Sunday, 24 November 2013

Dr Who and the close of the year of faith: never give up, never give in!

Dr Who: First Doctor William Hartnell in Day of the Daleks
Those who got up early this morning (or watched it at some hour of the evening in another time zone!) to watch the Dr Who Fifty Year Special worldwide simulcast (for a good recap and review I pretty much agree with , try here) will recognise a mild spoiler in the title of this post, because it seems to me entirely appropriate that the closing date of the Year of Faith is also the 50th anniversary of Dr Who.

Fighting the good fight

The classic Doctor Who, after all, was all about the fight between good and evil, and helping people to see things for what they really are (including the often somewhat ambiguous character of the Doctor himself).

Dr Who, after all, at least in those first few incarnations that I grew up with, often seemed to wander around helping the tattered remnants of humanity fight off evil invaders such as the daleks and cybermen, leaving behind a reinvigorated group of survivors to rebuild.  I remember quite vividly, for example, the first Doctor's (William Hartnell) granddaughter, Susan, falling in love and staying behind to rebuild the earth in the Dalek Invasion of Earth (1964).  And there were many more in this genre, especially in the Tom Baker era.

But Dr Who also helped opened our eyes to the lurking dangers within ordinary life, to the possibility of terrorists operating within, to the idea that things may not be what they seemed to be.

It encouraged the idea too, that we could and should help do something about it.

Everyone who grew up watching the show through the 60s and 70s will, I suspect, have their 'hiding behind the sofa' episode memories.  I certainly remember finding The Celestial Toymaker (1966) as one, where the Doctor's companions are forced to play games with a life or death outcome, with a tense chess game going on in the background between the first doctor and the evil toymaker pretty scary (put all those family playing together horrors in perspective?!).

But the story I remember most vividly from those early years was The Faceless Ones, a Second Doctor (Patrick Troughton) episode in which airplanes full of people were kidnapped and miniaturised so their bodies could be appropriated by evil aliens.  Its impact on me I think was because it was shown in Australia in December 1967, and my family and I were just about to get on a plane and move to New Zealand...

The Second Doctor, Patrick Troughton, hides at Gatwick Airport in The Faceless Ones
Inspiring followers

The Doctor rarely acted alone though, but rather created a  family around him, and a community behind him.

The process of defeating the evil of the week often served to bind together a previously disparate group of people, and give them a new sense of unity and purpose.

As well as those left behind to pick up the pieces at the end of an episode, he attracted 'companions' who learnt and grew through their association with the Doctor.

Some of the Doctor's companions, I have to admit, were less inspirational.   Sarah Jane, for example, always seemed to me to exist mostly in order to be kidnapped and rescued by the Doctor, and Teegan's Australian whine was just annoying.  My personal favourites were Jamie, The Brigadier, Leela, and, in the modern era, Donna all of whom seem to me to show the power of ordinary people to show extraordinary courage and ingenuity when the situation demanded it.

Jamie and Victoria being chased by Yeti in
The Abominable Snowman
Recovery and updating

There are some other resonances with ecclesial life too.

Like the Church, the BBC went through a period of not treasuring its patrimony!

Many of the episodes I remember most vividly, like the Faceless Ones and the absolute classic Web of Fear (Yeti and more in the London Underground), were wiped or destroyed in the 1960s and 70s.

Fortunately there has been a gradual process of rediscovery, recovery, and even restoration.  Indeed the BBC confirmed yesterday that another set of missing episodes from the First Doctor era have only just been discovered and restored by combining a silent film version made from the tv by a fan in 1964 with audio held by the BBC.

Let's hope that the Church follows this lead!

And then of course there is the modern 'updating' of the series.

I have to admit that after some initial interest, I haven't been much of a fan of the show as it has developed under current showrunner Steven Moffat's leadership.  I'd pretty much stopped watching it altogether under Matt Smith as the Doctor, though I did decide to watch The Day of the Doctor today for old times sake.


And I enjoyed it, not least for that Tom Baker cameo near the end.

More importantly, the 50th year special seems to have taken the opportunity to do a bit of a reboot of the timeline (it has become fashionable lately, what with Star Trek and all!), setting up the potential for a rather less dark future under the Doctor's next regeneration.

In the relaunch of the series back in 2005, we gradually learnt that the Doctor had committed genocide, wiping out both his own race of Time Lords and the Daleks in order to save the universe.

In this Special, history is rewritten and Gallifrey is still out there, somewhere (and of course we already knew that the Daleks can never be entirely exterminated!).  If they follow through on the possibilities of that, I might even start watching the show again.

Let's hope that our bishops can take a leaf out of the (three) doctors book, and likewise confront the tough choices they face, and instead of making that same old choice over again, find a new way forward.

Perhaps the take out message for them, as for us, from the Year of Faith might usefully include something of the Doctor's newly proclaimed motto of "never be cruel or cowardly; never give up, never give in", and thus lead us to a better future in faith.

So do indulge in a bit of nostalgia today, and watch the Special (it is being repeated this evening in Australia), as well as shown in numerous cinemas, the associated new releases, or watch some of those old episodes available online.

1 comment:

Louise said...

Excellent commentary, Kate. Though I do admit to enjoying the more recent doctors, and Donna is amongst my favourite companions - Sarah Jane and Teegan were certainly rather annoying :)
It will be very interesting to see where they go next, now that Gallifrey has been saved.