3. The Rings of Akhaten: The Divine Sanctioning of Violence and Bad Theology

The first impulse for some when watching this episode is to view it as a wholesale condemnation of religious belief. I can’t speak for the writer of this episode, Neil Cross, however, for me the episode does not condemn all religious faith or beliefs. Considering how varied and complicated Christian theology alone is, it would be difficult to make an informed yet generalized critique of religious belief. Instead, I think the episode touches upon a strain of religious belief that rightly should be critiqued and viewed with suspicion: the impulse of scapegoating, and the divine sanctioning of violence, which to me is representative of bad and dangerous theology.

The Doctor is fairly knowledgeable about the beliefs of this society  and while he does not hold said views, referring to them to their beliefs, as “a nice story” neither is he vocally dismissive. In fact, when he and Clara go to hear Merry sing, the Doctor awkwardly tries to join in. He acknowledges the beauty of Akhaten, and that includes in large part their religious beliefs. He may not agree with them, yet he still finds a sense of beauty in them. While for literalists, calling one’s sacred text a “nice story” sounds dismissive, I think it represents an acknowledgement on the part of another person who does not share said beliefs that there is something meaning and beautiful in said stories.  For example, I do not view the creation stories in genesis as literally true, but I believe that the stories serve an important function in explicating how Judaism and Christianity understand the relationship between humanity and divine. And the fact that in the creation stories, God calls creation good can have some great practical implications for how Christians are to view and treat the natural world.

Stories, don’t need to be taken literally in order to be viewed as meaningful. So I appreciate the Doctor’s willingness to understand the beliefs of Akhaten and to acknowledge how important said beliefs are to the population of Akhaten.

However, that changes radically when it becomes apparent that some of the core stories in their belief system endorse violence and the innocent sacrifice of a child. When a beam lifts Merry off her pedestal and Merry calls for help, Clara asks accusingly of those around her, “Is somebody going to do something? Excuse me, is somebody going to help her?”

Shortly, thereafter, Clara expresses her shock to the Doctor at the crowd’s apathetic reaction:

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The Doctor’s point is that the crowd couldn’t help save Merry because their beliefs provided divine sanction for the harm of a small child. It’s viewed as normal and a fundamental part of their beliefs and because their beliefs are a core identify of who they are, as individuals and as a society, they see no need to question them or actively do something to challenge said beliefs. (who knows how many people know something Is intrinsically wrong about a cherished belief but are too afraid to voice their doubts and questions?) It is up to two outsiders to point out the injustice inherent in their belief system.

Merry, believes it is her fault that the “god” has awoken and that she made a mistake that led to its awakening. Bad theology has a way of blaming the victim in order to protect itself against critical examination. The theology isn’t the problem, the person is. By socializing Merry to believe that it would be her fault if the god awakens, it distracts from thinking critically about what type of god demands the sacrifice of a child or if no sacrifice is made, would destroy everyone else. However, the Doctor is quick to point out the flaws in said theology:

DOCTOR: No, we didn’t wake him. And you didn’t wake him, either. He’s waking because it’s his time to wake, and feed. On you, apparently. On your stories.

CLARA: She didn’t say stories. She said souls.

DOCTOR: Same thing. The soul’s made of stories, not atoms. Everything that ever happened to us. People we love, people we lost. People we found again against all the odds. He threatens to wake, they offer him a pure soul. The soul of the Queen of Years.

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Merry, and countless children before her, (imagine that, for however long the Akhaten has existed, however long said beliefs circulated, children were being sacrificed to appease said gods. I wonder how many children were killed before two outsiders had to come in and say, “No, this is wrong…”) have been told to sacrifice themselves without fully understanding why. The theological language, the pretty singing, the festival masquerades the gruesome reality that lives are being lost in order to perpetrate bad theology.

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MERRY: So, if I don’t, then everyone else

DOCTOR: Will be fine.

MERRY: How?

DOCTOR: There’s always a way.

As someone in seminary, struggling to figure out what I believe, this episode resonates with me. I may struggle with what I do believe, but discovering what I DON’T believe has been a relatively easier task. When I am examining various theological ideas, I ask: “how many lives have been sacrificed or brutally snuffed out as a result this understanding of God? Does this theology create any victims? Which lives are we asking to be sacrificed for the sake of holding onto bad theology?” I believe that each individual has the right to believe or not believe whatever they want. But I think it is important to emphasize that theology, especially bad theology comes at a price.

In this episode, not only are children being sacrificed to appease a god, but a whole society is held in bondage by the threat of destruction. This god says, “give me what I want or I will destroy you.”  And since such a threat is imposed by what the people view as a god, the people feel helpless to question and speak out.  In this theological understanding, violence and scapegoating is divinized and the people are held bondage to terror and fear.  The Doctor however, fulfills in many ways the role of a prophet (no not in the terms of predicting the future, but in the sense of calling into question unjust theological or social structures). He questions society’s understanding of their god and the theological constructs shaping their society. He even criticizes the god.

DOCTOR: Can you hear them? All these people who’ve lived in terror of you and your judgment? All these people whose ancestors devoted themselves, sacrificed themselves, to you. Can you hear them singing? Oh, you like to think you’re a god. But you’re not a god. You’re just a parasite eaten out with jealousy and envy and longing for the lives of others. You feed on them. On the memory of love and loss and birth and death and joy and sorrow.

