This is the second article in a regular weekly series of articles from planetzogblog on the topic of Doctor Who and religion. (Clink for link to the article last week on the same topic.)
Following on from part 1, which featured the 2006 Season, episodes 1 to 6, the next three episodes are described here.
(Please note, if you haven’t seen this season, the plot is discussed.)
The 2006 Season, episodes 7, 8&9.
My theory here is that, Russell T. Davies, with the intention to make Doctor Who a complex and multi-layered experience, with the arc of the Doctor and Rose, followed the allusions to the Old Testament Eden story earlier in the season with allusions here to the New Testament story of Christ in the Wilderness – continuing the theme of Temptation.
Episode 7: Travelling on.
Episode: The Idiot’s Lantern.
This episode is a more regular Doctor Who story compared to the more iconoclastic episodes preceeding it this season – it shows that after the turmoil of the previous story the Doctor and Rose are back to enjoying travelling together.
Episodes 8 and 9: The Doctor in the Wilderness
Episodes: The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit
Following allusions to the Garden of Eden earlier in the season, this two-parter alludes to the story of Christ in the Wilderness (also known as the Tempatation of Christ – not to be confused with the more specific ideas of the 1960s novel “The Last Tempation of Christ”.)
In this biblical story, although intepretations vary (and it is described slightly differently in three of the four gospels) – essentially Christ is in the desert, fasting for 40 days and nights, and is tempted by the devil to demonstrate his divine powers to interrupt this fasting.
This time of fasting is also a time of contemplation.
The Doctor and Rose are without the TARDIS (they find themselves in the Wilderness of space and both contemplate what could happen next…)
The Doctor: I’ll have to get a house! With – with doors and carpets, can you imagine? Me, living in a house?!
Rose: [singsong voice] You’ll have to get a mortgage!
The Doctor: No.
Rose: Oh yes.
The Doctor: No. That’s it, I’m dying. It is all over.
Rose: What about me? I’ll have to get one too. Or – it could be the same one. [uncomfortably] We could… I don’t know… share. [The Doctor stares at her] Or not, whatever.
The Doctor: Anyway.
Rose: Yeah, we’ll see.
The Doctor: I promised Jackie I would always take you back home.
Rose: Everyone leaves home in the end.
The Doctor: Not to end up stuck here!
Rose: Yeah, well stuck with you, that’s not so bad.
The Doctor: [surprised] Yeah?
The Wilderness story has abstract themes of contemplation, examining your life, temptation, and the idea of confronting the devil – and this two-parter has these themes without being a direct retelling of the Wilderness story.
(Note also the very specific reference to being returned to Jackie – this something at the end of episode 6 she wanted, for a while at least. Who will she choose between Jackie and the Doctor in future episodes?)
The Doctor confronts “The Beast” – who he is not convinced is the actual devil. The Beast questions the Doctor’s beliefs – as the Doctor continues to contemplate.
[The Doctor has asked where the Beast is from.]
The Beast: Before time and light and space and matter. Before the cataclysm. Before this universe was created.
The Doctor: That’s impossible. No life could have existed back then.
The Beast: Is that your religion?
The Doctor: It’s a belief.
Ida and the Doctor investigate the pit, as the Doctor continues his contemplations. The Beast is from before the universe? “It doesn’t fit my rule” the Doctor says.
One of the temptations in the Wilderness story is that of the devil tempting Christ to jump from a height, to rely on angels to break his fall. While not a direct parallel, there are echoes of this in the scene where, after discussing belief and religion with Ida, he makes the leap of faith into pit.
Just before descends, he tells Ida (perhaps recalling his earlier contemplation with Rose…)
The Doctor: If they get back in touch, if you talk to Rose, just tell her … [long pause] … tell her … [long pause] … Oh she knows.
Something does break his fall – and he confronts The Beast.
[The Doctor works out the Beast’s plan; if he kills the Beast, the gravity will fail and the rocket that Rose is in will fall into the black hole.]
The Doctor: If I kill you, I kill her. [The Beast laughs] Except that implies, in this big grand scheme of gods and devils, that she’s just a victim. But I’ve seen a lot of this universe. I’ve seen fake gods and bad gods and demigods and would-be gods. And out of all that, out of that whole pantheon, if I believe in one thing, just one thing… I believe in her.
The Doctor and Rose are reunited.
One of the themes, then, of this story is the Doctor contemplating his life, and his beliefs, his rules, in this Wilderness. Questions are posed. Would the Doctor ever settle down? Can he tell Rose that he loves her – or is that against the rules he has set for himself?
These ideas will be explored later in the season.
Part three of this series of articles will discuss more of the season…
(By the way – do you think Russell planned all this, or am I just reading too much into Doctor Who? Feel free to comment.)