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Observations: Lord Of The Time Lords

Rambling Introduction Yes, that’s exactly the reference it appears to be. 0=) Just for reference, this is a bit of a throw-back to Inherently Religious (Some things are sacred by default, no matter our efforts to ‘secularize’ them) and Speculating […]

Rambling Introduction

Yes, that’s exactly the reference it appears to be. 0=)

Just for reference, this is a bit of a throw-back to Inherently Religious (Some things are sacred by default, no matter our efforts to ‘secularize’ them) and Speculating Faith (The Speculative genre should be the safest place in the fiction world to ask ‘what if,’ and that includes discourse on what God is not).

I feel like I’ve been thrown into several conversations lately on God: who and what he is, what he’s like, what he’s not like–the very nature and character of God himself.  I recently did a three-part segment on my personal blog titled Painting God in which I tried to demonstrate how little we know of him, and how  to paint over what he’s painted for us is to attempt to change his nature–all only to discover several other people were posting on the same thing.

The world aligns a particular way once you’ve started to feel you’ve some grasp on who your God is. I have no delusions I’ll ever exhaust the great adventure that is getting to explore the depths of my Creator and Sustainer, but I feel comfortable enough saying I’ve a pretty general idea of the core of his  nature.  He spent a significant amount of time trying to explain and describe himself, so I don’t think it impertinent to number myself among those who’ve tried to pay attention.

I surmised at one point that speculative fiction is a legitimate place (or should be) for rooting out characteristics that make up the Person who created the cosmos. For better or worse, I still maintain the veracity of the claim.

 

The Allusions

I’ll be honest: I’m one of those weird people who really doesn’t go looking for theology in a story.  If I see something, it’ll capture my attention for weeks. If I don’t, well,   it was just a book/movie anyway. It’s not watching with my brain off: it’s not like I won’t notice a particular slant. It’s that unless I’m having something crammed down my throat or something has become grotesque in nature, I’m in it for the long haul.  But that said, I’ve found shards of light in the strangest places. I’ve mentioned Elf, despite its flaws.  Star Wars and the Matrix are both used ad nauseum (even though I’d take significant issue with Neo being any form of ‘Christ figure.) A few other s, at least for me, included:

 

-The Lakehouse (due to the time/space nature of it, the woman must wait for her love to provide the means for them to be together; all attempts by her to force or accelerate the matter only make them further apart; her lover alone–and they know each other only through letters–can make it work)

-Sweet Home Alabama  (she leaves him; and he waits years for her to come back)

-Doctor Who (details below)

-The Dresden Files (Harry was trained by evil wizards; he’s easily tempted by evil, but he’s also repulsed by it; and the one person whom  even Harry would call righteous is a Christian guy who tolerates but never condones Harry’s magic; and, oddly,  Michael is someone Harry wishes he were like; yes, I know some of the content in the DF is pretty solidly on the edge of my tolerance, but I’ll still make the point with Harry suspended between good and evil.)

-Criminal Minds (often includes lengthy conversation on good, evil, and the human condition)

-Human Target (former assassin seeking repentance by protecting people, includes a team of misfits and, well, some shady guys)

-Leverage (The pilot sold me with Nate’s lines about halfway through:  “Each of you knows what you can do. But I know what all of you can do.” Broken and falling off a cliff himself, Nate, in essence offers them a new way of life to embrace or reject at will.)

Now, I know those connections likely weren’t intentional (although, with Jim Butcher, I’d be more surprised if he didn’t intend Michael that way), but it doesn’t mean I didn’t see them.  Why aren’t there more book titles? Um, honestly, I’m still a newbie to the “secular” book world and I needed examples from guys who aren’t, to my knowledge, professing Christians.

The horse is dead, so I’ll let the point be: All storyworlds tell us something about the way the way the world is, and invite some form of solution. There’s a reason  something in our gut lights afire when we see injustice and oppression, and there’s a reason we get such immense satisfaction out of seeing justice done and mercy extended.

