Friday, 30 January 2015
Time lords And Time for the Lord: Religion In Doctor Who
By Shannon Lush
The relationship between religion and science fiction has always been one of mutual exclusivity. The very nature of popular science fiction, with its usual reliance on scientific technology and principals, seems to preclude the presence of real-world religious belief. Certainly, the three most popular science fiction television and film franchises, namely 'Doctor Who', 'Star Wars', and 'Star Trek' ,have all seemed to decide that, in their fictional universes, religious belief, specifically the Judeo-Christian concept of God, is simply not a concept worth exploring in great detail, if at all. Each franchise was created from the ground up by hundreds, if not thousands, of contributors from all walks of life. It is safe to assume that, somewhere along the way, by intentional design on the part of the initial creators of each franchise, an unwritten rule was put in place to avoid the topic of real-world religion altogether where and when possible.
Two of the 'Big Three' are and have been weekly television series. They were, and are, subject to broadcasting standards. As pieces of popular entertainment, 'Doctor Who' and 'Star Trek' both seek to entertain the masses, and not insult them by delving into areas such as religion; to put it mildly, religion could invariably be taken the wrong way should they ever attempt to introduce it as a topic or plot point. Fantasy religions, cults, and false idolatry are, of course, acceptable and are on display in all three franchises. But to tackle the real deal? Organized religion, prayer, and scripture? The Doctor would rather face a pantheon of Daleks armed to the teeth. Captain Kirk would rather climb a mountain. Luke Skywalker would rather chop his own hand off.
Outside of the strictures in places from network overlords, it is fair to say that in the case of 'Star Trek', intentional design led to the creation of a mostly agnostic, and at times downright atheist-based universe. Gene Roddenberry, born and raised as a strict Baptist, rebelled at an early age from the enforced belief system of God, and infused his greatest creation with a definite lack of Christian belief systems. Discounting the non-human characters such as Spock who hail from worlds in which religion and spirituality are very much on display in everyday life, the human characters of 'Star Trek', by and large, are not believers in any one God for the most part. Captain Kirk remarked once that 'we find the one quite sufficient’, in answer to a power-hungry being once revered as a god who demanded worship. However, as with all throwaway lines of dialogue indicating a familiarity with God, religion, and worship, Roddenberry or others would in later years state that this was 'forced' upon the series. Network executives were eager to reassure viewers that, even in the far future, there was still a belief, however deeply buried, in God.
By the time of 'Star Trek 5: The Final Frontier', the ducking and weaving of the issue abruptly ended and the crew of the good ship 'Enterprise' were finally confronted with what they were explicitly told was God. And to a person, they promptly questioned it. As it turned out, they were right to do so, once again confirming to audiences that, much as he'd done throughout his career, Roddenberry either wrote or else produced and presented story after story that demonstrated that in his mind, religion, God, and belief was outdated and didn't belong in a future humanity. The moral of every 'Star Trek' episode or film that ever touched upon the 'God question', is that God, simply, isn't out there. And perhaps humanity is better off for that, according to ‘Star Trek’.
In later years, especially with Roddenberry's death and the advent of new 'Star Trek' series such as 'Deep Space Nine' that would go out of its way to delve deeply into religious issues that Roddenberry frowned upon, 'Star Trek' began exploring those once-forbidden questions. But for all the ground it made up in the decades since, the mere fact that the original series boasted humans seemingly out of touch with religion and God will always stand as the blueprint for which all other 'Star Trek' materials are created. Captain Kirk, who at various times in his life, lost lovers, children, and his beloved ship, until 'The Final Frontier' was never depicted as succumbing to a higher power to help him cope or reason with the losses. Kirk was never seen to pray, in other words. Doctor McCoy, a Southern gentleman at heart, was always depicted as having a strong moral core, though rarely is this attributed to anything spiritual in his background. He does accept 'God' more readily than Kirk in 'The Final Frontier', going so far as to state 'maybe you shouldn't ask God for his ID!’ However, as this is after he is affected by Sybok's mind-probing to 'ease his pain' (explained in expanded universe material as an ancient, invasive and banned version of the Vulcan mind meld), it is unknown if this is truly indicative of his feelings towards the idea of 'God' being real, or an after-effect of Sybok's mood-altering mental process.
