Doctor Who : The Idiot’s Lantern

The Doctor vworps into the scene. He and his companion explore a bit, they being cute and the aliens they encounter being weird. It is discovered that the people are enthralled, being lied to, or otherwise un-nicely dealt with by the powers-that-be. So the Doctor confidently, then faux-ineptly, then masterfully releases the people and hollers at the bad guy. This is the formula for many Doctor Who stories. It has been for many years and it works. It’s excellent. The formula is employed here, and reduced to its essence. There aren’t hours of needless chases down corridors or hints about the season-long story arc. This is the basic Doctor Who plot in demi-glaze.

Who better to write it than lifelong fan and hero of the DW universe Mark Gatiss? Of all the TV stories he’s written for the show, this is my favorite. So how does this episode follow that formula? The Doctor pops into town, this time, it’s a London suburb in 1953. He and Rose run around, acting cute in their period clothes and accoutrements. They discover that people are having their faces sucked off by an evil entity that grabs them through their TV sets. The Doctor is able to finally capture the bad guy, restore her victims, and all at great personal risk.

The formula works so well here for a few reasons.

1. It’s simply a great formula.

In other words, you’d have to really screw it up for this formula to not work.

2. This time it’s done by fans.

Gatiss & Tennant & Davies are Whovians to the core and their enthusiasm seeps out of every second of this episode.

3. It’s a fun setting.

The Satellite Five stuff from season one follows the basic Who structure, but it didn’t click with me as well as this one does. I think I prefer this one because the setting is fun, which Satellite Five was not. It was drab and cheerless. Rose dressed in a 50s outfit? The Doctor with 3D glasses? Rose and the Doctor on a scooter? It’s just fun. And it’s a wonderful aesthetic host for the tried and true formula.

4. Social commentary can scratch a little deeper into stories.

Faces are being sucked off by the TV sets. Okay, so it’s not the most subtle satire, but it’s still effective. Just because something is obvious doesn’t mean it’s not worth mentioning.

The story of Christ follows this basic outline. Christ shows up, says some things that more or less endear Him to people. Then he discovers (in His case, more like reveals or unveils) that the people are enthralled/being lied to/being un-nicely dealt with. And Christ confidently, then apparently ineptly, and finally masterfully expels the villain, restores his victims, and all at great personal loss. Not risk.

Doctor Who : Rise of the Cybermen / Age of Steel

He’s got their ears. Lumic takes over their lives, introduces Cybermen to their world, and starts transforming masses of regular people into robots. And he does it all with the support of the public. How does he do it? He’s got their ears.

Little conveniences can go a long way. Just look at how indifferent American news media was at the deaths of 1129 human beings in the Savar factory collapse in Bangladesh this past April. Forget the expense of ensuring the safe conditions of the people making our clothes. We want them cheap and always available, around the clock. It’s a little convenience that comes with a big expense for somebody else.

Why were people so disinterested in it? I think there are two reasons: 1. The Boston marathon bombings occurred only nine days earlier. Though there were 1124 fewer human fatalities, there were 5 more American human fatalities, which makes it more tragic. And the person responsible was easier to identify, and therefore easier to hate, which makes for a better story. 2. We like our cheap clothes.

Little conveniences cover a multitude of sins. It sucks that so many people died making our clothes, but I did retweet that picture of the blood-splattered T-shirts.

The people of Lumic’s earth were permissive of evil because they were taken care of. The people who could fix dangerous buildings are permissive because they are taken care of.

(I don’t mean to seem crass comparing the actual human deaths to a sci-fi show. Please understand that I don’t treat stories lightly. Our culture, our heritage, and our legacy are all dependent on our stories. And I don’t sentimentalize suffering and death. It’s something that’s always happened and will continue to happen for a long time. I don’t weep for strangers. I do pray for them. And I do want every instance of human suffering and death to be meaningful.)

Lumic gets in their heads with the cool new gadget. The people of his world take this sudden and profound change in their lifestyles for granted. Before they know it, they’re marching like lemmings to be transformed into murderous, emotionless, un-human Cybermen.

The loss of yourself, the loss of your humanity can start with just a whisper. Believing lies about yourself, or perhaps more dangerously believing lies about your Creator, is the fast track to destruction. Just as he subtly suggested that the Creator didn’t have their best interest at heart, the serpent deceived the woman and encouraged the human race to commit the first act of rebellion.

But not everybody falls for it. Some people know that the world of Lumic is dangerous and they make it their life’s mission to spread the word. They’ve committed to telling the world that there is an enemy who wants to destroy them and their is a way to be rescued. They’re called the Preachers.

The Preachers acted as prophets for the coming hero. The Doctor descended to earth and told the truth. He revealed the dangers of the Cybermen. He revealed the cute blue-tooth conveniences were leading the people of that world to their deaths. He was an external truth-teller, uncorrupted by the swaying concerns of the people. When Jackie Tyler was slowly dying because she was more interested in some minor injustice, the Doctor and his friends were blowing the lid off the infiltration of the Cybermen.

I can easily judge someone for obsessing about Trayvon Martin or the Boston bombing or some supposed injustice that hasn’t even claimed any lives yet. I can easily say that this or that event in the third world had a higher death tally than any dumb American new event. But then I’d be missing the point too. I’d be as bad as Jacqui Tyler, fixated on a symptom instead of looking at the real problem. The symptoms of the problem of Lumic’s world are distracting, but the real problem is the invasion of the Cybermen. The symptoms of the problem in our world (racism, murder, death, injustice) are just distracting, no matter how many lives are lost. The real problem is that fact that we die at all. Showing kindness to a dying person is nice. Shopping responsibly is nice. Giving to charity, voting smart, and being against terrorism are all nice things. But if you never get to the true problem, what good are you doing?

