Doctor Who and the Communion of Christ
This November, Science Fiction history was made. Doctor Who, the famed British television series celebrated 50 years, and did so with a spectacular anniversary episode.
Within the last several years, my boys and I have become rabid fans of the Doctor, watching every episode in the most recent run of the series. And for months, we anticipated this episode, hunting for spoilers and rechecking the DVR to make sure it would tape this momentous event.
It may be a silly show and I fear gushing over the Doctor like a teenage fan-boy, but there’s so much about the Doctor that prods me to think about our own relationship with Christ, how the Doctor can be a reflection of Christ and our journey with Him.
Now granted, the current show runners and writers have not openly proclaimed faith in Christ, in fact, many of the writers admit to atheism. So any image of Christ does not shine intentionally. Yet, if you are creating story in the tradition of Western Literature, you are pressed to escape reflections of Christ. He forms the subtext of our culture whether you believe in Him or not. Perhaps this is beneath the tales and myths of all cultures, as story taps into the Logos who has shaped all things and upon whom the whole universe hangs.
For those not familiar with the Doctor, here’s a brief synopsis. The series began in 1963 about a time-traveling man whom we learn is not human but a Time Lord. Time Lords have multiple lives, and when one life is exhausted, they regenerate into a new incarnation. At this stage in the series, we are seeing the end of the line of the 11th Doctor. The Doctor nearly always travels with a human companion, randomly hopping through space and time, fighting monsters and righting wrongs. He travels in a spaceship disguised as a 1960’s Blue Police Box called a TARDIS (Time and Relative Dimension in Space). And to everyone’s surprise when they enter the small box, they discover that it is much bigger on the inside. In fact, it is huge.
I can’t help but wonder if the original writers borrowed from C.S. Lewis’ Last Battle in their creation of the TARDIS. The Last Battle would have been a new book when Doctor Who was created, and you may remember toward the end of the Last Battle, the heros encounter a small dirty stable and, once inside, discover it was much bigger and different than it looked from the outside:
“It seems, then,” said Tirian, smiling himself, “that the stable seen from within and the stable seen from without are two different places.” “Yes,” said the Lord Digory. “Its inside is bigger than its outside.” “Yes,” said Queen Lucy. “In our world too, a stable once had something inside it that was bigger than our whole world.”
Maybe the writers didn’t intend this or borrow from Lewis’ world, but I like to think so. This feature is clever and worthy of reflection, but it is the idea of transformation through communion ubiquitous in every show that pulls at my attention. It is a picture of how each of us is ultimately transformed into the likeness of our Great Doctor–Jesus Christ.
The show is often the story of the Doctor’s companions and not the Doctor himself. Let me take you on the journey of two companions—Amy and Donna. You will see in their story our own journey into the likeness of Christ. Our first companion is Amy Pond. Amy first encounters the doctor as a young child. However, he leaves her, promising to come back shortly. He returns, not shortly, but years later when she is an adult. We learn that she had spent her entire childhood talking about the Doctor, drawing pictures of him, dreaming of him, suffering the ridicule of family and playmates about what they thought was her imaginary friend. Her family even subjected her to counseling to rid her of this belief in this time-traveling Superman, yet she clung to her belief in the man she met as a child.
When we encounter Amy as an adult, she is selfish, aimless, and cynical. She is cruel to her fiancé and runs off with the Doctor, leaving him on their wedding day. Yet, through her life with the Doctor, she becomes transformed. Eventually she returns to her real life, reconciling with Rory her fiancé, and following through with their marriage. Rory then joins Amy on their adventures with the Doctor.
It is not merely being in the presence of the Doctor that transforms Amy. It is because she suffers with him, works alongside him, shares in his mission that it changes her. This is the nature of communion. Communion is not the same as presence. It is joining with that person through work, suffering, and joy. It is the uniting with another in the stream of their life, and by uniting with another’s life, we become transformed into the image of that person.
Romans 8:17, “And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.”
During Amy’s story, she separates herself from the Doctor, and during that time, she descends once more in her selfishness. We find her obsessed with materialism and filing for divorce from a man she deeply loved. The Doctor returns and soon, little by little, she is once again changed.
This is the danger we all face when we remove ourselves from the stream of our Savior’s life. Death creeps in, and with death comes sin, corrupting the likeness of Christ in our life. Amy’s story ends with hope, but not in some heroic “ride off into the sunset” moment. Her husband is trapped, and Amy must sacrifice herself to save him, and doing so saves her own life.
Donna is another great companion story in the series. Unlike Amy who appears confident, yet selfish, brash, and headstrong, Donna is simple-minded, gullible, and appears to be a bumbling idiot wandering through life with no purpose. She resists the Doctor, yet he keeps pushing her to become bigger than the person she has become on her own. He forces her to take responsibility for her decisions, and she begins to embrace the change. As her story progresses, she becomes wiser, and even heroic, not because of her own strength but because she is always drawing on the strength of the Doctor. At the end of her journey, she becomes the hero of the story by taking the Doctor’s energies into herself, becoming Doctor Donna and saving the world. In saving the world, she brings an end to her own future.
It was denying her path and submitting to the work of the Doctor that saved Donna and made her new. Our salvation, our own transformation, happens in our union with Christ as we join with His work in the world, becoming “co-laborers with God (1 Cor. 3:9)”.
Our life in Christ is one of communion. By placing ourselves not merely in the presence of Christ but within the stream of His own life, sharing in His sufferings, sharing in His work, sharing in His affections, we become transformed into His image. It is then we can say with St. Paul, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me (Gal. 2:20).”