Female Doctor Jodie Whittaker

The BBC announced that in the 2017 Christmas Special (“The Doctors”) that as Peter Capaldi relinquishes the role that Jodie Whittaker will take his place.

There has been much social media chatter from supporters and detractors of the Doctor undergoing a regeneration and this time becoming a female. A few thoughts are worth keeping in mind before television audiences have an opportunity to witness Whittaker in this role.


There have been frivolous statements by some commentators speculating that Jodie as the Doctor might “pash” the Daleks or perhaps resolve conflict in a female-way by negotiating with the Daleks (which immediately and churlishly dismisses the entire canon of male Doctors as if they only ever oppose the Daleks by combat).

Some have erroneously stated that she is the “first” female Time Lord. This is incorrect because the series began in late 1963 with The Doctor (played by William Hartnell) being accompanied by his grand-daughter Susan (played by Carole Ann Ford). Susan departed the series taking up life in a future time-zone (22nd century) on earth (and she made a return cameo appearance in the anniversary “Five Doctors” broadcast in 1983).

The next female Time Lord (or Time Lady if you wish) to appear was the character named Romana (played first by Mary Tamm; played secondly by Lalla Ward). She journeyed as the fourth Doctor’s (Tom Baker) assistant (seasons 16, 17 & 18 from 1978-1981). She evidenced tremendous intelligence and tenacity.

Another female Time Lord was the renegade character called The Rani (played by Kate O’Mara). The Rani was opposed by the sixth Doctor (played by Colin Baker) and seventh Doctor (played by Sylvester McCoy). The most recent female renegade Time Lord was Missy (Michelle Gomez) who had in earlier regenerations been a male Time Lord known as The Master.

The examples above show-case that female Time Lords not only exist but may rise to prominent positions as characters within the Who Universe. Lesser roles assigned to female characters who were Time Lords include:

The possibility of The Doctor regenerating from male to female was depicted in the 1990s comedic non-canonical telethon-broadcast The Curse of Fatal Death where the Doctor undergoes several regenerations (played in succession by Rowan Atkinson, Richard E. Grant, Jim Broadbent and Hugh Grant) which culminates in another regeneration played by Joanna Lumley.


Other social media discourses that celebrate Jodie Whittaker’s appointment have been accompanied by remarks that young girls will finally have a strong female hero to emulate from the series.I suggest that in the excitement to emphasise “at last a female doctor” the role of strong female characters from the past has been overlooked with respect to various assistants/companion characters. The following section offers just a few (but not exhaustive) examples.

It is true that several of the Doctor’s female companions/assistants were typecast as stereotypical women who scream in fear when encountering the threats of alien monsters and require being rescued by the Doctor (e.g. such as the characters Victoria Waterfield, Jo Grant, Mel Bush). 

However, it is misleading to assume that all females have been primarily typecast as hysterical screamers who were hopelessly driven by emotions and lacked intellectual strength or other strong character qualities worth emulating. Several female companions were competently qualified in various careers when they joined the Doctor in time-travel.

The 1960s examples

The first Doctor also travelled with Barbara Wright (played by Jacqueline Hill) and she was teaching history at the London high school where the Doctor’s grand-daughter Susan attended. Barbara is depicted as an inquisitive and logical woman who poses questions and challenges the stances sometimes taken by the Doctor.

Another character who was a quasi-companion of the first Doctor was Sara Kingdom (Jean Marsh) who appeared in two episodes of The Daleks Master Plan. She is a space agent who evidences independence of mind, an ability to fight, plus a streak of ruthlessness. She perishes in the adventure.

The second Doctor (Patrick Troughton) travelled with Zoe Heriot (played by Wendy Padbury). She was an astrophysicist working on a space station in the 21st century when she joined the Doctor. There were occasions where she was obliged to be a screamer. However, she also evidenced a photographic memory and possessed an advanced mathematical ability. She caused a computer being used to aid the Cybermen to self-destruct (The Invasion) by supplying it with an equation to solve which cannot be solved.

The 1970s examples

The third Doctor (Jon Pertwee) was exiled to earth in the late 20th century. His first assistant was the physicist Liz Shaw (Caroline John). She held doctoral degrees in medicine and physics from Cambridge University, was highly knowledgeable in a range of other academic studies, and she evidenced high intelligence in her role as a scientist working with the Doctor.