In seminary, no idea is too sacred to remain unquestioned and while that may smack of sacrilege for some, I think it’s vitally important to continually to question what we believe, especially if we are going to attribute said beliefs to a deity figure. We need to continually think not just about how this theological idea affects us as individuals, but we must inquire about the practical consequences of said theology. Does our theology create scapegoats and who are they? Does our theology justify violence and if it does, who against whom?

Perhaps it’s time we woke up and listened to the cries of those being crushed by bad theology.

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 

I believe I haven’t seen everything…

The thing about being in seminary is that you are constantly exposed to information that forces you to re-evaluate your beliefs. There are those who demand that others make a clear cut decision to believe in a set of beliefs or reject said beliefs-but usually those who demand such action, are not aware of the depth and breadth of theological thought. Belief/lack of belief becomes a one stop shop instead of a journey that requires a constant re-evaluation of what one believes or does not belief. Plus, most of us like labels-they give us a sense of certainty and stability and it also helps us to find other likeminded people. Yet labels can be deceiving. Paul Tillich, Marcus Borg and Franklin Graham all consider themselves Christian yet if you look at the their theology, you might find it hard to see what it is, in fact that they have in common.

Doctor Who, has often touched briefly on religious topics, and at least from what I have been exposed too, more often than not, the show takes on a humanistic stance. Not surprising considering the rapid secularization of some parts of Europe. But occasionally the show still allows for a sense of uncertainty and mystery such as in the episode, The Satan Pit.

DOCTOR: Have you got any sort of faith?

IDA: Not really. I was brought up Neo Classic Congregational, because of my mum. She was. My old mum. But no, I never believed.

DOCTOR: Neo Classics, have they got a devil?

IDA: No, not as such. Just er, the things that men do.

DOCTOR: Same thing in the end.

IDA: What about you?

DOCTOR: I believe, I believe I haven’t seen everything, I don’t know. It’s funny, isn’t it? The things you make up. The rules. If that thing had said it came from beyond the universe, I’d believe it, but before the universe? Impossible. Doesn’t fit my rule. Still, that’s why I keep travelling. To be proved wrong. Thank you, Ida.

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I love this line from the Doctor because it demonstrates a humility and openness to the mysterious. It is also a bit disconcerting. The Doctor is supposed to know what is going on. The Doctor is supposed to have an answer. We want that certainty from our lives and from our tv characters. We want other people to know what they believe or what they don’t so that we can put them inside a neat little box. But the reality is much more complicated than that.

What do I believe? That’s a question that seminary forces me to ask on a weekly if not daily basis. Sometimes I go into class confident with what I believe only to leave wondering, “wait, I just got new information, where do I stand? Do I reject this new information or do I incorporate into my world view somehow?”

Yet for most people that answer is not good enough. When  people  ask that question of others, they want a one word answer-“atheist”, “Christian” “muslim” or even “agnostic” (though those who call themselves agnostic are often derided by theists, by those who identify with some sort of religion and by atheists.  Agnostics tend to be viewed as waffling from making a decision).

If you are confident with what you believe or what you don’t believe in, that’s great. But for others the answer isn’t nearly as cut and dry as we make it out to be. I think we need to learn to be ok with the fact that we are going to struggle, we are going to question our beliefs or lack of beliefs every so often, especially if we continue to learn and explore. There will be days where we say, “wow everything I thought is wrong” and there will be days where we can say, “I don’t know much, but I know this is true…”

When people talk about what they admire about the Doctor-they often mention his intelligence, his nonviolence, his ability to come up with answers. But I admire the times where he says he doesn’t know. Yet he continues to travel and explore.

So what do I believe? I believe that what matters is our journey. I believe that the ““The universe is big, its vast and complicated, and ridiculous.” I believe that I will never stop learning and questioning and that will make some people uncomfortable. It might even make them angry. But you know what, I’m ok with that. For some people, they know without a doubt what they believe or don’t believe, and that’s great. But that’s not everyone, and that’s ok.

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4. The Snowmen: And The Lonely God

It is said that change is the one constant in Doctor Who. Change is built into the show’s DNA. In every episode there are new dangers to confront, every few years new companions become enthralled with the mad man and his blue box and run away with him. And of course, the Doctor himself undergoes a complete physical change, and while the Doctor is always the “same man,” each new incarnation has his own personality quirks, likes and dislikes, and weaknesses. The core characteristics of the Doctor stay the same, but when a new actor takes the helm the audience is given an opportunity to fall in love with the Doctor all over again.

Change brings with it the opportunity for brand new adventures: new worlds to visit, new monsters to confront, the return of old enemies who continue to surprise the Doctor and us. New Companions bring out a different side of the Doctor.  Just like we are influenced and impacted by those we surround ourselves with; we get to see how the companions change as a result of their time with the Doctor and how the Doctor evolves. But  what many of us don’t like to talk about is the fact that change is rooted in loss. In order for a new book to begin, we need to finish and put the old one down, in order for a new adventure to start, the previous one needs to end.  And with loss, one needs to mourn, and who has lost more than the Doctor?

In this episode, the Doctor is mourning the loss of Amy and Rory, and as a result he has chosen to isolate himself and live up in a box in the clouds, ever watchful, but refusing to interfere. It seems as if he is taking the title, “the lonely god” bestowed on him during his tenth incarnation seriously. Here is someone who has saved worlds, who despite his mistakes and failures is often able to save thousands if not more, and defeat evil. While he rejects the notion that he is a deity figure, he is often viewed as such by those he saves (the family in The Fires of Pompeii, refer to him and Donna as their household gods, and Amy’s admiration for the Doctor is nothing short of hero worship).

