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MADAME KARABRAXOS: You gave me this number. My name is Madame Karabraxos. I was once the wealthiest person in the Universe. I need your assistance.  I’m dying, with many, many regrets. But one, perhaps, you may be able to help me with.

When I first saw this episode, I was a bit confused by the ending. Why did Madam Karabraxos suddenly have a change of heart? People don’t just wake up one day and say, “oh well I was a horrible person, now I need to right all of my wrongs.” Something dramatic must have happened to change her. However, on second viewing, I realized something dramatic did happen to her: she finally became aware of her own mortality and she recognized how her cruelty has left her facing death alone. And as death inches closer, she becomes desperate for one more chance to go back in time and do one good thing-perhaps make her life mean something. Of course that one action does not negate all the wrongs she did, but it puts into stark relief the importance of ensuring that we make the most of the time we have, because unlike Madam Karabraxos, those of us in the real world, won’t have the opportunity to go back in time. We don’t get do overs.

On the surface, this episode seems to lack depth. The Doctor, Clara, and some one off characters need to find a way to rob an unbreakable bank. Pretty sure there have been quite a few books, TV shows, and movies with the premise of robbing an unbreakable bank. Yet sprinkled throughout the episode are hints of something a bit deeper: glimpses of loneliness and despair.

Saibra transforms into anything or anyone that she touches. Her ability to change is what enables the group to get inside the bank and avoid initial detection. In addition, because she has changed so often she finds it incredibly easy to read faces. As a result when the Doctor lies to the group and says he has no idea what the capsules in the second suitcases are, Saibra is able to quickly call him out on his lies. The Doctor claims that her ability to transform is a gift and she responds with disdain:

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As a child, I remember asking and being asked the question, “if you could have one superpower, what would it be?” Of course my answer changed every time I was asked, but being able to shape shift was an answer that I definitely used more than once. And why not? Being able to turn into another person or animal and maintain that form as long as I wanted? Who wouldn’t want to do that but Saibra quickly points out that her gift comes at a price: she can become other people, but she can never be known or touched by another person. Regardless of what we may say about our physical bodies not being important, for many of us they are a central component of our identity. Our body’s limits and strengths  define how we relate to the world and others in some way. As babies, we need to touch and be touched in order to thrive and even survive. Without constant touch and affection, we can develop serious developmental, emotional, and social issues even if all our other basic needs are met. Even as we age, touch and being able to relate to others on a physical and emotional level, is extremely important. Yet Saibra’s mutation essentially cuts her off from others. Other people distrust her. In addition, for some-especially those who hate themselves-she represents a sort of condemnation. When people see her-they see what they hate. They see themselves as they really are as well and the projections that they have of themselves-both positive and negative come to light. What others consider a gift or a superpower, isolates herself from others.

Another example of loneliness is found in the story of Psi. Psi-the augmented human-is essentially a walking computer. He can instantly download information. Instead of having to read and remember everything, his brain acts like a computer saving the information and processing it at the same time. He also has the ability to manually delete memories. Clara points out the advantage of such an ability, while Psi explicates that it comes at a price:

CLARA: You can delete your memories?
PSI: Yeah, it’s not as fun as it sounds.
CLARA: I’ve got a few I wish I could lose.
PSI: And I lost a few I wish I hadn’t. No, I was, I was interrogated in prison. And I guess I panicked. I didn’t want to be a risk to the people close to me, so
CLARA: You deleted your friends?
PSI: My friends, anyone who ever helped me, my family.
CLARA: Your family?
PSI: Of course my family.
CLARA: How could you do that?
PSI: Well, I don’t know. (sighs) I suppose I must have loved them.

Memory is a funny thing. Our memories are never an objective snapshot of reality but are filtered through our own particular lens. And memories often change-in subtle ways-we might remember something else, or other experiences we have had influence the meaning we assign to said memories. And of course, we forget a lot of things. I’m sure quite a few of us have memories we wish we could forget, yet memories are vital to who we are. They help us make sense of ourselves and the world around us. Memories tap into our deepest emotions-invoking feelings of happiness, sadness, anger, grief etc.

Those of us who have experienced trauma and abuse-deal with it in varying ways. Our bodies and brains are really good at trying to protect us. For some of us that means that our ability to remember becomes hindered. Going through life it feels as if we are living in a hazy fog. The events and memories that we hold dear, often seem to slip away without our trying. And that’s scary because we all know that all that will remain of us at one point is our memories. The people that we love will one day pass away and our memories of them and our interactions with them will be a source of pain, pride, anger, happiness etc. And one day we will die and be nothing more than memories Forgetting is terrifying. Psi-by erasing memories of his family and friends also erased an essential component of his identity for we are all shaped in part by the experiences we have shared with our loved ones. In addition, being forgotten is scary, because it expresses a finality. Being forgotten is almost the same as never having existed.

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Psi-when he thought he was dying, was confronted by the reality that he was alone. He had no memories of those he loved to comfort him-no assurances that he will be remembered-that his life mattered. He saw no one.

Madam Karabraxos, on the other hand, was haunted by her memories. And the Doctor-an old man himself, whose regrets and memories contribute to his intense self-loathing, warns her as much.

DOCTOR: Give me a call me some time
KARABRAXOS: You’ll be dead.
DOCTOR: Yeah, you’ll be old. We’ll get on famously. You’ll be old and full of regret for the things that you can’t change

The Doctor however, provides her with an opportunity to do one good thing before she dies. The Doctor can’t reverse every instance of death and destruction she caused, but can help her make things right for one species. Madam Karabraxos lived a life based on greed and exploitation. Money is all that mattered to her and life was of secondary importance. She created clones of herself, only to kill them when they disobeyed her or failed at something. She exploited the teller’s love for his partner in order to get him to kill people. Madam Karabraxos lived a life based on selfishness and hatred, and as a result she was going to die alone. The Doctor, however, provided her with one chance to do something right. It’s a shame she waited until the end to do something good.

How about us? How are we living our lives on a daily basis? How do we want to be remembered? When death comes knocking our door, we won’t be able to call the Doctor and plead for one more chance at making things right.

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.

