Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Doctor Who and Symbols of Christ

By Mitchell

My friend Badda-Blogger emailed me this essay (when he told me about his ideas I replied that he had to write it up and send it to me), which I am delighted to share with all of you. You might remember Badda - he's the one who came up with the provocative analysis that found links between Frosty the Snowman and the Resurrection of Christ. Well, he's done it again, this time with a series that ranks as an all-time favorite of us both, the British sci-fi classic Doctor Who. After reading this you might be prompted to check the show out. Conversely, you might think we're both crazy. Be that as it may, I thought it was time for a change of pace from our previous posts. Enjoy!

*****

Springtime typically conjures up images of rebirth… the end of winter and the return of green grass, not to mention the rediscovery of our driveways. The Resurrection of Jesus plays heavily in the Catholic faith, of course. Now we see another return… that is, if you are a science fiction television fan. The long running, but long missed, British series Doctor Who comes back to television this Saturday (at least in Great Britain) after an absence of almost nine years.

For anyone who knows nothing of Doctor Who, it started in November of 1963 (the first episode was aired the day after the assassination of John Kennedy) as an adventure in time travel and other worlds. Stories alternated between historical settings like the Aztecs or the French Revolution and science fiction-styled adventures. Each type of story would hopefully entertain families and spark an interest in historical events and science. Over the course of 26 years the main character, the Doctor, remained fairly mysterious although the series revealed him to be an alien from the future. He is only known as the Doctor, he comes from the planet Gallifrey, and he is part of a class of Gallifreans known as Time Lords who can change their appearance(regenerate) after severe injuries or accidents. Time Lords are pledged to non-interference (because of their vast powers), but the Doctor can not resist meddling in the affairs of the downtrodden… especially those on Earth. Unfortunately, the series was cancelled after its 26th season. (For more information about Doctor Who just do a web search, look on the BBC website, or visit Outpost Gallifrey (at www.gallifreyone.com, or check the Doctor Who link on the sideboard for more details than you probably care to know.)

In 1996, the Doctor returned to TV screens in the form of a one-off movie put together by the BBC, Fox, and Universal in the hopes that after seven yeras, American and British audiences were ready for a new series. For one reason or another, the series was not to be. However, the movie did succeed in rekindling interest that spawned more stories of the time-traveling Doctor in books and audio recordings.

You probably wonder why anyone would even think of comparing a fictitious do-gooder with Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Firstly, I’m a Catholic who grew up with the Doctor so I’m very excited to see his triumphant return. Secondly, the comparison has already been made in the television movie.

Don’t get the wrong idea. No one really thinks Christ is a time-traveling alien, nor does anyone believes the Doctor brings redemption for our souls. Some of our greatest heroes can be modeled after the Savior. Consider the similar comparison to the film superhero Superman. Really, it’s all for fun, to honor our heroes, and to honor Christ. Some fans will grumble that I’m justa Red State, Bible-thumping, Jebuz worshiper desperate to force my beliefs into my surroundings. I respond with: whatEVER. ;) (Such folks are often easily annoyed… just tell them you will pray for them and they get unhinged.)

The first possible allegory in the film is the Doctor’s regeneration. The Old Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) has died on an operating table and has been locked up in the morgue’s fridge. His face twists into his new form (Paul McGann) as he regenerates... the regeneration is obviously symbolic of The Resurrection. Shortly after, he breaks out of the room while wearing his shroud - symbolic of Christ’s tomb. The Doctor walks into a storm-tossed locker room where he sees his (new and unfamiliar) image in a few mirrors... he collapses on his knees and shouts, "Who... am... I?" Rephrase that into “I am who?”...hmmm, we've probably heard that somewhere before. (I understand this may beforcing a square peg into a round hole, but you can see why I might want to force-fit this example.) The shot eventually pulls out to reveal the New Doctor with his arms outstretched in a manner similar to his crucifixion.

To play with numbers for a moment, note that Time Lords can regenerate twelve times... a welcome number to Christians as it evokes the apostles. This means that Time Lords have thirteen incarnations... Christ and the apostles makes thirteen. (Just for reference, the Old Doctor was the seventh body and the New Doctor is the eighth.)

Eventually, the Doctor meets the medical doctor who operated on him, Grace Holloway (make of her name what you will). The Doctor tries to convince Grace that he is a Time Lord, comes from the planet Gallifrey, has two hearts, and has come back from the dead. Grace states that only children would believe someone can come back from the dead. (Of course, Christ often said you had to have the faith of a child.) To her surprise, the Doctor confronts her with the fact that she became a doctor because of her childhood dream that she could hold back death. How would he know that if he apparently only just met her? Perhaps the Doctor learned a little something about Dr. Holloway in his travels... that's believable in Doctor Who, I guess. However, such knowledge (and similar knowledge of other characters in the movie) is also symbolic of divine omnipotence. (Later in the movie, the Doctor tells a young security guard that he shouldn't answer the easiest looking essay question on his upcoming college literature exams, and he tells a young friend, Chang Lee, to avoid San Francisco on New Year's Eve in 2000.)