On multiple occasions, 'Star Trek' characters exclaim 'My God!’ such as Kirk's 'My God, Bones, what have I done'?, in 'Star Trek 3: The Search For Spock', as Kirk watches the remains of his beloved 'Enterprise' burn up in the orbit of the Genesis planet. However, invariably Gene Roddenberry would claim that these exclamations were merely down to 'racial memory'...in other words, though the characters say the words 'My God' often, it does not indicate an actual belief in an all-powerful entity, merely a hand-me-down phrasing from a time in humanity's past when such a saying was common. When it suited him, Roddenberry would point out that the future depicted in 'Star Trek' was 'only a few hundred years from now, after all'. At other times of course, he would insist that virtually all societal ills of today that have plagued humanity for hundreds, if not thousands of years, such as racism, poverty, sexism and murder, would be eradicated within the same brief time period.
With the rare exception of Uhura, who as a character was deeply spiritual on the insistence of the actress playing her, the main characters in 'Star Trek', drawn from diverse ethnic backgrounds, are never depicted as being overly interested in anything remotely religious. The opportunity to possibly explore Asian religious beliefs through the character of Sulu is lost. Though it is revealed that Sulu is of American ancestry, being born in San Francisco, spinoff media clearly depicts him having extremely close ties to his Asian ancestors. Chekov, as a Russian, is assumed to be likewise an atheist or agnostic, and the opportunity to explore the future of the Russian belief system through him is also never done.
On the whole, as popular as 'Star Trek' continues to be, with its legions of fans worldwide, many of whom readily praise the positive messages, the depiction of a peaceful future for humanity, and the triumph of the human spirit that the series engenders, it plays it safe when it comes to religion. The message seems to be that it's fine for the Klingons to worship Kahless and to have Stovakor as their afterlife, but at no point is 'Star Trek' going to depict Jesus or Heaven, or even go anywhere near them as topics. There is a 'great barrier' of intentional design preventing such topics from being addressed.
George Lucas, on the other hand, never went out of his way to downplay or whitewash religious belief in his franchise, though he also established a favorable situation where it was doubtful real-world religions would ever be given a focus; after all, in a 'galaxy far, far away', what we know as God either may not exist or else may be known under a different name or guise. Unlike 'Star Trek', which primarily deals in the future of real-world humans, 'Star Wars' is a storybook universe with no direct ties to humanity, other than most of the characters appearing to be humanoids.
Borrowing elements from pagan beliefs of the ancient past, Lucas studiously avoided Judeo-Christian overtones. Though a case can be made that there is plenty of comparisons one could draw between Jesus, God, and the father/son relationship between Luke and Darth Vader, these seem coincidental rather than intentional. In the 'Star Wars' universe, even the robotic droids seem to have an understanding of a higher being, with C3PO proclaiming 'thank the Maker!' on a few occasions. C3PO’s statement has a double meaning. He could be referring to his own personal maker, later revealed to be Anakin Skywalker. But then wouldn't he say 'thank MY Maker?’
Safely tucked into a fantasy universe of his own creation not encumbered by real-world religious belief systems, Lucas nevertheless explored some religious beliefs with' 'Star Wars'. The Jedi Order are comprised of monks, wizards, and shamans, though at their heart their warrior class are referred to as 'Knights', which conjures up the real-world historical knights who not only embarked on Crusades but also according to legend protected religious artifacts. And the Jedi Knights are charged with keeping the peace and protecting the entire known galaxy, especially from the scourge of their fallen-angel brethren, the Sith. At its most basic a tale of good versus evil, 'Star Wars' may not go out of its way to introduce Judeo-Christian themes overtly, but the familiar trappings of the basic morality battles played out in the standard biblical tomes known to Christianity suffices to gently reinforce the concepts.
Of course, speaking of the influence of the primary creators upon the religious concepts apparent or absent in their work would not be complete without discussing the thought process that Sydney Newman, credited as the primary creator of 'Doctor Who', had for his most famous creation. The waters run murky here, as unlike Roddenberry and Lucas, there is not a wealth of biographical information or personal quotations from Newman to draw upon when delving into the creation process of 'Doctor Who'. Also unlike the others, Newman was at the time on the other side of the desk, as it were; launching TV series was his 9 to 5 job and as his own boss, he was not required to pitch ideas to anyone. It was therefore a much smoother process than that of Roddenberry and Lucas, who were subjected to compromising certain principals to see their visions come to life.
