In previous episode “The Long Game,” we watched as the Doctor rejected one-off companion Adam for taking self-serving advantage of the Doctor’s invitation into time and space. The episode ended with the Doctor openly praising Rose, declaring that he “only travels with the best.”
The Doctor’s faith in Rose is not rewarded.
The episode opens with Rose convincing the Doctor to take her to the scene of her father’s premature death. Once there, she decides that she knows better than the Doctor and directly disobeys his warning not to interfere by saving her father’s life.
Rose betrays the faith the Doctor placed in her, and reveals a sense of the damage she’s done (and also perhaps of her own uncertainty) when she reacts defensively to the Doctor’s confrontation about it. Rose acts like a child in the story of this episode, which revolves around an unexpected family reunion: She is impulsive, driven by the emotions of the moment, and insists that her perspective is the highest wisdom and authority, ignoring anything that contradicts it.
Can we blame her? The Doctor doesn’t offer details about why it would be dangerous to interfere–essentially, his reason is “because I told you so.” Plus, Rose (his “disciple” if you will) is following in his footsteps: From her perspective, she’s only doing what she has seen the Doctor do again and again–step in, make a choice, be counterculture, play the part of the hero. He’s even encouraged her to do just that in other scenarios! I sympathize with Rose’s (though often unarticulated) reasoning.
If you’ve done this kind of thing before, why wouldn’t you do it now?
If you can do this kind of thing, why can’t I?
How can this small choice possibly have a significant effect on the greater whole?
To me, these arguments feel innate–obvious, really–in the face of my own inexplicable circumstances and God’s enigmatic involvement.
If this choice has an immediately life-giving, positive result, how can it possibly be bad?
If you see the pain this circumstance is causing, how can you not intervene to heal it?
Why should I trust you, when you can’t explain yourself to me?
I get Rose and the choice she makes. I’m with her entirely…that is, until the consequences of her action present themselves and things begin to deteriorate. Fast. See, she changes something that has such huge implications that a hole rips through the fabric of time. As a result, terrifying Tetradactyl-like creatures are sent to gobble up the injured moment of time, and everything in it, in order to “repair” the timeline.
Considering an alternate perspective: The Doctor has seen the vastness of time and space, has experienced so much more than his companions could even imagine. Perhaps that’s even part of the reason he chooses ordinary humans to travel with: he can share his love of adventure with these little, inexperienced beings who appreciate his sense of wonder about the Universe. He’s not a god, so he doesn’t have the complete, unbroken picture of all of time and space and possibility. But his wisdom does come from vast experience and, with a little help from his innate cleverness, he certainly has an edge over his temporary TARDIS passengers. If you take that into account, it can start to seem quite silly that Rose would discount his expertise to go her own way.
Rose’s mistake feels so familiar and justifiable because her perspective is our own. In this metaphor, we are her and the Doctor is God (get used to it…and don’t. It waffles.). In any given situation, we envision an outcome that seems right and good and logical to us. And yet, those things we desire and pray for may not become a reality. Even though we can’t see the larger picture, how all the pieces fit together from now to the end of time, there is Someone who can. And that Someone is trustworthy to cause “all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).
If you’re like me, that verse has long lost its potency, thanks to years and years of being quoted at when struggling through painful life circumstances. But let’s hold its truth up to something that we can’t accused of being touchy-feely or hypothetical (contrarily, it is raw and tangible, and God knew we needed it): Jesus willingly put himself into experiences just as dark, painful, and inexplicable as the ones we are facing. Not only did he experienced ultimate physical and emotional pain, but spiritual as well. “Can we do this differently?” he agonizes to God in the Garden of Gethsemane, literally sweating blood. And then on the cross, we see him asking “Why?” with no response. But Hebrews, and even his own prayer at Gethsemane, tells us that he trusted in the end goal, the eternal perspective, and saw suffering through “for the joy set before him.” (By the way–“the Joy.” That’s us. Trippy.)
Knowing something is true doesn’t always take away the pain and suffering we face. It doesn’t always help us surrender our choices in trust. We see in Jesus’ example of suffering that knowing the hope and joy of the end game also doesn’t eliminate or invalidate our pain or uncertainty. We still feel it, experience it, and can bring it honestly before God, as Jesus did.
Perhaps that–rather than dealing with our pain by making our own stubborn, small-perspective choices–is where we can find true healing. All this is temporary. All things will be restored, even if it doesn’t look like it now. Can we say that for Rose? Not in this episode, but….well, you’ll see.