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!


7 thoughts on “Time Lord Regeneration and Resurrection (Part Three)

  1. Vampire’s and more specifically zombies present us with a shadow side of resurrection in which animal hunger and base appetite rules. But in the modern climate such horror has lost much of its bite.
    A lot of the power of horror to horrify (at least up until the World War 2) came from its direct confrontation with a world imbued with religious belief. H.P Lovecraft’s “mad gods” and “monsters from beyond” gained much of their power from challenging the notion that a good God ruled over all. The horror lay in suggesting to people with a religious heritage that the universe was ruled by chaos and madness – a true horror to the religiously inclined mind.
    Modern horror no longer attempts to shock us with its attack on notions of a religiously ordered world (since such notions are shared only by a minority of people) but instead tries to underline our secular angst. We are alone in an uncaring universe where anything can happen and nothing need make any sense. The veneer of civilisation can be torn down by contagion (vampire, zombie, or other) and underneath lies nothing but hunger.
    Lord of the Flies presents the template for such a view – the death of civilization leading to an undead dystopian system of social chaos. The fear at the heart of this can be expressed as follows – we are products of chaos and our natural state is one of violent competition and hunger. The collapse and failure of “civilising” values is inevitable in light of our natural tendancy toward disorder and chaos. The horror lies in recognising that, in a world where we do not bear the good image of a good creator God, the zombie is in fact a mirror of who and what we really are. Such a metaphor may not be that far from the Christian notion of the “natural human” living in bondage to “sin and the appetites of self”.

    • Thanks Craig for your keen observations on the Undead and the secular ethos found in many contemporary stories. The possibility that the Undead might experience redemption is another interesting counter-vailing “hope” that has cropped up via Stephanie Meyer’s novels (Twilight series). Meyer is a professing active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons). The gambit of Mills and Boon meets Dracula in her novels offers the tantalising appeal of girls redeeming the ultimate “bad boy” (a vampire). However, in Meyer’s universe the possibility of redemption reflects her LDS beliefs about resurrection and redemption: LDS theology has a quasi-universalist outcome. To some extent the lawless hero Blade (the movies) also retains a mix of messianic elements as Blade has two natures in one being (echoes the Incarnation divine-human), and stands as the bulwark against the Undead threat to humanity. Readers might like to explore a few more elements in my co-authored book The Cross Is Not Enough (Baker 2012) in which the Undead and spirituality in the context of resurrection is briefly discussed.

  2. Pingback: Time Lord Regeneration and Resurrection (Part Two) | TARDIS: Theology and Relative Discourses in Space

  3. Pingback: Doctor Who and The Master’s Resurrection (Part One) | TARDIS: Theology and Relative Discourses in Space

  4. Pingback: Doctor Who and The Master’s Resurrection (Part Two) | TARDIS: Theology and Relative Discourses in Space

  5. Pingback: Doctor Who and The Master’s Resurrection (Part Two) | TARDIS: Theology and Relative Discourses in Space

  6. Pingback: Undead and Theology | The Cross Is Not Enough

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