Short Film Review: Doctor Who: Celebrating 50 Years of Fandom

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

Favorite Quotes from the Ninth Doctor’s era

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.

4.

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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.

3.

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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.

 

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

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

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

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

DOCTOR: What? What is it? What?

CLARA: Nothing.

DOCTOR: No, it’s something. Tell me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

11. The Beast Below

10. Amy’s Choice

9. Vincent and the Doctor

8. The Girl Who Waited]

7. The God Complex

6. A Town Called Mercy

5. Angels Take Manhattan 

4. The Snowmen

3. The Rings of Akhaten

2. The Name of the Doctor

1A.  The Day of the Doctor Prt. 1

1. The Day of the Doctor: These are the people you’re going to burn?

I’m sure it doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone that The Day of the Doctor is my favorite episode from the Matt Smith era. Frankly, this episode is my favorite episode of Nuwho thus far. For me, The Day of the Doctor typifies the very best of Doctor: it has genuinely funny bits, it has a weird looking alien that I’m sure children will try to imitate and because it is the 50th anniversary special it has a bunch of little Easter eggs that hark back to the earlier era of Doctor Who. It is no wonder that this episode has been described as “a love letter to fans.” However, the episode also deals with a pretty dark chapter in the Doctor’s life, the day he committed double genocide and killed not only the Daleks but also annihilated his own planet.

Since the show came back the Doctor’s role in ending the Time War has always been in the background. As viewers we knew that he performed such an action, and in some episodes we can see how his role in the war has shaped him, noticeably through his anger and self-hatred, but at the same time, it has never been the central aspect of his character or the focal point of an episode. As a result, as audience members we consciously and intellectually knew that the Doctor killed the Daleks and destroyed Gallifrey but we didn’t need to fully imagine what it meant for our hero and beloved character to kill billions of people. But in this episode Moffat has no qualms about forcing us to confront the full gravity of the situation as well as the impossible choice the Doctor had to make: kill billions of his own people, including children, or allow the whole universe to be destroyed.

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I know that while watching this scene, my chest tightened up a bit at the mention of children. In every other episode, when the Time War was discussed, it was talked about in such an abstract way that it was easy to forget that the Doctor killed people. Yet in this episode, Moffat bluntly points out that the people the Doctor killed aren’t just faceless beings, but they are actually living beings. They are children. Even if you are like me and you don’t have children, I’m sure we can all think of kids who have touched our hearts. Kids whose lives have brought us so much joy, happiness, and silliness. Kids whose presence we couldn’t imagine not being around. Then imagine them cruelly snatched away, even if for a “good” reason. Even if the action that took them away was necessary for the greater good of humanity the pain would be unbearable.

The thing about war is that it is almost always presented as necessary and actions, even those that decimate the environment and kill thousands, millions, (or in the Doctor’s case, billions) are always justified as stating that such action needed to be taken in order to prevent an even greater loss of life. But even so, rarely do citizens, (especially those not having to directly fight in or experience war) think about what such actions truly mean. What does it mean to bomb a city or a town? What does it mean to say that hundreds of thousands of people are dead? Who are these people? Not all of them are enemies, in fact most are probably just citizens who are caught in the cross-hairs of a battle they never asked for. In war, many of those who die are in fact children.

Yet it’s easier to not think about that, especially if we can pretend that war is an unpleasant reality that happens somewhere else. It is easy to view war in real life, the same way we view the fictional Time War when the Doctor would discusses it during the earlier seasons: as an abstract concept that was necessary and should be quickly forgotten.

But despite all the funny gags between the three doctors, Moffat brings us back again and again to the children:

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As most of the readers of my blog know I am in seminary. But what I haven’t discussed is the subject matter that I have spent years researching:  the consequences of war, especially on those called to wage war. War leaves a devastating impact on those whom a nation calls to perform acts that the average citizenry would never in a million years imagine doing. War not only impacts one physically or mentally but spiritually. In regards to the consequences of war, most people have heard of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) but not as many people have heard of moral injury. Moral injury is defined as, “Perpetrating, failing to prevent, bearing witness to, or learning about acts that deeply transgress deeply held moral beliefs and expectations.”  In their book, Soul Repair Dr. Gabriella Lettini and Dr. Rita Nakashima Brock Brock explain, “Moral Injury is the result of reflection on memories of war or other extreme traumatic conditions. It comes from having transgressed one’s basic moral identity and violated core moral beliefs.”

