Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Doctor Who: The Unquiet Dead

On two episode 3 of season 1 of the Doctor reboot for the episode entitled "The Unquiet Dead."


This episode was rife with intersections between scifi and religion.

The year is 1869, the place: Cardiff of Wales.  Charles Dickens is performing in Cardiff and gets caught up in the adventures of the Doctor and Rose.  The problem: ghosts appear to be invading the dead and causing them to walk about.

Dickens plays the consumate man of the enlightenment, a believer in science and only what he can see, taste, touch, feel, and smell.  He sees his lifelong work as dedicated to eradicating superstition in order to fight for social causes.  His world is decidedly unenchanted.  Thus, as he is swept into this adventure of ghosts and zombies, he is at first skeptical, but becomes a convert by the end of the episode after the evidence is undeniable.

Another interesting character is the introduction of Gwyneth, a servant at the undertaker's house.  I say "introduction" because this is the same actress who plays Gwen in the Doctor Who spinoff, Torchwood. I think that the two must be connected, but as I have only watched a few episodes of Torchwood, that I cannot say for sure.  But, the similarities seem to big to ignore: same actress, similar character name, the location of Cardiff, the Rift (more on that below).  Gwyneth has the "sight," an apparent psychic ability.  She can see into Rose's mind.

Enter the Rift, a weak spot in space and time, allowing certain things to slip through.  The "ghosts" of course are not ghosts at all, but a species of alien, all but wiped out by the time war (The war of the Time Lords, of whom The Doctor is the last).  These "gaseous" beings are looking for bodies, and through the "medium" Gwyneth, are able to communicate their plight to the Doctor and his compatriots.  The Doctor, always rushing to the rescue, intends to use Gwyneth as a doorway to lead the aliens to take human corpses as their new bodies.

This is of course highly offensive to Rose who has a sense of propriety and reverence for human corpses which the Doctor clearly does not share.  Here the Doctor clearly asserts his superior morality, in a "my way or the highway" attitude.  He plays off of Gwyneth's "faith" in her "angels" (read ghosts/gaseous aliens) to achieve his ends of providing salvation for these aliens.  He seems more driven than usual, clearly feeling guilty that it was the war of his people that had decimated this alien population.

As the climax approaches, and Gwyneth begins to bridge the gap in the Rift, it becomes clear that these aliens, called the "Gelf" are not so innocent.  They turn from angel-like creatures, to demon-like creatures, bent on earth's destruction as they will use human bodies as vessels to take physical form.  The night of the living dead commences as Rose, the Doctor, and Dickens are forced to run for their lives.  It is Dickens who comes up with the solution: fill the house with gas to draw out the creatures from their host.  This works and then Gwyneth uses a match to light the gas-filled house and destroys the "Gelf."

Couple of notes: As the "Gelf" begin to come through the Rift, they are shouting "Praise be the Doctor," in a first possible reference to the Doctor as some sort of divine being, maybe.

Sacrifice:  Once again it is a human, Gwyneth, who sacrifices herself to save the day, and she only does this after she is dead (how?  Don't ask!).  But she is in this situation because the Doctor pandered to her "faith" in her "angels."  The Doctor shows little, if any, remorse for his actions.  He pushed for the alien crossing to assuage his own guilt, yet takes little or no responsibility for the fact that he was just flat out wrong.  If the show is going for portraying the Doctor as a divine, or semi divine figure, then he is certainly a flawed God.

Finally, in an interesting conversation, Rose notes the difference between humans and the Doctor.  Humans see time in a line and can only experience a specific moment in time "once."  The Doctor, on the other hand, can experience any moment at any time, over and over if he pleases.  I was reminded of Augustine's contemplation of God and time.  God, being "eternal" does not see time as humans do, but being outside of time, he views all times simultaneously.  Though there is a clear difference between Augustine's conception of God as "eternal" and the Doctor's ability to travel through time, the implications are perhaps similar.  The Doctor has a fundamentally different experience of time.

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