Another companion who brought a feminist perspective to matters was Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen). She accompanied both the third and fourth Doctors on adventures, and encountered later regenerations of The Doctor (e.g. Five Doctors, School Reunion, Stolen Earth, Journey’s End, End of Time). Her earthly career was that of a freelance magazine journalist who had an inquisitive mind. In some stories she seemed petrified of aliens. However she was loyal and demonstrated courage in times of stress. In the later adventures, where she met the tenth Doctor (David Tennant), as well as in her spin-off series The Sarah Jane Adventures, she evidenced tenacity and an ability to use technology to her advantage in opposing alien threats. She also met the Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith) in Death of the Doctor.

A very different kind of character was the huntress Leela (Louise Jameson) who used her intuitive ability, as well as her skills in physical combat, to fearlessly confront aliens. In part she played a Pygmalion role to the Doctor’s tutelage but she was a very courageous character.

1980s and beyond

Nyssa (Sarah Sutton) was principally a companion with the fifth Doctor (Peter Davison). She was a younger aged character who possessed high intelligence as a biochemical engineer.

Ace (Sophie Aldred) was principally a fighter even though she was sometimes forced to face some personal fears and brushes with death with screams. She struck several Daleks with a specially charged baseball bat and was adept at devising home-made bombs.

In the 21st century revival of the series, the leading female companions Rose Tyler (played by Billie Piper), Martha Jones (played by Freema AgyemanDonna Noble (played by Catherine Tate) all reflect street-wise, liberated female roles. Martha is a qualified physician. A recurrent trope that was introduced by Russell T. Davies is that humans are capable of saving themselves and being quite heroic without necessarily needing the exclusive intervention of a messianic Doctor as the saviour of the world.

Perhaps the most outstanding female character to match the Doctor for brilliance is his companion and one-time spouse Professor River Song (Alex Kingston). She uses her intelligence, advanced scientific knowledge, wit and charm in clever and disarming ways. She is hardly the proverbial “wilting violet” female (i.e. shy retiring type).

From a theological angle, it is well-worth recalling that in creation theology both female and male equally represent the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26). The Doctor is a saviour-like character who cares for humans. Time will tell when the new series is broadcast but I believe that it is safe to say that Jodie Whittaker as a female incarnation of the Doctor will presumably maintain that same quality of care.




The Power of Three: Resurrection of the Dead

N.B. The following written text in this blog-post The Power of Three: Resurrection of the Dead  is Copyright © 2012 Philip Johnson.

Resurrection of the dead, apocalyptic judgment, trinitarian allusions: just some of the theological motifs that percolate to the surface in The Power of Three.

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In Series 7 of Doctor Who (Matt Smith) the episode “The Power of Three” represents the second-last story to include The Doctor’s companions Amy and Rory. The story, which is primarily told through the eyes of Amy and Rory, draws attention to the companions’ parallel lives: Their ordinary mundane earth-bound lives, and their lives spent in adventures with The Doctor.

The story involves what is called a “slow invasion” of mysterious cubes that are scattered across the earth. Over a period of a year the cubes capture the imagination of all humans, while seemingly inert. However, at a precise moment all cubes become active. The cubes scan all the earth pertaining to human life and activity: the aim is to find a weakness in humanity.

Within the plot of this story The Doctor is introduced to the new head of U.N.I.T. a scientist named Kate Stewart. It is disclosed in conversation between kate and The Doctor that she is the daughter of Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart. A nice touch for fans of the long-running series, along with a quick allusion to the aliens the Zygons (from Tom Baker’s time as the fourth doctor).

The cubes have been sent as part of scheme by a race known in Time-Lord mythology as the Shakri. The Shakri seek to prevent humanity from ever leaving earth and colonising the rest of the universe. When the cubes are activated in a count-down emphasising the number 7, one-third of humanity dies from cardiac arrest. (One might contemplate the number 7 in this story in terms of a reversal of the creation week: because the aim is to obliterate humanity).

When The Doctor encounters the Shakri on a spacecraft orbiting earth, he speaks of their coming in terms of “judgment” — note the apocalyptic image!

As the plot reaches it climax, The Doctor reverses the power of the cubes so that they act as heart-resuscitation/defibrillator equipment. In effect, all who died are resurrected from the dead by The Doctor’s manipulation of the cubes. Once again, The Doctor and motifs are resurrection are linked.

The story concludes with a reflection from Amy that a cube represents the “power of three” — here The Doctor, Amy and Rory acting together in a salvific manner. One might contemplate the theological emphasis in Christian thought of Unity-in-Trinity with the three centres of personhood in the Godhead (Christian doctrine of the Trinity).