I’m not alone in struggling with the line between raw kindness and sharing the gospel. I hope. Dig in!


Doctor Who : Rise of the Cybermen / Age of Steel Guide

What is the bad guy’s goal?

What motivates the bad guy?

We might never have the position of authority that John Lumic had, but do we share any of his desires for perfection?

The good guys plan to stop the Cybermen by awakening their human side and revealing what they have become. How does the Holy Spirit work in a similar way?


Nothing too skeevy.

Rose and her alt-mom both show a bit of cleavage.

There’s some shooting of ray and bullet guns.

And there’s one scene of an electrocution that’s a little upsetting (at least it was to me!)

Doctor Who : The Girl in the Fireplace, 2.04

The Girl in the Fireplace

In you I saw someone I recognized.

Had no idea what was in your mind.

I met your eyes and I was hypnotized.

I let our lives become entwined.

So I’m a Who freak, right. Not just of the Doctor variety, but more so of the The variety, as in the greatest rock band in the world. The words above are from Pete Townshend’s ‘Now & Then,’ off his 1993 album Psychoderelict

You see someone in passing and your eyes lock. It’s so romantic. An instant and silent communication shared by two meandering humans, each on different paths that magically intersect long enough to miss them. Remember that scene in West Side Story, when the room fades into impressions and Maria and Tony first meet? It’s like that. We like stories where the two end up together and we like stories where the two just keep walking. We especially like the latter in TV commercials and when we’re on vacation.

I met the girl that would become my wife in one of those now and then interactions. Come to think of it…my parents met that way too! There are a ton of songs and movies covering that sort of thing. What we love about it as a culture, I don’t know. Maybe it’s the thought that love is bigger than our own plans that makes stories like this so appealing. There’s a security in knowing that the greatest emotion is mysterious. We can’t manage love. Or plan for it exactly. It just happens to us. I don’t totally believe that, but there is something exciting about the idea that love is beyond our understanding. And it’s true that love can grip us in surprising moments.

The success of this episode is sourced in our love of those now and then stories. Of course, it’s given that wonderful Doctor Who twist. He’s a time traveler, so the encounters he has with the girl are especially tragic. He stays the same age and she gets older, pushing him further and further out of her reach. We know how this one ends. No hand-in-hand stroll toward the sunset. No issuing of the TARDIS key to this girl who waited. This is a string of shared glances that do not lead to true love. “Now and then you see a face, and you fall in love, and you can’t do a thing about it.”

Why is it so sad though? They weren’t really invested in each other. Not in any way that a couple that actually marries is. So why is the loss so acutely felt? And why does it impact the viewer so effectively? Their interactions were so few and brief, so the loss can’t have been all that bad. But we’re made to believe that it really was that bad. And our reaction to it is to be sad. So we’re either being manipulated emotionally or the story is legitimately sad. It is sad. So why? Where is the emotional investment? The Doctor never fully engages with the girl. He hovers over her life, patiently knocking on her door. While there was no long-term investment, as in a marriage, there was the will for that. He was willing to give up his power and be stranded on her dull plane of existence. The sadness comes from the potential for their love.

Without getting too far into the predestination debate, I think we can all agree that Scripture does indeed admit that “He is willing that none should perish.” (II Peter 3:9) Whether Christ’s sacrifice is totally sufficient or whether it requires our faith to activate is an ancient debate that is better left to the likes of Calvin and Zwingli than this geek blogger. And since we know the Creator’s desire for all to come to repentance, we can attach that concept to the imagery of this Doctor Who story for a nice metaphor for God’s love without stepping on any theological toes.

The Doctor, though he doesn’t save Madame de Pompadour, does exile himself on her world, similar to Christ’s self-imposed thirty-year exile when He was in pursuit of His Bride. The Doctor was willing to be de-powered, at least for a time, maybe indefinitely, to save her. The Doctor’s hovering is similar to the Holy Spirit’s. I can look back over the years before I admitted Christ was lord and see the working of the Holy Spirit in my life. Meetings with people, interactions with media, obsessions with certain stories all contributed to that moment I surrendered to Christ. And it was all orchestrated and carried out by the Holy Spirit. When I was a kid reading Superman stories, I was being prepared for my own Strange Visitor who would descend from the sky, save the world through His death, and pursue His cruel and unlikely Bride. The Holy Spirit was visiting me as I obsessed over The Who. Initially fixated by their sonic supremacy, I quickly graduated to obsession over their questions of identity, never answering them until becoming a Christian. Madame de Pompadour’s visits from the Doctor were profound interactions with a being greater than herself, who wanted to know her, to save her, and to be with her.

One last thing. The Doctor crashing through the mirror on horseback – that worked for me. Christ the hero did the exact same thing for me. He told me who He was at various points in my life and then, finally, He crashed through the last barrier to get to me. Shattering my own perceptions of myself, He said, “The new creation has come. The old is gone and the new is here!”

Doctor Who : The Girl in the Fireplace. Guide for Parental Units of Geeks


The Doctor and Madame de Pompadour share a pretty intense kiss.

Conversation Starters:

The Doctor was willing to strand himself in 1758 so that he could save Madame de Pompadour’s life. Compare his sacrifice to Christ’s.

Did both Christ and the Doctor have a similar goal?

Did they have a similar way of reaching their respective goals?

Obviously, the Doctor failed in his mission. And Christ succeeded in His. What character differences do they have that might have led Christ to victory and the Doctor to failure?