I was going to avoid any teasers, trailers, or other assorted goodies the BBC might throw our way before Doctor Who’s big fiftieth birthday on November 23. But today, as my Facebook feed filled with buzz about a “minisode,” my resistance cracked.
“The Night of the Doctor” bridges the gap between Paul McGann’s only televised adventure (until now) as the Eighth Doctor in the 1996 Doctor Who TV movie and the birth of the “modern series” in 2005. Who would’ve thought seven minutes could contain so much action, characterization, emotion, and sparkling dialogue? Stephen Moffat, that’s who. If “The Night of the Doctor” is any indication of what we can expect from “The Day of the Doctor” next weekend, we’re in for a treat.
Following up on the cryptic, closing scene of “The Name of the Doctor,” this minisode makes clear that John Hurt’s “War Doctor” marks a departure from the way our favorite Time Lord generally sees himself (or, at least, saw himself). This Doctor is not “a good man,” but a good man gone to war (that sounds familiar…) Cass’ death, coupled with the intense hatred she expressed toward him, provokes the Doctor to renounce his Samaritan-like ways on the sidelines of the Time War in favor of aggressive intervention. Faced with the Sisterhood of Karn’s warning that the War threatens to destroy the whole universe, and told he has very little time left (cruel irony for a Time Lord), the Doctor chooses a radical reinvention of himself. With a swig of the Sisterhood’s elixir and a painful, rapid regeneration, he is “the Doctor no more.”
While we still don’t know the entire history of the Time War, the Doctor’s decision here strikes me as rash. We know already, from Christopher Eccleston’s first episode on, that it will have relentless repercussion, not only for the Doctor but also for his friends and enemies. He may feel, at this moment, that he acts (as we heard in the spring) “in the name of peace and sanity,” but he has sacrificed “the name of the Doctor.”
Scripture tells of many people who, faced with a choice between doing what is expedient and doing what’s right, choose wrongly.
- Think of Abraham and Sarah, so eager to make God’s promise of a child come true that they try to hurry the plan along by drawing Hagar into the mess.
- Think of King Saul, who refused to wait for the prophet Samuel and took it upon himself to play priest, earning God’s anger and losing Israel’s throne.
- Think of Saul’s successor, David, who indulged a moment of moral weakness by calculating the conquest of another man’s wife, a decision that led to bloodshed and grief.
- Think of Judas, who may have been so impatient for Jesus to show himself as Messiah that he accepted a payoff of thirty pieces of silver for forcing Jesus’ hand.
At this minisode’s end, the Doctor doesn’t comprehend the consequences of the choice he’s made, any more than these people understood the consequences of their actions… or any more than we do when we choose to act in ways that betray our identity as God’s people. In Christ, God has claimed us to answer to the name “child of God,” but we are too often tempted to renounce that name, as the Doctor here renounces his.
Fortunately for us, God is always calling us back, ready, like the prodigal’s father, to welcome us home and to call us by our true name again. Only time will tell if the Doctor can win back his true name for good (though I suspect he will, of course). Perhaps the stories in which he does will serve as parables for us of how even our worst choices, with all their unintended negative consequences, cannot thwart God’s good purpose and sovereign will.
Let all God’s people say, “Allons-y, Geronimo, and Amen!”