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).


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!

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.

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.