As a television executive first and foremost, Newman's entire job consisted of conceptualizing and shepherding TV series for BBC. Once he accomplished the task of creating one series, he moved onto the next. Though he demonstrated great affection for 'Doctor Who' both during his time with BBC and well into his retirement, it was not an all-consuming creative endeavor for him; it was bottom-line creating, with an eye towards TV budgets and production facility allocation rather than making bold artistic statements. It is doubtful that Newman, and the dozens of others who contributed to the early 'Doctor Who' creative process, gave much if any thought as to whether religion in any recognizable Earth-born form would ever play a role in 'Doctor Who’. Perhaps not as anything other than to be set dressing in a few historical-based stories in the early run.
In its 50 plus years of existence, 'Doctor Who' has evolved from its humble roots as an entertainment series meant primarily for children into a worldwide science fiction series that stands shoulder to shoulder with 'Star Trek' and 'Star Wars'. It is inevitable that, in that time, it has come under fan queries for the nature and role of religion within its framework. After all, like 'Star Trek', The Doctor's adventures encompass planet Earth. As a reality-bending TV series concerned with time travel, 'Doctor Who' can delve into areas that others cannot.
How has religion been approached traditionally on 'Doctor Who'? Absent any specific directives one way or the other from Sydney Newman, it was left to individual script writers to insert the notion of religion into their stories. The series' various story and script editors then either approved these topics or else asked for their removal for fear of insulting anyone. Productions notes from as far back as the early 1960's still exist to demonstrate that scripts were altered on the basis of not offending 'religious nutters'.
By the 1970's, with the rise of Hammer Horror films and a revival of Gothic themes and imagery in general within the pop culture of the time, 'Doctor Who' delved into the subject matter of cults, witchcraft, paganism and shamanism...but studiously avoided traditional Judeo-Christian topics. Even the short-lived spinoff 'K9 And Company' saw its pilot episode featuring the little tin dog assisting Sarah Jane Smith in battling witchcraft, that plague of small-time English villages.
Unique to 'Doctor Who', the main character is an alien being. One who hails from a far distant planet in a far distant time and space, and one with its own belief systems. By giving such an origin for the central character, the creative personnel of 'Doctor Who' cleverly side-stepped their hero's personal belief system and thoughts on God. After all, he's an alien; he's not expected to necessarily subscribe to any Earthly spiritual beliefs, any more than he would those of the denizens of Pluto, Mars, or Jupiter.
The introduction or deletion of potentially inflammatory material in 'Doctor Who' was handled and continues to be handled on a case-by-case basis: again, unlike 'Star Trek' which was subjected to the personal belief system of its primary creator and therefore for much of its existence adhered to his dogmatic (and decidedly atheistic) viewpoint, 'Doctor Who' was, by and large, left to its own devices to either focus attention on religion...or not. A well-known myth from the early days of the series describes great hand-wrangling by BBC and 'Doctor Who' production personnel towards broadcasting the episode 'The Crusades' in the Middle East; though in actual fact this amounted to no more than a few hurriedly-scripted production memos instructing certain care be taken so as not to inflame historical or racial prejudices in the area, it is indicative of the approach taken to such matters.
'Doctor Who' was a series concerned with the travels of an enigmatic alien wanderer, and even its early historical-type stories are replete with factual errors and fictionalized scenarios that differ greatly from known history. Sometimes this was accidental on the part of the writers; after all, writers for 'Doctor Who' were not usually (though there are exceptions) also learned scholars of history. They were, and are, writers who were, and are, seeking to tell compelling stories that happen to sometimes be set in historical times.
Shifting to The Doctor himself and the exploration of his beliefs, he clearly believes in some way in the existence of a soul. He has verbalized on numerous occasions that beings such as the Cybermen and Daleks are ‘soulless creatures’ and when confronted with especially criminal behavior on the part of humans, he questions whether they have 'lost their soul' or else 'have no soul'. Is this down to his cultural upbringing on his home planet of Gallifrey? Do his people have a belief system in the existence of souls? Or is this a product of his interactions with and observations of humans; is this shorthand he picked up in his travels?
