Doctor Who: Face the Raven

Doctor Who: Face the Raven November 29, 2015

Due to the AAR/SBL conference and Thanksgiving, I am more than a week behind in blogging about the latest Doctor Who episodes. And so I will get caught up with two blog posts today – and then will soon get back to finishing off my blogging through the classic series, which I finished rewatching a while back and just need to actually blog about.

Face the Raven Clara and RavenThe episode “Face the Raven” witnesses Doctor Who going full Harry Potter, with a secret street hidden from muggles – sorry, I mean humans – but accessible to wizards – sorry, I mean aliens. But this isn’t a criticism – the same ideas have been recycled in human storytelling for a long, long time. And one interesting difference is that the street is not a place to buy a magic wand or a new pair of sonic sunglasses, but a refugee camp, where Ashildr has been overseeing the safety of aliens who are fleeing others, where they live disguised as humans.

Gavin Rumney said that he was looking forward to me blogging about the episode, since it features elements that can be compared to substitutionary atonement and the Protestant dichotomy between law and grace. While I often emphasize the need to dig deeper than surface-level Christ-figures, that doesn’t mean that we ought not to notice such symbolism when it is present. In fact, it is interesting to compare Clara’s action to save her student Rigsy to the way Jesus is depicted as approaching his impending death. We might ask whether Clara would have taken then quantum shade from Rigsy in order to save his life even if she had known it would mean her own death, and I imagine that the answer would be “yes.” And that represents a marked contrast to Ashildr, who seems willing to allow Rigsy to die in order to preserve the stability of the society she oversees. One could also compare Clara’s seeking to have the cup pass from her, and her eventual embracing of her fate, with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. And Clara’s plea to the Doctor to not let this change him, to turn him once more into a warrior rather than a Doctor, might be compared to Jesus’ words asking God to forgive those who were executing him, as found in some manuscripts of the Gospel of Luke.

Doctor Who Face the Raven mapOf course, things are not as they seem. Rigsy had not killed someone, and it was a set-up to draw the Doctor in. In a similar way, Clara had taken the quantum shade tattoo from Rigsy not as an act of self-sacrifice but as an attempt to move events in a particular direction. And so what we see is less an example of noble self-sacrifice, and more the tragedy that comes about when people create a plan for how to bring about a particular end, and fail to take into account the unpredictability of what other free agents have done or will do. And so, if one is inclined to relate the episode to theology at all, perhaps it works best as an indictment of the idea that God and other forces are manipulating events for their own ends, with each tragedy part of a greater purpose. (See the recent post at Geekdom House for an example from the experience of a DM trying to get players to have a particular kind of adventure experience in an RPG.)

In other words, if you’re looking for a theological point in the episode, perhaps it is to not depict God as like Ashildr. Clara is a better model, whether for God or the ethical human being – one who doesn’t know everything and cannot control everything, and who is confident but cannot be certain that things can be fixed and a positive outcome achieved, but who will risk their own death rather than allow someone else to be killed unjustly.

The focus on maps in the episode is a nice symbol of the points made above – it is risky to try to see everything, and even then, there are things that are hidden from view. But even if we manage to spot those hidden things, there is still no realistic way to understand everything that is happening, much less control it. Map is not Territory.

What did you think of “Face the Raven”?

I plan to blog about “Heaven Sent” later today. And see too the article in which Mark Gatiss talks about getting his moral code from Doctor Who.



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