Asylum of the Daleks: The Doctor as Risen Healer

N.B. The following written text in this blog-post Asylum of the Daleks: The Doctor as Risen Healer is Copyright © 2012 Philip Johnson.

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Series 7 of Doctor Who starring Matt Smith is now underway with the first story having been broadcast, Asylum of the Daleks.

It kick-starts Series 7 which will have 5 episodes broadcast in coming weeks, with the remainder in 2013 to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the TV series. A “Jubilee Year” for The Doctor. The year of jubilee in the Bible was one of rest for all from work, rest for the land and nature, and time to forgive debts, free slaves, and have life reinvigorated and renewed.

A theme of forgiveness and renewal in a jubilee year is there in Asylum of the Daleks.

The plot-line involves a female character having sent a message that brings the Doctor to the planet Skaro, the home-planet of the Daleks. The woman pleads for the rescue of her daughter held captive by the Daleks. The message is a ruse as the woman turns out to be a puppet of the Daleks. The Doctor is kidnapped and rematerialises on a space-craft containing the Parliament of the Daleks. He is joined by his companions Amy and Rory, both of whom have also been abducted.

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The Parliament of the Daleks sets an assignment for the Doctor and his companions. The Daleks’ plea to the Doctor is “save us”. The Daleks feel threatened by their own kind, Daleks that have been isolated in an asylum because they are insane and too dangerous to be let loose.

The Daleks are unwilling to exterminate their own kind because in their eyes it would be horrible to destroy something that is beautiful. That is, the Daleks regard themselves as a thing of beauty, and in their morality it is wrong to destroy what is beautiful. The Doctor regards this as twisted reasoning given the perverse disposition of the Daleks to destroy and subjugate everything else that is non-Dalek. As the Doctor regards the Daleks as lacking pity and being a cosmic force of destruction, their unwillingness to destroy fellow Daleks who are insane is ironic! The Daleks in a piece of irony also say that maybe this is one reason why they have not killed The Doctor because he too is an object of their “beauty” (The Doctor’s “soul” was ostensibly revealed in Journey’s End suggesting he fashions people to do violence on his behalf).

A planetary asylum for insane Daleks exists but it is apparent that the security system that imprisons them is in danger of bursting apart. As the Daleks are unwilling to send their own, it is the Doctor and his companions who are given the task of dealing with the problem.

The plot-line unveils that there is a woman named Oswin Oswald (played by Jenna-Louise Coleman; she is the next actress who will assume the part of the Doctor’s travelling companion during Series 7). She is trapped in the asylum and she must be rescued. However, the surface appearances are not all that they seem, and the Doctor poses questions again and again as to how Oswin has succeeded in surviving unscathed for a whole year in this asylum. The Doctor’s scepticism about Oswin is validated as the story reaches its climax.

As part of the plot-line the story in its earliest sequences shows that Amy and Rory, who have been a married couple, now live apart. Just before they are abducted, Amy signs divorce papers thus finalising the end of their marriage.

A few theological threads may be discerned in Asylum of the Daleks, and with obvious links to the past. The first thread is a brief allusion to the motifs of the Doctor’s death and resurrection. The pre-credit involves the woman summoning the Doctor to Skaro. Before he appears the woman recites words about the Daleks and their destructive legacy, and of a man who is believed to have died fighting them. The woman nevertheless expresses the hope that this man who may yet still be alive can help her. In previous posts I have discussed some of the resurrection analogies in Doctor Who.

The true name and identity of The Doctor has been the TV series’ great and deliberately unanswered cypher: “who is The Doctor?” (hence Doctor Who).

The title of “the Doctor” evokes the role of one who is a healer, and this is acknowledged in other stories that the Doctor brings healing. For example, with scathing cynicism The Master mocks this self-chosen title — The Doctor — of the one who heals in The Sound of Drums. The Doctor as the one who heals offers a messianic analogy to the Christ who healed people of ailments and brought about healing of the relational bonds between God, humanity and the rest of the creation.

In Asylum of the Daleks, Amy has rejected her relationship with Rory, and Rory has reluctantly acquiesed. When The Doctor encounters them he is disturbed to learn that their relationship has been sundered. Amy insists that this is just “life” and is adamant that this is something beyond even The Doctor to set right. However, through a chain of events, The Doctor sets in motion the pathway for reconciliation premised on the power and goodness of love, which are opposite to the ontological status of the Daleks as creatures that glory in evil and destruction. By the end of this story, Amy and Rory are living in a restored relationship (although their imminent departure from the series in the forthcoming fifth episode is evidently ominous). Healing and reconciliation are sub-threads in the plot of this story.

