by Robert Shearman and Terry Nation
Oh, this episode. This episode.
It forces us to grapple with our concept of evil; it brings us to find it in uncomfortable places; and it begins our journey in a deliciously ironic way.
Hold on to your butts.
Rose and the Doctor arrive in an underground bunker. It is a museum of sorts, belonging to the ruthless Henry van Statten: collector of alien artifacts. Van Statten has “collected” a specimen that happens to be alive, and is calling out for help–a transmission that brought our travelers to van Statten doorstep. And who do the Doctor and Rose find is behind the transmission? A DALEK: the Who-verse symbol of the very heart of evil. The terror of this creature will be familiar to diehard Whovians, but to those not yet quaking in their boots, let me explain:
The Daleks are the arch-nemesis of the Doctor and his race, the Time Lords. It was an all-out war between the two that led to the extinction of both. Daleks were created for only one purpose: to annihilate anything NOT IT: Born to destroy. Its mantra, literally, is “Exterminate.”
These human-sized metal aliens are not unlike a giant salt shaker covered in NECCO candy buttons (remember those things?). Its right hand is reminiscent of a plunger and its left, a whisk. Although their Kitchen-Aid appearance may make them comical to modern-day viewers, they are horrifying, single-minded, powerful creatures that are virtually indestructible. Daleks: the face of evil. And our story begins with one begging for help. It is chained and tortured, pleading for release. In her compassion and her ignorance, Rose shows mercy on it, freeing it to go on a killing rampage.
The last of the Time Lords comes face to face with the last of the Daleks, and Rose is shocked to see the Doctor turn psychotically angry and try to kill the pathetic creature. We are right there with her. Six episodes in, and the quirky, adventure-seeking, planet-saving Doctor is suddenly the opposite of our concept of him.
The captured Dalek and the Doctor are grappling with the same questions (who am I?) and the same pain (disconnected from my origin, I am purposeless and alone). But as the story unfolds, the Doctor rages at the Dalek. He disparages its creator, origin, purpose, and heaps blame upon its head. He becomes single-mindedly bent on hating and destroying it. The viewer squirms under this change–something doesn’t seem right. In a chilling scene, we are forced to see why: the Dalek tells the Doctor: “You would make a good Dalek.”
It is easy to hate someone we feel superior to. But what exists in our enemies is beating in our own breasts, pumping through our own blood, unseen and immeasurable. The Bible is pretty clear about this “level playing field.”
“You’re familiar with the command to the ancients, ‘Do not murder.’I’m telling you that anyone who is so much as angry with a brother or sister is guilty of murder. Carelessly call a brother ‘idiot!’and you just might find yourself hauled into court. Thoughtlessly yell ‘stupid!’at a sister and you are on the brink of hellfire.” –Matthew 5:21-22
The Matthew passage doesn’t stop there. In fact, it goes on to say that if we want to live a moral life, we have to start disassembling our bodies, taking out our eyes and chopping off our hands. Don’t freak out, it’s a metaphor! It means that as long as you’re in this body on this earth, you aren’t superior to anyone else. God treats all our sin the same. The Good News is that we all get the same Grace, too.
The Doctor changes in this episode, and so does the Dalek. Daleks are devoid of human emotion so that they can kill with no partiality or mercy. Rose’s compassionate touch imparts human DNA to the Dalek so that he starts to feel things that complicate his programming. After killing loads of people, the Dalek suddenly finds himself unable to kill anymore, starting with Rose.
“That thing killed hundreds of people,” cries the Doctor. To which Rose responds, “It’s not the one pointing the gun at me. It’s changing. What about you, Doctor? What are you changing into?”
We have been given the power to change, too–given a new identity to replace our depraved nature.
“You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that.
In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.” –Matthew 5:43-48
After putting all of humanity on one footing, the Bible calls each of us to become “kingdom subjects,” adopting a new identity (that of Christ) and living it out in the world. What does that mean? We get to be the heroes, imitating the identity we’ve adopted. This includes loving our enemies, as Christ loved us while we were yet his enemies. The enemy can be redeemed. We know this, because it happened to us.
When we are able to recognize that we are so sinful that we need abundant, consistent Grace, we can find the compassion to extend this Grace to others, even our enemies. This is a constant battle, choosing to live in the HERO’S identity. Luckily, we have the Church, the communion of Saints, gathered around us. They, like Rose standing between the Doctor and the Dalek, are there to remind us again and again who we were, and what we can do through the power of Grace.