As children, the stories we enjoy or create often involve heroes who always end up saving the day. These heroes are unabashedly good. Rarely, if ever do these heroes give us any reason to doubt their motivation or their ultimate success. And while these stories tend to be a bit simplistic in notions of good and evil, they also embody a hope in the world and a hope that eventually everything will work out. It speaks of a hope that there are genuinely good people out there fighting against injustice. As we get older we don’t stop telling stories, but they tend to take on a more realistic bent. We recognize that good does not always triumph, that those who are supposed to be heroes are often flawed and can be just as wicked as the “bad” guys. As we mature we see that evil isn’t confined to one or two bad apples, but that all of us are capable of doing wrong and wounding other people. In fact, evil does not always rely on active instances of exploitation and injustice but remaining passive and silent in the face of corruption is often enough to allow evil to succeed. Having a more nuanced view of how the world works isn’t bad and is in fact needed if we are to navigate an increasingly complex world. The problem arises when in addition to discarding the simplistic notions endorsed in our childhood stories, we also lose hope.

In the Robot of Sherwood, the Doctor gives Clara the opportunity to visit any person, time period, or planet. And excitedly, like a little girl, she states that she wants to see Robin Hood.

DOCTOR: Robin Hood.
CLARA: Yeah. I love that story. I’ve always loved it, ever since I was little.
DOCTOR: Robin Hood, the heroic outlaw, who robs from the rich and gives to the poor.
CLARA: Yeah.
DOCTOR: He’s made up. There’s no such thing.
CLARA: Ah, you see?

And of course, part of the reason this episode is funny is because of the Doctor’s insistence that Robin Hood does not exist. (The other reason has to do with the fact that Robin Hood and the Doctor keep trying to outdo and outwit each other…) A few minutes into the episode, the Doctor attempts to prove that Robin Hood and his band of merry men don’t exist by taking blood and hair samples from them. He keeps trying to explain away their existence. They aren’t holograms but maybe they have arrived in a theme park or they are in a mini-scope.  Throughout most of the episode, he remains convinced that Robin Hood could not exist. He explains his reasoning to Clara shortly after she makes her request to meet him:

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Later on in the episode, the Doctor even insists that Robin Hood is a robot created by the sheriff and his mechanical thugs:

SHERIFF: Robin Hood is not one of mine.
DOCTOR: Of course he is. He’s a robot, created by your mechanical mates.
SHERIFF: Why would they do that?
DOCTOR: To pacify the locals, give them false hope. He’s the opiate of the masses.
SHERIFF: Why would we create an enemy to fight us? What sense would that make? That would be a terrible idea.
DOCTOR: Yes! Yes, it would. Wouldn’t it? Yes, that would be a rubbish idea. Why would you do that? But he can’t be. He’s not real. He’s a legend!

The Doctor understands more than anyone that old fashioned heroes don’t exist. When Clara refers to him as a hero, the Doctor quickly dismisses that assertion. He knows himself. He is very aware of all the times he has failed to save people and the times he has led others, perhaps inadvertently, to their deaths. He has every right to be skeptical of Robin Hood. And those of us in the real world, understand how the world works. We know that things don’t always get better, that abuse in its various forms run rampant, that people spend their lives fighting for social justice only to be murdered or to have their life’s work destroyed. In fact, many of us are so aware of the pain and suffering in this world that most of us will do whatever it takes to keep that hope alive in the children that we care for. We want them to hold onto their childhood hope and innocence for as long as possible. But the thing is, as we age, we too have stories that we hold onto into adulthood-stories that tell of our personal failures, stories of abuse, exploitation, etc stories that reduce hope to the confines of a children’s tale.

In this episode the Doctor’s stubborn insistence that Robin Hood does not exist and his dedication to his own personal narrative, which postulated that true heroes do not in fact exist, simply adds to the humor of this episode. In the real world, the stories that we stubbornly hold onto as individuals and as a society can have life and death consequences. The stories we tell ourselves dictate how we act. If we believe that the world is beyond hope or redemption-we will act like it. We will be indifferent to tales of suffering, we will passively accept violence, murder, poverty, injustice etc as simply the way the world works. It seems as if the older we get the more that we view hope and the stories that endorse it as nothing more than fairy-tales.

In society, we value verifiable facts to the point where stories and myths are treated as unimportant and they are denigrated as unscientific and false. In regards to myths, we act like the Doctor and dismiss them as silly. However, theologian Marcus Borg, provides a different viewpoint exhorting the value of myths, specifically religious myths:

…Myths are metaphorical narratives about the relation between this world and the sacred. Myths typically speak about the beginning and the ending of the world, its origin and destiny, in its relation to God. Myths use non literal language; in this sense, they do not narrate facts. But myths are necessary if we are to speak at all about the world’s origin and destiny in God. We have no other language for such matters… myths are true even if they are not literally true.
-Reading the Bible Again for the First Time

The myths/stories we hold onto matter. I for one, do not think that the incarnation and the resurrection are literal facts that can be scientifically and historically proven. I know some people will want to argue with me and will ignore everything I have said thus far and will continue to say. But for me the historical validity of sacred stories does not matter as much as what the story says about God and God’s relationship to the world. I cherish the story of the incarnation, even though it can’t be scientifically and historically “proven” (though some have tried) because  it expresses the reality of a compassionate God who not only stands alongside those who are suffering, but who also suffers with the marginalized and the oppressed. Likewise, in terms of the resurrection, I do not interpret it as a literal and historical event. I do think it points to the larger truth that the systems and powers of this world do not overpower the purposes and justice of God.

The myths and stories do have value. The Doctor does not believe that he is a hero and as a result he cannot believe that Robin Hood exists. And the Doctor is right, old fashioned, perfect heroes do not exist. Robin Hood coincides that much and admits he isn’t a hero. But the stories that we base our lives around, whether or not they are “literally” true can point to a larger reality. The Doctor may not think he is a hero, but he has inspired Clara to open her mind and believe in the impossible. Perhaps in the end what ultimately matters are the stories that inspire us and that we re-tell again and again:

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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.

Just See Me-Deep Breath

Doctor: What is the question?

Vastra: Who or what could have done this?

Doctor: No. That is not the question, that is not where we start.

