Holy Saturday – the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, often confused with Easter Saturday that falls on the weekend after Easter – saw the full introduction, after much heralding, of the new and eleventh Doctor Who. Having seen Matt Smith in the BBC’s political drama, Party Animals, I wasn’t sure how he would fill the shoes worn by the ten previous ‘Doctors’. (I hope the shoes were sprayed first with that stuff they use in bowling alleys.) Having seen the first episode of Matt Smith tenure, I’m still not sure.
One of the problems was the need to introduce not just the Doctor, but also his new sidekick, Amy Pond. This took some considerable time and overshadowed a rather lame main story of an intergalactic bounty hunter chasing after an escaped prisoner. The bounty hunter used the classic Primary School teacher’s threat: ‘If the culprit doesn’t own up, I’ll keep you all in after school’. Except for ‘keep you all in’ read ‘destroy the earth’. The other problem was that the Doctor’s meeting with Amy Pond seemed to owe a debt to Audrey Niffenegger’s novel, The Time Traveler’s (sic) Wife. Nothing wrong with that, but it felt a little unoriginal.
However, the real problem is a personal one. Matt Smith seemed just too young. The last two actors to play the Doctor are both younger than me, but I could kid myself into thinking that we were of the same generation. David Tennant and Christopher Eccleston could be my younger brothers, but Matt Smith is young enough to be my son. Apparently Smith is the youngest actor to play the part, beating Peter Davison by two years. This illustrates another factor that is part of this problem. When a series has been running for as long as Doctor Who – nearly fifty years – the audience grows old, but the characters stay the same. This has happened with The Simpsons for reasons that are never explained, but in Doctor Who the logic is obvious, the main character is a Time Lord who doesn’t age, he simply regenerates.
A simply effect can be observed with school teachers – not that they regenerate, obviously – in that our perception of them is distorted by our own youth. A few years ago I went to a retirement party for Miss Harrington, one of my Primary School teachers. It is something of a cliché to make this observation, but when I was at school Miss Harrington seemed ancient, but at this retirement party I discovered that she must have only been in her late twenties. However, rather like a Time Lord, this meant that she hadn’t appeared to have aged despite the passage of more than thirty years.
Another aspect of the new Doctor’s character that has yet to grow on me is the whole, ‘mad, bad and dangerous to know’ thing that Matt Smith has going on. One of the differences between dogs and cats is that cats are more mysterious. One can look into a dog’s eyes and have a reasonably good idea of what it’s thinking. Cat’s give less away and in this sense, the new Doctor has something of the cat about him. I find the dog/cat analogy helpful in that, while it is said that keeping a dog is like keeping a wolf in the house, a cat never seems to have been tamed in quite the same way as a spaniel.
Doctor Who has come in for some criticism for the way in which the Tardis has landed to coincide with major Christian festivals. This was particularly true a couple of Christmases ago when the Doctor was given a Messianic role. Some of the reviews this Easter have played on the idea of the Doctor’s regeneration as resurrection. However, rather than see these comparisons as a focus for criticism, I believe that there may be some mileage in looking more closely at the fictional Doctor stories to help us understand the eternal truths about the mystery of God’s incarnation and his reconciliation of the world to himself in his Son.
If anyone out there is interested in pursuing these ideas, I could expand further if you care to get in touch. However, for the time being I believe that whether or not Matt Smith is good in the role, he has reminded me that we cannot ‘domesticate’ God, whether that be in the person of Father, Son or Spirit. The New Testament suggests that there was something ‘other’ about the Son, in the sense that people were not always able to ‘read’ him and often failed to understand his words or his purpose. Amy Pond was visited by the Doctor in her childhood and she waited for twelve years for him to come again, I suspect that this may also be a reflection of our relationship with God – times of intense awareness of his presence, interrupted by much longer periods of silence, if not absence. The Church year follows this pattern with much of it given over to Ordinary Time in which we live out the faith that is nourished during the festivals. As we wait to celebrate the Pentecost coming of God’s Spirit, may we continue to know his presence in our lives.