It is important to note that moral injury does not just occur when someone witnesses or actively does something that society would consider to be “wrong” (a term that is relatively useless in a war zone) but it can result from actions that are necessary in order to save lives. Moral injury impacts one’s view of the world and also one’s understanding of who they are. Those experiencing moral injury often wonder: “Who am I, in light of what I have witnessed/done? Can I reconcile the person I was before experiencing moral injury, with the person I am now?”

We can see how the Doctor’s action to end the Time War has impacted him to the core. He hates himself, he repeatedly defines himself in terms of what he did and didn’t do during the  war and multiple times he has wondered if the universe would be better off without him. In the midst of the light-hearted series, we are given glimpses into the Doctor’s troubled soul. And the fact that the Doctor did what needed to be done, does not ease his pain or guilt. Every relationship is impacted by his actions in the time war-he finds it hard to confide in people, to let them know who he really is and what he has done, he views himself as a danger to others and therefore tries to prevent himself from getting close to people. It is clear that the Time War is an event he would like to forget.

Yet no matter how hard the Doctor has tried to forget, he can’t. The Time War lingers on in his mind and heart. The Doctor knew he didn’t have any other choice. It was Gallifrey or the universe. He chose the universe. Yet he still needs to deal with the consequences of his action:

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I’ve mentioned this before but what I love about Doctor Who is that if you just want to watch a fun, silly romp around the universe as a form of entertainment, this show is for you. If you want to think more deeply about difficult notions such as love, loss, death, and war, this show is also for you. In The Day of the Doctor, both the audience and the Doctor are forced to confront head on what it means to have the lives of billions of people in one’s hands. What must it feel like to have to make a decision to kill some people in order to save an untold number of others? Especially when it seems as if there is no other way. “No other way.” Isn’t that how war is often described? I’m not asking to get into a debate about the ethics of war nor am I interested in arguing about pacifism or just war theory, what I am interested in is pointing out how we as a society and a species often limit our imagination and are unable to envision new possibilities. At one point the Doctor believed that he had no other choice. He had to kill billions of people or the entire universe would be annihilated. And the Doctor’s action in destroying Gallifrey was not “wrong” or “evil,” The Doctor needed to do what was best to prevent the time war from enveloping the universe. It was the lives of a certain number of time lords in exchange for the lives of all those across the universe… and so often in the real world, the options are just as stark. But what happens when we can imagine new possibilities?

Part two next week!

11. The Beast Below

10. Amy’s Choice

9. Vincent and the Doctor

8. The Girl Who Waited]

7. The God Complex

6. A Town Called Mercy

5. Angels Take Manhattan 

4. The Snowmen

3. The Rings of Akhaten

2. The Name of the Doctor

2. The Name of the Doctor and Suffering Love

Almost done counting down my favorite episode from Matt Smith’s time as the Doctor!

It is no secret that the Doctor hates himself. Death and destruction follow him.

VASTRA: The Doctor has been many things, but never blood-soaked.
SIMEON: Tell that to the leader of the Sycorax, or Solomon the trader, or the Cybermen, or the Daleks. The Doctor lives his life in darker hues, day upon day, and he will have other names before the end. The Storm, the Beast, the Valeyard.

There is blood on the Doctor’s hands. The species/people he had to kill or let die in order to save others, the people/species that he failed to save, those who died trying to protect the Doctor, and of course, the Great Time War where he committed a double genocide in order to save the entire universe. The eleventh doctor is known for his love of fezzes and his insistence that bow ties are cool. Yet beyond his child-like wonder and obsession with fezzes, lies a darkness and self-hatred that festers in his soul. The Doctor is always running away, figuratively, (when he puts off saying goodbye to River Song for example) and literally as he travels throughout the universe. But in the end, he can’t run away from himself.

In The Name of The Doctor, we see how his shadowy past has endangered his friends, Strax, Vastra, Jenny, and Clara. The Great Intelligence’s hatred of the Doctor leads him to kidnapping his friends and even killing (albeit briefly) Jenny.