The next Christ reference comes when the Doctor's arch-enemy, the Master, plots against the Doctor in his time travel machine called the TARDIS. The Master, like the Doctor, is a Time Lord from Gallifrey, but he is evil - he no longer can regenerate like the Doctor, and is forced to possess and take over a human body to cheat death. (Read into that what you will.) When the Doctor mentions the Master to Grace, she specifically asks, "Is he like the Devil?" She asks in disbelief though, as if she's humoring a madman.

(Of course, I remember a friend refer to C.S.Lewis' comments on whether Jesus was the Christ. Said Lewis, he's either lying, crazy, or telling the truth. If I remember correctly, the Doctor never appears to lie in this movie.)

Back to the next reference. The Master has snuck into the Doctor’s TARDIS to spy on the Doctor with the Eye of Harmony (see below). He sees the Doctor's eye and retinal pattern, which looks like a human eye. The Master says this means the Doctor must be half-human. What does this suggest? Well, Christ is both God and man. The reference with the Doctor is that he is both human and Gallifrean, a mortal and a Time Lord. While alien and very different from us, he is also like us, and shows genuine affection for Earth and humans. In a sense, he loves us and frequently struggles to protect us and keep the world safe. The Doctor even admits to someone (with Grace nearby) that his is half-human on his mother's side. Well, of course he is. If we use the Doctor as a reference to the Christ, he simply must have a human mother ... Mary, Mother of Jesus is the obvious answer.

When the Master meddles with the TARDIS and the Eye of Harmony, strange things begin to occur, such as the Doctor being able to walk through a large glass window. This is hardly walking on water, but I thought it might be worth mentioning. Further evidence of weird goings-on: news reports of catastrophic weather such as record-breaking tide levels, flood warnings, and snow in Hawaii. Of course, we’re familiar with disastrous floods in the Bible.

In the last third of the film, the Master captures the Doctor after taking over Grace's will. He orders Grace to attach a bizarre looking metal device to the Doctor's head so his eyes will be forced open. The thing fits around his head with spikes (or nails) securing it in place... of course, it looks like the Crown of Thorns.

Obviously the Doctor gets free, Grace shakes off the Master's possession, and Chang Lee discovers the Master's evil nature. After all this, the Master kills both Lee and Grace. Eventually, the Master is sucked into the Eye of Harmony and is defeated (and probably dies). With the power of the Eye of Harmony, the Doctor brings both Lee and Grace back to life... just like Lazarus.

Let me go out on a limb for a minute. One element of the film's plot involves a colossal power source within the Doctor's TARDIS, the time machine he travels in. The power source is called the Eye of Harmony... which may not be symbolic of anything, especially considering the name was used in the series many years ago. However, I wonder if something is up.

The Eye of Harmony may only be opened by a human, and neither the Doctor nor the Master can do it since they are both Time Lords. Since they're humans, both Grace and Chang Lee can open the Eye, and they're forced by the Master to do it. The Master hopes to use the open Eye to steal the Doctor's remaining regenerations, after which he will force the Doctor to look into the Eye. If that happens, the Doctor says, his soul will be destroyed. Not only that, if the Eye isn't closed Earth will be sucked through it... which must mean the end of the world.

Could the Eye of Harmony represent... I don't know, salvation, redemption, forgiveness, heaven, the end times? It must be something even the Master (a Time Lord, and thus greater than mortals) cannot attain on his own. He's trying to steal the Doctor's lives... perhaps he's stealing souls, and he can only do this with the Eye of Harmony, which he can only open with the aid of humans. Is there some kind of connection between Satan corrupting man to steal souls, to prevent souls from entering Heaven, to keep souls from triumphantly earning a place in the presence of God?

I'm probably reading a little too much into the Eye of Harmony, or if I'm not I'm probably getting needlessly complicated. However, am I reading too much into the references to Christ? I think not. In fact, the story was set in the days before January 1st, 2000... a date some speculated would see the Second Coming of the Christ since it was a rollover year. (Of course, the new millennium actually occurred on January 1st, 2001... but who's counting?)

The film might have more references, but I haven't really gone over it with a fine tooth comb. In addition, since so many Doctor Who fans (like many sci-fi types) seem to bristle at the thought of any Christ reference, my online fan resources are a little limited. You might very well think that Doctor Who fans (and sci-fi fans in general) cannot tolerate Christianity... I couldn't possibly comment. ;) Actually, I was fairly surprised how many conservative, Republican, religious, and/or Christian fans there are out on the web, but I was also fairly surprised at how many contrarians there are, too. (To be fair, most of them are pretty well behaved and have a good sense of humor.)

Happy Easter to everyone... and welcome back to the Doctor! It's been a long time since May 1996.

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