ed. – We’re breaking with tradition today. Rather than Batman, we bring you Doctor Who and Satan. And what two characters would approve more of breaking with tradition? This is the final installment of Will’s series on Paradise Lost and the Doctor. Fortunately for the rest of us, it is not Will’s last post 🙂
Christianity and Paradise Lost understand the myth of the devil wrong. Both claim that obedience is the most spiritually important action. Faith depends on it, and everything else depends on faith. God allows Adam and Eve a second chance despite their betrayal. If Satan had not tempted them, they would have remained obedient. Satan does not get the same treatment, because his betrayal came from within. Satan reaches the same conclusion: he considers begging God for forgiveness, but he reasons he would rebel again eventually.
I don’t agree. Faith has some virtues, but it still demands belief without proof.
The Ninth Doctor (Christopher Eccleston) is my favorite Doctor. He’s my Doctor, from his giant ears to his last, awful pun. When he died, it took me a year to watch the second season with Ten (David Tennant) because I resented the new guy who had replaced my Doctor. It gave me a lot of time to compare the two Doctors, however. And I noticed that, while Nine resorted to violence more quickly, he was weaker than Ten.
Ten despises Nine for his brutality, but moreso for his weakness. Rose saves Nine in “The Parting of the Ways”, but the Doctor says no one is meant to control life and death. I compared this to Ten’s exact opposite claim in “The Waters of Mars”, and I saw how far the Doctor had fallen.
In both episodes the power of God is available, but only Ten picks it up. If anyone thinks that, if Ten had been the one with his hands on the lever in “The Parting of the Ways” he would not have pushed it, please tell me why. He commits many worse sins, and those are his friends. Most damning is his confrontation with the Racnoss queen in “The Runaway Bride”:
The Time Lords exterminated the Racnoss. The Doctor finishes it. The Doctor commits the same sins as other Time Lords, and often repeats his own mistakes.
The Companion is always the most important person in the show. Donna Noble saves his life, and ends the episode by telling him to find someone to travel with. In an alternate reality episode, “Turn Left”, the Doctor dies confronting the Racnoss because Donna Noble does not appear to save him. Companions matter because they offer the Doctor the second chance he otherwise does not see on his own.
This is why I think redemption, not obedience, is the spiritual message of the devil myth. What if God offered Satan the same second chance the Companions offer the Doctor? Not atonement, or even forgiveness, but an offer to turn away from repeating his mistakes. Acknowledgment that it is possible.
“The End of Time” shows this beautifully. It’s the usual save-the-world stuff, except the Time Lords are the bad guys! The Master brings them back, everyone makes their stand, and at the end, the Doctor is victorious.
To appreciate this, for most of the last season the Doctor has been waiting to die, after receiving a prophecy that the cause of his death will “knock four times.” He assumes throughout the episodes that the prophecy refers to the Master, who hears a rhythm of four beats constantly in his head. But the Master saves the Doctor. The prophecy referred, all along, to Wilfred, Donna Noble’s grandfather, awesome old man in general, and the Doctor’s Companion in “End of Time”.
Satan fails to redeem himself, and commits the same mistake he made with his rebellion, when he corrupts mankind in the Garden. The Doctor betrays the laws of Time and mistakenly believes that he is superior to them. He’s disabused of that idea in the same episode, but in “End of Time” he has a chance to Fall again, or to redeem his actions from “The Waters of Mars”.
Wilfred knocks on the radiation booth and asks to be let out. The Doctor realizes the only way to save Wilf is to sacrifice himself. Unlike in “The Waters of Mars,” Ten decides to act as Nine did in “The Parting of the Ways”. He complains. He rages and rants, but he saves Wilf, and Wilf saves him from condemning himself.
Because it almost doesn’t happen. The Doctor’s story could have followed Satan’s. Before Wilf, a nameless scientist was trapped. Wilf let him out by taking his place, unaware of the danger. But if it hadn’t been Wilf – if no Companion had been present – would the Doctor have saved the scientist? Or would he decide “I could do so much more”? He nearly doesn’t save Wilf.
I think, without the Companion and the offer of redemption extended, the Doctor leaves the scientist because he believes what he can do is more important than one life. Because Wilf offers a second chance, however, the Doctor takes it.
I think that is the power of this myth. A Fall balanced by a chance for redemption, even for the greatest betrayals and worst sinners. Both characters have similar backgrounds and follow similar stories, but the myth diverges in one crucial place: the chance for redemption.
This is my last Doctor Who post for a while, though not my last ever. I had a lot of fun writing it, and I hope you enjoyed it. And because I could not find a video clip of Wilf saving the scientist, I conclude below with an awesome tribute video to Wilf instead. Also, more Chameleon Circuit.