Doctor Who: The Girl Who Waited (for the Providence of a Time-Travelling God)

Today’s episode of Doctor Who was not merely a great one but a beautiful one. What a brilliant use of time travel to explore the people we are and the people we become, and what might happen if the time stream of the person we want to spend our life with gets out of sync with our own. Spoilers and theological and philosophical reflection ahead!

The story begins with a simple and familiar premise: we have often seen the Doctor try to “pop back in a minute” only to find that the timing was off and the person in question had aged significantly. Indeed, this is Amy’s own experience with the raggedy Doctor as a child.

But then it takes it into new and interesting territory: if the error of timing is corrected, then that future version of things might well end up never happening. So what do you do if you are Rory and you have promised to save Amy, and yet now you have before you an Amy who has waited for you for 36 years, and whose life and experience will be erased if you go back to save her earlier? What if you have to choose between an older and younger version of your wife, both of whom want to live and want you to save them?

If one wants to use the episode to engage in some interesting theological-philosophical reflection, consider the following scenario: there is a “God” who is able to time travel and to tinker with history to make improvements. The deity allows history to unfold as it now does, but will travel back in time to fix problems, including everything from undeserved suffering to attempts at genocide and from cancer to toothache. And of course, September 11th, 2001 – just to make it specific and concrete.

But when that tinkering is carried out, the life you have known will be erased, replaced with whatever unfolds in its place as history is made increasingly just, painless and pleasant.

Would you be happy for this tinkering to occur? Would you prefer the life you have actually lived, with all its sufferings? Or would you prefer the sanitized and idealized version of it, with the corollary that choosing that option would make much of life as you have experienced it to never have happened?

Let me close with what I consider the most powerful image in the episode. Consider it, and then leave a comment letting me know which Amy you would have chosen if you were in Rory’s shoes, and which version of your life you would choose in the scenario I outlined immediately above.

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  • Gary

    “Would you prefer the life you have actually lived, with all its sufferings? Or would you prefer the sanitized and idealized version”…Everything’s relative. Most of us have adequate income, food, lodging, and internet access to spend spare time contemplating our existence, even with a few tragedies thrown in for appreciation of the good times. There are obviously people who are much less fortunate, and it is hard to relate what they would say. “Choose between older and younger version of your wife”…The whole purpose is to live and grow old together. So it is just a matter of more or less time gained or lost. If the purpose of the blog is to discuss religion, and the purpose of religion is to strive (hope) for eternal life, then in theory, time should be irrelevant. Of course, tell that to a dying person, and they may have a different perspective. When we’re fat, dumb, and happy (our currrent state), it’s easy to philosophize.

  • Yashoda Sampath

    I think the question of “right” is essential to looking at the episode. I’m grateful that the episode didn’t make light of the consequences of the decision, but I do believe the Doctor went too far, which could potentially be fantastic for the narrative.

    A few too many thoughts on last night’s Doctor Who:

  • Anonymous

    Interesting….as I know I’d rather know now what I know, than live in the naivete’ from my past!

    Just yesterday I had a conversation with a former fiance’. Both of us are different people than when we were engaged, and we are different people than if we had gotten married, as the experiences we have had have made us “who we are”.

     Does that mean that there are not past experiences that make for needs of reconsideration, or re-connection that help bring closure to some areas of our lives that might have been questioned, or has been questioned? NO. That helps, as it helps one to accept, which is a major part of adjusting and emotional health!!!

  • Anonymous

    BTW, and JFYI, Both he and I thought that we were “meant to be”. That meant that “God” had Providentially connected our paths! We both understood “God” as an intervening personal Deity!

    Today, he tends more toward a mystical Buddhism, though Christian, and I tend more toward agnosticism, as I think all ways of understanding are limiting and limited….because we all tend toward bias, and prejuidice. This was one of the reasons that the Founders gave room for diversity in our nation, as to “God”, and liberty as to our understanding about “life”….

  • Anonymous

    My Agnositicism is more about feelng I don’t know enough to make a judgment, except acknowledging my preferences and forming my understanding as I read more. I am learning more about our nation’s values and history, psychological and social science that makes me more informed about human behavior, and what makes for human opinion and thinking on and about government. So, I’m not certain even that I’m an Agnostic. I am an Atheist, as it pertains to “faith in a supernatural Being”… I don’t know that any facts can be determined about such a question.

  • Shiromi Arserio

    In one sense, the answer is a no-brainer. Save the girl so that she doesn’t have to go through 36 years of hell. But that’s also the simple answer, and I really enjoyed how much deeper they took it. For all that Older Amy has gone through, she still wants to live. She wants her existence to have counted. She doesn’t want it to have been all for nothing. I love that she tells Rory not to let her in the TARDIS because she knows, even though saving Amy the Younger is the right thing to do, that she will still try and scratch and caw for her existence.

  • Anonymous

    Why should she not want to exist, or to exist as she chooise to exist? Or do you not believe in choice and the value of liberty?

  • Anonymous

    BTW, Shiromi, I am not talking about illegal or unlawful behavior, but I AM talking about a liberal democratic government!!!