Strax: The question is how? The flesh itself has been combusted…

The Doctor angrily dismisses Strax’s questions and begins ranting before Clara calms him down and asks

Clara: What is the question?

Doctor: A dinosaur is burning in the heart of London. Nothing left but smoke and flames. The question is, have there been any similar murders?

Vastra: Yes, yes by the goddess there have.

Doctor: Look at them all gawking. Question two: If all the pudding brains are gawking, then what is he?

The Doctor understands that the questions we ask and choose to pursue directly impacts the path(s) that we take. Our questions can lead us to answers that are illuminating or they can lead us to a dead end. Vastra and Strax ask the obvious questions that immediately pop into one’s mind when one comes across something strange or unexpected: “who and how?” The Doctor however, rejects such shallow, off the cuff questions. If they start with the “who” question and attempt to determine the person responsible they would have all of Victorian London to consider as suspects. They would not even begin to know what to look for or how to narrow down the search. Strax was already on his way to answering the how question, but Strax only has a one track mind-his focus shifts to military tactics and weaponry and that limits the type of questions he can ask. Instead the Doctor challenges them to look deeper, to pay attention to their surroundings and make connections. He notices that there is a connection between the murder of the dinosaur and other deaths throughout the city. He recognizes when someone or something is acting differently. Everyone else is naturally gawking at the dead dinosaur, who wouldn’t? But one person, is ignoring the action. Questions can lead us on a wild goose chase or point us to some deeper truths, but we have to be willing to pay attention and ask those tough questions, especially of ourselves.

I cried when Matt Smith’s Doctor made a cameo in this episode. I was not surprised by his appearance, a few months ago tabloids and the internet were already stating that the Eleventh Doctor would make a surprise appearance, plus earlier on Saturday, I saw a picture that the BBC one facebook page had posted of the Eleventh Doctor. So I was not caught by surprise. Yet I cried. I didn’t just shed a few tears but I cried hysterically for hours, and then while watching the episode again, I started crying again. Now I could dismiss my tears as evidence of me being over dramatic and berate myself for being so emotional. Or I could simply say that I cried because Matt Smith is my favorite Doctor and so seeing him again, saying goodbye to Clara (and the audience) and reassuring her and us that the new Doctor is still him, simply overwhelmed me. While neither answer is not necessarily false, I know myself. In my case, there is almost never a simple answer for why I am acting a certain way. Tears, when they are shed, mean something especially since I hate crying. While I have no qualms about other people crying, I hate when I cry. When something bad happens in my life, in order to prevent myself from crying I tell myself, “get over it.” When I witness injustice after injustice play out in our world, I tell myself, “Crying is useless. Crying does not solve anything.” I am much more comfortable with anger. I can and often do express my anger. Anger can be channeled into positive action, anger feels like a sign of strength.

Yet for some reason, I freely cried during this episode as well as during Matt Smith’s regeneration scene in the previous episode. Of course, I don’t cry in front of other people, but in the privacy of my own home. Yet I have such a disdain for crying that my strong reaction to this episode led me to ask myself, “why am I crying and why do I hate crying so much?”

11th Doctor: It’s me Clara, the Doctor.

Clara: what do you mean the Doctor?

11-I’m phoning you from Trenzalore. From before I changed. I mean, it’s all still to happen to me, it’s coming. Oh it’s a coming. Not long now. I can feel it.

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Clara has been repeatedly described as a control freak. Control freaks require a certain degree of stability and for someone traveling to different centuries and time periods-not many things in her life can be described as stable-except for the Doctor. Her Doctor, the Eleventh Doctor. She knew him. She knew that he would always be there for her and that if she were in trouble that he would do anything possible to help her. If she were scared, she could turn to the Doctor for strength. In The Rings of Akhaten, she describes a story about how as a young girl one of her biggest fears was getting lost. When she was about six, her biggest fear was realized and she got lost at black pool beach surrounded by strangers. But when her mom found her, her mom stated: “It doesn’t matter where you are, in the jungle or the desert or on the moon. However lost you may feel, you’ll never really be lost. Not really. Because I will always be here, and I will always come and find you. Every single time.” “But then her mom died. Her life was turned upset down and she had to adjust to a new reality. Then years later the Doctor pops into her life. He takes her across the universe, they travel through time, yet no matter what happens he is always there for her. She never feels lost, because the Doctor-her Doctor will always find her. And the best thing is, that the Doctor could live for centuries not just through regeneration but in the same body. He would outlive her, which meant that she wouldn’t have to worry about being abandoned again.

But he does abandon her, multiple times during The Time of the Doctor. The Doctor understands what Clara does not want to admit-everything ends. And he knows that the battle of Trenzalore is one he needs to face on his own. And when he leaves her the second time, the Doctor knows that his time is running out. But all Clara can feel is the sting of abandonment. But a few minutes later when she hears the TARDIS she happily runs towards it, knowing the Doctor had not abandoned her after all. But at the control panels is Tasha Lem, who tells her to go to the Doctor because no one deserves to die alone. It is Clara, who convinces the Time Lords to  help the Doctor. And they do. They give him a new regeneration cycle ensuring that he is be able to regenerate and survive long past the original limit. And Clara, who jumped into the Doctor’s time stream and saved him and his various incarnations knows better than anyone else what regeneration means. And while some fans insist she should not have reacted so poorly,  knowledge does not change the fact that the version of the Doctor she knew is gone. Yes some core characteristics of the Doctor remain the same throughout each regeneration but new aspects of his personality come to the forefront. It is as if a whole new person has taken the place of the person she cared about and trusted. She is abandoned yet again. Regeneration does not exactly equate death, but it marks an ending. And Clara just isn’t ready to let go.

Clara has to begin again with a new Doctor and she is scared. Who is this person? Her sense of stability and safety is gone. Once again she is that lost little girl. And when the Twelfth Doctor seemingly abandons her to die she is left reeling. Who is this person that would so cruelly abandon her? Yet she holds onto hope, that somewhere deep inside this stranger, was the Doctor she always knew and loved.

Cyborg: Where is the other one?

Clara: I don’t know. But I know where he will be. Where he will always be. If the Doctor is still the Doctor he will have my back. I’m right aren’t I? God, please, please God say I’m right.

