “national security” even if it involves the deaths of hundreds of American citizens, false imprisonment, and the erosion of civil liberties.

As a person of faith-it is disheartening to see how cycles of oppression and valence continue unabated. As a person of color it angers me that some of the issues that the civil rights movement were addressing are still a problem and that the state refuses to acknowledge the existence of said issues, let alone take steps towards a sustainable solution. It feels as if there is no hope that of long lasting change. And it is this despair that causes me to wonder, in the darkest recesses of my heart, if violence might, in fact, be the answer. If the state refuses to listen to relatively peaceful protests, then maybe we should fight back. If the lives of black and brown people (though it is important to acknowledge unarmed white people are also killed by police) seem to value so little to the state and to police officers, why the hell should I care if a police officer is randomly gunned down? While I would never engage in physical violence, I find myself thinking that perhaps in order for change to occur we need to start using the state’s tactics against it. In other words, I find myself very much empathizing with the eleventh doctor’s decision to put a gun to Jex’s head. Violence seems to offer a solution.

Amy Pond however, points out the futility and cruelty of such action. Not only should the Doctor avoid reducing himself to Jex’s level but she wants to know what happens after he kills Jex. Amy responds, “AMY: And what then? Are you going to hunt down everyone who’s made a gun or a bullet or a bomb?” If the doctor kills Jex because of his past actions of injustice, then where will the killing end? Who else should be executed-those who make bombs and the guns that lead to war and destruction? And what about the ways in which we all in some measure benefit from oppression and injustice? If we point the gun at those we believe to be the cause of oppression, then at some point we will need to point the weapon at ourselves.

Later on in the episode the doctor recognizes the futility of violence. The Doctor tells Walter, a 17 year old who wants to kill Jex that doing so would only extend the cycle of violence:

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In the gospels, there are verses in which Jesus condemns violence. One such case occurs in Matthew 26:47-56, in which Jesus is being arrested. One of his followers cuts off the ear of the high priest’s slave and Jesus responds, “put your sword back into its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” (Matthew26:52). By the time Matthew was written, the Jewish temple had been destroyed and the armed revolt on the part of some Jewish people was brutally put down. The fact is that violence is rarely if ever redemptive and it often perpetrates more injustice and oppression.  Furthermore, what did cutting off the slave’s ear accomplish? It didn’t end the systematic exploitation and injustice Jesus often railed against. And as a slave of the high priest-how much power did the slave truly have? Likewise, what does the act of killing an individual cop accomplish? Does it end police brutality? Does it eradicate institutional racism?  Or does it simply expand the suffering that violence causes?

Intellectually and spiritually I understand this. As someone who yearns for a better world, I understand that violence-even in the name of justice or in response to injustice, often only creates more pain and suffering. Yet despite knowing that I find myself wanting to act like the person in Matthew who cut off the slave’s ear, or like the Doctor who put a gun to the head of the person who committed horrible atrocities. I have to continually listen to the prompting in my spirit and the yearning in my heart that tells me there is another way, a better way to respond to injustice.

Listen: Fear Makes Companions of Us All

Fear serves an important evolutionary purpose: namely survival. Fear enables us to mentally and physically discern threats and dangers and our body automatically begins acting in ways that will hopefully increase our chances of survival. As the Doctor explains to Rupert while they are confronted by what may be a monster, hiding under his bed sheet, fear can be good:

DOCTOR: Are you scared? The thing on the bed, whatever it is, look at it. Does it scare you?
RUPERT: Yes.
DOCTOR: Well, that’s good. Want to know why that’s good?
RUPERT: Why?
DOCTOR: Let me tell you about scared. Your heart is beating so hard, I can feel it through your hands. There’s so much blood and oxygen pumping through your brain, it’s like rocket fuel. Right now, you could run faster and you could fight harder, you could jump higher than ever in your life. And you are so alert, it’s like you can slow down time. What’s wrong with scared? Scared is a superpower. It’s your superpower.

Yet fear can also become an obsession. Haunting both our nightmares and our waking moments. In this episode, the Doctor becomes gripped by the desire to find what exactly is lurking behind the shadows, preying on our fears and ensuring that we are never alone:

DOCTOR: Yes, you know sometimes when you talk to yourself, what if you’re not?
CLARA: Not what?
DOCTOR: What if it’s not you you’re talking to? Proposition. What if no one is ever really alone? What if every single living being has a companion, a silent passenger, a shadow? What if the prickle on the back of your neck, is the breath of something close behind you?
CLARA: How long have you been travelling alone?
DOCTOR: Perhaps I never have.

