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TV Snapshot: The myths we live by

Look around you. It’s not for killing. It’s for bringing life. If you allow it, it can lift you out of these dark tunnels and into the bright, bright sunlight. No more fighting. No more killing. I’m the Doctor, and I declare this war is over!

--the Doctor, from "The Doctor’s Daughter" episode of Doctor Who

Doctor Who
periodically makes an appearance on this blog due to the propensity of its episodes to play with ideas and themes that bring God-talk into open spaces—and The Doctor’s Daughter is one of those episodes.

This episode centers on a barren and hostile world where the inhabitants—both human and a race called Hath—are fighting each other in underground tunnels for what they think has been many years. (Caution: spoilers ahead.) But as the Doctor and his companions discover, the inhabitants are actually descended from a colonization team whose mission was to terraform the barren planet above—and their war has not lasted decades but only days. How's that, you ask? After the mission commander died, factions arose and fighting broke out between them based on race. Because they had the ability to breed generations daily through progenation machines and early generations were lost to the fighting within days, their original mission was lost, and their history became distorted into the myth that they were born to “fight and die” in their current war. The Doctor eventually discovers the terraforming device (what the inhabitants believe is the “breath of God”) and, after the speech above, smashes it so the terraforming of the planet above can begin and the inhabitants can return to the life they were meant to have. But one of the humans tries to shoot the Doctor, and the Doctor’s “daughter” (who was formed from his tissue earlier in one of the progenation machines) steps in front of the Doctor to protect him and is fatally wounded. Even though the Doctor feels deep pain and rage, he refuses to harm the man who killed his daughter and urges the other inhabitants to base their new world and new community on “the man who wouldn’t [kill].” Unknown to the Doctor, after he leaves the world and the body of his daughter behind, she resurrects, breathing out some of the same gases that were in the terraforming sphere.

This episode was full of hints of the biblical Story—from the seven days of creation all the way to the taking of a life (and its resurrection) that redeems and brings together a broken world. The quote above, however, stood out to me as the strongest hint at biblical truth: that the Life Jesus exploded upon this world does bring us up out of the darkness and into Light, transforming a broken world and people, even bringing dead people back to life. And we have a choice; we can embrace that Life and live in its Light or we can remain in the tunnels living under a false myth that in the end leads to death and destruction.

I also like how this episode played with myth—especially how the myths we embrace about who we are and why we’re here drive the way we live and our societies. Are we born to “fight and die” (and build our societies on versions of that myth) or do we have another purpose, a greater Story? While this episode seems to conclude myths are distorted stories of natural events (in particular, the idea of a Creator or supernatural role in creation), not everyone agrees with this concept of myth. The likes of J.R.R. Tolkien, G.K. Chesterton and eventually atheist-turned-Christian C.S. Lewis saw myth differently, as this article at C.S. Lewis Foundation points out:

In a 1931 letter, Tolkien’s friend C. S. Lewis (not a Christian at the time) describes a conversation with Tolkien and their friend Hugo Dyson about the significance of myths, in which the two men explained their belief that:

"The story of Christ is simply a true myth: a myth working on us in the same way as the others, but with this tremendous difference that it really happened. . . . The Pagan stories are God expressing Himself through the minds of poets, using such images as He found there, while Christianity is God expressing Himself through what we call ‘real things.’"

And, I must admit, even though this episode seems to side with the idea of myths being distorted stories, its biblical allusions nonetheless seem to leave the door open to something beyond what we can measure within our modern concepts of science.

But even if I’m reaching here, the Doctor has it right in that it matters what we build our society and lives upon—and that should give us pause to examine just what stories we build our own lives upon. Do we live by false myths or by the True Myth, the Story that “really happened”?

As for me, I find all too often I’m living by both. I think that part of living in the Light is discovering the parts of me that still live in the darkness. But I love the truth that I am a new creature, and (as Dan Stone puts it) I’m always catching up with the truth. The beauty of it is that as I trust and walk with God, his truth becomes my experience. And that is amazing.

The Doctor’s Daughter is far from a perfect echo of biblical truth, but it sure does have enough to bring God-talk into open spaces. And that makes it good stuff in these spaces.

(Image: BBC via Wikipedia) doctorwhoctgy

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