The title of The Doctor's people, 'Time Lords', is also intriguing. It is interesting to note that it was not until several years into the run of the series that the term was coined; it was not a part of the original format for 'Doctor Who'. Terrance Dicks, co-creator of The Time Lords, has on numerous occasions stated that when inventing names for characters, races, and machines in 'Doctor Who' he tends towards the dramatic, applying names that simply sound grandiose without much meaning behind them; it is therefore doubtful that in naming The Doctor's people 'Lords' he or Malcolm Hulke, the other credited writer of 'The War Games', were attempting or intending to equate them with the Judeo-Christian concept of a Supreme Being.
More likely, the long tradition of British parliamentary procedure, which features of course the House Of Lords, or referring to certain classes of people of authority and privilege as ‘My Lord’ played a role in the selection of ‘Time Lords’ as the title for The Doctor’s people. Certainly later stories such as ‘The Deadly Assassin’ confirms that by and large, British history and government account for the inspiration points for The Doctor’s race and its unique history and culture; in that story, the concept of Cardinals, Chancellors, and Presidents as well as academies are directly inspired by the structure of colleges such as Cambridge and Oxford.
Nevertheless, within the narrative framework of ‘Doctor Who’, the fact that the people of Gallifrey self-identify as ‘Time Lords’ is quite illuminating. As the self-appointed ‘lords of time’, it is possible that, on Gallifrey, no such belief in a ‘Supreme Being’ exists. Because, as ‘Lords’, in both a traditional and functional sense, Gallifreyans are, themselves, their own Gods? To put it mildly (and terribly inadequately), belief in ‘God’ can be boiled down to several components.
First, a belief in the existence of a universe-and-life creating ‘Supreme Being’ that is responsible for everything, ever. As ‘Time Lords’, Gallifreyans open the very universe around them, and bend it to their will. They shape history, can re-write, alter or delete it to their satisfaction, and even such obstacles as ‘fixed points in time’, which are considered impossible to breach, can and have been breached and then altered by individual Time Lords (namely The Doctor but also many others). Therefore, in form and function, in this fundamentally important way, Time Lords perform the tasks and demonstrate the ability that humans would ascribe to God Himself.
Second, a belief in God denotes a fundamental belief in the existence of life after death. The concept of regeneration is strikingly close to that of life after death. Producer Barry Letts, a man fascinated with Buddhist principals had explored the parallels in regeneration to that of the Eastern belief system of reincarnation and the perpetual cycle of death and rebirth. Clearly, the concept of regeneration has proven over the decades to have been the signature concept for ‘Doctor Who’, and one that has drawn the most acclaim. It is the one element unique to ‘Doctor Who’ in all of science fiction and has not only inspired and fascinated millions for a myriad of reasons creatively, it has continually proven its worth as a concept, as the engine of longevity for the series.
But does The Doctor ‘die’ when he regenerates? Is he then ‘reborn’? Is each Doctor a different person with a different soul, or one man perpetually in a process of undergoing metamorphosis every so often? Does The Doctor’s soul go on to an afterlife upon each regeneration, or do Time Lords not have a ‘Heaven’? Are they their own Gods, and are TARDISES their temple of worship, their churches?
As with the term ‘Time Lords’, regeneration was not a part of the original format documents, and thus like most of the enduring elements of ‘Doctor Who’, it was made up as they went along. Regeneration, renewal, rebirth; however it is termed (and it has been interchangeable from time to time, though for the majority of the series it has been ‘regeneration’ as the preferred term to explain the process), it was a stop-gap solution invented in a moment of need that has literally saved the series from oblivion for decades. But because it was invented in this way, like most enduring elements the spiritual considerations of such a unique process were not set in stone, nor set down on paper. This leads to speculation now…was there ever a time when regeneration ‘was’ considered spiritual?
The only clues to this and to how Gallifreyans view regeneration are through primarily The Doctor’s viewpoint on the matter and, occasionally, some of his contemporaries. Though a bizarre, painful, unexpected process that with rare exception cannot be controlled or contained (at least by The Doctor), with uncertain results for him, The Doctor after time came to rely upon it to continue his existence. In the ‘classic series’, more often than not The Doctor regenerated purely by accident, and usually as a last-ditch failsafe ability that he employed when the situation was dire enough to call upon it.
