[Enjoy this guest post by Steve Case! – Ed.]
The question upon which a religion was founded, upon which wars have been fought, upon which Thanksgiving dinners have become disasters, can be answered by the BBC and its sister companies. Was Jesus Christ the Son of God (Christianity), a prophet with some high connections (Islam) or just a nice guy with some good PR (Judaism)?
What if the answer is none of the above?
Jesus Christ was a Time Lord. Yes, as in Dr. Who: hopping about in time and space, writing wrongs, squashing alien rebellions, and nudging people of historical importance toward their greatness. Jesus Christ may be the basis for one of the longest running science fiction television shows in history.
According to the creators and current writers of Dr Who, both in the BBC and in Big Finish Productions, Time Lords are from the planet Galifrey. They travel through time and space in a ship called a TARDIS (Time And Relative Dimensions In Space). They usually travel with a spunky girl assistant in a short skirt. This simple notion expands like a TARDIS interior to answer many of the great questions of the gospels.
Does God have a plan for my future? Well, yes and no. God, like a Time Lord, does not exist on our timeline. The scriptures tell us that Jesus said “I am the alpha and the omega. The beginning and the end.” and also “With me, time is no more.” In addition, we learn from the beginning (as in THE beginning) that the Trinity was present before there was a way to measure time at all.
In the episode “Blink,” the Doctor explains that time itself is not linear. “It’s actually a big ball of wibbley-wobbley-timey-wimey, uh, stuff.” Perhaps not as eloquent as the rabbi from Nazareth but the idea is same. In the Psalms David writes “With you a thousand years is but a day.” How else could this be possible unless we were talking about a being that operated outside the rules of time and space – a being who simply “was”? When Moses asks for God’s name the Creator of all things simply responds “I am.” God says that he exists “now” and with God that’s all there is: an eternal now. This is later repeated by Jesus before Pilate when questioned about his identity. Jesus the miracle worker exists in the eternal now.
How did this “miracle worker” feed five thousand people? How did he walk on the water? How did he do all those amazing things? The answer to these questions may be found, quite literally, in his time machine. From the earliest episodes of Dr. Who, we see that the TARDIS is actually “bigger on the inside than the outside.” It has an extensive library, a pool, and one would assume a massive kitchen. Traveling in time would allow Jesus “companions” to go forward in time, collect food for thousands, and bring it back to the exact moment they left. In the 2010 episode “The Pandorica Opens,” the TARDIS provides an “air corridor” enabling a woman from the Doctor’s past (and future) to pass through outer space. Surely this same technology could support a man wishing to walk upon the water because the boat and left without him.
What about the big one: the resurrection? Why was the tomb empty? How did Jesus appear to the disciples in the upper room? How could Mary confuse Jesus with a gardener after traveling with him for nearly three years? Answers to these questions lie in the very nature of a Time Lord. Time Lords have a way of “cheating death.” It’s called Regeneration (perhaps a more socially acceptable way of saying Resurrection).
When a Time Lord reaches the end of his lifespan – by age, falling off a giant antenna, absorbing massive amounts of radiation, or poor ratings – the Time Lord does not die. He regenerates into a “completely new person with all the same memories.” Doctor Who Magazine describes this as having every cell of your body change simultaneously. When this happens, a complete physical transformation takes place. A Time Lord can go from being a short tramp-like professor into a tall skinny bloke with spiky hair and a trench coat.
Regeneration is accompanied by a tremendous amount of pure energy, which, if uncontained, can shake the world around it. Enough to move a giant bolder from the mouth of a cave? Enough to send Roman guards running for the hills? Enough to burn the image of a man onto a burial shroud? As the 10th incarnation of the Doctor puts it: ”a completely new man goes walking away.”
No wonder the disciples on the road to Emmaus didn’t recognize Jesus until he began to pray with them. It should be noted here that many of the Doctor’s female companions could see the old man in the new simply by looking in his eyes. In the episode “School Reunion,” the Doctor (now four or five generations later) says “Hello Sarah Jane” to a former companion and only then does she recognize him. Similarly, when Jesus stands in the garden Mary assumes he works there. Only when he says her name does she see his true self.
It is often asked how Moses could have written the first five books of the Old Testament when he wasn’t there for the first part and was supposedly dead by the end of Deuteronomy. Yet one of the great moments of Jesus’ life is when his companions saw him in conversation with Moses and Elijah. It’s possible that the man we think of as Jesus of Nazareth has been returning again and again.