The character Oswin Oswald plays a subversive part in undermining the Daleks’ asylum, which has led to the crisis of The Doctor being kidnapped to deal with the problem. As the plot discloses Oswin was a human. She has been metamorphosed though into a Dalek, yet her human consciousness has successfully survived in a state of psychic shock and denial (“I am not a Dalek” is her insistent remark to The Doctor).

Before the Dalek asylum is vaporised, Oswin manages to erase from all the Daleks both in the asylum and on the space-craft their individual and collective memories of The Doctor. As The Doctor rematerialises before the Dalek’s Parliament they do not recognise him as they insist on him identifying who he is. The Daleks fail to recognise the Doctor as a healer, saviour and messiah. Their “spiritual darkness” lets them dwell in delusions as their deeds are so evil. The playful dialogue is posing the perennial question “Doctor Who?” “Who is The Doctor?” The story closes with The Doctor in flight alone on the Tardis and chuckling as he repeats the words “Doctor Who”.

While the universe of Doctor Who has retained the mystery of his name across 50 years of the series, one can find a theological analogy in the gospels about Jesus. The synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) carry forward the question: who is Jesus really? Jesus poses the question: “Who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15). Biblical scholarship has long contended that in Mark’s Gospel there is a “Messianic secret” associated with the sayings and actions of Jesus.

While Doctor Who is not the work of theologians, the mystery of who is The Doctor invites viewers to ponder why does The Doctor do these healing and redemptive acts? In a similar way, readers of the gospels are invited to ponder on who is Jesus? He seems to be a Rabbi, yet is not just a teacher. He seems to be a prophet and yet his work breaks out of that category of just being a prophet. He is a healer and yet is more than just a healer. Who recognises Jesus? Who recognises The Doctor?

The Doctor can bring healing even to post-modern fractured marriages, and he dies and rises again from the dead. With the Asylum of the Daleks it is an opportune time once again to ponder and reflect on the theological mirror images that Doctor Who brings to the surface.

Doctor Who and The Master’s Resurrection (Part Two)

N.B. The following written text in this blog-post Doctor Who and The Master’s Resurrection (Part Two) is Copyright © 2012 Philip Johnson.

For the first instalment Doctor Who and The Master’s Resurrection (Part One) click here.


Last time we looked a little bit at the background to the character The Master. He is a renegade Time Lord and plays a recurring role throughout Doctor Who.

We found that just like Professor Moriarty’s role in Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories about Sherlock Holmes, so too The Master is the arch-nemesis of The Doctor. (There are other aspects to The Master’s character that will be explored in a separate post).

It is in the 1971 story Terror of the Autons that we first encounter The Master (played by Roger Delgado) during the life-span of the third Doctor (Jon Pertwee). At this stage in history The Doctor was exiled by the Time Lords to live on earth and they mentally blocked his memory of the dematerialisation codes for operating his TARDIS (time travel vessel). A Time Lord drops in unexpectedly to warn The Doctor that The Master is somewhere on the earth and is plotting to kill him.

The Master attempts to draw the Nestene consciousness (the basis of the alien creatures the Autons) toward earth using a radio telescope signal. He intends that through the Autons’ invasion that all humans will be destroyed. The Autons, which can incarnate as individual entities in plastic (such as shop-front mannequins), will transform all plastic products making them lethal to humans. Although The Master’s plan aborts he successfully evades capture by The Doctor and his friends from U.N.I.T. His escape signifies that he will return in a further attempt to carry out his plans to destroy The Doctor and humanity.

Third Doctor vs The Master

During his exile The Doctor matches wits with The Master (as played by Roger Delgado) in these adventures: The Mind of Evil,  The Claws of Axos, Colony in Space, The Dæmons,  The Sea Devils and The Time Monster.

With the exception of Colony in Space, all the adventures involve The Master taking action to subjugate the earth using aliens, or non-human terrestrial creatures as the vanguard for his grander schemes to either control or destroy humanity. Sometimes it also involves attempts to acquire powers (such as those held by Azal the Dæmon; the power of the “time-eating” entity Kronos) or ultimate weapons (the Doomsday weapon). The Doctor’s counter-actions invariably thwarts The Master.