WHISPER MEN: Tell the Doctor. Tell the Doctor. Tell the Doctor.
CLARA: Tell him what?
HOLO-SIMEON: His friends are lost forever more, unless he goes to Trenzalore.

Time traveling and trying to save the universe comes at a price. He is able to save whole planets, but many individuals die, he defeats a villain but he has many more enemies who want nothing more to see him destroyed and who will use his companions and friends to get to him. During his adventures, it is easy for him and his companions to forget about the ramifications of their actions, especially when it seems as if everything always works out in the end. Yet in Trenzalore and in his tomb the Doctor is forced to admit that his travels are more than a fun romp throughout the universe. At first he refers to the bright tangle of shining white energy tendrils as, “the tracks of my tears.” When prompted by the Great Intelligence the Doctor explicates:

DOCTOR: Time travel is damage. It’s like a tear in the fabric of reality. That is the scar tissue of my journey through the universe. My path through time and space from Gallifrey to Trenzalore.

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Yet the reason why this episode is one of my favorites has less to do with the Doctor and his shady past and more to do with the love exhibited by his friends. The Doctor hates himself yet he is loved ferociously by Vastra, Jenny, (maybe Strax?), Clara and of course River Song. One of the more popular Bible verses that is often quoted in a variety of contexts states: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13). And in this episode, Clara, especially demonstrates her love and devotion for the Doctor by being willing to essentially die to save not only him, but by extension the universe. When the Great Intelligence enters the Doctor’s time stream Vastra explicates:

VASTRA: He’s being rewritten. Simeon is attacking his entire timeline. He’s dying all at once. The Dalek Asylum. Androzani. A universe without the Doctor. There will be consequences.

Clara pretty quickly figures out what she needs to do even at the cost of her own life.

CLARA: If I step in there, what happens?
RIVER: The time winds will tear you into a million pieces. A million versions of you, living and dying all over time and space, like echoes.
CLARA: But the echoes could save the Doctor, right?
RIVER: But they won’t be you. The real you will die. They’ll just be copies.
CLARA: But they’ll be real enough to save him.

Clara, knows at least intellectually that the Doctor has committed a double genocide. As a companion she knows the Doctor isn’t perfect and she knows he has a dark past, yet she loves him anyway and she focuses on his bravery and kindness even when the Doctor only sees his failures. Her whole purpose in life is to save the Doctor and everything else is of secondary importance:

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In this episode, Clara is presented as always being there for the Doctor, saving him, even when he couldn’t see or hear her. Even in his darkest moments, he was never alone. She watched over him protecting him as he ran around the universe.
I think I can safely assume that none of us have ever committed a double genocide, and most of us, (though of course not all) have never had to take another life in order to save others or in self-defense. Yet many of us often walk around with a sense of guilt, shame, and a deep self-hatred. We feel unloved and as utterly and completely alone. But just like Clara was always there for the Doctor, even when he could not see or hear her, I would argue that we aren’t alone.

For some, God is that benevolent presence that is always there for us, especially during our darkest moments. In seminary, I’ve been exposed to various theological notions, and the theologies that I have been most attracted to are those that claim that God is with us when we suffer.

In The Crucified God, Jürgen Moltmann rails against the classic notion of God (dating back to the patristic period/early Church period) that presents God as unfeeling and uncaring:

A God who cannot suffer is poorer than any human. For a God who is incapable of suffering is a being who cannot be involved. Suffering and injustice do not affect him. And because he is so completely insensitive, he cannot be affected or shaken by anything. He cannot weep, for he has no tears. But the one who cannot suffer cannot love either. So he is also a loveless being.

For Moltmann the crux of the faith is that God not only suffered for humanity but did so willingly so that humanity can recognize that we are never truly abandoned or alone:

When God becomes man in Jesus of Nazareth, he not only enters into the finitude of man, but in his death on the cross also enters into the situation of man’s godforsakenness. In Jesus he does not die the natural death of a finite being, but the violent death of the criminal on the cross, the death of complete abandonment by God. The suffering in the passion of Jesus is abandonment, rejection by God, his Father.

James H. Evans, in his book, We Have Been Believers explicates that for African Americans, Jesus as co-suffering has been vitally important especially during periods of slavery and societal oppression. He points out that in African American theology, “God suffers with suffering humanity, at the side of those seeking freedom and liberation when possible, and those seeking succor and survival when necessary.”