Yet the Doctor, in this episode, has forgotten about all his successes. He is grieving the loss of Amy and Rory and possibly reflecting on all the many faces he has lost or failed to save. He has decided that he has enough. He will no longer take on a new companion.

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He will no save the world.

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The Doctor is angry, sulking, and hurting. He has saved the universe time and time again and what has he received in return? Nothing but the loss of companions and would be-companions. In an effort to protect himself (and perhaps by extension others), he has decided to retreat into his box in the clouds. Yet interestingly enough, he could have chosen anywhere in time and space to hide yet he chose to remain on earth. If he did not want to waste his time saving earth (and let’s face it, out of all the planets in the galaxy, earth has demanded most of his time and attention) why not go somewhere else?

Whether the Doctor wants to admit it or not, trying to help others and having compassion towards those who are suffering is an embedded part of who he is. He does not always live up to his ideals and he can be ruthless, but no matter how hard he tries, he cannot help but get involved. Clara, after only interacting with him briefly, already knows that.

When meeting with Madam Vastra, Clara is told to only answer using one word because: “Truth is singular. Lies are words, words, words.” They then proceed to have a lopsided conversation about the Doctor:

VASTRA: What do you want from him?

CLARA: Help.

VASTRA: Why?

CLARA: Danger.

VASTRA: Why would he help you?

CLARA: Kindness.

VASTRA: The Doctor is not kind.

CLARA: No?

VASTRA: No. The Doctor doesn’t help people. Not anyone, not ever. He stands above this world and doesn’t interfere in the affairs of its inhabitants. He is not your salvation, nor your protector. Do you understand what I am saying to you?

Clara: words

Clara, going back to Madam, Vastra’s original comments, asserts Vastra description of the Doctor is based on lies.  She sees through the Doctor’s hardened facade, even though the Doctor insists on lying to himself.

The Doctor tries to insulate himself from everyone, but Clara, stubbornly refuses to give up. She reaches him in a way that Jenny, Madam Vastra, and Strax are unable too.

Why do I like this episode? I like this episode because, even though I will never be a universe saving, time traveling hero, I can relate to the Doctor’s feelings of loss and sense of hopelessness. I find myself agreeing with him wholeheartedly when he tells Strax that the universe does not care. Why continue fighting evil when it will simply show up in a different form? Why continue trying to make the world a better place in the face of loss, when things might not actually change?

I see that sense of hopelessness in others around me as well, especially as one ages. Bitterness and cynicism begin to take root, and life begins to be defined not by all that one has, but by all that one has lost.  It’s one thing to be a realist: chances are we aren’t going to save the universe multiple times, we aren’t going to be able to rewrite a significant part of history in order to save billions of lives. We, as individuals aren’t going to end all wars or end world poverty. But what do we do? Should we just refuse to engage, isolate ourselves and allow our loneliness to be our defining characteristic? What happens when we turn away from others?

The Doctor, Clara, and the Paternoster Gang, aren’t the only characters in the story. We have also have Simeon, a ruthless pawn of the Great Intelligence. But it is important to remember that he once was a child. A child whose vulnerability and refusal to engage with others ultimately results in him leading a life filled with hatred and destruction.  Now obviously, I’m not suggesting that if we hide away from others that we are opening the doors to possession by the Great Intelligence and that we will then attempt to take over the world with evil snowmen. But what I am saying is that Simeon’s stubborn refusal to turn to others and to live in relationship with others, led to his destruction.

Simeon’s loneliness and the path that his life took, stands in stark contrast to the Doctor, who although he tries to push people away, always seems to attract people who refuse to give up on him. The Doctor is a great heroic figure, but by himself, as “the lonely god,” he isn’t nearly as effective. His companions give him hope and the Doctor allows himself, time after time, to embrace hope.

CLARA: I don’t know why I’m crying.

DOCTOR: I do. Remember this. This right now, remember all of it. Because this is the day. This is the day. This is the day everything begins.

But even when hope is dangled before his eyes then taken away, (Clara, is killed, right after he invites her to travel with him), he still manages to reject despair. Even while she is dying in front of him and before he realizes that this Clara, the governess/barmaid, is Oswin from the asylum of the daleks, he promises her that his days of living on a cloud are over.

STRAX: I’m sorry. There was nothing to be done. She has moments only.

DOCTOR: We saved the world, Clara, you and me. We really, really did.

CLARA: Are you going back to your cloud?

DOCTOR: No more cloud. Not now.

CLARA: Why not?

DOCTOR: It rained.

It rained. Although the Doctor eventually is forced out of his self-imposed loneliness and he once again becomes involved in helping others, it was the tears shed by a family mourning their beloved governess that destroyed the snowmen and defeated the Great intelligence for the time being. It was their tears and love for Clara that saves the world, but the thing is, when you love someone, you have to face losing them. The family recognized that and the Doctor was reminded of that.

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 

One Year and 5,000 views later…

I started this blog and its accompanying facebook page on March 4, 2013.  At that point I had only been watching Doctor Who for about a month, but I needed something to both occupy my time until grad school started and keep my mind off my depression and not so great home life. Never did I envision that this blog would grow so much or that it would amass over 5,000 views.  Nor did I imagine just how much fun I would have writing blog posts and interacting/debating with my fellow whovians or that I would be able to go to various conventions and meet some of the actors who have played a fundamental role in a show that has come to mean so much to me.