And he does have her back. And when he seemingly disappears once again after defeating the cyborg, Vastra has to remind Clara that not only is the Doctor still the same person, but that subconsciously she understands that.

Vastra: You would be very welcome to join our little household. But I have it on the highest authority that the Doctor will be returning for you very soon.

Clara: Whose authority?

Vastra: The person who knows him best in all the universe.

Clara: And who’s that?

Vastra: Miss Clara Oswald. Who, perhaps has, by instinct already dressed to leave?

Clara: I just wanted a change of clothes. I don’t think I know who the Doctor is anymore.

Vastra: It would seem, my dear, you are very wrong about that.

The Doctor still has her back. Yet she remains unsure. At first she refuses to travel with him. She can’t let go of her version of the Doctor. And it takes the reassurance of her specific incarnation of the Doctor to let her know that the person in front of her, is still him. That he hasn’t abandoned her or forgotten about her.  This is the scene that had me in tears. I cried because I could relate to Clara’s fears and uncertainty-when you’ve been abandoned before-it’s hard to believe that it won’t happen again. Her mother died and negated her promise to always find her, and now the Doctor-the version of the Doctor she traveled with had seemingly disappeared leaving her with a stranger.

As a child I grew up with a particular notion of God. God was at the same time-all loving yet also controlling and demanding. Yet this God had clear expectations and after growing up in an abusive household I finally found the stability I craved. But as I grew older, the God I thought I knew began to seem more and more like a monster that I had to distance myself from. I knew I had to let go of this understanding of God, but I didn’t want too. Finally after years of battling depression, I felt as if someone finally had my back and loved me, yet the more I learned about this God the more I realized I had to move on. Yet letting go of what I thought I knew about God, left me feeling lost and alone. If there is a God, what is this God like? Can I trust this God to love me and support me during my darkest days? Like Clara, I felt like I was dealing with a stranger. Perhaps it would be better to abandon this whole notion of God I thought. Yet such a time period lasted only a short time. Deep in my soul I felt a tugging at my heart, as if God were begging for me to see God for what God is-the embodiment of love and compassion.

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I spend a good portion of my time trying to avoid crying because I don’t want to be viewed as weak. As a control freak, I need to present a certain facade-and in my case, it is often one of anger and/or distance. Crying involves a vulnerability that I fear. Yet this episode, stuck a nerve. I cried because I understood Clara’s fear of being abandoned by the Eleventh Doctor and having to deal with what she perceived to be a stranger. And I cried because I know what’s it’s like to have to finally say goodbye to the past, yet still needing reassurances that things will be ok. I had to finally let go of the God of my childhood which meant getting rid of some toxic ideas but I also thought, the assurance of a caring deity. But time has shown me that only when I let go of the past and of what I think I know-can I be open to new experiences of God. There were many changes I had to make when moving from a childish understanding of God to a more adult understanding of God-an understanding of God that says no matter how much I think I know-there is still a sense of mystery and a sense of strangeness and otherness with God. But there is one thing deep down that I know: that if there is a God, this God loves me completely and unabashedly, and that God will always have my back.

CLARA: It’s beautiful. Why did you send me away?
DOCTOR: Because if I hadn’t, I’d have buried you a long time ago.
CLARA: No, you wouldn’t. I would never have let you get stuck here.
DOCTOR: Ha! Everyone gets stuck somewhere eventually, Clara. Everything ends.

The sun rises over the bell tower, Clara takes a moment to admire the sunrise and then immediately begins to question the Doctor why he left her. (Though who could blame her). He explains that if he hadn’t he would have had to bury her-another death that he would have to have witnessed in his thousand + years.. Clara, brushes aside his response. Of course he wouldn’t have. He never would have gotten stuck here, they would have had the TARDIS and they would have been able to get away from Trenzalore. The Doctor reminds her that we all gets stuck, and we all die.

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No, not you she points out. You just return with a whole new face. Not this time, the Doctor insists. Even he has a time limit. Clara tells him to change the future, when he responds that he cannot, she then reminds him that he has his TARDIS back, he does not have to die here. When the Doctor recoils at abandoning the town, she points out that perhaps it’s someone else’s turn to protect the town. He has earned the right to think about himself-to value his life, to cherish his life. He doesn’t have to stay. Yet he does. For some viewers this seems like a cop out-how can he just give up on life? How can he just nonchalantly accept death. That’s not the Doctor we know. The Doctor we know continues fighting, he’s faced death before and he’s outwitted it many times, the Doctor we know also dosen’t stay put. His restless spirit, his penchant for going on random adventures is what makes him an interesting and fascinating character.

In addition, humans in general have a penchant to react a bit like Clara to death. At first we tend to exercise a bit of denial-of course I/my loved ones aren’t going to die…at least not yet. We have years and years ahead of us. Death can’t happen to us-especially if we are young. When we finally get the notion that death will eventually come for us-we can turn our focus in ward-“we are all going to die anyway, why not just try to squeeze our as much pleasure as we can?” Often that attitude, comes across as running away from death-we are frantically trying to outsmart and outpace death before our time finally comes to an end. In our society, death is something to be avoided at all costs. Those with the money, spend thousands of dollars to erase the effects of aging, as if that will enable them to have more time on earth. We spend time ignoring death until it smacks us right in the face and even then we want to continue running. What can we do to change the future? What could we have done to avoid this fate? While particular instances of death might be available, death itself will come to all of us. How do we come to terms with that? How will we act if find ourselves fully aware that our time on earth is coming to a close?

The Doctor, was of course forced to stay on Trenzalore, at least for 300 years since the TARDIS’ journey back to him was slowed down by Clara’’s clinging to the outside of it. Yet during those 300 years the Doctor was forced to confront his own mortality. And how does he spend his time? He protects the villages, but not as some distant super hero. He grows to love them, and he allows himself to be loved in turn.

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While he might long for his past lives and his younger days-he becomes content with his life-which frantically was not exactly a snooze feast. He spent centuries fighting in a war yet he still found the time to love and be loved. And while he sent Clara back because he didn’t want to lose her, he stayed in a town where he saw generation upon generations of children grow up, get married, possibly have kids, and die. And there was no place for him to run to once a child he grew to love died. He couldn’t hop onto his TARDIS and go on a different adventure, perhaps not forgetting those who died, but being able to push it to the back of his mind and run away from his grief. While he stayed in a town called Christmas he couldn’t run away from his grief. We often associate courage and bravery with action and adventure, but sometimes bravery means staying still in one place and coming to terms to with our losses and pain.

