Welcome Whovians, to the new incarnation of Who·ology here on Reel World Theology. Unlike the return of Missy to this season of Doctor Who, we have reasons for the regeneration of this weekly feature from podcast to written review, but suffice to say, we still love Who and still plan to bring you our take on it each week to hopefully stir some discussion. So let’s get to it!
If you are a little confused about what exactly happened in this week’s episode you’re not alone. This one was complex, but once you peel back the layers it’s easy to see why this episode was very good and ultimately one of the more important episodes of the show. So let’s start by trying summing up what went on in the episode. Because the “what” is not nearly as important as the “why.”
The Doctor is stuck inside his confession dial, having been transported there by some unknown entity for purposes we do not yet know. This confession dial is your standard time lord technology (small on the outside, bigger on the inside). The basic function of this dial is to scare the Doctor into confessing hidden truths. The Doctor realizes the confession his enemy wants him to divulge is regarding the truth of the hybrid. He refuses to confess this truth, despite the realization that in order to conceal this truth, he will spend an actual eternity of reliving his own death and his grief over Clara.
At the beginning of the episode the Doctor says, “I will never, ever stop.” This is what it looks like to never ever stop, to continue the pursuit to the bitter, painful end. As I’ve said before, this show is best when it deals with the realities of the situation it poses. Here we experience the “long way round” for the Doctor. We see it, rather than get told about it, which is something this season has done very well. He is both overwhelmed by his grief after losing Clara and motivated by it. His sacrifice of endurance through this hell is how he pays tribute to her, yet it costs him great pain.
“What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it?”- Luke 15:4
When I write a theological review, I try to take a big picture stance. That may not always work, but I think it’s important to understand that film and entertainment take a larger perspective than our own and that we shouldn’t read only ourselves in what we watch. But I’m going to draw a specific parallel with this one, simply because I was moved to it so powerfully. This pursuit that the Doctor undertakes is such a profound picture of what I believe the love of God looks like. I believe in one God, and that he is true love, and that the function of that love is to pursue us all the way to eternity, especially when we run away. The parable of the lost sheep in Luke is a picture of that. I think the key phrase of this verse is “until he finds it.”
Think about the cost of what the Doctor goes through here. He endures the immense physical and emotional pain, incredible agony over knowing he must endure it, and yet he still doesn’t give in. He continues his pursuit knowing that there will come a time when it will work, when the diamond wall will be fully chiseled away. Imagine the moments where he was so close he could feel it, yet fell just short again, having to go another round through this hell before he could take another chunk out of the wall. That’s so very much like the God I believe in. He will continue His pursuit until he finds us.
As I always say, the Doctor is never the perfect parallel to Christ. But this time he comes about as close as he ever will. Because the Doctor in his most Christ-like moment is like Christ in his most human moment- asking the Father to take the burden of sacrifice from him, if there was any other way, knowing that there wasn’t and that he would continue the journey to fulfill God’s ultimate love despite the agony. This is paralleled by the Doctor asking “Can’t I just lose, just this once?” He knows he can’t, and he knows he will continue until he wins. But the pain is ever present, and he cannot help but want it to be taken from him.
To bring it back out to a broader perspective, I don’t feel any mortal is capable of true pursuit in this case. To attempt to love truly is to attempt to do something eternal, which we finite, imperfect creatures do not have the capacity for. The Doctor himself isn’t doing this for love either, but rather to defeat an enemy. It’s interesting to note that the Doctor can see all of time at once, and that his view of eternity is not the same as our own. He continues despite knowing how long an eternal second is.
The Shepherd Boy story talks about the length of these seconds. God is eternal. Therefore we can imagine his view of eternity is similarly foreign to our own. To us mortals, a single eternal second would feel like billions of years. Now imagine compounding billions of years into a second, and then living through billions of years of those eternal seconds in pursuit of one you loved. I don’t know that we have numbers large enough to quantify how long that would feel. But that’s the love of God. Forever and ever chiseling away at the diamond wall of our hearts.
Next Time on Who-ology: The finale is upon us. The Doctor is the hybrid? Not sure it pans out, but from the looks of some of the trailers we’re going to get a mixed bag of all sorts of thrills and chills (look closely and you’ll see some Weeping Angels and Daleks.) I dare say after this season I trust where they are going to go will be a satisfying place. But even if it’s not, I’m glad for the season we’ve had. It’s a shame to see it go.