At the closing of another adventure (not involving The Master), the Time Lords  “pardon” The Doctor and release him from his sentence of earthly exile (see The Three Doctors).

In his post-exilic adventures, the third Doctor encounters The Master (Roger Delgado) once again in a titanic struggle in the twenty-sixth century (Frontier in Space). This story sadly became the final unexpected appearance of Roger Delgado as The Master because he died in 1973 in a car accident en route to a non-Doctor Who film location in Turkey.

In the 1970s Terrance Dicks (1935-) and Malcolm Hulke (1924-1979), who were both script-writers for Doctor Who, described The Master in these terms:

The Master is dedicatedly evil. He loves chaos and disaster for its own sake, will start a war for the sheer fun of it, and likes nothing better than to make a bad situation worse. His one ambition is to destroy the Doctor, who has foiled so many of his evil plans.

The fourth Doctor subsequently described The Master as “the quintessence of evil.” The Doctor recalls that “he was evil, cunning and resourceful” and was “consumed with hatred”.

Regeneration Cycles

In its format and structures Doctor Who offers some creative flexibility for the development, renewal and revision of ideas and themes. An example of this concerns Time Lord regeneration. In previous posts (see here, here and here) I have indicated that Time Lord regeneration offers an analogy for resurrection from the dead.

David Rafer notes that as a mythic hero figure The Doctor resonates at times with archetypes among which he is “also resurrected through Time Lord regeneration.” (“Mythic Identity in Doctor Who” in Time and Relative Dissertations In Space: Critical Perspectives on Doctor Who, ed. David Butler, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2007, 125).

From the TV-production side regeneration is a handy way of making explicable the visual transition from one actor to the next playing The Doctor. Yet within the internal history of the series, regeneration enables The Doctor to be fully rejuvenated and physically transformed by resurrection.

However, what regeneration entails for Time Lords has been gradually revealed across the TV series. The second Doctor (played by Patrick Troughton) divulged to his companions Zoe and Jamie, “The Time Lords are an immensely civilised race. We control our own environment. We can live forever barring accidents and we have the secret of space-time travel.” (The War Games, episode 10). These remarks pointed in the direction that while Time Lords are mortal (“barring accidents”) the physical renewal of life for each individual Time Lord through the process of regeneration could continue in a virtually endless cycle of rejuvenation.

An apparent revision of the second Doctor’s perspective comes in the adventures of the fourth Doctor (played by Tom Baker). In The Deadly Assassin it is indicated that a Time Lord can only regenerate twelve times after the first life-span: in other words, a Time Lord has a sum total of thirteen possible incarnations. (Whether this point about thirteen incarnations remains fixed or undergoes revision in future stories is unknown but quite plausible).

It is in The Deadly Assassin that the fourth Doctor battles wits with The Master back on the Time Lord’s home planet of Gallifrey.  In this story The Master is emaciated and decaying because he has reached the very end of his thirteenth incarnation but is seeking a way to cheat death.

At the climax of this story, The Master almost has within his grasp a source of cosmic power — the nucleus of a black hole — which he believes will give him “supreme power over the universe.” It is this same power that he hopes to convert into some kind of physical reconstitution and renewal.

However, in a physical tussle that parallels Sherlock Holmes wrestling Professor Moriarty on the Reichenbach Falls, The Master falls into a chasm. Although believed dead, the end of the story shows The Master has survived and he escapes Gallifrey. The Master’s emaciated face is slightly but not fully rejuvenated. So he has not experienced regeneration and so it is more a revivification than a resurrection in The Deadly Assassin. However, as we will see in the next post (part Three), The Master manages to cheat death several more times in future stories.

Stay tuned!

Doctor Who and The Master’s Resurrection (Part One)

N.B. The following written text in this blog-post Doctor Who and The Master’s Resurrection (Part One) is Copyright © 2012 Philip Johnson.

The Doctor is a Time-Lord whose home planet is known as Gallifrey in the constellation of Kasterborous. It is ostensibly located some two hundred and fifty million light years away from the earth. Although The Doctor is a mysterious wandering extraterrestrial traveller in time and space (the perennially unanswered question is: who is the Doctor?), he has through all his incarnations retained a benevolent fondness for human beings and the planet earth.

In Doctor Who the TV series several other Time-Lord characters have appeared. The first Doctor travelled with his grand-daughter Susan, and when the fourth Doctor was commissioned by The White Guardian to find the six-segments of the Key to Time, the lady Romana was assigned to be his assistant on the quest.