Now of course, the Doctor does regenerate. Clara manages to convince the time lords to give him a new regeneration cycle at the last minute. He gets the opportunity to continue traveling and seeing the universe, and maybe finding a way back to Galifrey. But in a tv show that’s to be expected. We all knew from the beginning of the episode that even though Matt Smith’s era on the show was ending, a new one was going to begin. That hope of a new beginning can mitigate any sadness we feel. But in the real world, sometimes that hope can be a detriment.

As a theology student the topic of the afterlife comes up. What happens when we die? Are we reincarnated? Do we go to heaven, hell? Or are we just dead? On the one hand the belief in an afterlife or the belief we get another shot at life can be comforting, especially for those having to come to terms with a death that happened unexpectedly. How do we make sense of a death of a small child? How do we make sense of a caring person being murdered, or some fluke accident taking the life of a healthy, promising person? How can we comprehend the vast injustices in this world that results in the death of innocent people? The idea of an afterlife can provide comfort and hope for peace and for justice to be served. But in the same way, that hope can prevent us from truly living. For some people the sole purpose of Christianity is to act as fire insurance. We become a Christian in order to go to heaven and avoid burning in hell. Heaven becomes some sort of last minute regeneration prize. If we die, it does not matter too much because if we accepted Christ as our savior (and accept a bunch of doctrinal beliefs, this part often goes unsaid, but leave a fundamentalist Christian church and see what the reaction is. Often your very soul is perceived to be in danger). The Doctor “earned” his new regeneration cycle because of his heroic actions, we “earn” (though it’s not often described in those terms and the notion of earning salvation is rejected) our salvation by believing certain theological “truths” and by being correct.

The Doctor was able to confront his mortality without running because he believed he had no choice-he didn’t know he would get a regeneration cycle. Many people are so convinced that heaven or hell are what awaits them that the only thing that matters is getting into one and avoiding the other. Life is nothing more than a dress rehearsal for the main event. Who cares about fighting injustice? Nothing will truly be solved until the afterlife anyway, what matters is getting into heaven and making sure as many people as possible get there as well. All these other issues-poverty, war, racism, are secondary concerns. The hope of an afterlife becomes another form of running away.

In the tv show, of course, we only saw the end of an era. We saw the end of a version of the Doctor, but not the end of the Doctor. We felt sad while fully understanding that a new Doctor would be on his way. In the real world, we don’t have such a guarantee. We may hope for another chance, but the reality is we don’t know what happens when we die. We might simply cease to exist. Because we don’t know, maybe we should take a lesson from the Doctor in this episode, and stop running away from our mortality.

Depression, suicide, and hope

Robin Williams was found dead on August 11th, 2014 and initial reports are speculating that it was a suicide.  No, I was not a hardcore Robin Williams fan though I have seen some of his movies. I also am not one to report on celebrity deaths beyond sharing an article or two on my personal facebook page. But when it comes to suicide, I always pause a bit. I’ve been honest with my struggles with depression and suicidal thoughts, even though there continues to be a stigma attached to mental illness. (Depression, touted as a treatable disease, is often dismissed as not serious or as a pity party. Treatable does not mean curable and many people, including me, battle depression on a daily basis with the help of medication, a therapist, and the support of friends, families, and colleagues.)

When I first started this blog, I was in the midst of a major depressive episode. I felt like I had hit rock bottom. I had been kicked out of an internship program in California and had to have treatment for my depression, I was back home in an the home of my emotionally abusive mother, and I was trying to help get my grandmother into a nursing home while my mother throw hissy fits like a toddler on a daily basis. And God-don’t get me started on God-I wasn’t sure what I believed and after being betrayed by a “progressive church” I was not a fan of Christianity at the moment.  Suicidal thoughts were a daily plague. It felt as if depression had infected the core of my physical and spiritual body. I was looking for something-any little thing to hold onto.  I was lucky that a friend introduced me to the daft old man traveling through space and time in a blue box. Of course, the show isn’t a cure for depression nor did it change my circumstances, but it provided me with relief from suicidal thoughts for just a few hours every day. And then of course, I saw the episode, “Vincent and the Doctor,” and was moved to tears. Here was an episode that viewed mental illness through a compassionate lens and didn’t end with the cheery note that everything will be ok. As we know, through personal experiences, and now through the death of Robin Williams, sometimes things do not turn out ok. Sometimes the darkness is just too overpowering, especially when mental illness is stigmatized and adequate treatment is not available.  But even when someone does have access to the best medical treatment available sometimes depression can become so debilitating that death is viewed as the only option.

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Even though I am in a much better place than I was a year ago, depression is still a daily battle.  Getting adequate medical treatment, having friends and professors that care and support me, and re-evaluating my theological notions about God (letting go of the manipulative, domineering God of my childhood) has helped, but I would be lying if I said depression still isn’t a struggle. I would be lying if I said that there aren’t days when I look out at this dark world filled with hatred, violence, genocide, and poverty and wonder if it is worth it. Is life in general worth it,  does my life in particular make a difference in a world filled with hurting people?  The answer I hold onto, especially during the days and nights I feel shattered is-yes. Somehow life, in the end does matter. Somehow my life, as a small insignificant individual does matter. It is that yes, which sometimes comes out as nothing more than a whisper that keeps me going. Depression means that I have to say yes to life on a daily basis. And I know the temptation to say no is strong.

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If you struggle with depression or any other mental illness, I pray that you are receiving help and are able to say yes to life on a daily basis or even on a minute by minute basis. For those, like Robin Williams who lost their battle yet fought so valiantly, their lives and their deaths matter. They aren’t selfish cowards who couldn’t hack life, but wounded people who fought with all their strengths, but some wars can’t be won.