This blog has been a life saver.  I can’t explain how important it is for me to  have a safe place to turn to when life becomes stressful and overwhelming or when isolation threatens to crush me. Plus, I enjoy taking the time to focus on a show that I have grown to adore. I love having the opportunity to express why certain episodes have struck a nerve or to discuss the larger theological or societal ideas in Doctor Who while knowing that there are other people who enjoy thinking deeply about the show as well. It makes me feel a little less crazy and alone.

This year has been one of transition and there have been moments where I worried that my depression would get the better of me, but in the midst of all the chaos there was this blog and this community of fellow whovians to keep me grounded and sane. And the great thing about Doctor Who and the fanbase that has arisen from the show, is that there is an abundance of resources and networks available. While the show is currently on hiatus, one can re-watch episodes from the classic era and the nuwho era, there are novels, audiobooks, comicbooks, and fan made art and videos that help keep the whovian community active.

I want to thank each of you for following my blog or my facebook page and for being open and willing to engage in conversations about theology, doctor who, and anything else. I hope that you have enjoyed my posts thus far and that something I have written may have stuck with you, or made you think in a different way, or simply alleviated a few minutes of boredom. Thank you for a great year and I look forward to another year filled with adventures: “All of time and space. everywhere and anywhere, every star that ever was. Where do you want to start?”

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5. The Angels Take Manhattan: Amelia’s Final Farewell

One of the recurring themes in Amy’s story arc is the tension between her choice to follow the Doctor and her relationship with Rory. At one point she seemed to have it all. She could travel with the Doctor alongside her husband. She could play house and still go off on exotic and amazing adventures.  When the Doctor drops her off in the 21st century with a new house and car, at the end of The God Complex, it  signified the end of her and Rory traveling with the Doctor 24/7 and the possibility that her travels with the Doctor would soon come to a permanent end. Though, in reality, that is a possibility that none of the main characters want to entertain for long. In the episode, The Power of Three, Amy and Rory are fully aware about how they are living two lives:

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Later on in that episode, Amy and the Doctor have a heart to heart:

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Traveling with the Doctor is of course dangerous, but incredibly exhilarating.  But the problem is, their second life, their “real life” is not given the same amount of devotion and attention. Even when they go months without seeing the Doctor, they live their lives as if they are in a holding pattern, simply going through the motions of their daily lives waiting for the Doctor to return. They can’t truly invest in their everyday life because they know that the Doctor will show up unannounced and they will drop everything to go away with him. But who could blame them? Who wouldn’t want to go traipsing throughout the universe for as long as possible? Amy and Rory are living two lives-and while it wears down on them both-I’m not sure either want to truly give up their lives with the Doctor. Brian points that out to the Doctor at the end of The Power of Three:

“… it’s you they can’t give up, Doctor. And I don’t think they should. Go with him. Go save every world you can find. Who else has that chance? Life will still be here.”

However, not surprisingly Amy is eventually forced to make a choice: stay with the Doctor and never see Rory again or stay with Rory, live a relatively normal life, and never see the Doctor again.

The first part of the episode can be described as a frantic attempt on the part of Amy and the Doctor to try and delay making such a final decision. Especially on the part of the Doctor. Amy isn’t the same person she was during the episode,  Amy’s Choice where she agonized right up until Rory is seemingly killed over who she wanted-Rory or the Doctor. It seems, at least to me, that from the get go she is pretty clear that she wants to do anything possible to get Rory back. Her focus has shifted. It’s the Doctor who can’t bear to permanently let her go.

The episode showcases Amy’s devotion to Rory, although there is one moment where it seems as if her devotion is called into question. When they enter Winter Quay, Amy, Rory, River and the Doctor see an aged Rory who just before he dies, sees Amy and reaches for her. The Doctor explains that the weeping angels are coming to get Rory and to zap him back into the same spot thirty-forty years earlier where he would live and die in that bed. Rory than wants to know about Amy:

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It appears as if Amy made a choice to stay with the Doctor. However, Amy and Rory refuse to accept that this is how Rory’s story would end-how their story would end. The Doctor is stubbornly insists that the future cannot be changed-even when we have seen the Doctor in earlier episodes blatantly disregard that whole notion and insist on doing the impossible. (Perhaps because in that version of the future Amy stays with him. If the future can be changed, then there is still a possibility he could lose Amy). But  Amy is adamant that if Rory has to run from the weeping angels forever then she would run with him. And on the rooftop when Rory realizes that the only way for him to create a paradox that would destroy the angels was to jump off the roof and face death, instead of pushing him off the roof like he asked her to do, she decides to jump with him.

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When River and the Doctor make their way to the roof, the look of panic on the Doctor’s face is palpable. He cares about Rory of course, but as he mentioned in a previous episode, Amy is the one who is seared onto his hearts. “The first face, this face saw,” he tells her. As a result he cannot bear the thought of losing her. Imagine the joy the Doctor feels when the paradox works and it seems as if everything would turn out OK. Rory and Amy are back and they can all go off on new adventures. But of course, it was never going to end like that.

One weeping angel survives the paradox and Rory gets zapped back in time. Amy, of course, chooses to follow him and live a life of relative normalcy (though of course the time period they were zapped back into, the 1930s, was a time of turmoil for the world…).