In this manner, it is difficult to consider the concept of regeneration as some form of ‘reward’ for moral deeds in the sense that a morally upright Christian believer would consider their souls attaining the eternal reward of ascending to Heaven and thus living on forever, simply due to the uncertain outcome of regeneration. After all, even when he succumbs to the process as a direct result of morally righteous actions on his part, such as to save the lives of others, this does not always mean The Doctor is ‘rewarded’ after the fact in any noticeable way (unless his continuing to live on after catastrophic bodily harm that otherwise would kill him can be considered reward in itself).
Regeneration also, by and large, does not tend to differentiate between the basic concept of ‘good and evil’; as a Time Lord, even murderous or immoral beings such as Borusa, The Monk, The Master and The Rani can and have regenerated, thus it is not a reward for moral actions. The (admittedly non-canon) charity episode ‘The Curse Of Fatal Death’ saw The Master refer to regeneration as ‘the miracle of the Time Lords’; human companion characters have by and large been amazed, stunned, and shocked at regeneration, but have not thus far weighed the possible religious questions implicit in the process. Until such time as a companion blesses themselves upon witnessing the process or questions what actually happens to the soul of the previous (and now, for all intents and purposes, deceased) incarnation of The Doctor, then the question may never be answered.
The Doctor has credited the TARDIS on multiple occasions with gifting, or at the very least assisting, in the regenerative process; the Second Doctor explicitly states ‘it’s a part of the TARDIS…without it I couldn’t survive’. Most regenerations have taken place either inside or close to the TARDIS, and on almost all occasions The Doctor is quickly hustled inside its doors either before or immediately after the process. The exact nature of regeneration, other than being described as ‘complete cellular metamorphosis’, remains a complete mystery bereft of any outward connections to spirituality. The closest equivalent one can muster to connect the process to anything based in religion is the presence of and/or desire to return to the TARDIS to ensure successful changes. As stated, in many ways, the TARDIS is akin to a church, and it is permissible to consider The Doctor at the moment of regeneration is experiencing some form of crisis of faith that requires or compels him to return to this place of possible worship.
The third and final belief in ‘God’ that is traditionally ascribed to believers would be to live a moral life. Certainly, The Doctor has done so, having been depicted for over 50 years of adventures as an extremely moral being who champions morally upright causes. He inspires others to take the moral path whenever possible in all their dealings and actions, and in every incarnation, despite differences in surface mannerisms and personality quirks, at his core stands for the recognizably ‘good’ in any given situation.
But, if indeed he is not human and it is quite well established that there is no Judeo-Christian belief system on Gallifrey to which he could have been instructed in at an early age in order to avoid the temptations of the Devil and the possibility of his soul burning in Hell if he strays from a moral path…then what compels The Doctor to be moral?
There is a debate, which has raged for countless years and will no doubt continue to rage for many more, that essentially seeks the ultimate answer to the question of; without the ‘moral compass’ of religion to teach a person to understand and respect the concepts of ‘good versus evil’, is that person truly a morally sound person?
If a person is not instructed to not commit acts of recognizable sin for fear of eternal damnation, are they more or less likely to commit acts of sin and not fear any form of spiritually unpleasant consequences? It is a ‘nature versus nurture’ debate that has sharply divided the religious and the lay person, and driven even further divisions between science and religion. Religious scholars and tutors and priests may believe that without such teachings on ethics and morals, a person may commit acts of sin without fear of judgment.
So, presuming that The Doctor, while being quite familiar with Judeo-Christian (and, truly, virtually all Earth-based) religions, is not a believer in God and is, of course, depicted as a scientist who seeks the scientific approach at virtually all points in his travels…what compels this man to perpetuate moral acts of courage, kindness, and compassion? Without promise of eternal reward? As a Time Lord, he has been seen at best as a ‘trouble-maker’ and at worst as a dangerous criminal whose moral code is a threat to the established order. Clearly, he is not merely one among a race of do-gooders. Throughout the course of the series, Time Lord society has been depicted as morally corrupt, stodgy, isolationist, smug and superior-minded. The sins of others do not impact on the Time Lords, nor will they seek to proactively assist others unless their own affairs are threatened in the process.
Thus, there is little if anything in his people’s way of life that would compel The Doctor to undertake continuous journeys to help others and to save the lives of others, often by placing his own life at extreme risk. The closest equivalent to any form of threat of eternal punishment for committing acts of what could be deemed sins is the revelation that at a young age, Time Lords are forced to view the Untempered Schism, and in truth this quasi-religious indoctrination process seems to reflect more upon the Time Lord’s desire to maintain order within their own society than any attempt at instilling a moral value system into their youth.
