“If you could choose, Doctor, if you could choose who live and dies, that would make you a monster” – from the Doctor Who Christmas Special, “Voyage of the Damned”
Well. This is certainly an interesting debate. You know, it’s surprising it hasn’t come up before, like, in 1996 maybe?
Anyway, despite the fact that it’s older than it seems, the Doctor/Messiah debate is intriguing, a bit silly, I suppose, and a bit controversial, but still intriguing.
The definition of messiah, according to dictionary.com is “any expected deliverer,” any expected deliverer. It doesn’t mention what exactly is being delivered, to whom it is being delivered to, and who or what is doing the delivering. If you take it literally, the mailman, who regularly delivers mail to both innocent and non-innocent people alike, could be considered some sort of postage messiah. Same with the UPS person, the FedEx person, the newspaper person, and that neighbor down the road who always seems to get your mail because they live at the same number house as you, but on a different street. Whenever they knock on your door to give you your mail back, according to definition, they’re your messiah of lost mail.
So, if a messiah is someone who delivers things, what exactly could the Doctor be delivering, if he truly is a “messiah”. You could argue he’s delivering us from evil, I suppose, which would support the whole “Doctor=God” viewpoint. But then, he doesn’t really deliver us specifically, since he seems to have a habit of delivering various aliens from evil as well. The definition doesn’t say that it has to be the human race that is delivered though, so the argument is still technically valid. The Doctor is sort of the one who seems to save us from untold dangers every Christmas and beyond, if he were, of course, a real person.
However, if you’re using that argument, then there are quite a few other people you’d need to consider as possible messiahs. Superman, for example, regularly saves us from the evils of Lex Luther, the Toyman, and Bizarro. He’s a figure from above, who descends upon the Earth through unnatural means and ends up protecting us from evil. The amount of supernatural powers he possesses, strength, flight, heightened senses, boarder on Godlike as it is. How much more messiah like can you get?
Superheroes, it seems, have a habit of ending up in a messiah like position. As do-gooding, self-sacrificing, deliverers from evil, they seem to lend well to the idea. How many times have we read a comic book, seen a movie, or heard a story of a superhero giving up their last bit of energy, their last bit of life, to save the world? They call it a sacrifice for “the greater good” most of the time, but how is that different than a sacrifice to save the human race? There’s no difference, they mean the same thing. Yet when a superhero says “for the greater good,” it seems to cause much less of a stir than “for humankind”. When a superhero performs a self-sacrifice, they’re doing it for us, usually. Does that make them a messiah?
After all, even in Sailor Moon, people got hung from crosses:
And it wasn’t even those two that were called “the Messiah of Light.”
In the case of Doctor Who, what’s mainly being protested, is not necessarily the characterization, it’s the imagery. In the Christmas special, Voyage of the Damned, the Doctor ascends from the engine room to the bridge by being carried by robot angels.
Ok, so angels, yes, they are in fact religious. However, are there any evil robot angels in the Bible? I think not. I will admit, I’ve never read the Bible, but somehow, I’m pretty sure there’s a lack of evil robots.
The act of being lifted “to the heavens” by the angels-robots is not a religious act. In fact, in the episode, it’s more of an act of desperation than anything. The bridge has been locked up. The doors are dead-locked sealed (which, as we all know, means the sonic screwdriver is useless on it) and the walls are made of metal. Really, the only way he could possibly get up to steer the ship away from the Earth and save to the day, was to break through something. Which, as you can probably imagine, is fairly difficult to do with your bare hands. He may not be human, but unlike superman, he doesn’t have super strength. The only way he could manage it was to smash the wall down with something heavy, namely, two evil robots.
So he has his method of getting in, break down the door/wall/whatever with a few heavy robots. Simple. However, the bridge is above him, like way above him. He doesn’t have his TARDIS, he, again unlike superman, can’t fly, and I believe there’s a fair shortage of flying glass elevators, hover boards, or jetpacks in the engine room. However, what he does have is two heavy robots that can fly. Perfect. He takes the robots, who now answer to his command as he’s sort of the only person in the room still alive and he can shout, and orders them to fly him up and break him into the engine room. It works, he gets into the engine room, and we get to watch him pilot half the controls with his feet. Brilliant.
Now, did any of that have anything whatsoever to do with religion? I think not. He didn’t turn water into wine, he didn’t make bread and fish appear out of nowhere, he just broke into an engine room. It’s also important to note that he didn’t actually save everyone. By the end of the episode there were really only four people left alive. He wanted to save everyone, he was desperate to save everyone, but at the end we still had his frustrated and desperate “I can do anything!” line as he realizes that he can’t.
In the end, of course, it’s just a TV show. It’s just Russell T. Davies trying to tell a good story on Christmas, David Tennant trying to make a good performance on Christmas, and an audience trying to enjoy it all. I wasn’t offended, but then, I’m not Christian. I, as a Unitarian, agnostic, Doctor Who-obsessed teenager was not offended by it. However, if other people were, I’m all right with that. This is just my opinion.
I'd make a very bad God," - The Doctor, Boom Town