However, not all Time-Lords are benevolent and trustworthy. Some have engaged in dangerous political intrigues on Gallifrey such as Chancellor GothCastellan Kelner and Lord President Borusa.

The Doctor has also encountered several renegade Time-Lords wreaking havoc on earth or other planets in his adventures. The main renegades include the Meddling Monk, the War ChiefOmega, Morbuis, the Rani, and most important of all, The Master.

Who is The Master?

The Master is a recurring character in the canon of Doctor Who TV stories. The relationship between The Doctor and The Master is comparable to that of Sherlock Holmes and his arch-nemesis Professor Moriarty.

The Doctor and The Master began life together as childhood friends on Gallifrey and they were classmates at the Time Lord’s Academy. All Time Lord children are taken to a place referred to as the Untempered Schism, which is a gap in the fabric of time and space. There each child peers into the time vortex and has a glimpse at the whole of reality past, present and future. When The Master was initiated he suffered mental instability and was warped as one with psychopathic and sociopathic tendencies.

The Master has shown himself to be the consummate embodiment of evil using his mental powers as a hypnotist to control and destroy other humans. The Master’s great technical competence as a scientist and mathematician has usually led him to create weapons like the laser screwdriver, and the tissue compression eliminator which can shrink humanoid bodies to miniscule sizes.

The Master has also been adept at disguises and creating fake identities when infiltrating an organisation or institution such as in his role as Professor Thascalos at the Newton Research Unit at Cambridge University (see The Time Monster) and as Mr Harold Saxon who succeeds in becoming Prime Minister of Great Britain (see The Sound of Drums).

He is adept at being stealthy even among the Time Lords and successfully entered inside the Matrix on Gallifrey without being detected (see The Deadly Assassin). By the way, this story about The Master entering the Matrix (first broadcast in 1976) became a source of inspiration for the Wachowski brothers’ film trilogy The Matrix. Andy Murray points out that in all the chatter about the sources used by the Wachowski brothers that nobody has bothered to acknowledge that they borrowed the whole idea from the Doctor Who script-writer Robert Holmes:

‘The Deadly Assassin’ introduces the Matrix — a computer housing a vast array of information which, when interfaced with via a headset, takes the form of a surreal virtual reality world. The Matrix film trilogy (1999-2003) borrows this concept wholesale, even the name, but in amongst the discussions of the source of the films’ ideas — philosophy, Lewis Carroll, graphic novels, martial arts cinema — Robert Holmes is rarely given credit. (Andy Murray, “The Talons of Robert Holmes” in Time and Relative Dissertations In Space: Critical Perspectives on Doctor Who, ed. David Butler, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2007, 230)

On several occasions The Master has plotted to control the earth or utterly destroy it, and has wreaked havoc in other parts of the universe in his megalomania to control the entire universe. In each of these attempts The Master has been thwarted by The Doctor.

The Master has also experienced regenerations (resurrection) but (as we will see next time in Part Two of this post) his power to be resurrected had clearly expired when he returned to his home planet Gallifrey in The Deadly Assassin. Subsequent stories indicated that he was desperate to cheat death and devised ways of sustaining his life, such as drawing on the Eye of Harmony (The Deadly Assassin), using the power of the Keeper (The Keeper of Traken), and taking over humanoid bodies (The Keeper of Traken, Doctor Who The Movie). The specific mention of the resurrection of The Master from the dead has cropped up in The Sound of Drums and The End of Time.

I’ll talk specifically about the resurrection of The Master next time in Part Two, stay tuned!

Time Lord Regeneration and Resurrection (Part Three)

For the two previous instalments Time Lord Regeneration and Resurrection (Part One) click here and (Part Twoclick here. N.B. The following written text in this blog-post Time Lord Regeneration and Resurrection (Part Three) is Copyright © 2012 Philip Johnson.

The TV series Doctor Who has carried throughout its long broadcasting history  analogies for the resurrection of Christ and for the resurrection of the dead. The term resurrection has been explicitly used a few times in the TV series with reference to some enemies of the Doctor: Morbius, The Master and the Daleks.

In this post, I will just deal with Morbius and save The Master and the Daleks for a subsequent post.


There is a story (first broadcast in 1976) called The Brain of Morbuis that is very reminiscent of the story of Frankenstein. Solon is a medical specialist in organ and tissue transplants who is fanatically devoted to the cause of a renegade Time Lord named Morbius.

