Happy Star Wars week! This piece is part of a series on God in sci-fi and fantasy. Read the other entries here.
Warning: Spoilers ahead. (Sorry, River.)
I couldn’t tell you what made me watch my first episode of Doctor Who. Several cool people had recommended it to me, waxing poetic about its awesomeness. But I don’t really remember my conversion moment. I can tell you that I binge-watched most of the show while living in Paris one summer, which I realize sounds like a complete waste of being in Paris. Don’t worry, I still experienced plenty of la vie à Paris.
I couldn’t tell you when I became a Christian. I just grew up that way. My faith has grown by leaps and bounds in the past few years, and I find myself seeking out more Bible study, more theological essays and books, more time in the church and workplace Christian communities I’ve found.
Similarly, once I started getting into Doctor Who, it was only a matter of time before it started to become a bit of an obsession. Confession: the reason I permanently dyed my hair red was for a Doctor Who Halloween costume three years ago.
Over the years of binge-watching Doctor Who, I’ve noticed some parallels between the Doctor and that other really cool guy, Jesus. So now I present to you, nine ways Jesus vs. the Doctor. (Or, Jesus alongside the Doctor, because both of them are nonviolent, one with more consistency than the other.)
Here is nine ways these two are alike:
1. Both get a name on top of their actual name.
Jesus: Jesus is the name that Mary was told to give her son, but he also has another name: the Messiah, or the Christ, both of which mean “the Anointed.” Isaiah has other names for him too, like the Prince of Peace, and many called him the King of the Jews. He was shy about all those truer names, though, and just went by Jesus.
The Doctor: He goes by the Doctor, but his actual name is hidden, a terrible, world-ending secret, and you have to pretty much be married to him to know it. And there’s even debate over whether he’s ever told any wife his name — he whispered something else in River’s ear, after all, and I doubt he trusted Marilyn Monroe with that secret.
2. Both have a magnetic personality.
Only two men, I suspect, are charming enough to make people follow them into unknown futures with a single sentence, and one of them is (sadly) fictional.
Jesus: All Jesus has to say is “Follow me,” and fishermen, tax collectors, and single women drop everything. Sometimes he uses a miracle to really win them over, like a net full of fish.
The Doctor: Likewise, the Doctor easily convinces most people to travel with him after just one adventure. Usually if his impressive sonic screwdriver skills don’t win her over, a look inside the TARDIS (it’s bigger on the inside!) does the trick. Unlike Jesus, though, the Doctor gives people second chances. When Rose says no, he leaves, then comes back again to say “By the way, did I mention it also travels in time?” — and after a flippant goodbye to her sad boyfriend Mickey, she runs after him. Donna watches, waits, and goes looking for trouble so she can find the Doctor again and ask him to take her with him.
3. Both choose ordinary, unremarkable humans for really important tasks.
Jesus: Jesus was such a pro at this! He’d pick out the people nobody wanted to be around and give them a divine calling. He walks up to Matthew, a tax collector — the lowliest of traitors to his fellow Jews — and says, “Follow me.” How shocking must that have been? He invites all the undesirables to join him, eats in the homes of known sinners, and treats prostitutes like human beings.
The Doctor: Oh, champion of the every(wo)man. In the older series, there are other Time Lords, so the Doctor often travels with them, including students and his granddaughter. But the modern series has mostly human companions, and average ones at that. To the Doctor, we humans are endearing, but pretty lowly. He has a vested interest, for some reason, in our development, even when other alien life forms point out how we keep blowing each other up, enslaving one another, and being generally horrible. He sees the remarkable in people. And as the Eleventh Doctor once said, he’s “never met anyone who wasn’t important.”
4. Both are very quotable.
Jesus: “Ye of little faith,” “Our Father, who art in Heaven….,” “This is my body, broken for you,” “Love one another, even as I have loved you.” I could go on. He’s very quotable.
The Doctor: “Fantastic!” “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.” “Geronimo!” “Wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey stuff.” “It’s a sonic, and it doesn’t do wood.” “RUN!”
I’m now taking a hard look at my life, because I quote the Doctor more often than I quote Jesus.
5. Both are loved and hated.
Jesus: The Pharisees really, really didn’t like him. Herod hated him when he was a baby!
The Doctor: Also has an entire religious order devoted to his destruction. They’re very devout, and like the Pharisees, they prefer Silence over the truth.
6. Both are great storytellers.
The Doctor: Once saved a planet by telling stories.