In my opinion Christianity (or any religion) is at its best when it discusses the love of God and God as co-sufferer.
I think in a world where many struggle with isolation, depression, and shame, it is important to live a life of love towards others. It is important to emphasis a theology of love. Clara loved the Doctor-even when he refused to tell her everything and even when he kept secrets from her, she was still by his side. He hated himself and only saw the evil, she loved him and pointed out the good. The Great Intelligence stated, “The Doctor’s life is a open wound. And an open wound can be entered.” And it was Clara and her love, which helped heal said wound. In the same way, as unbearably sentimental as this sounds, I think that love can help heal our wounds and brokenness. But the trick is, we have to allow ourselves to experience said love.

11. The Beast Below

10. Amy’s Choice

9. Vincent and the Doctor

8. The Girl Who Waited

7. The God Complex

6. A Town Called Mercy

5. Angels Take Manhattan 

4. The Snowmen

3. The Rings of Akhaten

Running Away

I promise, next week I will eventually finish my countdown of my favorite episodes from Matt Smith’s era.

On the surface, running away seems to be a sure fire way to protect oneself from getting hurt, and occasionally it can be fun. Amy Pond ran away with her raggedy man the night before her wedding and even after she got married, in many ways she was very much the young little girl that the Doctor originally left behind. Rose ran away with the Doctor to get away from her boring repetitive life, even though it meant leaving behind her then boyfriend Mickey and her mother. Martha put her life on hold, not just for the chance to travel through time and space but also in hopes of getting the Doctor would notice her and care about her. Donna, quickly realizes she made a mistake when she turned down the Doctor’s offer of traveling with him. And of course the Doctor is known for running away-from his past in the Time War and from his past relationships. In Journey’s End, Davros characterizes the Doctor as “The man who keeps running, never looking back because he dare not, out of shame.” And of course we see his shame-over the Time War, over the many deaths throughout his travels that he could not stop or that because directly or indirectly. Shame can be a powerful impetus for running away.

Yet mixed in with the Doctor’s sense of shame is also a large measure of fear, especially in relation to his companions: he knows that eventually they will die or they will leave, and as a result he fears getting close to them. In fact once they leave, or he leaves them, he rarely mentions them again:
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In a tv show, it is vital that the main character retain a sense of mystery. When the title of the finale of season 7 part two was released, The Name of the Doctor, fans were freaking out because they felt as if knowing the Doctor’s true name would essentially ruin the show. As an audience we want to get to know our beloved characters-but we do not want to know everything about them. A character that remains a bit closed off and that tends to run away from close relationships-at least initially, is a fascinating character watch develop. Yet even in the fictional world, running away never lasts forever. Even the Doctor needs to stop running even briefly. For example, every time he says goodbye to a companion he is forced to stop running.

However, while on a TV show it is  entertaining to watch a character run away from his past or his fears only to be confronted by them later on-in real life the results are much more painful and the obstacles that force us to stop running are not the type that can be solved within an hour or within a season. They often leave scars. Today I realized that an acquaintance I knew died from cancer. I didn’t really think I would be impacted by this person’s death. Why? Because I made sure that this person was just an acquaintance. In fact, like a coward I ran away. I avoided any discussion about this person and I avoided going to the place where I knew he might show up or at the very least where his name would be mentioned. I avoided getting to know him and his family even because I didn’t want to get involved. To be quite frank I was incredibly selfish-I didn’t want to get to know someone only to be forced to say goodbye to him in a few months. I didn’t want to be privy to the anguish that his family would be experiencing as they attempted to make sense of a tragedy that should not befall anyone-but especially a family as kind and caring as this one. I was only thinking about myself and I realized I didn’t’ want to get hurt so I ran away and graduate school became the perfect excuse to hide away.

