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 One)

I am going to talk about Time Lord Regeneration and Resurrection. Before I do it might be helpful for people who are unfamiliar with Doctor Who and his regeneration to look at Brian Rimmer’s mix-and-match clips from the entire series (from William Hartnell the first Doctor all the way to Matt Smith the eleventh Doctor; Rimmer has added some creative spin in the clips covering the regeneration of Colin Baker to Sylvester McCoy, and again from Paul McGann to Christopher Eccleston). Watch it here.

Spoiler (taken from my co-written book The Cross Is Not Enough, page 100):

The idea of resurrection has been embedded in the series’ overarching plotline since the mid-1960s. A recurrent thread concerns the bodily renewal of the Doctor when he is mortally wounded he is “resurrected through Time Lord regeneration.” Every time it involves the Doctor undergoing a complete physical transformation. He is the same man but has a different appearance. 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 myth-making of the series the Doctor’s “dying” and “rising” does echo some parts of Scripture. When Jesus arose he was the same but also manifestly different (the disciples on the Emmaus road did not immediately recognize him; he could appear/disappear in the upper room). Those who have known the Doctor but encounter him in later regenerations recognize that he is the same yet different. In the joint US-UK television movie of 1996 the Doctor was shot dead and his body placed in a hospital morgue. The visual representation of his resurrection shows him triumphantly emerging from the morgue robed in a white garment. Since 2005, each time his resurrection is shown the Doctor stands in a crucifixion pose as his body dissolves and a new one emerges out of blinding light.

(More to talk about in Part Two).

N.B. The above written text in this blog-post Time Lord Regeneration and Resurrection (Part One) is Copyright © 2012 Philip Johnson.