Before the 50-year anniversary of “Doctor Who” on Nov. 23, Christ and Pop Culture is exploring the sci-fi series in Doctor Who’s Doctrine.
Part 1: Mad Man with a Box
Part 2: Genre Roots
Part 3: Exterminating Evil
Part 4: The Trip of a Lifetime
Part 5: Music for a Mad Man
Part 6: Those Complicated Companions
Part 7: The Episode I Never Want to See Again
Part 8: Christianity and “Whomanism”
Part 9: From Dark Sci-Fi to Joyous Fantasy
Christians may have one deadlocked criticism that’s seemingly impenetrable to Doctor Who’s storytelling sonic screwdriver: What about all of that gay agenda stuff?
It’s true. From dancing-both-ways hero Captain Jack Harkness to lizard-detective Vastra and her companion Jenny, Who likes to put in plugs for homosexual relationships.
Or does it? Peer closer for a surprising plot twist: Despite the writers’ intentions, the stories don’t endorse such relationships as much as use them for comic relief. In fact, Who’s best romances are among the strongest fleshed-out marriage arguments you’ll see on the telly.
Timey-wimey would fail me to tell of Rose’s and Martha’s eros, or Donna’s familial affection, all for the Doctor himself; or Jackie Tyler’s love for her late husband (rewarded thanks to a parallel universe). I only need mention showrunner Steven Moffat’s story of two of the Doctor’s companions who find romance with each other and whose love reflects Christ’s own.
Moffat’s Series 5 opener “The Eleventh Hour” introduced Amelia “Amy” Pond, not as a teenager or adult like the revived series’ first three companions, but as a child intrigued by the mad man who crashes his blue police box in her yard.
But flash forward a few minutes: Amy is all grown up. Slowly the camera gropes her legs. She’s now a “kiss-o-gram.” Ha ha! the story cries. Fooled you. This one’s for the blokes!
Over several stories, Amy proved more than eye candy. Then she relapses and tries to seduce the Doctor (and I considered dumping his show). But the Doctor rejects her. Fetches her fiancé. Takes them both to Venice, and beyond. At the series’ end, Amy finally marries her childhood friend, the one she’d always truly loved: Rory Williams.
Still in series 6, even after Rory proved his love literally over thousands of years, Moffat kept head-faking. Does Amy secretly prefer the Doctor over Rory? Will this marriage last?
Now that their story is concluded, I realize Moffat ended up subverting several story tropes. First, the annoying love-triangle, and second, a common trope that could be stated like this: “TV couples in stable relationships are boring, so any time is breakup time. Back to far-more-marketable angst and wandering with another love interest, another male cast member!”
Rory and Amy do have their tragedy. Eventually they do die. But they die in their 80s, after decades of growing old together. Their love endures, never threatened by the Doctor, clichéd marital boredom, or “inevitable” studio exec-mandated breakups or cast changes. Per the program’s own (temporal) rules, Amy and Rory have a fixed, fantastic love story.
Some fault the Ponds’ narrative arc and particularly their romance. Perhaps some fans just didn’t know what to do with Amy; they may have no mental category for a character who’s shown as an attractive, sexy woman one moment, and a full human being the next.
Others, I venture, were simply discomfited by the story of a stable, joyful marriage.
Perhaps we’ve been trained to believe that the only great romance is one constantly threatening to shatter. Or maybe, similar to the Doctor himself, we can’t stand happy endings to a love story, to stories that don’t simply delay and withhold true love, but pursue it to its finish.
Fans witnessed Rory and Amy grow up, fall in love, marry each other, become parents, lose and find in time itself their only daughter, change jobs, and fight to save their marriage from the monsters of normal life (and actual monsters). And finally, they were ready to die together in one other’s arms, after Amy’s potentially final words:
The Doctor: “What the hell are you doing?!”
Amy: “Changing the future. It’s called marriage.”
Later, on their gravestone we see:
In Loving Memory
Rory Arthur Williams
And His Loving Wife
Surely other fans besides me were left weeping — fans strung out on dull love triangles, pointless banter, and immature adolescent phobias of commitment. Moffat’s story at last celebrated and exalted the ideal of Biblical, God-honoring, forever-love marriage.
Meanwhile, one need not cross into controversies to notice how Who’s non-traditional love relationships fare by comparison. Captain Jack likes to “dance” with any being, but he is comic relief, and his first show is driven by a mother’s love. In “Asylum of the Daleks,” another side (for now) character suggests she’s toyed with bisexuality, but by that story’s end, Rory and Amy have pledged to pursue their marriage. In “The Snowmen” and other stories, Vastra and Jenny are presented as “wives” — again as only a joke. They’re fun characters. But few fans will cry over their story as they would over a beautiful romance like Rory and Amy’s.
End of the story
We should have predicted this. Moffat did say he hoped to make Doctor Who more like a fairy tale, darkness and unabashed joy included. While science fiction stresses unlimited futures, parallel possibilities, gray areas and conflict, and a cyclical universe, fairy tales emphasize a beginning, middle, and end, with only one possibility, and absolute good and evil.
For a great romance, one is not gripped by uncertainty or moral nuance or comic flippancy a la Captain Jack, like one is by the tale of Rory guarding his love for 2,000 years.
That’s a lesson the Doctor himself must learn. Some fans were surprised that in “The Angels Take Manhattan,” the Doctor twice begs Amy not to leave him, even if she must leave Rory. Amy doesn’t flinch; she has chosen her man. So why does the Doctor beg? Because he hates endings, finality, commitment, predictability, and “boredom.” Instead he’ll yank a lever and rush off to a newer time, location, companion, adventure, mystery, storyline, even universe. Here is final, moral clarity: in this area, do not imitate the Doctor. Don’t flippantly reject or mock true love, or change the channel and rush off. Behold the beauty of a final love story.