What is scarier than a threat that we can’t see, yet which we have an inkling is there, watching our every move? The purpose of fear is to keep us alive and enable us to discern potential threats, but how can we protect ourselves over something that can’t be seen? That can strike at any moment?

The Doctor Who fandom will spend the next few months or years debating whether or not a monster actually existed in this episode. Is it ghost? An alien? Or is the monster simply the figment of the character’s collective imaginations? But regardless of whether or not there actually was a monster in the episode, Listen effectively plays on humanity’s fear of vulnerability. A fear that can be seen in the smallest child. And what renders into sharp focus our vulnerability more than imagining our own deaths or the deaths of those we love? Death is the ultimate boogeyman. We do whatever we can to delay it or to at least push the thought out of our mind, but no matter what we do-no matter how we attempt to soothe our anxiety-we know that death awaits all of us and it is only a matter of time.
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Of course, most of us are able to push aside our anxiety in order to go about our daily lives. But as someone who struggles with anxiety and depression, the fear and the allure of death is never far from my mind. One the one hand, death terrifies me. Like the Doctor. Clara, and Orson, who are terrified by the noises that seem to come from outside the spaceship-even though no life exists beyond their doors, death deeply frightens me. It is the great unknown. Death in my mind is a menacing presence waiting to snatch my loved ones away and there’s absolutely nothing I can do to prevent it. Death can take so many different shapes and forms that even if one successfully prevents one form-another will inevitable takes its place. Yet like the Doctor, who is determined to find out what exactly is behind the strange noises, death also has a certain allure.

CLARA: That’s you turning it, right?
DOCTOR: No. Get in the Tardis.
CLARA: Why?
DOCTOR: I have to know.
CLARA: Doctor. Doctor
DOCTOR: The Tardis, now!

We all have at least heard of people who perform crazy stunts and who are often accused of trying to cheat death. I am most definitely not one of those people and often view their antics as crazy, yet at the same time I understand the impulse to want to get as close to death as possible-to find out what actually occurs, what happens, without actually dying. Death holds a perverse attraction, and for those of us with insatiable curiosity death is the definitive puzzle to be solved.

But the danger with fearing/obsessing about death, (or any other fear) is that it can hinder one’s ability to fully live and can instead isolate ourselves from one another.   In society, the fear and fascination with death is a central feature in the TV shows we watch, the books we read, as well as the news we consume. There is a reason bloody video games and horror movies garner huge ratings and why the news continues to describe in graphic and sometimes exploitative details various instances of death. Fear can be manipulated and used by those in power as a form of division. Muslims are terrorists, blacks and Hispanics are violent, undocumented workers are trying to steal American jobs and destabilize the economy, the mentally ill are dangerous, etc. Fear has been used to justify going to war, to limiting and dismantling constitutional rights, and as justification for endorsing the complete annihilation of perceived threats.

Unfortunately, some forms of Christianity also rely on fear as a manipulation tactic in order to gain converts. Accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior or risk spending an eternity in hell. Preach the gospel to all of your friends and family so that they can avoid burning. The gospel is reduced into a thinly veiled obsession with fear and death.

But what if there was a different way of living that acknowledges fear and the reality of death, yet does not become consumed with it? In the final moments, Clara tells a young Doctor:

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For me, as a Christian, one of the central messages that lies at the heart of my faith is the insistence that fear and death cannot and will not overcome God’s purposes. Jesus Christ is portrayed in the gospels as living his life in such a way that being crucified by the religious authorities and Roman government was the only possible outcome. Jesus consistently called into question the empire’s and religious authorities’ obsession with material wealth, status, and power. In the ancient Roman Empire, in order to survive, it was in a person’s best interest to blend in with the dominant culture. If the dominant culture was heavily hierarchical, then of course, one learned to stay in one’s place. If the dominant political and religious culture viewed the poor, the blind, the sick as unimportant or as sinful, then one did not associate with those condemned by those in power. Yet Jesus refused to fit in. Jesus repeatedly told the ruling authorities that they were wrong. No one, challenges an empire and expects to live. Yet the gospels also depict Jesus as being afraid of dying. In the garden of Gethsemane, he is in agony, begging for a different outcome. Yet unlike his disciples, who’s fear of the Roman authorities and of being killed causes them to react violently or run away, Jesus does not let his fear consume him. He is afraid, but his fear does not separate him from God or God’s purposes. He refuses to become a coward.