Time Lords meeting their former selves is an ongoing theme in both the television show and even more so in the audio adventures of The Doctor (produced by Big Finish Productions). While there is much debate about the number of times a Time Lord can regenerate, how many messiah-types have we seen? Moses? Elijah? Jesus? Gandhi? Dr. King?
Gonna go out on a limb and say you meant, “righting wrongs” not “writing wrongs.”
But good article. I love the Dr. Who stuff.
It has also been theorized that the Doctor is Oscar The Grouch:
I suppose that the two theories are not contradictory.
If Jesus Christ was a Time Lord, then what about other resurrection stories from around the world? The 17 incarnations of Lord Vishnu? The Tibetan Buddha of Compassion, Avalokiteshvara, reincarnated infinite times for the good of all sentient beings? Or Prometheus of Greek mythology being eaten alive by a bird every day until he was unchained from his rock. If that’s not regeneration, I don’t know what is.
Ah, Aprille, but that’s the beauty of this theory–it not only explains the unexplainable miracles, but unites all religions into one. ;)
Ah but was Prometheus not a thief and a conman who came back to life every day, but was never noted for coming back in a different form?
Perhaps Prometheus is in fact an entirely different Doctor Who character – the immortal Captain Jack Harkness.
This article explains the entire history of the world perfectly!
Your question about the prodigal son (“What if we are intended to be BOTH sons in the story?”) makes me think of the fairly recent episode where a manifestation of the Doctor has the Doctor, Amy, and Rory toggling between two worlds, unsure which one is the real one. I guess the Doctor is being both sons in that episode.
oh what a missed opportunity, this essay. for anyone who’s been keeping up with the show since RTD took (& subsequently relinquished) the helm, it is clear that the agenda is to create an aetheist/’science-based’ (even though it’s only mock/science-fictional science) mythology that has at its heart the apotheosis of *man*, because, as people like Craig Ferguson like to point out, the Doctor is not a superhero or any kind of superbeing; apart from the ability to travel through space and time with the TARDIS, the sonic screwdriver, the psychic paper, the tin dog, the ability to regenerate, various unspecified psychic abilities, an indeterminate life span, two hearts, alien DNA, & the ability to not look like a complete dork in a bow tie or extra long scarf, just a bit of a dork that pretty girls still want to snog, he is absolutely *just like us*.
also: the air corridor was in Episode 4, The Time of Angels, not The Pandorica Opens.
PISSY NERD ALERT
Every time someone writes the name of the show as “Dr. Who” it makes my eyes bleed just a little. Please stop. The only time it was ever used in that form was in the movies with Peter Cushing. “Doctor” is a name, not a title, so abbreviating it isn’t appropriate.
Hi Nona. i used to have the exact same reaction. But maybe this will help ease the sting: As fans of the show know, it’s a kind of running gag to incorporate the title into the script. The best, wittiest, most naturally & delightfully offhand & most unexpected way it was ever done, imho, was the very first time, during the very first episode of the show. In ‘An Unearthly Child’, Ian Chesterton calls the Doctor ‘Dr. Foreman’, not having been introduced & knowing only that he was his pupil Susan Foreman’s grandfather. William Harnell replies: ‘Dr. Who? Whatchoo talkin’ bout?’
The air corridor wasn’t in “The Pandorica Opens”. It was in the episode “The Time of Angels”.
fantastic! i first noticed this kind of thinking in that gas-mask episode. the “everybody lives” claim. just this once, every body lives.
fits quite well with my christ-centered universalism.
however, as with all christ figures, there are places where it all breaks down if you push it too far. the two hearts for instance imply an age-old heresy of duality rather than fully god and fully man.
but now i am heading into my own ghetto with that kind of talk.
the main point, a brilliant start of what could be a much longer exploration of the topic.
RTD and Douglas Adams, one of DW’s most famous writers, are (or were, as Adams is deceased) atheists. Romana II? Married to Richard Dawkins. This religious connection thingy is a cute idea, but what I’ve always liked about Doctor Who is that at its hearts it’s all about the (faux) science,(semi-accurate) history and running from ridiculous monsters. Simple. Read into it what you will, the Hero’s Journey and wanting to throw off the mantle of “savior” is common throughout the arts and humanities, and has as much to do with the human condition as any religion myth.