Morbius was executed by the Time Lords on the planet Karn in a manner that extinguished the possibility of his regeneration (or resurrection). However, unbeknown to all, Solon succeeded in preserving Morbius‘ brain with the goal of assembling a new body stitched together from other creatures. When the fourth Doctor (Tom Baker) realises that Solon is bringing Morbius back to life, the Doctor rebukes Solon by saying that he is “resurrecting evil.”

Robert Holmes (1926-1986), the then script editor for Doctor Who, rewrote an unused robotic-story that had been penned by Terrance Dicks (1935-). Holmes converted Dicks’ story into a gothic horror (the writing credit for the story is the pseudonym Robin Bland). It is worth noting parenthetically that in 1971 the name Morbius was used for a villian who was a Vampire in the Marvel comic-book series The Amazing Spider-Man. Given Holmes’ fascination with horror, and also Dicks’ other Doctor Who script about vampires (later converted into State of Decay), it can be inferred that either one or both writers probably knew of the vampire-character called Morbius in the Spider-Man comics.

A Few Words About the Undead

The associating of Morbius the renegade Time Lord with an “Undead” monster echoes both the vampire-character of the same name from Spider-Man, and Mary Shelley’s classic novel Frankenstein. The realm of the Undead in gothic literature takes us to the threshold of resurrection theology.

Undead creatures such as vampires, zombies and werewolves were once human. Now transformed they behave in monstrous ways preying upon other humans, feeding on their blood. This feeding on the blood of the living parodies both the death of Christ and the blood motifs associated with atonement.

They are usually depicted as loathsome or cursed. Lurking deep in the background of these cursed creatures is the first biblical story of a “marked” or “cursed” man: Cain. The Undead tales retain a faint echo of the implications of Cain’s story.

To be among the “Undead” signifies that these creatures are less than human. They are embodiments of evil. They are cursed because they have tried to find immortality in this life. Instead of attaining the glorification promised through Christ’s resurrection, they become a parody of the resurrection of the dead. They are a moral example with the implicit punchline: do not seek immortality in the flesh apart from God’s grace. God alone bestows resurrection.

The classic Gothic stories about the Undead and monsters have reflected the times in which the authors have lived. Stories like The Vampyre, Frankenstein, Carmilla, Dracula and The Island of Dr Moreau picked up the angst of the Industrial Revolution; the 1848 year of revolutions; human versus machine; humans in the Imago Dei or just by-products of evolution; would scientific experiments improve humanity or turn us into beasts?; was humanity inevitably progressing onwards to a golden age?

Similar issues lurk in today’s Gothic stories. Is unending life really worth having? What will humans become if the Genome is decoded? Are we destined to overcome death through technology? Will we be cyborgs? Is cloning morally dubious? Why tamper with human biology? Are humans equal to non-human animals?

One final important and parting word: the very notion of being “Undead” in the English-speaking world takes us back to early English-language versions of the Bible. Anthony Hogg the Vampirologist has tracked the use of the word “undead” (or more specifically “Undeadly”) to John Wycliffe’s translation of 1 Timothy 1:17. In Wycliffe’s translation the passage reads:

And to the king of worldis, vndeedli and vnvysible God aloone, be onour and glorie in to worldis of worldis. Amen.

Most current-day readers of the Bible would know this verse:

To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen. (New Revised Standard Version)

Today, Bible translators generally use the word “immortal” instead of “undeadly”. In the koine Greek the word is αφΦάρτω (aphtharto). The term may be translated according to context and usage as “incorruptible”, “immortal”, “imperishable”, “undying”, “enduring” or “incapable of decaying”.

The attempt to become “undying” or “undead” or “immortal” without God, is where the Gothic literature casts its moral tales about the futility of being “resurrected” in this current flesh. However, the God-bestowed resurrection involves a transformation from mortality to immortality. If one were to reflect a bit about Wycliffe’s translation, one might suggest that in the language of his day to be resurrected would involve people understanding that they would in resurrection become “undead”.

For more on the meaning of the resurrection and its practical application to life here and now, take a look at my co-written book The Cross Is Not Enough: Living as Witnesses to the Resurrection.

More about Doctor Who and Resurrection will follow in subsequent posts, stay tuned!

Time Lord Regeneration and Resurrection (Part Two)

For the first instalment Time Lord Regeneration and Resurrection (Part One) click here. N.B. The following written text in this blog-post Time Lord Regeneration and Resurrection (Part Two) is Copyright © 2012 Philip Johnson.