During the past few days I read the emails about his deteriorating situation and the pain of his family and friends but I managed to compartmentalize said emails into a little corner in my mind and keep on running. However, no matter how much you try to outdistance death it always catches up. He died yesterday and I am left feeling incredible sadness for his friends and family, and also an overwhelming amount of guilt over a missed opportunity. I thought that keeping him and his family at arm’s length would protect me but instead I robbed myself of the chance to be of some use to those who were hurting and to get to know a wonderful person. I didn’t want to say goodbye so instead I shut myself off and continued on my own selfish little path. And the fact is, that this is not an isolated case. Distancing myself from others has become a way of life. In fact it’s the only way I know how to live. Am I really protecting myself by running away or am I wasting my life reacting out of fear? Running away is supposed to offer protection against loss but instead it causes it.

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5 Doctor Who Quotes To Live By

I haven’t forgotten that I still need to write about my top two favorite episodes from Matt Smith’s era. I will finish the countdown sometime after I finish my last final on May 8. For this week’s entry I will be discussing five of my favorite Doctor Who quotes.

5. The way I see it, every life is a pile of good things and bad things. The good things don’t always soften the bad things, but vice versa, the bad things don’t always spoil the good things and make them unimportant. And we definitely added to his pile of good things. And, if you look carefully, maybe we did indeed make a couple of little changes.  

— The Doctor,  Vincent and the Doctor.

At the end of Vincent and the Doctor Amy is devastated. She had been so sure that by showing Vincent how valued his art is to future generations that he wouldn’t comment suicide. But Vincent’s illness is much more powerful and a trip in the TARDIS cannot heal his mind. Amy believes that because they couldn’t prevent Vincent from ending his life that they didn’t really accomplish much. But the Doctor points out that’s not necessarily true, they couldn’t stop Vincent from killing himself but that does not mean that their time with him was in vain.

Life is messy and extremely painful. There are issues that as individuals are beyond our capability to understand let alone solve. As a result it is easy to feel a sense of despair. I know that I do. How am I supposed to react to the news that over 200 girls in Nigeria have been kidnapped and chances are they are being raped and tortured? How am I supposed to respond to the widespread poverty throughout the world and the United States? Yes there are things we can do-we can be socially and politically engaged, we can work to try and change the way governments view the poor and the oppressed, but at times oppression seems so widespread that I think, “well if we eradicate or minimize one form of injustice another form will quickly rise up and take its place. And if that’s the case what’s the use in trying to make the world a better place?”

In seminary we keep coming back to the problem of pain and suffering. How are we supposed to react in the face of unbearable pain and suffering? Is there any hope of things getting better? It’s hard not to resort to theological platitudes such as, “God is in control” or “everything happens for a reason.” Excuse me if I find those responses to be inadequate in the face of large scale atrocities. It becomes so easy to focus on large scale issues that we miss the little things that we and other people are doing to try and change things. Things that might be small, but which are significant. I can’t always focus on large scale issues-not unless I want to be paralyzed by depression. But I can try to find a few issues that I resonate with and try to make some changes there. I am passionate about encouraging Christians to focus on social justice issues, I am passionate about shedding light on dangerous theologies that exclude and oppress and providing alternative theological ideas that encourage inclusivity and compassion, I am passionate about studying moral injury and how war effects veterans. I can’t change the world and I won’t end war, but I can try and make small changes. I can try to add to someone else’s pile of good things.

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4. DOCTOR:  You okay?

RORY: No. I watched her die. I shouldn’t let it get to me, but it still does. I’m a nurse.

DOCTOR: Letting it get to you. You know what that’s called? Being alive. Best thing there is. Being alive right now is all that counts.” The Doctor, The Doctor’s Wife

We live in a culture where strength and independence is highly valued. We don’t want to hear stories of poverty, oppression, or injustice we want to hear stories of people who through their own merits were able to overcome tragedy. We might even view ourselves as an example of someone who single handedly overcame a life of pain and suffering. So when we hear the stories of other people who are struggling, we often say, “oh they are just complaining.” Or “they just need to work harder.” In fact, dismissing the stories of other people is often easier than feeling a sense of compassion. Why? Because if we acknowledge that perhaps there are some situations where individual strength is not good enough, if we take the time to listen to the stories of individuals without judging them or dismissing them we might start to care too much. Caring is scary and painful, especially when we realize how many people are suffering and in pain. Instead it is easier to shut ourselves down emotionally. It is easier to dismiss others as inadequate instead of contemplating the idea that perhaps there are some unjust situations in the world. And to be fair, as I’ve mentioned before, the sheer weight of all the pain and suffering in the world can be overwhelming and paralyzing, yet what does it mean if we shut ourselves off from trying to understand the pain of others? Or if we try to maintain a stoic façade and pretend that nothing gets to us? What kind of life is that? In The Doctor’s Wife, Rory is surprised that he took Idris death so hard, after all he is a nurse and has seen people die before and as a companion of the Doctor he has definitely been exposed to the death more times than he cares to think about, why should he care about another death? But does he ever really want to get to a place where the death of another becomes so common place that he becomes desensitized? What type of person would that make him? What type of life would that be? Of course we don’t want to let every little thing wound us or cause us pain, but sometimes we need to take a risk and care. Caring is frightening and risky. But what’s the alternative?