Yes! What Felicity said. What Doctor Who proposes, if anything, is a cosmology/worldview that is rationality(‘science’)-based & actually counter to what religion offers–
Here’s why i think this is a missed opportunity: rather than making snide, not-as-clever-as-they-seem-to-think superficial comparisons between a particular Gallifreyan and a particular Galilian(sp?), i think it would have been much more interesting to actually look at (‘overthink’–this essay is really subpar compared with what else i’ve read on this site) the cosmology the show proposes, esp given that the last series’ final episode, The Big Bang, pretty much lays out the show’s idea of a ‘rational/scientific’ universe, specifically by re-writing religious-type creation myths from a ‘rational/scientific (or science-fictional)’ perspective, pretty much doing away with the idea of ‘God’ (to paraphrase River in ‘The Pandorica Opens’: ‘You’ve been a soldier far too long to believe in gods…but there is, however, a *man*…’) even if it does include ideas that can be interpreted as quasi-religious (the Doctor’s sacrifice, Amy as all-mother, &c).
The show is, in fact, i would say, insidiously (sometimes overtly, esp after RTD) anti-religion.
And so is His Dark Materials, about a girl who is persecuted by the religious authorities, goes down into the world of the dead and leads them out where none has done so before, and helps lead the fight to defeat the ultimate cosmic evil. It is possible to be the reverse of Milton and be of God’s party without knowing it.
For example, the end of Series 3, with the Master, we see Martha take the good news to all oppressed mankind and have them pray to empower the Doctor to rise up from defeat and save them all.
Someone needs to put the Fenzel-sign in the sky so he can come and explain how it’s possible for the show to be pro-religious and anti-religious (well, those phrases sound reductive, but we know what we mean) at the same time without one explanation being that much better than the other.
Oh, and when I first saw this article, I thought:
“Crown Him the Lord of years, the Potentate of time.”
hi Timothy. if I may make a suggestion, yes, perhaps ‘pro-‘ & ‘anti-religion’ are the wrong terms to use–at least, until we set a useful working definition for them. instead, might I propose this: Doctor Who re-frames the *phenomenon* of religion in rationalist/skeptical terms, such that the most miraculous occurrences can be explained by suitably obscure science fictional technobabble (which is only a stand-in for ‘hard’ science anyway). thus, the Doctor’s ‘resurrection’ or whatever you call it in Series 3 is explained through the use of the Master’s psychic satellite network (angel net, or whatever it was called), &, later, in The Big Bang, we are shown how a suitably mysterious/magical creation myth can be seen as in fact contingent upon the ‘physical’ properties of time, space & memory as it operates in the show’s faux rational universe.
as for making a Messiah/God out of the Doctor, as much as he would no doubt enjoy such flattery & wouldn’t shrink from any opportunity to save the universe, his temperament would balk at such a suggestion: he may be fiercely moral, but he is also anarchic, a characteristic, I would argue, that keeps him from becoming someone like the Master.
While I agree that there are examples of specifically non-religious moments, even more so in Torchwood (as evidenced by use of the Resurrection Glove, ironically) (and contra this, showing how not clear cut the whole issue is, Children of Earth essentially offers a Theodicy regarding why the Doctor doesn’t intervene in that story), I’d say there are an equal number of things that are symbolically Messianic (e.g. the importance of Donna despite the realisation of this) or at least, the show likes people to have big destinies – such as the identity of the Bad Wolf.
I would say The Big Bang is not as closed-book as you suggest – the universe is recreated through the memories and actions on one individual – implying a stronger amount of creation that the randomness and chaos of the actual Big Bang. The point I would stress is that, even if the writers have an agenda, the work as it stands can have multiple interpretations of the same moments.
i don’t deny that there are similarities between the show and the messianic narrative common to many religions, but i’m not convinced it’s enough to call these elements ‘religious’–Felicity has already brought up Campbell in her comment above. One thing that i would point out that sets apart the ‘big destinies’ you mention from religious destiny is that there is–arguably–no element of being ‘chosen’ in the sense of people being singled out by a benevolent, omniscient, omnipotent being; Amy Pond, for instance, just happened to be ‘special’ because she happened to have the Crack in her wall, ‘the whole universe leaking into her head’. Now, one can make the assertion that this does not preclude something god-like operating offstage, as it were, singling Amy out & intentionally putting that crack in her wall, but the show itself *makes no such assertion*. & if you want to make the assertion that the Doctor is the ‘benevolent, omniscient, omnipotent being’ that singles these ‘special people’ out, the problem there is he isn’t the agency of that specialness (as you would expect a god-figure to be); he merely recognizes it. If there is a god in the Doctor Who universe, it isn’t acknowledged by the show itself.
