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.