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Contains some spoilers for the book: The Silent Stars Go By Dan Abnett

Rory, Amy, and the Doctor find themselves on an earth-like planet. Of course the Doctor had originally promised to take Amy and Rory back to Leadworth for Christmas, but as we all know, the TARDIS rarely takes the Doctor and his companions where they want to go, but instead takes them where they are needed. And the inhabitants of this planet, known as the Morphans, desperately need the Doctor. The Morphans have spent generation after generation trying to make the planet hospitable for human life by trying to trying to turn this planet into a replica of earth. And for years everything was proceeding as scheduled, until the temperature inexplicably gets colder and colder. The complicated machines used to equalize and stabilize the planet’s atmosphere have been tampered with, bringing the planet to the brink of an ice age. Without going into too much detail, suffice to say that aliens are responsible for tampering with earth’s conditions and the Doctor tries to set things right with a minimal amount of death and destruction.

For generations the Morphans have based their way of life on what they call, “The Guide.” The Guide has provided the people with detailed instructions on how to maintain the world and keep it running and as a result when an issue arises, leaders turn to the Guide for advice. When life is proceeding as expected turning to the Guide for advice has served the group well. But when things begin to fall apart in unexpected ways, the people struggle with how to apply the Guide is to their current situation. In one scene, Bill, the leader of the community and Winnowner Copper, a well-respected elder go back and forth about their next course of action. Bill wonders if the giants members of the community have claimed to have seen might actually exist and are responsible for the changing weather, while Winnowner argues that the Guide mentions nothing about giants and therefore they do not exist.

Bill: There was nothing about strangers either, but today strangers came.

Winnowner: They were unguidely, and they brought conjury with them.

Bill: I understand that…I do. But just because something is unguidely, just because it is not part of Guide’s law, it doesn’t mean we can ignore it. It could be killing us Winnower, do we let it?

Winnowner: Of course not. Survival is the greatest doctrine of all. What is happening to us may be exceptional, and therefore not covered in specifics in Guide’s words, but Guide will not fail us. We must look again. Study the passages. Guide will instruct us in ways we have not yet imagine. (133)

In addition, the community is very protective of the Guide. When the Doctor figures out that the Guide is most likely some sort of manual that can enable them to control the various complicated machines on the planet, the community is reluctant to allow the Doctor to have access to the Guide  until they finally realize that they are up against creatures and situations that they cannot defeat on their own. They are so intent on protecting their interpretation of the Guide that their refusal to allow an outsider to access and interpret it almost destroys them.

The parallels between the community’s treatment of the Guide and fundamentalist Christianity’s understanding of the Bible is clear. Fundamentalists tend to interpret the Bible as the literal word of God. The Bible’s historical context is often ignored and the Bible is deemed the ultimate authority not just religiously but scientifically and politically. For instance, the Bible does not mention evolution. As a result, many fundamentalists are quick to try and discredit evolution and any scientific data that supports it. Yet many fundamentalists are not just content with disbelieving evolution, but they seek to ensure that at the bare minimum their religious interpretation about the origins of the earth are treated as a valid scientific alternative. In addition, the Bible is used to decide complex political issues. For instance same-sex marriage is often condemned based on a handful of Scripture verses. Yet the argument isn’t that same sex marriage is against their own personal religious beliefs, but that because the Bible supposedly states that same sex relationships are wrong, then it should be banned on a societal wide basis, so that even those who do not adhere to a fundamentalist world view are expected to legally conform to it.

When data does not support biblical literalism, theological and scientific gymnastics occur. For instance, some creationists argue that dinosaurs were on Noah’s ark. However, in order to believe this it requires that one disregard both scientific research and Biblical scholarship from the past two hundred years. Yet if dinosaurs and humans did not co-exist, then a literal interpretation of the creation story and the flood stories are called into question. Their whole worldview will begin to fall apart.

The Morphans are more willing to question their current reality then their interpretation of the Guide. Their interpretation not only says that the Guide has all the answers, but that only a select group of people are privy to said answers.

Bill-if our world is under attack, and our way of life also, and this is the only way to save it, then who are you to say that it cannot be?

Winnowner- Who are you trusting, Elect? Guide have mercy on us all, you’re trusting the world of these strangers! We have only their say that there are any of these menacing (creature) things! None of us have seen them! (215)

Winnowner then goes on to state that perhaps Amy, Rory and the Doctor are in fact the real creatures attacking their town and that they are simply seeking to gain access to the Guide.

Even though Amy, Rory, and the Doctor have done nothing but try to help them, Winnowner is so adamant that the Guide is something to be protected and followed uncritically, that she is willing to distort current reality to protect her interpretation of the Guide.

In fundamentalist Christianity the Bible isn’t a book that is to be sequestered away and studied by a few people. In fact, the belief is that the Bible should be freely read and available to everyone. The catch, however, is that any interpretation that differs from a literal reading is to be rejected. Those who do not agree to a certain set of theological ideas are to be distrusted. They aren’t real Christians. The Morphans reacted by panic and attempted to keep the Guide away from the strangers for fear that it would be used to destroy their way of living, while in fundamentalist Christianity it is ideas that are deemed “strange” or not in line with the status quo that are to be feared and distrusted. Ideas that contradict their narrow view of the Bible stand as a threat to their whole faith system and as a result, they are to be ridiculed, mocked, ignored and rebutted.

The Morphans’ blind allegiance to the Guide and their refusal to listen to those not part of their inner groups threatens to eradicate what is left of humanity. In the “real world,” especially when religious interpretation is elevated to divine status, the consequences might be less drastic but still troubling. The Bible has become a tool of the privileged; only certain types of people can make claim to the Bible and what it says-if others dare to reach a different conclusion-if the poor, if members of the LGBTQ community, if women, seek to make a claim to the Bible, their voices tend to at best be ignored and at worst trivialized and mocked. Yet in a western world that is increasingly becoming secularized, Christians cannot afford to close ranks and state that there is only one correct interpretation-an interpretation that seems to correlate with the political wishes of the powerful. It is only when the Morphans let go of their rigid insistence that they have all the answers did they gain the information they needed to survive. Likewise, a Christianity that insists on a singular interpretation that is catered to the whims of a specific privileged demographic will not last long. The center of Christianity is shifting from the west and the world is fast becoming more globalized and interconnected. In order for Christianity to survive, diverse voices need to be welcomed and heard. A Christianity that fails to take into account the diversity of human experience is aiding in its own destruction.