Throughout the last series, we were given to think that consciousness & memory could in fact operate independently from the material universe, even as the two, lets call them systems (i.e., the system of consciousness/memory & the system of the material universe), interact & influence each other. This might be thought of as symbolic of the spiritual side of the universe–or it could be accepted as just another part of an intricate *rational* system that remains incomprehensible only because of our own limitations. i’d argue for the latter, given the show’s intellectual thrust. what’s more, if we are to look at the Doctor as the ‘godhead’ of this so-called religion, the problem here is the Doctor simply isn’t: rather than the agent of the incomprehensible, he merely absorbs them (intellectually) as part of the system & works out a way to manipulate things to his advantage–much the way we handle things we encounter in everyday (and not-so-everyday) life; he is part of the system the way a god–particularly in the Christian sense–isn’t.
One other problematic element is the question of worship. People would bring up the Doctor’s apparent apotheosis at the end of the Martha series, but i would reiterate that this apparent elevation to godhood is framed (rationalized) by the use of the Archangel network, which was set up by the Master & not the Doctor. What’s more, in the episode ‘Midnight’, RTD appears to go out of his way to refute the image of Doctor-as-God, showing us just how impotent he can be. On the other hand, if you wish to assert fandom/hero-worship as a stand in for religious god-worship, i would point out that hero- and god-worship are’t at all the same thing. Even the ancient Greeks, with their flawed, very-much-like-ordinary-people gods, knew this.
Finally, if you do wish to assert a religion/mythology-Doctor Who relationship, i think Christianity-Jesus Christ is entirely the wrong point of comparison. The Doctor is the intensely moral anarchist that Jesus Christ only superficially was–in the end, Jesus was all about establishing a world/universal order. Look instead, i would suggest, to one of the trickster-based mythologies.
This article and the comments that follow actually fit with some ideas I’ve been toying with about both Doctor Who and the Discworld series and their creators. I may have to see if I can’t write up an article for consideration on posting here about it while I’m out on vacation this week. :)
I expect to hear the following sort of question at the next Doctor Who convention:
“Yes, I have a question for Mr Davies. In the Gospels series the Doctor gets crucified on a cross, but in the spin-off Acts everyone talks about the Doctor being hanged from a tree. Soooo…what’s up with that?”
Excellent post, Steve.
I haven’t seen much Doctor Who, but I have been to a lot of Sunday School over the years (it’s its own kind of pop culture). I’ve heard a lot of lessons on the prodigal son and never once did I hear anyone teach to ‘“be the good son” and not “the bad son.”’ The major lesson of the parable is telling the Pharisees to not get too uppity in their righteousness, because they’ll be left out angry in the cold while all the repentant “sinners” get to come in to the party. A sub-lesson is that the actions of the older brother are just as “bad” as the younger brother’s because the older brother didn’t fulfill his responsibility of chasing after the younger brother and rescuing him from the gutter.
Not trying to be preachy, just a little religious ‘well, actually…’
I’d write this article if I had time, but anyone want to discuss the intersection between religion and fandom in Who? The evidence:
-In season 3, the Archangel network or whatever is only able to bring the Doctor back to life because everyone on Earth believes in him. You can read this as a neat inversion of the Gospels (humanity saves God by bringing him back to life, not the other way around) or a meta-joke (the fans bring the Doctor Who series back to life by overloading the switchboards as they clamor for more).
-At the end of this past season, the Doctor re-created the Universe. Could be read as a sciencey/humanistic creation story (in Who, the Universe was literally created by Man) or a meta-joke (the Doctor and his Universe can only survive if they are remembered by a fan: Amy).
-In Love & Monsters, the Doctor gets his own fandom/religion. The Doctor is shown to be a relatively ineffectual God (he can’t bring your dead Mom back to life), but his followers create a nifty community and use their powers to help others and defeat monsters. Is this just a story about fan communities on the Internet, or is this a story about the importance of organized religion in a godless world?
I could go on, but, uh, back to work.
