by William Hohmeister
Doctor Who uses many myths to support both individual episodes and entire seasons. “Dalek”, the reappearance of the Dalek race in the new series, draws upon the myth of the Dalek Empire. Formerly a reality in earlier episodes, when we first meet them they are a myth of the universe the Doctor inhabits. The Doctor’s reaction to even one Dalek tells the audience all we need about the strength of that myth, and drives the action of the episode. Similarly, another myth supports not just an episode or season, but the entire first four seasons of Doctor Who and the character of the Doctor.
The devil is the myth that drives and supports the Doctor’s character over four seasons.
The Doctor is Satan in the Doctor Who universe. The above image shows the Doctor meeting something that calls itself Satan, in “The Satan Pit.” The Doctor is curious about it but they end up in conflict. Satan loses.
The devil is an old myth that almost everyone is familiar with, thanks to the popularization of the myth-devil into the pop culture-devil. I’m going to get into this more in a separate post, but for now know I’m not talking about the devil in the Bible, or Al Pacino. I’m looking at the myth of the devil created by Paradise Lost. The myth-devil collects most of the pagan myths Christians don’t like, which allows him to vary a lot in more modern stories, but the basic myth is: Satan starts a war in heaven out of pride. He brings many angels to his cause, loses the war, and falls into hell. Finally, he escapes alone from hell and brings ruin to mankind.
So when I say the Doctor is the devil, what do I mean?
The Doctor and Satan are warriors, tricksters, tempters, rebels, freedom fighters, and liars. They are prideful, monstrous, and mythic even in their own universes. Neither character, divorced from religious dread, appears as holy or unholy. Both are defined by their actions, their surroundings, and their beliefs. Even in the face of Satan, the Doctor remains skeptical, and Satan never gives up his argument against God. Claiming one is good and the other is evil misses the point of their characters. The difference is in how they are presented: Satan as evil and the Doctor as a savior. Mark Twain (supposedly) asked: “But who prays for Satan?” I ask: Who saves the Doctor?
I’m going to stick to Chris Eccleston (Nine) and David Tennant (Ten). If you want to watch with me, I’m going to look at “Dalek”, “Bad Wolf,” “The Impossible Planet” and the “The Satan Pit,” “Journey’s End,” “The Waters of Mars,” and “The End of Time” episodes. I enjoy Matt Smith as well, but Russell T. Davies left along with Tennant, and Stephen Moffat used a new myth to drive Eleven’s story. I’m also going to look solely at the myth-devil found in stories like Paradise Lost. If anyone has another devil from a different source they’d like to discuss, let me know in the comments below. I’m not as familiar with the devil outside of the Bible and pop culture as I’d like to be. If you want to read Paradise Lost, you can find it for free in that link by the good folks at Librivox.
image from “The Satan Pit” via Wikimedia.