When I wrote about Doctor Who the last time, I talked about how the sci-fi trappings are just incidental to what makes the series great: the characters and their relationships. Specifically, the central character of the Doctor is extraordinarily compelling, and like a lot of heroes in a lot of great stories, tells us something about our Hero in the Great Story of salvation history.
It may be misleading to refer to the Doctor as a Christ figure. That makes it sound like he's just an allegory, or suggests that all of his choices are perfectly admirable. The character of the Doctor is a man, who can and does make wrong choices. He wouldn't be interesting if he didn't.
But truth through story is so much more subtle and yet more impactful than allegory could ever be.
"The Master" is often referred to as the Doctor's "nemesis." In many instances, he appears to be the typical sci-fi super-villain, an egomaniacal, genocidal lunatic, set to destroy individuality and re-make humanity in his own image. And the Doctor is the one whose job it is to stop him, of course. So in that sense, "nemesis" seems an appropriate word.
But the relationship is radically different at root than the usual hero/evil nemesis framework.
In the final episode of the third season, the Master has taken control of the earth with an army of cyborg/human hybrids, etc. (This is still sci-fi, people.)
The Doctor is imprisoned and seems to be beaten. The Master taunts him with images of the destruction he is wreaking on the world and with his own powerlessness.
Several times, the Doctor tells the Master, "I have one thing to say to you." Every time, the Master silences him, usually violently. But he keeps persisting.
"I have one thing to say to you."
What is this one thing he has to say? Perhaps he knows a secret from the Master's childhood that, when spoken aloud, will cause the Master to psychologically self-destruct. Perhaps he has a grand and sweeping statement to make about how the human race, despite its apparent weakness, has some hidden weapon that will ultimately defeat their would-be destroyer.
But no, that's not it.
"I have one thing to say to you."
And at the end of the episode, over the Master's screams of protest, he says it.
"I forgive you."
That's the one thing. That's the driving force behind the Doctor's efforts to reach the Master and to stop his evil, destructive choices.
Of course the Master has one bullet left in his gun: the ability to reject the Doctor's forgiveness and to refuse his own ability, as a Time Lord, to regenerate and continue his life under the Doctor's protection. He dies in the Doctor's arms, proclaiming his own death a victory.
Later in the series, the Master reappears, of course - reincarnated after storing part of his life-force in a ring covered in ancient symbols...you know the drill. (This is still sci-fi, people.)
The Doctor pursues him, and the two meet face to face once again. The Doctor listens to him rave for a while, and then has this to say:
The Doctor: You're a genius. You're stone cold brilliant, you are, I swear, you really are. But you could be so much more. You could be beautiful. With a mind like that, we could travel the stars. It would be my honour. Because you don't need to own the universe, just see it. Have the privilege of seeing the whole of time and space. That's ownership enough.
The Master: Would it stop then? The noise in my head.
The Doctor: I can help.Granted, I'm a little over-emotional lately, due to bone-crushing exhaustion. But these scenes just sent me reeling. Because that's what our Savior says to us.
I forgive you. You could be beautiful. I can help.
Christ offers his forgiveness and his healing to us tirelessly, repeatedly, God himself with very human tears of pleading in his eyes. He wants us so badly, and will never stop telling us how beautiful we can be if we agree to travel with him.
Frighteningly, we have the ability to refuse that love. We can look into Christ's eyes as he holds us in his arms, pouring his life into us, and tell him we want none of it. We are offered that choice day by day, minute by minute.
It is also frightening, but also hopefully exhilarating as well, to realize that this is the love we are asked to imitate. If we are true followers of Christ, we should want to look into the eyes of those who have hurt the world and us most deeply and speak those words: I forgive you. You can be beautiful. And we should mean them.
Sometimes Doctor Who annoys me, with its ridiculous aliens and its sometimes clumsy plotting and its occasionally inconsistent ethical framework. But at its best, it's the kind of story to which all makers of stories should aspire, showing humanity in all its hurt and helplessness but challenging us to consider that there is something - Someone - infinitely greater and more powerful at work who has just one thing to say to us.
* Yeah, right.