Hasn’t the Companion’s status as audience stand-in been brought up before, too?
Taking her into his arms the Doctor says “All of life is a pile of good things and bad things. And the good things do not soften the bad things and vice-versa. The bad things do not spoil the good things or make them unimportant.”
Not all that far off from “Love thy neighbor as you love yourself.”
That’s enormously far off. The two statements bear no relationship to each other, apart from the fact that they’re both generally nice sentiments. The latter is an explicit instruction, phrased in the imperative case, stating how one ought to treat one’s fellow humans. The former is a statement of a perspective, a generalized sort of advice for accepting unpleasant truths. I happen to like both sentiments, but I don’t see what one has to do with the other.
This is topical:
As is this:
So is the Doctor Christian? Or some other religion? Is he being “born again”, rising from the dead, or reincarnating? Maybe he’s a time-traveling zombie?
Interesting (non-serious, I trust) approach to Time Lords and The Doctor. Much of the negative commentary on the Russell T Davies era of the show mentioned the over-reliance on deus ex machina endings. The weaker stories set The Doctor up to be the “savior of the Universe” requiring what was close enough to divine intervention to resolve the matter.
Lets start by saying most heroes are Christ like. I dont care want esoteric examples you guys bring up im talking generally. This combined with the Judeo-Christan perspective entrenched in our popular culture (unintentional or otherwise) makes for a culture that wants and likes savior figures. That kind of analysis aside,the points you’re all arguing are about intent and im sorry to break it to you but that is irrelevant. One of the fascinating things about humanity is that everyone looks at the world differently. It does not matter if the writers intentionally made The Doctor like Christ, the fact that someone can interpret him as Christ means at least to somebody its true. If the author decides that the lessons the Doctor can teach us lessons about ourselves and how we interact with people fantastic. If one of you refuses to see those lessons thats okay too. Essentially, the truth is relative. To boot your all over analyzing this to the point of missing the point.
authorial intent is never irrelevant, though its interaction with discourse may vary in degree &/or directness. speculations of authorial intent, particularly when that intent is made by design or accident less than explicit, enrich our experience of a work of art. that said, I do agree that the multivalence of a particular work of art & the individuality of subjective experience means that speculations of authorial intent just one facet of the discourse. but again, not irrelevant.
as for ‘over analyzing’, well, duh. however, what is this point you believe we’re missing?
“The question upon which a religion was founded,”
“upon which wars have been fought,”
Questionable. Many groups were fighting over every possible disagreement prior to this ever coming into existence. Therefore, this is relatively a moot point as people will fight over things based on pride. Religion is just another excuse. Just watch a playground.
“upon which Thanksgiving dinners have become disasters”
Never seen a Thanksgiving dinner come to disaster over this kind of discussion. I have seen a lot of pride come before the fall or flailing disaster, but never seen with the question about “who was Jesus”. That is a bit of a stretch.
“, can be answered by the BBC and its sister companies.”
This should read “, may have been answered by”. Since the theory (a supposition with minimal substantiation) is all that you have. There would need to be common points of reference. No big blue box/TARDIS, no changing faces with definitive proof of who they are, no psychic paper, so on and so forth.
Thought the article is more of a comedic read, some points are a bit far fetched and are prone to take guff.
two further and (i promise) brief thoughts . . .
1) so much of what i cautiously call “christian” themes flow through all creative work. (new experiences and epiphanies are almost always baptized into existence through rainfall.) one cannot write from a perspective outside one’s own experience without supreme effort. thus, all artwork tends to have religious elements, even when attempting to be anti-religious. (it’s the same conversation, no matter the side one chooses.)
2) the arguments above that imply scientific method and reason stand opposite modern christianity are missing where most arguments actually take place. on the whole, since the enlightenment, protestantism has leaped into the logic realm, and engaged in pointless arguments over the factual truth of the christian narrative. this is a fool’s errand. christianity (historically) stand outside reason, outside logic, outside the mundane calls for journalistic accounts of the life of the historical jesus.
point i’m not making very clearly is this: one should not set christianity up as the straw man against science and reason (though many “evangelicals” are eager to do just that). in the braod scope of history, the quest for truth included religious and moral truth, and the truth is not at war with itself.
read Micheal Moorcock’s ‘Behold the Man’. it’s the best novel about a time traveler becoming Jesus i’ve ever read