The Torchwood episode “Something Borrowed” connects with religion in two very direct ways, both related to conception.
The story focuses on Gwen getting bitten by an alien not long before the day of her wedding. Unfortunately, the alien is one that inseminates the one bitten with its offspring through its bite, and as a result, Gwen ends up being pregnant on her wedding day.
As she begins to freak out about it, Jack tries to reassure her. When Gwen asks if this sort of thing has happened before, Jack says “Sure” and adds “You’ve heard of the immaculate conception, right?” to which Gwen responds by emphasizing “I’m not carrying the baby Jesus in there.”
The use of the term “immaculate conception” is a misnomer. That term reflects the Catholic view that Mary was conceived without sin. It is a different doctrine than the view that Jesus was conceived virginally, without a human father.
Leaving such errors to one side, was Jack – and was the writer of the episode, Phil Ford – really seriously suggesting that Jesus was a shapeshifting alien?
Whatever one’s answer to that question – it may be that Jack was joking – the scenario depicted in the episode also connects with other major topics of religious interest, namely rape and abortion.
The episode depicts Gwen’s mother as emphasizing that, even if conceived before her wedding, “It’s a baby. It’s God’s blessing.” Another way of putting it would be to say that any baby is a “gift from God.”
That is precisely the sort of language that was used by several politicians not long ago in relation to rape, sparking a significant amount of deserved controversy. If we think about it, Gwen was essentially raped by an alien organism in the episode. Because of the way the alien reproduces, it did not involve precisely the same things that are involved in a human raping another human being. But she was a victim of violence, and her reproductive system was violated and invaded.
It is worth reflecting on the question quite seriously. From a religious standpoint, was Gwen’s pregnancy a “gift from God“? After all, the “monster” that impregnated her was a sentient being, and so presumably a creation of God every bit as much as a human rapist. And the human rapist is arguably every bit as much a monster.
And so it is worth asking yourself: Do you consider it immoral to abort the alien child within Gwen – at a stage when it was not merely an alien fetus, but an alien baby nearly to term? If not, then would the same not apply in the case of human rape? If you distinguish the two cases, on what basis do you do so?
As with all good science fiction, Torchwood, in this one episode, provides great opportunity for discussion of ethical, philosophical, and religious topics. It is fictional, but by treating the story seriously, and using it as a starting point for discussion and reflection, it can get at a number of important contemporary issues.
Let me conclude with one more quote from the episode, which illustrates that it connects with many broad and serious questions, and not just the specific ethical ones that are the focus of this blog post. At one point in the episode, Jack Harkness asks the poignant question, “If life always went according to plan, what would be the point of living?” The show explores not just specific questions – whether about rape and abortion, death and mortality, or anything else – but general questions about the nature of human existence, and what it is that makes it meaningful and worthwhile.