A couple of years ago I stumbled across a web-chat about Doctor Who. There was a chat thread involving  excited shop-talk among some fans who identified Christian themes in the post-2005 series. I recall that one adolescent contributor had a bit of a dummy-spit about all the religious chatter and bluntly said words to the effect that because it is science-fiction “there’s nothing religious about Doctor Who.” In one sense this adolescent is correct: Doctor Who is not a TV series written to propagate or teach religious beliefs.

Yet in another respect, this adolescent viewer is completely mistaken if by the remark “nothing religious” it is a denial of there being any religious plot-lines, ideas or beliefs to be found in Doctor Who since the TV programme began in November 1963.

One might also add in passing that religion, myth and science frequently intersect in science-fiction novels, films and other TV series. To claim that there is “nothing religious” then points to a woeful lack of understanding and familiarity on the part of that particular adolescent mentioned above with religious themes and concepts in general, not to mention their presence in many classic science-fiction stories. The remark perhaps reveals more about that adolescent being so personally alienated from the history and faith of European civilisation that he/she was incapable of recognising the Christian elements that the other web-chatters had noticed.

Barry Letts (1925-2009) served for many years as a producer of Doctor Who, directed a few stories, and also wrote or co-wrote some stories (such as The Time Monster, The Green Death, and Planet of the Spiders). Before he died Barry Letts was interviewed by Jonathan Wynne-Jones for an article about Doctor Who that was published in the English newspaper the Telegraph. Letts commented:

“I think it’s inevitable because of Britain’s cultural heritage that a long-running programme about the fight between good and evil will have some Christian themes as a backdrop.”

That Doctor Who has provided an imaginative avenue through which religious ideas can be expressed in stories is something that Letts admitted to doing in a story that he wrote. During the 1970s, Letts was personally interested in practising Zen Buddhist meditation. He indicated (see the DVD) that for the last Jon Pertwee story, Planet of the Spiders, that he offered a bit of a mish-mash of Tibetan Buddhist and Zen ideas.

That religious plot-lines both non-Christian and Christian turn up in Doctor Who stories is confirmed by other script-writers. Another obvious non-Christian example crops up in the story Kinda featuring Peter Davison as the fifth Doctor. Just take note of what script-writer Christopher Bailey had to say about Kinda on the DVD. As a practicising Buddhist, Bailey took the opportunity of writing a Doctor Who story built on strong metaphysical themes. Hints about Buddhist beliefs and ideas are found in the names of two female characters Panna (wisdom) and Karuna (compassion).

Other clues in the story are found in the name of the metaphysical serpent (or demon) that Tegan encounters called the Mara. There is the strange box of jhana (meditation) opened by the Earth-colonist Hindle. One should also not miss the references to Deva Loka (plane of existence for the devas) and to one of the four Noble Truths of Buddhism: Dukkha (suffering).

Kinda is not a purely Buddhist-based story — it does also incorporate Biblical elements of the Garden of Eden/Paradise, and the female character Tegan (echoing Eve) passes the forbidden fruit to a man (character Aris). Nevertheless, the basic point is confirmed that here is a Doctor Who story that carries forward a religiously-based plot-line.

Last time (see Part One) I drew attention to Time Lord regeneration and mentioned that it can be understood as an analogy for resurrection from the dead. Just in case someone is a bit sceptical and thinks that this claim is a theologian’s sleight-of-hand card-trick, consider the sleeve jacket comments for Doctor Who The Movie: “With the themes of resurrection and rebirth at its core, it is fitting that Doctor Who The Movie should prove to be the keystone for the successful revival of the series.”

James Chapman, who can scarcely be regarded as being a partisan for Christian theology, has noted the importance of resurrection motifs and analogies when commenting about Doctor Who The Movie:

Another form of symbolism that pervades the film is its use of Christian imagery. The Doctor is (quite literally) resurrected: he emerges from the mortuary wearing only a white shroud in what seems a conscious reference to the Gospel of St Mark where Christ’s disciples discover in the holy sepulchre ‘a young man … clothed in a long white garment’ (Mark 16:5). If this might seem a fanciful interpretation, the imagery is even more explicit at the climax of the film where the Doctor, as one critic put it, ‘is manacled to a crucifix and garlanded with a crown of nails’. (Inside the Tardis, p. 180).

There’s more to talk about resurrection in Doctor Who that continues in Part Three.