7. Both are part of a hated, extremely special ethnic group.
Jesus: By the time Jesus was born, the Jewish people had a long history of being persecuted left and right, fleeing exile, and relying on God’s help to save them.
The Doctor: The Doctor’s character is shaped in large part by being the last(ish) of the race of Time Lords, forever on the run because his home was destroyed (by him, it’s worth mentioning). The Time War came about because the Daleks wanted to wipe the Time Lords out of existence.
They’re both the subject of some pretty big prophesies.
8. Both come back from the dead.
Jesus: No explanation needed.
The Doctor: Each time the Doctor dies, he regenerates (a clever plot device the BBC created to continue the show after the First Doctor became gravely ill). And just like Jesus’ male and female disciples, the Doctor’s companions don’t recognize him at first. In Emmaus, Jesus needed to break bread with his friends for them to recognize him. The Doctor needs to start acting like his quirky (new) self, battling Sycorax or suiting up and reminding the Atraxi who he is.
9. Both embody sacrificial love.
Jesus: Jesus was willing to go to the cross for us, for all the broken people he knew and the generations not yet born who would need saving. Jesus gave of himself when he was tired, when what he really wanted was to be alone, praying with his Father on a mountaintop. Jesus let out his healing powers, showed mercy to society’s outcasts, and ultimately showed us the greatest love of all.
The Doctor: Like Jesus, the inevitability of coming back to life does not make his death any laughing matter. It’s still a death. The new Doctor has all the old one’s memories and knowledge, but he’s a new dude. The tenth Doctor in particular turns into a bit of a jerk at the end of his life, whining “I don’t want to go” all the time, running around with 3-D glasses and calling himself a survivor while humans get the worst-ever waterborne illness on Mars. In the end (spoiler alert), it’s ultimately an act of sacrificial love for an old man that makes him choose, willingly, to die a slow and painful death. The moment he faces Wilfred from within the radioactive closet is akin to the moment Jesus is praying for God to take the cup from him: after admitting his desire not to go, he finally gives in, saying, “Not my will but thine.”
But the difference….
I could go on — I’ve certainly got some more TARDIS jokes up my sleeve — but I think I’ll end with the critical difference between the two.
Only one of them can truly save you.
Time and again, when Jesus heals people, brings people back to life, etc., he tells them things like, “Your faith has made you well.” It is the complete faith of Jews and Gentiles alike that saves those who weave through the crowd to touch the hem of Jesus’ garment, that have their friends carry them in through the roof, that tell Jesus he doesn’t even need to go in person to save their daughter. Jesus taught us that faith in God through him would lead us on the path to righteousness.
People look up to the Doctor this way, too — he’s a universe-wide legend, he’s part of at least one civilization’s creation mythology, and people are always saying, “The Doctor will save us!” Sometimes he literally saves people, like you save files on a computer. But at the same time, he knows he’s nobody’s savior. The Doctor has to teach Amy Pond the complete opposite.
Amy’s known the Doctor since he showed up on her doorstep as a little girl, right after she had prayed to Santa Claus to fix the sinister crack in her wall. There’s a lot to learn here (and I’m not talking about the sad state of Christian upbringing in Scotland that led Amy to pray to Santa Claus). All throughout her life, Amy pines for the Doctor. Like a Christian in a circle of nonbelievers, Amy is deemed a little bit crazy for her insistence that the Doctor is real, and her hope in his promise that one day he will return.
In one episode, Amy believes she is being turned slowly into stone. Eventually, to save her, the Doctor must tell Amy to abandon her faith in him. A devil (yes, like Jesus, the Doctor must face down the devil) is feeding off of her faith in the Doctor, and he has to break her trust. He tells her that he’s just a madman with a box, nothing more.
No matter how charismatic, merciful (usually), or full of truly ancient wisdom the Doctor may be, he ultimately knows himself as less than God. It’s not likely that the Doctor believes in God, and he has particularly bad associations with Christmas, and he recognizes that he isn’t the Lord — he’s just a Time Lord. He forces Amy to face the fact that he cannot save her — that he is just a madman with a box, nothing more.
Watching hours and hours of the Doctor saving civilizations, especially if you’re along for the ride in real time (and space), can be misleading, but the Doctor is not the great architect of reality. He has to accept historical fixed points in time. He’s just a bumbling madman with a box, if a well-meaning one.
He’s not our savior. But … he is a lot of fun.
This post originally appeared at Wheelhouse Review.