Warning: post contains spoilers, and links to posts with spoilers
The fabulous third season of the new Doctor Who finished last week, while we were still in England, just as it gets underway here in the States on SciFi Channel every Friday (after which it will probably go to BBC America, and then to PBS channels, if the first season is anything to go by; but America has not yet woken up to new Doctor Who, which is consistently at the top of the ratings in the UK). I'll be watching the whole series again in the US, all the time waiting for the Christmas special guest-starring Kylie in a few months time. I sympathise with Caitlin Moran in The Times who gets it exactly right in her review Doctor Who is Simply Masterful, "I know that, in many respects, I am lucky that the ending of Doctor Who is the most traumatic occurrence in my life, in any given year . . ." Me too. What has brought the recent season of Doctor Who onto this blog for the first time, though, has been the rather striking Christian imagery, first in Human Nature, adapted by Paul Cornell from his earlier novel of the same name, which provided a brilliant imaginative analogy to kenotic theories of the incarnation (Doctor Who, Human Nature and Kenosis). The following episode, Family of Blood, the second in the two parter and also penned by Cornell, had an unmissable parallel with The Last Temptation of Christ, as John Smith imagines the future that he could have with Joan including marriage, children and domestic bliss, before giving up that life to become the Doctor, just as Jesus in Last Temptation sees the domestic bliss of a future he must sacrifice.
The subtlety of that imagery from those episodes did not prepare me for the remarkably blatant Christian imagery of the final episode, The Last of the Time Lords, a classic good versus evil, super-hero / super-villain match-up between the Doctor and the Master with a clustering of themes that have raised a few eyebrows, defeating evil through "faith and hope", "prayer" (the Master's terms), Martha travelling the world to tell the good news of how the doctor has often saved people without their realizing it, and the Doctor rising from humiliation to defeat evil, and forgive its perpetrator. In her Times Online Blog, Dr Who?, Ruth Gledhill asks "Is there some subversive Christian working behind the scenes at Dr Who?" It is remarkable to think that the writer of the episode, Russell T. Davies, the guru of the re-invented Doctor Who, is an atheist. Some fans hated this last episode (e.g. Behind the Sofa); others loved it (e.g. He's not the Messiah, he's the doctor . . .). I was with the latter. Of course there is an extent to which the themes are just good old fashioned good vs. evil, divine hero coming to save the world, along with a typical deus ex machina ending, but the particular cluster of Christian themes -- gospel, salvation, faith, hope, prayer, forgiveness -- make the link with the New Testament here pretty striking. I suppose it says something of the power of the story that an atheist can borrow from it so unashamedly.