Being afraid is ok and in many cases serves an important purpose. But fear can also consume us, especially the fear of death. We can allow our fears to isolate us and cause us to view the world as an inherently dangerous and frightening place, which will then color how we interact with others, or we can harness said fear to make us better people. Fear can bring us together. The fear of losing the one’s we love to death, can in moderation enable us to appreciate them while they are here with us and to cherish them. The fear of terrorism can force us to reflect on the ways that our nation has contributed to its rise. Instead of denouncing all people of a certain religious or ethnic background as terrorists, our concerns and fears can unite us with the direct victims of terrorism and can help us figure out effective ways to lessen terrorism without defaulting to violence. No matter how hard we try we are never going to eradicate the sources of our fears, we are never going to outwit death, but we can at the very least decide how our fears will impact us.

In need of Redemption: Into the Dalek

What is redemption? And can the most evil, vile creatures be redeemed? In the episode, Into the Dalek  the Doctor meets a Dalek (that he later nicknames Rusty) who seems to be repentant and in agony over the actions of his species. “Daleks must be destroyed!” He insists. Of course the Doctor’s interest is piqued. Daleks are ruthless creatures, unable to experience empathy or compassion. They are callous and never waiver in their quest to dominant the universe and destroy all inferior life forms (ie every other life form). So to be confronted by a Dalek who seems to have developed a conscious activates the Doctor’s curiosity.

Of course the Doctor does not believe that Rusty has actually had a conversion experience. The Dalek is damaged and he seeks to understand how and why this damage resulted in a complete personality change. As he explicates to Clara and the soldiers:

DOCTOR: Now, this is the cortex vault, a supplementary electronic brain. Memory banks, but more than that. This is what keeps the Dalek pure.
GRETCHEN: How are Daleks pure?
DOCTOR: Dalek mutants are born hating. This is what stokes the fire, extinguishes even the tiniest glimmer of kindness or compassion. Imagine the worst possible thing in the universe, then don’t bother, because you’re looking at it right now. This is evil refined as engineering.

The Daleks are intrinsically evil-their whole purpose is to kill and annihilate. How can you redeem a being that has evil encoded into its DNA?

When the Doctor discovers a breach in Rusty that is poisoning him with radiation, the Doctor fixes him and Rusty goes back to his “normal” self. He becomes what he always was-destructive and consumed with hate.

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It seems as if the Doctor was right. There are no such thing as “good” Daleks. Rusty’s brief flash of humanity is the result of an injury. Clara, however, as a teacher, is intent on getting the Doctor to look beyond surface evidence that confirm his biases. What did they learn? She asks. He insists that they learned that there are no good Daleks, She rejects his answer. What did they learn?

The Doctor’s numerous experiences with the Daleks as well as his knowledge of their anatomy assures him that the Daleks are unwaveringly wicked.   As a result, he can’t see any other way of dealing with them. He will forever be locked into a never ending battle with the Daleks as they continue with their attempts to annihilate the universe, and he attempts to stop them by killing as many as possible. Yet Clara’s insistence that he look past his own prejudices enables the Doctor to have a shift in perspective. Maybe things can be different.

DOCTOR: The Dalek isn’t just some angry blob in a Dalekanium tank. If it was, the radiation would have turned it into a raging lunatic.
JOURNEY: It is a raging lunatic, it’s a Dalek.
DOCTOR: But for a moment, it wasn’t. The radiation allowed it to expand its consciousness, to consider things beyond its natural terms of reference. It became good. That means a good Dalek is possible.

Clara restores Rusty’s memories of death and new life: universes being destroyed and new stars being born, and the Doctor links Rusty to his own mind, and exposes Rusty to the universe. At first it seems to be working, perhaps a new way of interacting with the Daleks is possible-one that does not rely on death and destruction. However, the link with the Doctor exposes Rusty to the Doctor’s deep and justified hatred of the Daleks and Rusty goes on a rampage to destroy his peers.