As a race, Time Lords can be seen to worship no other ‘Supreme Being’ than the time vortex and time itself; The Doctor remarked that viewing the Schism made him into the wanderer he became, that he started ‘running, and I’ve been running ever since’; given this, and added to the comments The Doctor has made that he was ‘bored’, that he felt his people turned a blind eye to the suffering of the universe outside their transduction barriers, and that The Doctor is not alone in his rebelling against the established order of Time Lord society, it is safe to assume that, whatever the outcome of subjecting Time Lords to the Schism, it is not an initiation meant to instill a moral code. It is rather a form of brain washing to instill obedience. However he gained his ‘moral compass’ and whatever drives him forward, it was not due to the Time Lords.
Though it truly appears that Time Lords do not have a concept for God, there are two figures in their history that may be the closest equivalent to both God and The Devil; Rassilon and Omega. Rassilon is the only figure that has consistently been depicted in both the classic series and the new as the one every Time Lord fears. Rassilon is potentially the only character that could be classified as akin to both God and as a Jesus figure.
To begin with, Rassilon existed prior to established Time Lord history, and hails from an age before recorded time, with his actions and words being handed down orally and then within the pages of scrolls, some of which are forbidden, and within ‘bibles’ such as The Book Of The Old Time. These facts parallel the biographical information extant regarding Jesus. Myths and legends have grown around Rassilon, much as they have about Jesus, and he appeared to have at least one disciple, or at least one named thus far, in Omega. Like ancient religious sites in the Holy Land purported to have association with Jesus, the Tomb of Rassilon is steeped in legend.
Like Jesus, Rassilon is said to have practically invented or directly inspired modern society in some form or other. Like Jesus’s inspiration of the ‘BC’ dating system, there is a ‘Rassilon Era’. Like commonly used phrases such as ‘my gentle Jesus’ there are epitaphs such as ‘Great Rassilon’! On the one face-to-face(s) encounter with Rassilon himself during the original series, every incarnation of The Doctor is sent into a state of absolute shock at the mere thought of actually conversing with him. They avert their eyes, stammer, grovel, and essentially, for lack of a better term, undergo what appears to be a religious experience.
With a metaphorical wave of the hand, Rassilon puts right the wrongs done in his name by Borusa, and punishes Borusa for his sins, condemning him to eternal torture. Rassilon is explicitly said to have ‘cheated death’, ‘gained immortality’, and to be able to ‘live forever’, all qualities traditionally ascribed to Jesus. Rassilon’s form of immortality is so desirable that Time Lords who themselves live for untold thousands of years still seek it out; like Jesus, Rassilon offers the gift of eternal life, but is capable of judgment at the methods chosen to attain it.
To extend the comparisons even further, the general belief in Jesus is that, at a time of great need, he will return once more, to sit in judgment of humanity. Rassilon appeared in the flesh to lead his people in ‘The End of Time’. Like Jesus is scripted as returning to the world ‘as the lion’, Rassilon returns not as a spiritual leader, but a fierce and formidable warrior. Rassilon in ‘The End of Time’ was so awe-inspiring and powerful, and his intentions so clearly a parallel to Judgment Day, that The Doctor underwent tremendous, soul-crushing suffering and hardship to stop him.
In addition to the appearances on screen, in which he displayed greater powers than any Time Lord before or since, Rassilon also has symbols of power and devotion attributed to him. The TARDIS has at various times been decorated with Rassilon seals, much as a church would boast stained glass pictures of Jesus and contain statues of Him, or a believer in Jesus would hang photos and busts of Him in their home. There has been mention of Gallifreyan holidays named for and concerning Rassilon, much as there is a Christmas and Easter. The Doctor has had TARDIS keys in the shape of Rassilon seals, and sometimes has even worn these keys as necklaces, much as believers in Jesus would wear a crucifix around their neck.
Perhaps Rassilon is the figure of devotion for The Doctor that explains his moral compass; clearly, on some level, The Doctor at the bare minimum respects, fears, and possibly even worships Rassilon, as can be inferred from all available evidence. Like believers in Jesus, The Doctor has spoken of his personal relationship with Rassilon, as he did in ‘Remembrance of the Daleks’. If, indeed, there is a Jesus figure to be found in ‘Doctor Who’ to which most, if not all, Time Lords, seem to either fear and greatly respect, then it is Rassilon.