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3.When you’re a kid, they tell you it’s all… Grow up, get a job, get married, get a house, have a kid, and that’s it. But the truth is, the world is so much stranger than that. It’s so much darker. And so much madder. And so much better.

— Elton Pope,  Love and Monsters

Obviously this quote shouldn’t be taken as a wide scale condemnation on marriage and having kids. But often times our vision of what makes life meaningful is extremely small. Often success is defined in narrow terms and anyone who does not fit into society’s definition of success is rejected or classified as a failure. But what if there is more to life than just material wealth? What if there is more to life than upholding the status quo? What makes a life meaningful? For every person the answer to that question will differ-some find meaning in their families, others in their work. There are people whose life revolves around a variety of political or social causes and others view faith as paramount, and of course there are those who balance a variety of tasks and roles that are all extremely important to them. But how many of us just settle for what is expected of us? How many of us reduce our life’s meaning to the tangible material things that are easy to quantify (how much money do we make and how does it compare to our peers? How prestigious is this school over the other one?

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2. MOMENT: You know the sound the TARDIS makes? That wheezing, groaning. That sound brings hope wherever it goes.

WARRIOR: Yes. Yes, I like to think it does.

MOMENT: To anyone who hears it, Doctor. Anyone, however lost. Even you.

-The Day of the Doctor

Some people confuse hope with naïve optimism which often dismisses pain and anguish as unimportant. Blind optimism refuses to engage in the messiness of life and instead wants to wrap everything up in a nice neat little bow. Hope is much more difficult because it requires getting involved in difficult situations. Blind optimism sits back and says, things will get better. Hope says, “I am going to try and make a change and even though my efforts seem small, even though it seems as if history keeps on repeating itself, I am going to keep moving forward.” Hope says just because violence and war have been the norm since life began does not mean I am going to stop seeking alternatives. Hope says that just because poverty and hunger are worldwide issues I cannot solve by myself that does not mean I am just going to give up.  Hope says I will seek a new way even when it seems that there is only one option.

In The Day of the Doctor we see the various incarnations of the Doctor struggle with the magnitude of ending the Time War. Everything else had been tried to end the war and it seemed as if the only option left is to destroy Gallifrey and kill everyone on it-including 2.47 billion children. It seemed as if in order to prevent the collapse of the universe the Doctor would need to end violence with the ultimate act of violence. Hope seeks another way when it seems as if there is only one terrible option. In the Time War hope is in short supply. But in the Day of the Doctor, hope wins out.

But in the real world things are not so neatly resolve in two hours. In the real world, difficult decisions are made and there is no opportunity to go back in time and change history. In the real world, difficult decisions have painful consequences and there is no going back. In the real world you don’t always have time to seek a better way. In those situations where is hope? Hope acknowledges the devastation. Hope embraces the truth no matter how awful, but hope says, I will never stop seeking a better way. Things did not work out in this situation, but I will continue searching for an alternative to violence. I will continue trying to ensure that no one else has to go through what I did-or what this nation went through. Hope says that even if this happens again and again, I will stand with the victims and keep working towards healing.

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1. We all change, when you think about it. We’re all different people all through our lives. And that’s okay, that’s good, you’ve got to keep moving, so long as you remember all the people that you used to be. I will not forget one line of this. Not one day. I swear. I will always remember when the Doctor was me.