RUSTY: The Daleks are exterminated

DOCTOR: Of course they are. That’s what you do, isn’t it?

RUSTY: I must go with them.
DOCTOR: Of course you must. You’ve unfinished work, haven’t you?

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The Doctor is disappointed. He wanted to save Rusty’s “soul.” He wanted to believe that redemption for the Dalek species was possible, putting an end to needless fighting and destruction. In addition, the Doctor is unsure of who he is. “Am I good man?” He asks Clara earlier in the episode. Perhaps in redeeming Rusty, he would be redeeming himself.

It is easy to look at this episode and extrapolate that the ultimate meaning is that redemption is impossible-at least for some. Pure evil exists and is embodied by some groups and there is no reasoning with them. They will default, eventually, to their intrinsic nature. We see this type of thinking in the way that countries describe their enemies. To be sure, there are terrorist groups, such as ISIS that would make the Daleks cower in fear. And the temptation is to dehumanize them. Their blind hatred and their blasé attitude toward killing innocent people-not just journalists, but also scores of their own people, justifiably causes us to recoil in horror. Groups that will massacre untold number of people just to make a point, are extremely dangerous. The temptation is to dismiss them as intrinsically evil and as unreasonable. And as a result, government leaders rehash the same old strategy to get rid of those who they claim embody evil: death and destruction. Any other response is immediately off the tables. You can’t redeem evil doers. Even though, the very people we dehumanize, often serve as a reflection of the evil that lurks within us and they often serve as a condemnation for our (or our government’s) failures and atrocities. When we reject the humanity of our enemies, we diminish our own.

The Doctor has moments of ruthlessness in this episode. He doesn’t care that Journey lost her brother, and he cracks jokes about Ross’ death. Not to mention that throughout the show’s history, he has had moments where his hatred and thirst for vengeance leads him to act callously. When we view others as irredeemable, we begin to justify taking them out, using whatever means possible and the line between those who are “good” and those who are “evil” begins to blur. Yet in a world marred by violence and brokenness, and sin, what other options do we have?

To be honest, I struggle to find an adequate answer. I can’t tie this post up in a neat little bow, (believe me, I’ve tried. I’ve re-written this final paragraph a number of times). The reality is that in a world filled with war and destruction easy answers are inadequate. For instance, Christians often talk about loving our enemies, but what does that mean? Sometimes the phrase “loving our enemies” sounds like nothing more than a pat answer that one says to avoid doing the hard and difficult work of trying to transform the world. That phrase often becomes an excuse to not take any action. And for those of us in relatively privileged conditions, we can simply tout the phrase love our enemies and walk away without engaging in the difficult work of deciphering what that looks like in a hurting world. How do we love our enemies and espouse justice? In addition, Christians often hold up Christ as the ultimate figure of redemption, but what does redemption mean? Is it simply about avoiding hell? Can redemption occur in this world? And how do we work towards said redemption? How do we join with God in the work of transforming the world?

In this episode, the Doctor ultimately fails. Yet the adventure continues. In the real world, such failure is devastating. How many people have died struggling to advocate for justice and equality? How many people have been crushed by the prevailing forces that endorse the status quo? How many times can one “enemy” be defeated, only for more to rise up or even worse, for us to find ourselves as the perpetrators of violence, inequality, and injustice? Why not just give up on this world and turn our back on the idea of redemption? Yet, God seems to be infinitely more annoying than Clara in asking us to rethink what we think we know. What have we learned? That life is hopeless, that violence and death will always win? Is that all we have learned? Or do we have to look a little bit harder to find hope and courage to do things differently, even in the midst of failure? At the end of the episode Clara states:

You asked me if you’re a good man and the answer is, I don’t know. But I think you try to be and I think that’s probably the point.

We live in a world where despair and hopelessness reign. Systematic change and long standing peace seems impossible to accomplish and attempts to bring about radical change-sometimes, if not often fail. Maybe the point of life and of saying we have faith is that we continually try to aid in God’s transforming work in the world. Maybe the point is that we continue to work as co-redeemers with Christ, in the midst of a hurting world.

Day of the Doctor Part 2: We’ve Got Enough Warriors

The three Doctors are posed ready to detonate the moment and destroy both the Daleks and the Time Lords, including 2.47 billion children. Hands pressed on the weapon’s button, the Doctor gives a stirring speech:

DOCTOR 10: What we do today is not out of fear or hatred. It is done because there is no other way.
DOCTOR: And it is done in the name of the many live we are failing to save.