 

What God is Not

So on to the title.  As I said, it’s not like I don’t see the flaws in the shadows, the faint illustrations. Nate’s a drunk and a liar. Harry’s a player.  And so on. But in the same way we can generate discussion on who God is, we can generate it on who God isn’t.

Honestly, I’m convinced the new Doctor Who show does that wonderfully.  (Minor aside: I’m a late-comer to Doctor Who. I started with the Season 1 relaunch a couple months ago, and I’ve finished through season two and begun season three. The pilot episode didn’t endear me to the show, and since then there’s been one other episode (season two, the Satan Pit, if you care) that I didn’t care for).  It’s arguably a very humanistic show, and by and large gets away with it because the Doctor is fascinated with humans and their  capabilities, emotions, vulnerabilities, and so on. What makes humans strong also makes them weak, so to speak.

Now there’s a few things on the Satan Pit episode:

  1. A 900 year old man should have some idea of what he believes.  (I will ignore what I maintain is a character breach in that episode for now.)
  2. Despite the rather silly claim he doesn’t know what he believes, the Doctor actually does have a pretty black and white view of right and wrong. How he executes that sense of justice/revenge is another question, but for the most part he comes down pretty solid on the dignity of all people and their inherent right to live as free people.

So, on that front, while he does make the silly comment  (sorry, Whovians, it was quite absurd) that he doesn’t know what he believes or who he believes in, deity-wise, he’s quite clear on what is not divine. Ruling by fear, conquest, chain, and whip is the dominion of Hell, not Heaven. Destroying people’s lives and livelihoods for your own gain is evil. Setting yourself up as a false god is evil, and the false god must be destroyed.

The other interesting point is that while others describe the Time Lords as somewhat godlike, the Doctor himself makes it known he is not, nor does he set out to be, a god. “I’d make a very bad one,” he says. And with that dark streak in him, he really would.

Anyway, I didn’t set out looking for any of this. But after writing those earlier posts and thinking on it awhile, then running across Doctor Who upon the prompting of a friend, I found that it very neatly seems to illustrate my point (for now, at least).  I definitely wouldn’t take it much further than that, as  it really isn’t the show’s intent and they fudged what could have been a very profound moment in the particular episode. (They backed off the question. As a writer, I think they were better off not bringing it up if they feared losing some  of their audience, or letting the Doctor answer more solidly than he does.)  But the themes of human nature and divine nature have continued to appear in the thematic sense, and I find the exploration intriguing.

So I guess this is the end of it: Even the Time Lord knows he’s bound to something bigger and older than himself. Even the Time Lord submits to the Lord who made the time and space he plays in and protects.

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E. Stephen Burnett
Admin

Fantastic column, Kaci!

Every humanistic story, worldview or origins belief must, at some point, borrow something from Christianity to survive. Thus humanism demonstrates that while it can be a cool religion (but a religion), it can’t sustain itself with its own tenets. And Doctor Who, with all its messianic allusions — yes, they continue; watch for a particularly intense one, almost too much, in the Christmas special Voyage of the Damned — just keeps proving that over and over.

R. J. Anderson
Member

I think it’s worth talking about the Christ-imagery that Russell T. Davies insisted on attaching to the Tenth Doctor during the third and fourth seasons of his tenure, as some of it struck me as fairly blasphemous (perhaps not surprising from the writer of “The Second Coming”) and really inappropriate given the way Ten’s character developed.

What I mean by this (and I’ll try to keep it general, as I don’t want to spoil anything for Kaci) is that it seemed that the LESS righteous and selfless Ten’s character and behaviour became, the closer he came to arrogantly embracing that “Lonely God” title RTD had bestowed upon him earlier in the series and appointing himself judge, jury and executioner over the universe, the more Davies started hyping up the Christ imagery. But usually a Christ figure is one who suffers unjustly, selflessly, and in order to bring salvation or enlightenment to others; whereas the Tenth Doctor’s sufferings seemed to achieve nothing in particular and were largely brought on by his own actions. No Gethsemane moments, no courageous silence in the face of his accusers, no sovereign plan that would bring light into the darkness — just a lot of emo Man Pain.