The 50th anniversary of Doctor Who was a celebratory event-fans throughout the world eagerly waited in anticipation for the 50th anniversary special, a slew of books, posters, and various other merchandise flooded the fanbase, and conventions throughout the world-both official and “unofficial” provided an avenue for fans to show their love for their favorite time lord. In all of the major celebrations and the deluge of official merchandise, it was easy to overlook some of the smaller yet still noteworthy celebrations of the show. One such gem is, the kickstarter funded project: Doctor Who: Celebrating 50 years of Fandom.

This short 42 minute film features numerous fans of the show including writer Robert Shearman who wrote the critically acclaimed and much loved episode, “Dalek” which reintroduced the Doctor’s old foe to the revived serious, and actress Louise Jameson who played Leela. And of course, “normal” fans were interviewed as well. John Paul Green, film lecturer at the University of Sunderland, (and extra in the episode, “Rise of the Cybermen”) explicates how the show influenced his career path. As a child/young teenager, he picked up the 1984 book, “Doctor Who: The Unfolding text” by John Tulloch and Manuel Alvarado, simply because the cover art featured a TARDIS. But he quickly realized that this was an in-depth, academic study on Doctor who and although he didn’t understand everything he read, he found the book fascinating. It was the first time he realized that he could go beyond just watching Doctor who and deeply examine the show. He describes the book as his entry point into, “the world of academia.” He goes on to explicate, “…Doctor who kind of put me on a particular path. And I think doctor who fans themselves are quite academic in their approach to the program because they want to learn so much about the program, they research…I honestly think if it wasn’t for Doctor Who, I wouldn’t have done a media degree, and I wouldn’t have lectured in media all those years later. “

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Lecturer John Green as an extra in, Rise of the Cybermen

Lecturer John Green wasn’t the only one whose future career path was influenced by Doctor Who. Animator/student Robert Ritchie attributes his love of working in media production, animation, and special effects to the show as does Michelle Osorio, youtuber/film maker. Writer Robert Shearman, who lived every fan’s dream and wrote for the series discusses his love of the show and of attending conventions and meeting others who were as passionate about the show. He details how his involvement in the fandom community impacted his future career: “I know full well that the reason I became a writer in part was because meeting with other people who had a similar appreciation encouraged me to want to write something. So I was the writer who bought back the Daleks.”

But what is it about Doctor Who that inspires such a passionate response from its fanbase? I know that many of my friends and some of my professors attribute my excitement for the show to my obsessive personality. I am the type of person that, for example, if I love a particular sandwich, will eat that sandwich once a day for weeks or months. When I like something, I really like something. But personal quirks aside, Doctor Who has managed to attract an ardent audience, in fact it was through its zealous fanbase that the show was kept alive through novels, audiobooks, and comicbooks after it went off the air in the late 80s, and it was that fanbase that led to the show’s revival.

For me, the show came into my life during a particularly rough time. I was struggling with a failed internship, severe episodes of depression, and being back in an abusive home environment. It was truly a low point in my life and then one day a friend introduced me to the Doctor and I was hooked. Sure some of the special effects during the ninth doctor’s era was a bit cheesy, but I found myself falling in love with a show that was a bit silly and yet managed to explore some serious themes about politics, religion, and depression. The show provided me with an outlet of escape from a reality that was all too painful, but yet the show still managed to keep my mind engaged. Doctor Who has enough depth to it that one can use the show to examine and tackle the major themes of theology, death, and sorrow, and guilt. Even now as I face a situation that I am absolutely dreading, I am making sure I have enough Doctor Who books or audiobooks to get me through what might be a tough two weeks.

To be fair, there are plenty of shows with a rabid following. Project Runway last year had an episode dedicated to their super fans. Yet for many shows, the impact of the show is only felt as long as the show is on the air. And as mind numbingly entertaining as reality tv shows may be- let’s be honest, they rarely make a meaningful impact on the lives of the audience. Yet Doctor Who has inspired a generation of writers and film makers; parents and grandparents are sitting down with their children to watch a show that first aired during their youth. There are numerous academic books studying the show from a variety of disciplines: racial studies, queer studies, feminist studies, film studies, theology, etc. The show has managed to strike a chord amongst its viewers, and this short film, Celebrating 50 years of Fandom is a fun exploratory glance into the lives of some fans who have been impacted by the story of a daft old man traveling the universe in his blue box. For those who don’t watch the show or who are casual viewers, this intense passion for the show is puzzling (though intense devotion to a sport is viewed as more socially acceptable). Fans often have to find a way to succinctly answer, “why do you like Doctor Who so much” to people who just see a silly show, with sometimes cheesy effects and story lines.

I think Louise Jameson sums up the Doctor Who fandom and it’s fascination with the show perfectly: “I think Doctor who fans are different because they’ve been attracted to something they can identify with and because…the Doctor is very much an outsider. He is outside of his community…He’s a rebel, he’s an adventurer. He’s the good old fashioned story of good winning over evil. These stories are as old as the world…The doctor comes down hard on bullies, comes down hard on people who think that simply because somebody is different, they’re not to be included. He’s completely inclusive in his morality. And I think sometimes Doctor who fans have suffered-we all have at some stages suffered-from feeling like an outsider. And I think what Doctor Who does is put a huge hug around that fandom-going, ‘nope, you’re not. You’re not different.”

Rating: 4 stars. Price: reasonable available: dvd and download (I’m not sure if the DVD comes in american region one format, but I bought it and downloaded it(.

In other news, I have created a public fb profile if anyone wants to add me there: https://www.facebook.com/whovian.theology

Christopher Eccleston’s Doctor only appeared for one season, and while some of the special effects and story lines during his tenure were not the best, (though every season has it’s hits and misses) the 9th Doctor was a fascinating character and I believe a the ninth doctor was the perfect way to introduce the show to a new generation. So in honor of his era, here are my top favorite quotes from the first season of NUWho.
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Episode: World War Three

We live in an increasingly diverse and complicated world, whose problems are massive and often global in scope. Technology and societal norms appear to be changing at a rapid rate. For instance, while growing up the flip phone and then the blackberry were the hottest cellphone devices. The blackberry meant that we could check our emails even when not in front of a computer! Now, smart phones have so many different functions that I sometimes forget it’s original purpose is to take and place calls! And of course, those slightly older than me remember the giant cell phones from the 90s. And that is one relatively small example of a much larger technological stage of advancement. Technology isn’t the only sphere constantly changing but social attitudes continue to evolve. Just a few years ago legalizing same sex Marriage looked like a utopian fantasy, but now numerous states have recognized the validity of same sex marriages and it seems as if it is only a matter of time before the rest of the United States follows suit.