-The Time of the Doctor

There are major life changes that can cause anxiety, sadness, happiness or a mixture of a variety of feelings. But change isn’t just confined to major events such as marriage, graduation, moving, etc. Individuals change, for better or for worse. If we didn’t change, if we stayed static we wouldn’t truly be living, we would merely be existing. But when we change or someone we love changes-even if it’s for the better, it still involves a measure of loss and sadness. A child becomes an adult. Parents love their adult children and are hopefully proud of the person that he or she has become, but the relationship has changed. Their child has changed.

My biggest personal transformation occurred when I left my Pentecostal upbringing. It wasn’t an easy or instantaneous change-when I realized that my fundamental beliefs did not align with the church I spent my teens in-I was devastated and I felt loss. Pentecostalism has a specific worldview and when I gave that up, I gave up a part of myself. But I couldn’t deny the fact that I had changed. I was no longer the 12 year old girl that found the theology of the Pentecostal church to be comforting. I was becoming a different person and that meant that I had to say goodbye to a congregation that meant so much to me. Of course when I left at 17 I didn’t leave in the best possible way-I simply stopped going. No chance for a goodbye or closure. But nonetheless, my years in that church were extremely formative. I often find myself missing certain aspects and seminary is reinforcing how much I miss the culture of Pentecostalism (though not it’s theology). But change sometimes mean saying goodbye.

The Doctor always changes. In fact regeneration has enabled the show to continue on and off since 1963. Regeneration enables an actor to pursue other opportunities with the knowledge that the show will most likely continue even though he has left. But despite change being in the shows DNA, it still hurts to say goodbye to an incarnation of the Doctor.  One can look forward to brand new adventures while still mourning the fact that a chapter has ended. In The Time of the Doctor Matt Smith’s Doctor admits that change is extremely important-as individuals we all change though not as dramatically as the Doctor. Our 25 year old self is not the same as our 13 year old self, but we hopefully remember snapshots of who we were when we were younger-we hopefully hold onto the relationships we formed, the lessons we learned. Goodbye does not mean forgetting it just means letting go and embracing something new.

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What The Church Can Learn From Doctor Who and Whovians

I want to point out that when I am talking about mainline churches, I am of course talking in general terms. I cannot speak for every single mainline church, there are probably plenty that are growing and thriving,  so needless to say this is based on my experiences and personal context.

1)  Change is a must-Change is built into the DNA of the show. Every few years the main character-the Doctor regenerates and a new actor takes on the beloved role. Each Doctor has his own personality quirks. Additionally, the Doctor’s companions constantly change and each brings out a different element of the Doctor.  And of course their relationship with the Doctor differs from his relationships with his previous companions.  Furthermore, the writers are not afraid of taking risks and taking the show in a completely new or unexpected direction. When the show returned in 2005, the Doctor’s home planet is gone and his people wiped out by his own hands. The next few seasons reflect on the Doctor’s loneliness and sense of self-loathing. He did what he needed to do to save the universe, but at what cost? But then, during the 50th anniversary special, we find that the Doctor has re-written his own history. The show is constantly adapting itself for its new audiences and while there are fans who get disgruntled about the changes, the fact of the matter is, if the show wants to survive it needs to continually find ways to reinvent itself.

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In a similar vein the mainline churches in America are reaching a crossroads. The fact of the matter is that a lot of what was working in the 50s and 60s, when mainline denominations were at its peak, no longer work.  In the 50s and 60s mainline churches could safely cater to one crowd-mainly white, middle class Americans, but things in the 21st century have shifted. America is becoming more racially and economically diverse and as a result churches will need to keep up with that changing reality. How mainline churches worship, what their theological beliefs are, how they go about interacting with others, will need to undergo a radical overhaul if mainline churches are to survive.  For example if you live in a predominantly Hispanic area-the way you worship is going to have to reflect that if you want to attract new members to the church. Mainline churches are going to have to rethink some of their most cherished traditions in light of 21st century realities.

2) Continue to be true to one’s identity/mission-Doctor who is a constantly evolving show-but yet remains faithful to its identity. It is a show about a time traveling-well-meaning alien, who tries to do the right thing. Does the Doctor fail? Yes. Can he be manipulative? Yes. But the core of the show rests on this specific timelord traveling throughout the universe, taking us along for the ride, trying to help when he can and encouraging his audience to do the same. While the show is constantly changing it still stays faithful to that premise.