Amy in the beginning of her adventures with the Doctor was enamored with the man in the blue box and essentially afraid of settling down and growing up but this Amy was ready to let go of her raggedy man. She was ready to stop running away.  The Doctor, in contrast, is known for running away-he can never settle down. He cares about people-but he will leave them and move on with is life-he has too. His ability to vastly outlive all of his companions means that he can never stay with one person for a long period of time. As the Doctor admits at the beginning of the episode he hates endings and River Song tells Amy: “Never let him see the damage. And never, ever let him see you age. He doesn’t like endings.”

Whether they wanted to admit or not there was going to come a time when Amy would have to choose between the Doctor and Rory. And she was always going to choose Rory.

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 

6. A Town Called Mercy: Defining Revenge, Justice, and Mercy

One of my problems with pop theology (theology that has infiltrated popular culture but contains little to no substance)* is that mercy and forgiveness are used as a way to ignore and excuse injustice. “Oh it does not matter if that person abused you, you have to forgive them, because that is what God would want you to do.” Mercy and forgiveness become an excuse to ignore issues of justice and morality. Pop theology has turned notions of forgiveness and mercy into a tool of oppression and those who speak out against personal or systematic injustice are portrayed as being “unforgiving” or “bitter.” Yet is forgiveness and mercy really a matter of pretending that an injustice did not occur or pretending that harmful actions have no consequences? Is mercy and forgiveness at odds with justice? Even as I continue my studies and am exposed to various and more nuanced theological understandings of mercy and justice and even as an agnostic, who does not believe that issues of mercy, justice, and forgiveness need to be tied with belief in a deity figure, I still find myself grappling with how to define mercy, justice, and forgiveness in ways that don’t white wash oppression and injustice.

I guess my whole ambivalence about this subject is why A Town Called Mercy is one of my favorite episodes from Matt Smith’s time as the Doctor.  As a family show, the episode has funny bits (ex. When the Doctor walks into a bar and tells the bartender-“Tea. But the strong stuff. Leave the bag in,” as he proceeds to struggle with the tooth pick in his mouth) but it does not mince away from some darker stuff.

The Doctor is known throughout the series as a hero generally adverse to violence (especially after his experience in the Time War) yet he does not shy away from using violence when necessary. He, however, almost always seeks to solve problems without having to resort to killing. But at the end of the previous episode, Dinosaurs on a Spaceship we see the Doctor ignore Solomon’s pleas for mercy. Now one could argue, well Solomon deserved his fate. He massacred a ship filled with Silurians:

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Not to mention Solomon had no qualms about implying that he would rape Nefertiti. Solomon was a brutal and cruel and as the Doctor told Solomon in response to his cries for mercy: “Did the Silurians beg you to stop? Look, Solomon. The missiles. See them shine? See how valuable they are. And they’re all yours.”

But the vital questions are not: does Solomon (or in A Town Called Mercy, Jex) deserve to die, but is killing them in a similarly brutal way akin to justice or is it simply revenge? And what does it say about the Doctor when he conflates violence with justice? What does it say about us as a society when we do the same?

The Doctor’s anguish over whether or not to hand Jex over to the gunslinger is only partially tied to Jex’s involvement in a brutal war:

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But the Doctor’s anger and hatred of Jex is related to his own guilt for his actions in the time war and his inability throughout the centuries to save all those who have turned to him for help.

I’ve read in articles, blog posts, and facebook comments, and heard a speaker at a convention: deride the Doctor for trying to reason with his enemies and give them a chance to change instead of instantly blasting them to bits. Their reasoning was that Immediately destroying his enemies or launching into a violent frenzy would have saved more lives. But would it? In a tv show, the answer is perhaps. The writers can control the actions of any character as well as the consequences of said actions.

But, it seems as if some of those who advocate for the Doctor to use violence as a first resort see no qualms about such actions being used in the “real world.”  While I am not in anyway a pacifist and I do believe that violence and war will occasionally be necessary, but I am weary of how violence and war is viewed as the first and best solution towards injustice. The impulse towards violence can, in the long one, increase the death toll.

Yet I also understand and sympathize with the violent impulse. Violence has an immediate effect-no need to wait for tricky negations or placing one’s faith in a corrupt justice system.

Even while cringing when the Doctor pointed a gun at Jex,  I also understood his anger and frustration at Jex and at himself.  The Doctor was not only disgusted at Jex’s actions, but as Jex points out, there is a similarity between him and the Doctor

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The Doctor’s actions in the Time War, no matter how necessary, is arguably worse than Jex’s actions. The Doctor destroyed his own people in an attempt to avert even more deaths and destruction throughout the universe, yet he still feels overwhelming guilt towards his actions and to see someone like Jex, who ran away to avoid the consequences of his actions and who discusses what he has done so nonchalantly, reminds the Doctor of his guilt, of his past actions.  Ever since the Time War the Doctor has been running away in an attempt to forget what he has done.  Yet his guilt and he takes out his anger and hatred towards himself on Jex. The Doctor cannot forgive himself nor show mercy to himself, why would he extend it to Jex?

Furthermore, the Doctor also questions whether or not his mercy towards his enemies has truly benefited anyone. His acts of mercy do not involve an erasing or ignoring of horrible actions or consequences, but provides his enemies an opportunity to recognize what they have done wrong, stop their evil actions and perhaps try to rectify them. Yet his inability to instantly kill has resulted in the deaths of others, and he understandably questions his past actions. Perhaps by killing Jex or handing him over to the gunslinger to be killed the Doctor can atone for his actions in the Time War and all the instances in which he failed to save others.