By contrast, once the Eleventh Doctor came on board in S5, new head writer Steven Moffat used little or no Christ imagery at all, and yet I’d say that Eleven is in some ways (again keeping this vague!) more Christlike than either of the previous two in some of his actions and the way he regards and treats people. Without the need for blatant crucifixion imagery and mechanical angels to back it up.

Getting back to the actual topic, however — in the Doctor Who New Adventures novels which were written in the 90’s (when it seemed that the show had been cancelled and would never return, so print was the next best option), some of the earliest books in the series featured a pantheon of gods worshipped or at least respected by the Time Lords — Time, Death, and Pain. Interesting.

Faith King
Guest

Doctor Who is such a grab bag of so many people’s worldviews and ideologies, it’s difficult not to ascribe whatever you want to it. I confess that it’s one franchise that I watch mainly for the sheer audacious, popcorn-laden romp, and hold at a very generous arms’ length for spiritual resonance. I’m also with RJ Anderson in preferring Moffat’s take much more than Davies (so far, anyway).

But I am one of those people who notices parallels of God everywhere I turn. I believe it’s written into the fabric of every human being, whether they acknowledge it or not. The scriptures say that God will use what man intends as defamation to glorify himself even further, and that if we left off praising him then he would cause the very stones to cry out in praise.

I really enjoyed reading Joseph Campbell’s work in college, amused by his astonishment at the uniformity of themes in human mythology, his marveling at how they could be so universal, and chuckling to myself. What fascinated me most was his observation (and I’d have to go back and find exactly which of his works this was in), that the Cinderella story was the most common story thread in all of humanity. Cinderella is a story of the redemption of a bride from abjection. Sound familiar?

I think the most wonderful experience I’ve ever had along these lines was when I was watching Forrest Gump for the umpteenth time. I’ve always loved Forrest Gump more than just another good movie, and I never really could articulate why. Then I was watching the scene where he’s telling Jenny about all the beautiful things he saw in his travels. “I wish I could have been there,” she says, full of regret at the bad circumstances and choices that made her life the complete opposite of his. He looks at her and says, “You were.” And then it hit me. Forest looks at Jenny and honestly does not see everything she’s done. All he sees is the woman he loves. The rest of it does not exist. It’s the way that Christ sees us when we are under the atonement. The sin literally does not exist for him. He can’t condemn what isn’t there. It was such a beautiful parallel that I started crying.

Anyway, interesting topic. I’m working my way through Leverage right now.

Galadriel
Guest

I wandered onto this post only because of the title, but found this post interesting, and plan to repost it on my Whovian blog. (linked to in my name)
I just started watching DW over Labor Day 2010, but have watched all the new series and some of the classic seasons too. I also admit to wondering about some of the theological implications of the show and its appropriateness for Christian viewers.

The classic series doesn’t really use this imagery as much, partially because the Doctor isn’t the last of the Time Lords there. Season three’s ending definately plays up the Christ imagery, but there’s one episode in the season four specials– “The Waters of Mars”–that drives home the differences between the Doctor and Jesus. ‘The Lonely God,’ as he is referred to, is also a terrifying, untrustworthy god.
The Eleventh Doctor/series five is almost a polar opposite, but as you said, a closer reflection. One scene especially rang chords with me:

“You need to start trusting me; it’s never been more important.”
“But you don’t always tell me the truth.”
“If I always told you the truth, I wouldn’t need you to trust me.”

God doesn’t always tell us ‘the truth’ in the sense of ‘what we want to hear’–he requires faith. And that’s a lesson that can get old, but it was inspiring to see it from a new angle.

Fred Warren
Member

I think one of our most important roles as Christians engaging the popular culture is pointing out these inevitable glimmers of truth that emerge in secular stories, movies, music, etc. We’re uniquely equipped to notice the parallels and make the connections.