Yet before they could press the button, the Eleventh Doctor looks back at Clara, who shakes her head while lightly crying.

DOCTOR: What? What is it? What?

CLARA: Nothing.

DOCTOR: No, it’s something. Tell me.

CLARA: You told me you wiped out your own people. I just. I never pictured you doing it, that’s all

The Doctor’s companions are often described as the audience member’s physical representation in the Doctor’s world. The companion sometimes becomes our voice, inquiring about weird creatures or planets that have us baffled and on occasion the companion takes our place as the Doctor’s moral compass, reminding him of who he is and of how we view him.

Just like Clara, we as audience members knew about the Time War. Ever since the show came back the Doctor has made numerous references to his actions in the Time War, yet because the war was described has happening in the distant past, it did not seem to be a productive use of our time to obsessing about what occurred and the details of the Doctor’s actions. What mattered was journeying with the Doctor to new planets and repeatedly rescuing earth from different alien threats. It was hard to picture our Doctor fighting in the Time War and committing a double genocide. Even with the introduction of the War Doctor, we were still left wondering, “who is this guy? He is definitely not the Doctor we have grown to love throughout his various incarnations.” In fact, at least in the beginning the introduction of the War Doctor made the events in the Time War seem even more alien and distant. This Warrior Doctor is not our Doctor and in many ways it seems easier to imagine this stranger destroying Gallery rather than the incarnations we journeyed with throughout the past few years. We know intellectually that they are of course, the same person, yet many audience members become enamored with a certain incarnation and it becomes a bit hard to picture our Doctor killing 2.47 billion children and countless of adults.

Yet in this episode, the Time War isn’t a past event, at least not for the audience or the War Doctor. As audience member we know that this is an event to happen in the future and as a result it the war could end on a different note-at least we hope But at that moment when all three Doctors stand posed ready to press the button the audience is seeing two of their Doctors getting ready to kill billions of people. It is not a strange incarnation of the Doctor we see getting ready to end the time war, but also two of our Doctors and like Clara we are left confused. Not our Doctor. To be fair, in the Fires of Pompeii we see the Tenth Doctor and Donna  forced to destroy Pompeii and kill thousands of people including children-yet even then we see Donna convince the Doctor to save the life of one family. That might not mean much when thousands died, yet it still was a flicker of hope in an otherwise dark event. Yet in that episode our characters mainly come into contact with one family and while we see the panic of the people and we get glimpses of children, much of the action’s focus is on the events surrounding the alien creatures and this one family. But as I mentioned in part one, in The Day of the Doctor-Moffat repeatedly reminds us of the high stakes involved in the Time War.

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The Doctor points out that there is no other option. Either the Doctor destroys Gallifrey and saves the rest of the universe or he sits passively by and watch as the universe gets destroyed. Instinctively, we understand the Doctor’s dilemma. In fact, outside of this specific context, doesn’t that line of thinking sound familiar? Isn’t war (and violence in general) often posited as the last and only resort- if we don’t engage in this specific war then something even worse will happen. In some cases that has a basis in fact-while I personally lean towards nonviolence, I am not a pacifist and I believe that sometimes war is necessary. Yet In a world that has been saturated in violence and warfare for centuries it becomes difficult to imagine any alternative. Anything less than engaging in war and violence is viewed as ineffective and as an example of passivity and such a mindset means that war and violence has almost become the default reaction to complicated situations. How can war be the last resort when it is often considered the only valid option? Those who advocate for a more measured understanding of violence are often derided as naive optimists. If violence is encoded into our DNA, how can we expect anything other than violence to bring about change?

Yet, watching the Doctor-especially two of our beloved incarnations posed and ready to kill billions does not sit well with many audience members. We understand the circumstances yet we yearn for a different ending, we wait expectedly knowing that the Doctor will figure something out. Nevertheless, the Doctor seems to have forgotten who he is. There is no other options all three incarnations believe, yet Clara, instinctively rejects that assertion.

CLARA: Look at you. The three of you. The warrior, the hero, and you.
DOCTOR: And what am I?
CLARA: Have you really forgotten?
DOCTOR: Yes. Maybe, yes.
CLARA: We’ve got enough warriors. Any old idiot can be a hero.
DOCTOR: Then what do I do?