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In a time of change and flux it can be easy to become so intent on surviving that one loses sight one’s identity/mission.  Each church and denomination has a different mission based on its theological beliefs. For instance, if a church’s core missional identity is to present a safe space for people of various racial backgrounds, theological beliefs, sexual orientation, or political backgrounds to come together, then that means they will have to make changes to be more faithful to that core mission. There are churches who want to be so popular that they will do whatever it takes to get a mass following, (ex. Some megachurches) but they might lose sight of why they were formed to begin with. Others, might care more about maintaining the status quo that they refuse to make any changes at all.

3)      Be passionate- I love the passion of the fans in the Doctor Who fandom. It was that very passion that kept the show alive in various forms when it went off the air in 1989. In fact it was the persistence of Russell T Davis (among others) whose insistence saw the return of the show. Doctor who fans  are not afraid to demonstrate their passion for the show. Are there people who take it too far? Yes of course. I’m sure some of my friends think I take my obsession with Doctor Who too far.  But in all seriousness, while there are people in the Doctor who fandom whose passion for the show has led them to harass and exclude others with differing opinions, the vast majority, (at least that I have experienced) have managed to be passionate about the show, share their passion without alienating others, and also have a life outside of the show.

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However, when it comes to religion, some mainline churches are understandably worried about not wanting to come across as pushing their religious beliefs on others. They don’t want to infringe on other people’s beliefs or rights. And in a society where people are using their personal religious beliefs as an excuse to limit the rights of others, that is a very real fear. However, some churches go in the opposite direction and remain silent. Their members don’t want to talk about their beliefs at all. And the problem then arises that if the only Christian voices that are heard are from those viewed as exclusive and judgmental, then people are going to paint Christianity with one brush and write Christianity off.  But are the only two options really silence or obnoxious proselytizing? Is there a way to be passionate about one’s beliefs without intentionally alienating others?

4)      Encourage diversity-As the show reaches an ever-expanding audience-it is slowly beginning to reflect diversity-in various forms. For example, Martha Jones, played by Freema Agyeman, was the first black companion. In the next series Danny Pink, played by Samuel Anderson will most likely be a regular recurring character in the show.  Titan comics, the officially licensed publisher of the Doctor Who comicbook is giving the tenth doctor, a Hispanic companion. Not to mention that the show, I believe has gotten progressively better in having nonwhite characters play main roles in one-off episode. Additionally, the show of course is not only racially diverse, but also diverse in terms of sexual orientation.  Now if only we could get some more female writers on the show…

Furthermore-the fandom is becoming more and more diverse. The Day of the Doctor, one episode- granted an extremely hyped about episode since it was the 50th anniversary episode- was broadcast in 94 countries across 6 continents. It was fascinating to read about how people throughout the world were celebrating the show’s 50th anniversary.

The fan base is incredibly diverse in terms of talents, life experiences, careers etc. The talent in the fanbase is phenomenal. I find myself amazed by some of the art that various fans have produced-from plays, to art work, to crafts, to music and the great thing is that, barring the fact that there are jerks, is that fanbase is big enough for all that diverse talent and viewpoints.

In contrast, some mainline churches are struggling to reach a more diverse audience-not just racially diverse but economically and generationally. Worldwide-the church tends to have more success-although even that is threatened by the fact that it is very possible that churches in the global south will break away from their Northern American counterparts.

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In the US many mainline churches tend to be monolithic racially, economically, and generationally. I am a young 24 year old, hispanic woman, and while there is a lot more to my identity than just that, I have to admit I often feel out of place in mainline churches. It often feels as if my experiences, my history, my talents have no place in said churches.  I know I am not the only one who experiences said frustration. The children and grandchildren of church members often feel out of place in the church and and they feel as if it has very little relevance to their lives.  There are people who often consider themselves far off from the mainstream of society who feel as if they aren’t’t welcome in the church.  And the issue becomes, well how do we reach out to them? Can we? There will always be people unhappy with the way something is run-we see that in the Doctor Who fandom and the same is true in the church. But the thing is, in order for any show or institution to survive it needs to diversify-not just racially, but in all aspects.

 

This is by no means an extensive list. But I wanted to share a quick post. Finals are in a few weeks so I am swapped with school work, but don’t want to completely neglect this blog!

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 

4. The Snowmen

 

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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