Case in point is the two-episode arc nominated this year: “Human Nature” and “Family of Blood.” The two-parter has the alien and near-immortal Doctor (a Time Lord) taking on human form in order to hide from a group of aliens (called simply “the Family”) who could use his essence, immortality and death to wreak havoc upon the universe. They know how to scan for his life form, so the Doctor decides to change himself physically into a human, give up his essence as the Doctor and store it in a device disguised as a pocket watch. He takes on the identity and made-up-memories of John Smith living in the early twentieth century England. He has no memory of ever being the Doctor, but he leaves instructions for his companion Martha to restore his memories at the right time.
Things do not go as planned, however. (Warning: spoilers ahead.) John Smith falls in love with nurse Joan Redfern (falling in love being something neither he nor Martha foresaw as a possibility), the pocket watch disappears and the Family discovers where the Doctor's essence is hidden and threatens all Smith holds dear. In a scene near the end of the two-episode arch, Smith is faced with a choice: either accept his true identity as the Doctor (and cease to be John Smith), take back his form and save the universe—or walk away and spend the rest of his life as Smith with the woman he loves (what he longs to do):
Ultimately, after an incredible scene full of flashes of a wonderful and beautiful future he could have had with Redfern, Smith decides to open the watch and become the Doctor, who defeats the Family and saves the universe.
Tim, a young boy, holds out the pocket watch to Smith, but Smith refuses to take it. He struggles against accepting the truth and implications of it all. When Redfern asks Tim why he didn’t return the watch earlier, the boy says the essence inside the watch told him to wait—and, he says, because he was scared.
Tim: Because I’ve seen him. He’s like fire and ice. He’s like the night and the storm and the heart of the sun.
Smith (horrified): Stop it.
Tim (staring at Smith in awe): He’s ancient and forever. He burns at the center of time and he can see the end of the universe.
Smith: Stop it. Stop it!
Tim: And. . . he’s wonderful!
Bombing can be heard outside, destroying the village, while Smith struggles against the concept and implications of opening the watch.
Martha: All you have to do is open it and he’s back.
Smith: You knew this all along and yet you watched while Miss Redfern and I—
Martha: I didn’t know how to stop you. He gave me a list of things to watch out for, that wasn’t included.
Smith: Falling in love?! That didn’t even occur to him?!
Martha looks at Smith with deep sympathy.
Smith: Then what sort of man is that?! And now you expect me to die?!
Martha: It was always going to end, though. The Doctor said the Family’s got a limited lifespan, that’s why they need to consume a Time Lord. Otherwise three months and they die. Like Mayflies, he said.
Smith (still horrified): So you’re job was to execute me?!
Martha (growing more resolute): People are dying out there. They need him, and I need him. Cause you’ve got no idea what he’s like. I’ve only just met him, it wasn’t that long ago. He, I. . . . He’s everything to me. And he doesn’t even look at me, but I don’t care, ‘cause I love him to bits—and I hope to God he won’t remember me saying this.
Smith tries to bargin it out, grasping desperately at any idea that will get him out of the situation, anything that will allow him to stay as he is. Then he grasps at the idea of just giving the Family the watch--
Smith (looking desperately hopeful): If they get what they want, then, then . . .
Redfern looks up from Smith’s diary, into which some of the Doctor’s memories have leaked as fanciful stories. She looks at Smith and says simply:
Redfern: Then it all ends in destruction. I never read to the end. Those creatures would live forever, to breed and conquer. War, across the stars, for every child. . .
It didn't take my husband and I (as well as a slew of bloggers out there) long to see in these episodes some elements of the Incarnation, the process of God taking on flesh and bone in Jesus. At one point, the writer of these episodes indicated that was intentional. Of course, these episodes only echo biblical truth: For example, the Doctor is just as flawed and bent as we humans whereas Jesus never missed the mark. Also, Jesus (at least by the time he starts his full-blown ministry) knows who he is and carries his divinity along with his humanity, but John Smith has no memory of being the Doctor because his essence is hidden away. And near the end of the arc, Redfern tells the fully-returned Doctor the he may have chosen to change and give up his greatness and essence as Doctor, but John Smith chose to die, implying that Smith’s sacrifice was the greater; Jesus, however, chose both.
While they contain only echoes, however, I appreciate these episodes—and in particular the scene above—because they invite me to more thoughtfully consider the struggles Jesus might have faced in emptying himself and taking on flesh and bone, particularly the longing for even for good or noble things against the needs and best of those around him. And that gets at what real love looks like.
The account of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane just prior to his arrest and execution portray a man in deep turmoil and agony. It’s not hard for me to imagine that Jesus struggled not only with the horrifying prospect of physical suffering and death (and the horror of what he was about to bear) but also the awareness that it would also be end of the existence he’d been sharing alongside his friends and those he loved—the laughing, the caring, the sharing of food and drink, the warmth of companionship around a fire, the company of family. Jesus seemed to have shared deep friendships and he loved the men and women he spent time with; he exhibited love for his mother and his family. The treasuring of these relationships—this friendship, love and walking together—is part of our nature, and it echoes our original creation and the way were designed to be. And the loss of that is something that impending death makes all the more acute. That Jesus would struggle with that in his flesh and blood—even as he knew who he was and how it would all turn out—seems reasonable. At the very least, this line of thinking gives some insight into one of the things he sacrificed.
Ultimately, thinking on this deepens my grasp and understanding of what Jesus did next. He chose the way of love—real love. I recently heard Dallas Willard suggest that love is more fully defined as the choice to act in the best interest of another rather than limited to passion or emotion (as deep, great or noble as those may be). Jesus—even as he yearned in that Garden to find another way to accomplish the mission he and his Father set out to do—went that way of love rather than the pull of his flesh and blood. It wasn’t without struggle. It came at great cost. The temptations in the desert, his struggles in the Garden, and his cries on the cross reveal that. Jesus sacrificed much, more than we can know. But in his resurrection we find even more than salvation, forgiveness and the overcoming of evil: we discover Life—real life—exploding from that tomb and into our hearts. And now we can begin to live again as we were created to live. Walking with Jesus and the Father. Living in and by his Spirit. Living with others in such a way that life and light and love melt and seep and rush into the world as we go.
While that's a heck of a lot more than the universe gets from the Doctor’s sacrifice, these things are echoed in those well-written and executed episodes—and that brings some good God-talk into these open spaces. So, here’s hoping they get their Hugo. I for one, think they deserve it.
(Images: BBC) doctorwhoctgy