But the reality of violence is never so simple and justice and violence are not necessarily one and the same. In this episode, Amy reminds the Doctor of who he is. Amy questions his impulse for violence and she challenges him to think-to provide a different solution. The Doctor has tried violence before and look where he has ended up…

I believe when the Doctor remembers he who he is-when he refuses to give into his violent impulses, he encourages Jex to take responsibility for his actions and to end all the death and destruction.

I still don’t have an easy answer for how to define justice, forgiveness, and mercy and I’m not sure I ever will. But I appreciate it when the TV shows I watch wrestle with said issues and encourage its audience members-including children, to do the same.

A quick note: did anyone notice the limited role the preacher played in this episode? The preacher, who one would assume would take the lead in discussing issues of justice and mercy does not. He relies on others to do so. He will offer prayers but very little action…

*And yes even as an agnostic, I find pop theology to be harmful and believe that being knowledgeable about Christian theology is vital for Christians and non-Christians. While Christianity is influx in developed countries, it is booming in developing countries and will continue to be an important force in world events in years to come.

11. The Beast Below

10. Amy’s Choice

9. Vincent And The Doctor

8.The Girl Who Waited

7. The God Complex

 

 

Dallas Comic Con: Sci Fi Expo.

On Friday Feb 7th, the evening before the start of the convention I was extremely excited and nervous. Excited because I would have the chance to meet some Doctor Who guests: Tony Curran (He played Vincent Van Gogh in the episode, “Vincent and the Doctor”), the 7th Doctor Sylvester McCoy, and most excitedly, Karen Gillan. Throughout the day I had managed to get some homework done but at around 8:00 pm my mind was consumed with thoughts about meeting Karen. “I hope I don’t cry.” I told myself. “What if I trip?” I worried. I also had the privilege of giving Tony Curran and Karen Gillan, Doctor Who 50th anniversary medals that were made specifically for a virtual charity race. “Am I going to be allowed to give Karen the medal? What if she doesn’t like it? I will only have about a minute to speak to her, I hope I can explain to her a little bit about the medal and not just shove it in her face.”  I finally managed to fall asleep around 3:30am(I had a dream I lost my convention ticket…) only to wake up at 6:30 am. I headed to the convention center at around 8:00 am to start a day that would be filled with waiting, though to be honest, waiting in an hour in 34 degree weather was my least favorite part of the day.

After entering the building and being allowed to wait inside, those of us with VIP tickets were given free reign before the event opened up to those with general admission tickets. I spent the whole hour with other VIP ticket holders waiting for Karen to arrive. I have to admit I was a bit annoyed, until she finally arrived. She was so tall I could see the top of her head, even with a crowd around her! And she looked beautiful and she was rocking her short hair. Once she sat down, things started moving quickly. I swear I almost stopped breathing when she looked up at me and smiled. But I had a job to do so I quickly handed her the Doctor who medal and explained I participated in a virtual charity race and that the directors of the race wanted her to have a medal. I had my medal on so I showed her what it looked like and she graciously took the metal, as well as the letter, I had written her. (Yes, I wrote her a letter. I figured if she read it at all, she would probably throw it away, but at the same time, I figured this will probably be the only time I see her…). Obviously, I didn’t get to spend much time with her, but even just standing there for a few minutes talking with her and seeing her smile put me in a great mood. Logically I knew she was an actress-Amy Pond does not exist, but at the same time it felt so surreal, Amy Pond is just a fictional character, but obviously she has Karen’s face!

After getting Karen’s autograph, I went up to get Sylvester McCoy’s autograph and he was such a sweetie, however, embarrassingly, I could feel that my nose was beginning to get runny so I hightailed it out of there after getting his autograph. I did not think the Doctor would appreciate me getting boogers on him…

Finally I went to Tony Curran’s booth. I choose a picture of him dressed as Vincent Van Gogh from Doctor Who and he signed his real name of course, but at the bottom he signed, “Vincent.” When I gave him the medal, he immediately opened the bubble wrap that surrounded it and then asked me to place the medal on him! He was so excited that he shouted to his Defiance cast members, “I got a fucking medal.”

Afterwards, I tried to go and find some food, but the hamburger I ordered was inedible so I ended up having a snow cone for lunch…I then went back upstairs and talked with a kid dressed up as the Doctor and then a woman about our excitement and love of Doctor Who.  Even though I was VIP and would be guaranteed a seat to the Doctor Who Q and A portion, I decided to go into the Defiance Q and A, especially since I wanted to see what type of character Tony Curran was playing. I was surprised to see Tony walk into the Q and A proudly displaying the Doctor Who medal I gave him. I wish I had sat closer to the stage so I could have taken some pictures! In terms of the Q and A session and he the rest of his cast members were extremely funny. In fact, I think I need to check out the show Defiance…

Next was the Doctor Who Q and A with Sylvester McCoy and Karen Gillan. They were both fantastic.  Karen Gillan tried on McCoy’s hat and of course she looked absolutely adorable and then they couldn’t decide who should sit where so they flipped McCoy’s hat (I think she called tails…but I can’t remember) in order to decide where to sit. I have to say they got on so well together.  They were both so charming and funny. My favorite part though, had to be when little kids went to talk with Karen Gillan, some even managed to sneak in a picture with her, even the moderator could not say no to cute 7 and 8 year olds asking for a selfie or saying, “my friends don’t believe I am talking to you. So I need to prove to them I am here with you.” Even though I sat towards the front, I was still not close enough to get any decent pictures, especially since the lighting in the room was atrocious so I just sat back and enjoyed the show.