Kaci says, “All storyworlds tell us something about the way the way the world is, and invite some form of solution. There’s a reason something in our gut lights afire when we see injustice and oppression, and there’s a reason we get such immense satisfaction out of seeing justice done and mercy extended.”

The difference between a Christian observer like Kaci and a non-Christian observer is that she understands *why* we’re moved by this, and in explaining it, she opens a dialogue about faith, aided by an illustration that both Christians and non-Christians can relate to.

I actually like it that the Doctor doesn’t yet know what he believes in. One of the charms of the character for me is that he’s a seeker–whether he’s looking for excitement, or redemption for past errors, or the perfect packet of jelly babies, somewhere deep down he understands he’s missing *something,* even if he can’t articulate exactly what that is.

E. Stephen Burnett
Admin

I think one of our most important roles as Christians engaging the popular culture is pointing out these inevitable glimmers of truth that emerge in secular stories, movies, music, etc.

Amen, Fred. And like this:

[The Apostle Paul speaking] “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.”

— Acts 17: 22-23

Moreover, even evil people can “give good gifts,” Christ Himself reminds us:

[Jesus speaking][W]hich one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”

— Matthew 7: 9-11

I love how He does say these people are “evil,” so we’re not off the hook! But His main point is that if evil people can do good things, that demonstrates in a lesser-to-greater argument how much more amazing and good God is.

Winceline
Guest
Winceline

He does say at one point in a later episode that he believes in Time(if I remember correctly). I have so much more to say, but it can’t really be said until the End of Time(no, seriously.)

So once you finish season 4 and the 2009 specials, I’mma pick this conversation right back up.

교인애 Inae Kyo
Guest

It was the Ninth Doctor who didn’t know what he believed and I think he was WAY traumatized by being the sole survivor of the Time Lords.

I tend to think of the Doctor in his many regenerations as being a bit like a person with multiple personality disorder— the same guy but not quite the same guy.

But I also wasn’t thrilled by the Satan Pit episode mainly because the ‘Satan’ creature reminded me too much of King Kong or Godzilla, but without Godzilla or KK’s charm. Sometimes Bigger is NOT Better.

R. J. Anderson
Member

I was expecting to be massively offended by “The Impossible Planet” / “The Satan Pit” and it was something of a relief to realize it was less offensive than I’d feared — in fact, to my considerable surprise, I actually liked most of it. But the psychological creepiness of the first half was greatly let down by the roaring bull-horned giant of a “Satan” in the second half, to be sure. The idea of Toby and the Ood possessed by this unknown, merciless entity was FAR scarier. (Especially since I *liked* Toby. And the Ood, for that matter. Unlike Flamey McInarticulate down below, who had all the subtlety and personal charm of the Hulk.)

But TIP/TSP were Tenth Doctor episodes, not Ninth, and it was a line from TSP to which Kaci was referring. I’d definitely cut Nine some slack for being all PTSD after the Time War, but I think that two years down the road Ten’s had sufficient time to adjust to the harsh reality of being the Last Man Standing.

E. Stephen Burnett
Admin

Kaci, that’s one thing about characters whose scriptwriters imbue them with Nonviolence Ethics. They can either always “win” by Being Clever simply thanks to the writer assuring that things Always Working Out, Mostly, or else the Nonviolence Ethic is wholly inconsistent.

So that leads to some other slight anomalies in Who‘s character development. The Doctor may wonder about whether in the Time War he should have killed all those Daleks (and they rub it in his face all the time), and then doesn’t bat an eye when destroying the Racnoss in The Runaway Bride. ‘Tis inconsistent. Made-up moralities always are. Fortunately, I think other Who writers (such as Moffatt) know this and they haven’t been as overt about the Doctor’s selective Respect Any Kind of Life thing. When some lives want to kill others, they gotta die.

Donna didn’t even begin to appeal to me until the last five minutes or so because she wouldn’t stop screaming

Oh, just you wait until Series 4. 😀

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