In order for the Doctor to even imagine an alternative he needs to be reminded of who he is-of how his companions and by extensions the audience sees him. We don’t merely see him as a warrior or a hero, we see him as something more. For most of Nuwho, the Doctor has often derided himself as a mass murder. He has told himself that narrative over and over again to the point that when he is given an opportunity to change history and to provide an alternative to destroying Gallifrey, he narrowly misses taking advantage of said opportunity.

In our world, it is easy to simply discard humanity as hopelessly violent. History certainly backs up that assertion, yet is that really all we are? Is humanity doomed to simply keep repeating the mantra of violence and warfare? Even if one does not believe that violence and warfare will ever be eradicated, is it possible for humanity to work towards minimizing their use? I’m not sure, but if there is any possibility of making changes-even small ones, people individually and collectively need to work towards embodying a different narrative.

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When Clara reminds the Doctor of who he is, he is suddenly re-animated. No longer is the narrative one of inevitability but instead it is one of hope. The idea is completely crazy and might not work, yet it is so much better than the alternative. But in order for the Doctor to have the courage to even try out that idea he needs to be reminded of who he was and he needs to change the narrative he has been telling himself for centuries.

Likewise, we as individuals and as a species have difficult decisions to make. Who are we? Who do we want to be? Of course we can’t ignore reality: humanity can be extremely violent and occasionally violence is necessary for survival, but do we want that to be our defining characteristic? Clara gave the Doctor a new narrative to embrace and we need to do the same. As a Christian, my narrative will of course evoke God and Jesus, but I personally acknowledge the validity of other life-affirming narratives from atheists and those from differing religious traditions.

But for me, I find the notion of viewing ourselves individually and collectively as childhood of God to be helpful. Yes we are violent, yes we do horrible and vicious things, but yet at the same time we are so much more than that. Jesus demonstrated an alternative way of living that sees the value of each and every individual and he strove to live a life that was in stark contrast to the status quo. Jesus rejected the notion of certain people being somehow less than others-an idea that is prevalent in all societies in some form. He even issues a challenge to theological constructs that often divides people into two groups: worthy and unworthy. When he healed the sick, he did not reduce them to their illness but he treated them as human beings. He showed compassion for others and encouraged others to do the same. When the Pharisees asked him what they should do with an adulterous woman they had brought before him, he forced them to change their narrative: instead of focusing on her sin, he encouraged them to think about their own and if anyone could claim that he was sinless then they could stone her. To the adulteress woman he pointedly says he does not condemn her and he tells her not to sin anymore. But in order for her to do that, she would need to tell herself a new narrative, one that broke with the narrative of the culture which portrayed her as a horrible woman deserving of death.

What if we had the courage to remind ourselves and others how valuable and precious we are? What if, while acknowledging that violence is a part of life, we insist that it does not need to have the last word? What if we allow ourselves the opportunity to imagine a different world? What if we had the audacity to hope that perhaps our crazy visions of a better world are worth investing in, even if they don’t succeed?

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At one point will we as a species say enough is enough? Unlike in The Day of the Doctor, we don’t get any do-overs. Let’s re-frame our understanding of ourselves (both as individuals and as a larger species) and imagine a better way of living.

11. The Beast Below

10. Amy’s Choice

9. Vincent and the Doctor

8. The Girl Who Waited]

7. The God Complex

6. A Town Called Mercy

5. Angels Take Manhattan 

4. The Snowmen

3. The Rings of Akhaten

2. The Name of the Doctor

1A.  The Day of the Doctor Prt. 1

Is Doctor Who anti-religious? Part one: The dangers of deification

Someone shared this link on a doctor who facebook page that had quite a few members. She did it, in what I perceived in a respectful way and I thought most of the comments shared were respectful and civil. Of course, one person who identified has an atheist made a comment that referred to those who believe in God as being “nuts” and others pointed out that Doctor Who regularly makes fun of religion. The thread was eventually deleted by the admin, which was unfortunate because I would have enjoyed engaging with the person who held such a negative view on religion.