However, what happens during times of rapid change? People retreat. They tend to not only cherish the familiar but insist on it. As a result new social progress is often loudly decried and fervently fought against. Millions of dollars are being wasted by companies, individuals, and political organizations to demonize the “other”-whether that be the LGBTQ, immigrants, Muslims, etc The problem with such an attitude is that it often fosters a “LALALA, I can’t hear/see anything” mentality. People become so entrenched in their beliefs that when evidence of change is staring them in the face they either vehemently try to turn back the hands of time, or they pretend that such evidence does not exist. The 9th Doctor had no qualms about calling humanity out on its collective stupidity. And in this case is has some funny but harsh words to say go those who see evidence of a changing world and choose to ignore it.

As a seminary student-I can see how this attitude is negatively impacting the Christian denominations regardless of their theological slant. While I am not advocating for a complete dismissal of tradition, Christians of various stripes are struggling with examining which traditions, rituals, and even theological beliefs are relevant in a rapidly changing world. Some have chosen to simply take a defensive posture-any new information or idea is automatically rejected. Any evidence, including scientific evidence is discarded if it is incompatible to a certain theological world-view. As a result Christianity is becoming a caricature of itself. In order for humanity to grow-individually and socially, we need to be willing to acknowledge what is staring us in the face even if it goes against deeply cherished traditions and beliefs and even if it means embracing a new worldview.

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Episode: Dalek

The Doctor justifiably feels rage and disgust at the site of this single Dalek. This Dalek represents the war that wiped out his people and that wreaked havoc on the universe. And yet here was this thing-alive while so many others are dead. The Doctor had to destroy his own people to end this massive war yet a Dalek survive. Was the Doctor’s action and the deaths of his people all in vein? The Doctor’s anger at the Dalek also serves as an outward manifestation of the hatred he feels towards himself. He wants to annihilate the Dalek, an attitude that makes sense and is understandable. But the problem with violence and revenge is that it transforms those seeking it, into the very thing that they despise. We see this happen on a large global scale in various conflicts. The various sides engage in retaliation and seek revenge and instead of ending the cycle of violence it only exacerbates it and causes more death and destruction.

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Episode: The End of the World

The news about how humanity is essentially destroying our planet is sobering. Our consumerist attitude towards natural resources is causing untold harm to our environment and we are beginning to see the effects as numerous species have gone or face extension, as weather patterns rapidly change, and as we struggle to understand the implications of living in a planet of 7 billion people. (Interestingly enough, however, many so called first world countries struggle with population growth-as their population is aging). Such concerns, obviously should be frankly discussed. However, it seems as if the media and general public is addicted to hearing about our impending doom. Every day there seems to be a new product/disease/looming environmental disaster that will bring about our destruction. And while information and knowledge and yes a bit of fear is good-fear can also become paralyzing and fatalistic. Some people are beginning to have a “who cares” attitude toward the environment and the numerous challenges we face, since they assert that it will all eventually be destroyed anyway. Such an attitude serves to only impede progress. I think if we can imagine that we will survive whatever challenges come our way, then humanity has a chance of envisioning the type of world that we hope will survive and work towards that vision.

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Episode: Boom Town

Exploitation and power often serve as society’s structural foundation. What does it say about a company that pays domestic workers minimum wage and pays pennies to those who serve in foreign countries building the products that we all use (including me)? What does it say about companies whose workers are essentially treated as cattle, forced to work for hours with very little breaks, and who are worked until they are injured and then denied care? And all this is done in the name of profit and providing cheap products to the consumer. But yet, these very companies then pride themselves on providing a few students or a few neighborhoods with money. What about our nation’s foreign policy? Which has been used to bring an end to genocidal practices, but in other cases seems to provide the very technology that contributes to the death of thousands/millions of people? I think the Doctor’s quote is challenge for us-to embrace responsibility for the actions we take individually and collectively. It is not enough to pat ourselves on the back for doing good work, but we need to call ourselves and our nation to practices that are consistent with the values we supposedly endorse.

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Episode: The Parting of The Ways

I love buying things-if I have the money. I especially have an addiction to buying Doctor who merchandise and theology books. Is this necessarily bad? Only if it comes at the expense of my financial security or if it involves exploitation. But we live in a society where consumerism is an obsession, even during this economic downturn. Looking the best, having the latest gadget has become a national obsession and while having new things and having the latest technology is great, only if we can separate our identity, sense of self-worth and values from the objects we possess. Materialism and the craving to acquire new stuff is not necessarily wrong, but it can be when it is used to promote the status quo by causing us to become distracted from what matters. It becomes problematic when we would rather bury ourselves 24/7 in the latest gadget or website then pay attention to what is going on around us in our families, neighborhood, and world. Heck, I am ashamed to even begin to detail how much time I spend on facebook and the more time I spend on my personal page-the more depressed and empty I feel. As humans we aren’t meant to live as socially isolated individuals whose main concern is material wealth. (Though if you are struggling to pay for food, rent, and your bills, then of course getting the basic necessities for you and your family is to be your main concern). I believe that as humans we are supposed to care for one another-not just for our close friends and families but for our neighbors both locally and globally.

A me, me me, mentality is not inherently bad. We need to take care of ourselves, of our families, of our state, our nation etc but we also need to step beyond our own concerns. We need to be able to live a life that stands up to the status quo when it is harmful. For me that is a life that is worth living. Don’t get me wrong, I love my lap, my books, and my stuff. But they don’t define who I am, at least I hope not. I want to be the type of person that Rose describes. And I think, that deep down most people have that same desire: to live a courageous and meaningful life.

 

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