“Army of Ghosts” is part one of the two-part story that is the finale of season two. At its beginning, the Doctor and Rose return to modern-day London to visit Jackie Tyler, only to find that the world has gone terribly wrong: “ghosts” appear in short, predictable stints throughout the day, and have been for some time. These apparitions are shadowy, humanoid shapes and people believe they are their loved ones come back from the grave. These ghosts do nothing—they don’t reach out or try to communicate; they just stand there, appearing for minutes at a time day after day after day. They have become such a part of daily life all over the world that they have saturated culture, incorporated into dramas and talk-shows, spoken about on the news as though it were the weather.
Humanity has gotten used to an exceedingly strange phenomenon. They are not seeking answers about the ghosts but rather, have chosen to interpret their existence in a way that makes them feel good, manufacturing their own truth.
The Doctor refuses to do the same. He goes about seeking the truth of the situation, triangulating a ghost’s origination point to a building in London that they discover houses the Torchwood Institute. He takes Rose (and, accidentally, Jackie) to Torchwood in his quest for an answer.
Jackie: “You’re always doing this. Reducing it to science. Why can’t it be real? Just think of it, though. All the people we’ve lost. Our families coming back home. Don’t you think it’s beautiful?”
Torchwood is a flashy, well-funded program started by Queen Victoria to combat alien invasions of Earth (see season 2, episode 2). Although the organization is modern, confident, optimistic, and cordial, there is an unsettling undertone about their purpose, creed, and methods. They exist because of fear and distrust—fear that the Doctor won’t be around when they need him; distrust in the decisions he makes on humanity’s behalf.
Torchwood is humanity’s way of self-protecting and maintaining “control” of it’s fate. They are found throughout Doctor Who (and even have their own spin-off show). In this particular episode, they are conducting experiments on an invisible breach in the universe through which all manner of strange things are coming into the world. Daily, they pry it open in an effort to learn how to harness the immense power it emanates. These experiments immediately explain the clockwork appearances of the ghosts, though what they are is still unclear. Torchwood believes they are completely in control of the situation—for their methods of opening the breach also close it.
This story’s overall optimism changes drastically as part 1 comes to a close. Through a series of events, the “friendly ghosts” come into full focus to reveal an army of Cybermen. This leads into full-on panic as it becomes clear that humanity has willingly let not only Cybermen but also Daleks into their world. What Jackie and the rest of humanity once believed to be beautiful and good is actually evil.
“How terrible it will be for those who call evil good and good evil, who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness, who substitute what is bitter for what is sweet and what is sweet for what is bitter!” -Isaiah 5:20 (ISV)
This evil didn’t force its way into the world: it was invited. Humanity essentially threw their doors open to it, welcoming it into their homes. Just as, according to the Christian story, our first ancestors did in the Garden of Eden. That was the original moment in which good and truth were effectively distorted. When the serpent told Eve that God’s good decree was evil, it wasn’t because he believed truth was relative. His goal was not to see the situation from another angle to “find Eve’s truth,” as we might say today; rather, he was purposely scheming to make a lie look like truth.
Evil’s most effective strategy is disguising itself as good. All it has to do is be vague—a grey smudge in the world left open to interpretation, like the shadowy versions of the Cybermen. The Cybermen let people believe they were in control and could define what the “ghosts” were, content to be called by another name while they were biding time and gathering strength. But there was a reality beneath the distortion.
All evil has to do is be patient and wait for humanity to hand over their power. We do so willingly, without fail. And the result is our enslavement. Freedom from this state comes at a hefty price, and yet we have relinquished all our leverage. How can we be free but through the willingness and sacrifice of someone who was wise enough to hold on to their power, their riches? Is there such a person?
Tune in next month to explore the conclusion of this storyline and of Doctor Who, season 2…