Of course, those who personally know me or have been a fan of my Doctor Who and theology page know that I identify as agnostic(y) and yet my background is Christian, I attend a progressive Christian seminary, and I am attending a progressive Christian church. So while I understand the criticism lobbied by many agnostics and atheists toward organized religion (criticism, which many self-aware Christians and people of other religious beliefs share!) it is important to note that Christianity (and other beliefs systems) are not monolithic and so while Doctor Who might be making fun of a type of religious belief,  that does not mean that the show is making fun of all religious(or even just all forms of Christian) beliefs. I can’t speak for the motivations of the writers, who may or may not feel as if they are criticizing all religious beliefs,  but I agree that the show is critical of the type of blind faith that all should be weary of-regardless of whether one identifies with a religious tradition. Doctor Who rightly disparages blind uncritical religious faith that results in harm and devastation, the  type of religious beliefs that feeds on humanity and ends up leaving pain and sorrow in its wake, a type of faith that is not held by all those who proclaim religious beliefs.

In, “Doctor Who: The Writer’s Tale: The final chapter” Russell T. Davis states, “Dumbos think that I’m turning the Doctor into God when clearly I’m saying that God doesn’t exist, that we mythologize real people, events or aspirations into deities and pay the price for it.” (sorry, my kindle version of the book does not have page numbers.) We saw, especially towards the end of Tennant’s run, how dangerous the Doctor became when he began to view himself as a god-like figure. It was one thing when others viewed him as a god-like figure (you see examples of that when in, “The Last of the time Lords” the whole world turns to the Doctor for help, and it literally looks as if thousands of people are praying to the Doctor) but once he started to view himself as a god-like figure, one who could manipulate time at will, that was when things really started to go downhill.

In The Waters of Mars, the Doctor has the following exchange with Adelide

ADELAIDE: 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.

DOCTOR: Tough.

ADELAIDE: You should have left us there.

DOCTOR: 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.

ADELAIDE: Little people? What, like Mia and Yuri? Who decides they’re so unimportant? You?

DOCTOR: 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.

ADELAIDE: And there’s no one to stop you.

DOCTOR: No.

ADELAIDE: This is wrong, Doctor. I don’t care who you are. The Time Lord Victorious is wrong.

It is fairly easy to see how the deification of Christ, and the intent to hold on tightly to that theology has caused harm. Heretics were brutally killed for disagreeing with the view that Jesus was not really God or equal to God the Father, Christians have insisted that because Jesus is the only way to God, and because some Christians hold that to be true, everyone else is wrong and some have used that theology as an excuse to commit horrible acts of brutality toward nonChristians. Even in it’s less physically violent form, the deification of Christ and the insistence that “Jesus is the only way to God” has resulted in the mistreatment of nonChristians or even of fellow Christians who view Christ in a different way. Any view of Christ that leads to the mistreatment of others should be rejected. However, because Christianity is diverse, different denominations/churches/individuals interpret Christ in differing ways. Some focus on Christ’s humanity, some focus solely on his death and resurrection, others focus more on his life and social teachings, others try to incorporate Christ’s life, teachings, as well as his death and resurrection (some Christians viewing resurrection as literal, others as spiritual) into their theology.

In seminary, I am meeting people who view Jesus as the literal son of God, while others view God purely in human terms, and others try to view Jesus as both divine and human, yet the majority of students I have met are not interested in forcing their views on Christ on other people.  Even those who view Christ as a divine figure are not interested in using their theological beliefs as justification for treating others-especially those who do not identify as Christians as inferior. Instead, Christ (divine or not) is viewed as a great expression of love, and for them the ultimate expression of love and it is through that love that they interact with others, even those with differing theological beliefs.

However, the type of Christians one sees in pop culture and in certain parts of the country, are the type that demonstrate how dangerous it can be to deify Christ. Their view of Jesus as God has been used as an excuse to act in hateful and spiteful ways towards those with differing opinions, but it is important to note that not all Christians behave in such a way. The deification of Jesus can be dangerous and harmful, or it can provide an impetus to practice love and fight oppression. Conversely those who view Jesus as only human can treat those who view Jesus as God as delusional idiotic freaks, or they can focus on the moral teachings of Jesus that focus on the love of God.

So while Doctor Who, rightfully criticizes the dangers that can result in deifying a person, aspiration, or idea, it does not in fact tell the whole story as the variety in religious expression and in particular Christianity, makes it difficult to take that criticism and make it all encompassing.