The photo op lines were extremely disorganized. There was only one room and one photographer taking pictures. It was a mess. But things finally got sorted. My first picture of the day was with Karen Gillan and Tony Curran. Tony saw me with my Doctor Who medal, and opened his jacket and pulled it out, Karen said, “Oh yeah” and it looked like she was looking for her medal, but because of the pace of the photo op (the process was like herding cattle) she had no chance to grab it. Next I had a photo op with Sylvester McCoy and of course I checked to make sure there was no danger of my nose leaking.  He has the biggest and sweetest smile.

Finally I had my solo op with Karen. It was a bit stressful since there were so many people wanting her picture. In fact she had been taking pictures earlier, but because of the interest people had to be turned away and told to come back in the evening. But I remember after getting the picture taken and as I was leaving, she shouted, “Thank you!” and immediately had to prepare for the next person…

All in all, I had a great time. I spent a good portion of the day waiting in lines and the photo op lines were extremely disorganized, but I still managed to see everyone I wanted to see.

Here are some tips for those who plan on going to conventions where there are well known guests in attendance: if you have the money, get VIP.  VIP allowed me to get in line for Karen’s signature before things got to hectic. Pre order your convention tickets and your photo ops! If you don’t, you will be waiting in line for hours and chances are the tickets might sell out. You can’t do everything, so make a decision about what you want to do. In my case, I was not interested in buying merchandise, if I had time I would buy some, but it was not a priority, as a result I decided to stay where the action was to ensure I was able to enter the Doctor Who Q and A. There were weaknesses to this convention: the venue was way too small and the photo op lines were a mess. But as an attendee, you cannot control the way the event is organized. I went in assuming things would be chaotic and as a result I had a game plan.

All in all I had a great time, and I hope that more Doctor Who guests will come to the Dallas area in the future!

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My Letter to Karen Gillan

I will be detailing my experience at the Dallas Comic Con Sci Fi expo later on this week, (and hope to continue counting down my favorite Matt Smith episodes next week). However, I decided to post the letter I wrote to Karen Gillan that I was able to give to her. Of course, while writing it, I knew there was no guarantee she would actually read it, since she gets so many letters and I even if she did read the letter, she might think I was weird and just throw it away, but I decided, this was once in a lifetime opportunity, so what the hell?

Dear Karen Gillan,

I know this is cheesy and awkward, but since those are two of my most defining characteristics I figured, hey what the hell? Why not just be true to who I am…anyway, I just wanted to say thank you. Thank you for portraying Amy Pond with such humor, passion, and of course sassiness. And thank you for being part of a show that, even though I’ve only started watching fairly recently, (about a year ago) has come to mean so much to me. 2013 was a tough year. I spent my 23 third birthday in the hospital for depression and as a result of said hospitalization I was kicked out of what was supposed to be a year long internship program and I was forced to return home to a not so great home environment in a low income neighborhood. During my childhood and into my teens, while I was living at home my  mother was at best neglectful and at worse emotionally abusive, so needless to say having to return to that house after I had thought I had permanently escaped was a bit of a letdown.

However, it was during that time of confusion and sadness that one of my friends introduced me to Doctor Who. “You need to watch this show.” She told me, and I just shrugged, at that point I didn’t care what we watched, I just needed a brief reprieve from the real world. Little did I know what an adventure I would be undertaking. I fell in love with Amy’s story. The girl whose life didn’t make sense-the girl who waited. I can’t speak for anyone else-but I can’t tell you how many times during my childhood I wanted to escape. I didn’t understand what was going on around me, I didn’t understand that the way my mom treated me wasn’t necessarily a measure of my self-worth and I wanted to escape. How I dreamed that someone-anyone would show up at my door and whisk me away. So I resonated a little bit with Amy’s story. Yet at some point she had to stop waiting, and at some point we all do. Even though I’m 24, I still find myself struggling to “grow up” and not be that scared little girl who only had her imagination and her hope of rescue to get through the day. Her story made me realize that I no longer need to wait for someone else to rescue me, I am strong enough and I am worthwhile.

Since that time I was introduced to the show, things have improved drastically, I left home and am now in grad school but I still continue to struggle with depression. But during my darkest moments, the show remains a source of comfort.

So thank you for being part of a show that has helped me and continues to help me through some tough times. Thank you for your kick ass portrayal of Amy Pond. I am excited to see your future work and I know that you will continue to bring you passion and dedication to your future roles and I know that you will continue touching lives.

So yeah sorry for this cheesy and awkward letter.

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Dallas Comic Con Sci Fi Expo

I will be spending this weekend at Dallas Comic Con: SCI FI Expo where Karen Gillan, Sylvester McCoy, and Tony Curran (he played Vincent Van Gogh in the episode, “Vincent and the Doctor”) are scheduled to appear. I am a bit nervous and excited. Chances that I will make a fool of myself? 99%  But anyway, fingers crossed that I’ll have a good time. Hopefully next week I will be able to write a blog post about the convention and continue counting down my favorite Doctor Who episodes from Matt Smith’s era. 

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Pain, Suffering, and Doctor Who

I will return to counting down my favorite episodes from Matt Smith’s era as the Doctor next week.