The final signifier of Rassilon being both the Jesus figure as well as the God of Time Lords can also be found in his first appearance in ‘The Five Doctors’; the Second Doctor recounts that in the ‘Dark Times’ when Time Lord society was more chaotic and brutal, it was Rassilon who ‘put a stop’ to the kidnapping of races and the enforced fighting that entertained primitive Time Lords in the Death Zone. The Abrahamic traditions of God directly intervening in his subject’s cruel acts are quite obvious here, as is the concept of God as the Law-Giver, issuing the Ten Commandments. Rassilon from his own Temple Mount issued commands, established laws, and ended the sacrificing of lesser races, introducing the concept of mercy to the Time Lords.
If Rassilon is both God and Jesus to the Time Lords, then Omega can be identified as the Devil. As in traditional biblical lore, the true story of Omega’s ‘fall from grace’ is lost to time…and also depends upon who is asked. At one time, Omega was a trusted servant, friend, and contemporary of Rassilon, as the Devil, in traditional accounts, was once a trusted angel in God’s employ. As the Devil is said to have coveted the power and glory of God, so too is Omega supposed to have coveted the mighty power of time travel, and in so doing angered Rassilon, who banished him to his own personal ‘Hell’, much as God does to the Devil. Naturally, Omega has his side of the story…
When he is first encountered in ‘The Three Doctors’, Omega is bitter, angry, and trapped in a world he cannot escape from, much as the Devil is said to be, with only nonhuman entities to command; for the Devil, of course, demons, and for Omega blob-like Gell Guards. Like the Devil sending out demons to do his work for him, the Gell Guards are sent out to lead human beings (and Time Lords) to their ruin. Omega has no love for Time Lords; he views them as unworthy of his worship and he views them as Rassilon’s ‘children’, for lack of a better term, in exactly the manner in which the Devil views humanity as nothing more than ‘all God’s children’, whose souls he must corrupt and possess.
The Doctor certainly fears Omega, and pities him, even going so far as to state that ‘all my life’ he has known of and respected Omega, much as a Christian knows of and respects the trickery and power of the Devil and is vigilant against it. Though The Doctor doesn’t display the revulsion at standing face to face with Omega as a human likely would at doing so to the Devil, he is shocked and revolted at the sight of Omega’s headless body, and the decay which has eaten away at Omega, much as Hell would corrupt and eat away at any denizen of it, including the Devil and his insatiable thirst for living souls.
As much as Omega in his two televised appearances was depicted as supremely powerful, so too is he twisted, corrupt, evil, and capable of leading others down a dark path. He does this to Hedin in ‘Arc of Infinity’. Omega possesses The Doctor as humans can be ‘possessed’ by the Devil. Like the Devil, Omega makes ‘deals’ with Hedin. There is also the biblical inspiration for the very name ‘Omega’, the opposite number to the biblical ‘Alpha’.
While perhaps unintentional on the part of the writers and producers of ‘Doctor Who’, the characters of Omega and Rassilon subscribe too well to the traditionalist viewpoint of God and the Devil to be completely accidental. It is difficult to believe that, in some subtle way, a spiritual path was not laid down within the narrative framework of ‘Doctor Who’ for no other reason than to simply provide fictional signposts for future writers and actors to be inspired by. After all, it is not by accident that the seal of Rassilon adorns so many objects and is worn on so much clothing; it is not by accident that the ‘Great Rassilon’ phrases are written into scripts.
Somewhere along the way, as both ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Star Trek’ have proven, religion as a concept to be explored finds a way. The topics are too fundamentally interesting, the symbols and teachings too much a part of human cultural DNA to stay buried. Try as they might to not put such matters front and center , the biggest science fiction franchises of the past fifty years have, deep down inside and if one looks hard enough, more than enough religious iconography, phrases, viewpoints, and perspectives on display. Like the best science fiction, they shine a light on humanity and use monsters and aliens to tell stories relevant to it. As much of a scientist as The Doctor is and has been, even he acknowledges that, sometimes, there is much more to life than what can be seen with his own two eyes…Rassilon willing.