I am a second semester seminary student and this upcoming week my theology class is going to touch upon theodicy. Theodicy deals with the questions surrounding the existence of God, of evil, pain, and suffering. If God exists, why is there so much pain and suffering in the world? If God exists why is there so much senseless death and destruction? I’m sure that many of us, regardless of our current beliefs, have asked these questions or similar ones during some point in or lives. Perhaps while mourning the death of a loved one, we have cried out in anguish, “Why her? Why now?” Or the questions may have surfaced during an intense period of battle within ourselves, where we debate whether or not to end our lives. “Why am I in so much pain? Am I alone?” Many of us have also been smacked with well-meaning but painfully inadequate theological ideas: “It was God’s plan. Don’t question God’s purposes, God’s ways are higher than our ways.” “God never gives us more than we can handle.” While such sentiments bring a measure of comfort to some people, others find them to be meaningless platitudes. Such sayings strike some as surprising superficial and shallow.

When tragedy strikes, many of us are at a loss. We live in a society that tends to favor ignoring pain, death, or suffering. It’s better not to think about said subjects, so when tragedy strikes we fall back on and repeat theological ideas and platitudes that may not be so helpful.

Now I’m sure some of you may be wondering, “Ok Naiomi, what the hell does this have to do with Doctor Who?”

One of the safest ways to explore questions of pain, death, evil, and suffering is in the form of books, TV shows, movies, music etc and when done well such issues can be explored beyond a superficial level. For instance, Doctor Who can be silly and even down right ridiculous, but it also deals with subjects that as a society we often want to ignore and because it presents it in such a nonthreatening way, it allows the space for conversation (for those who seek it).  How does the Doctor, as a deity figure, compare to some of the popular images of God, especially in regards to suffering?  Needless to say as a blog post, this will not be an extensive examination.

What type of God allows pain and suffering?

One of the central questions surrounding theodicy concerns the character of God. In essence what type of deity figure would allow pain and suffering?  In the episode, The Rings of Akhaten the “god” is presented as being incredibly cruel and the source of the planet’s pain and suffering by periodically demanding human sacrifices. The Doctor refers to said god as a parasite.

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Immediately, the impulse is for those to defend their image of God by stating, “well our God is nothing like that, but is instead loving and kind.” However, for those outside of said belief systems, God appears at best to be ineffective and at worse cruel. Some might want to immediately state, “well God is a loving God, but also mysterious and we can’t understand God’s ways.” Or “God does not cause evil but humanity through free will does.” Such answers, come out as dismissive of those asking the questions. “How is humanity responsible for earthquakes or tornadoes?” And if we are to simply insist on the mystery of God when confronting suffering, does that mean we should simply accept all forms of suffering, as if we were passive vessels?  While any theological response to the question of suffering is due to be inadequate, one sentence responses come off as especially trite.  What do we mean when one says God is a loving God? Where is God in the midst of suffering? Is God similar to the God in the Rings of Ahkaten, a parasite that feeds off of pain and suffering? Or instead of feeding off of suffering, is God instead in the midst of suffering? If so, what exactly does that mean?

Other responses to suffering include references to God’s omnipotence-or God’s power as well as God’s involvement in the world. For example when a person narrowly avoids a disaster he or she might say, “well God saved me.” And without wanting to offend the person, whenever I hear someone say that God prevented them from getting into a plane or dying in a car accident, I want to ask, “Well what about all those other people God didn’t save?  What does it say about God if we imagine a deity figure that picks and chooses who lives and who dies in a seemingly arbitrary fashion?”

In the Voyage of the Damned, the Doctor promises to save those on planet earth as well as all those abroad the ship.

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Yet as the episode progresses, one by one the passengers with him die. One of the few survivors, Slade, is an incredibly selfish and condescending jerk.  One of the other survivors, in noticing the Doctor’s disappointment and perhaps anger, states, “Of all the people to survive, he’s not the one you would have chosen, is he? But if you could choose, Doctor, if you decide who lives and who dies, that would make you a monster.”

When one says that, “God saved me from a disaster” that killed other people, what does that say about the type of God one worships? And how do you think said God comes across to others, especially those reeling from a loss?

God’s absence

In The Snowmen, the Doctor retreats to his little “home” in the Sky.  The image is striking. The Doctor is an extremely intelligent figure, who has traveled to the beginning of time and witnessed the earth’s destruction, whose intelligence surpasses that of humanity and who almost never dies (he is of course not exactly immortal). While his companions often aid in saving the day, in many cases, it is the Doctor himself who prevents tragedy. Yet in this episode, this almost god-like figure runs away, into the sky, unwilling to get involved, not out of malice but because he suffers. He is not an unchanging or uncaring figure, but instead he agonizes and feels pain and suffering.

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When one is in the midst of terrible suffering, the absence of God is palpable. It often feels as if God has run away.

As Simone Weil said, “Affliction makes God appear to be absent for a time, more absent than a dead man, more absent than light in the utter darkness of a cell.  A kind of horror submerges the whole soul.”

When comforting those who are in pain, the natural impulse is to say, “Well God is in the midst of your pain.” But what exactly does that mean?  When one is in the midst of darkness, how does one explain the absence of God? How does one explain that God is not running away, hiding in the sky?

When tragedy strikes, it is natural to try to offer words of comfort, and sometimes said words take on a theological bent. But perhaps we need to think more deeply about what those words mean and how they come across.  Are we portraying a parasitic God, as the god in the Rings of Akhaten, are we presenting a monster, who seems to  arbitrarily chooses who lives and who dies and  when to get involved and when do step back? And finally how do we make sense of a seemingly absent God?