01 June 2013

The Doctor Diaries III.1a

Smith and Jones

This episode, one of my favorites, is the perfect opener for Series Three. It is a far better first episode than those that opened the first two seasons (in my opinion). I think it strikes just the right tone. It is one of the more light-hearted episodes, and yet the Doctor faces an enemy as dangerous as any other. The plasmavore is all the more sinister because she takes the form of a little old lady—but more on uncanny human resemblances in a later post. Putting the dear, sweet blood-sucker aside for a moment, I love that the alien race that dominates this story, the Judoon, are among the better species we have encountered. I hate the idea that an entire species is worthless by its very nature, fit only to destroy and be destroyed, and this is often the concept given in Doctor Who. The Cybermen and the Dalek are, simply because of what they are, thoroughly evil. This, by the way, is one of the problems I have with Tolkien's world: orcs are fit to be wiped from the face of the earth like mosquitoes or flies, in spite of the fact that they are rational beings who and think and talk. They are portrayed in Lord of the Rings as beyond redemption. And here again Doctor Who rises to a new level: there are episodes in which the Doctor has to acknowledge that even his worst enemies, the Dalek, are capable of moral awareness and are fit to be saved rather than destroyed. All that to say, I like the Judoon. They are disciplined, moral, and just. Their justice is harsh, but they do nothing out of personal malice. They are orderly, objective ministers of the law.

The other reason I adore this episode is, of course, its christological climax. The Doctor is called upon to sacrifice himself over and over again throughout the course of the show, and he rushes to offer his life as readily in exchange for that of one person as for the entire planet earth. I'll blog more specifically about what I mean by “christology” and all of its implications some other time. For now, I just want to luxuriate in the beautiful sorrow of the crisis in “Smith and Jones”: the Doctor gives his last drop of blood to save half of humanity; Martha gives her last breath to save him. And what makes this mutual sacrifice apart from real ones is that, by so doing, they save each other. Neither ends up dying, but each is saved in the other.

This is very like an idea that is central to my academic work: the idea is “co-inherence,” and it is the core teaching of the poet whose works I study, Charles Williams. You might want to check out my other blog, The Oddest Inkling, which is dedicated to his work. He was a peculiar fellow who mixed Christianity with the occult and who gathered disciples around him to practice his particular version of sanctity.

Co-inherence is the idea that we are all members of one body, all part of one another, and all able to live in and for each other. Co-inherence teaches that Christ’s risen life is in each person who accepts Him; therefore, we can share in the divine interrelationship of the Trinity and live as members of one another.

In 1939, Charles Williams founded an “order” called the Companions of the Co-inherence and laid down rules for them to follow as they practiced co-inherence in action, also known as the Doctrine of Substitution or the Way of Exchange. These exchanges are based on the simple fact that everyone participates in physical exchange (I am dependent on the farmers who produce my food; those who go to war die in the place of those who stay home and for whom peace is purchased, etc). We can choose to see these personal, social, and political contacts as blessings and practice co-inherence in the strength of Christ’s resurrections. We can make compacts to bear one another’s burdens. We can voluntarily substitute ourselves for others and “carry their burdens” quite literally, even though those burdens may be spiritual, emotional, or medical. These principles can work among the living in any space and time, and also with the dead and the unborn.

The clearest explication of “The Doctrine of Substituted Love” occurs in Williams' novel Descent into Hell. One character is terrified of meeting her doppleganger. Someone else offers to carry her fear for her. This happens, and she is able to meet her double fearlessly. 
The ending of “Smith and Jones,” then, is an example of The Way of Exchange in fiction. The Doctor chooses to die in exchange for the lives of 3 billion people; Martha chooses to die in exchange for the Doctor. His exchange works: no one on earth is killed by the souped-up MRI. Her exchange works: the Doctor is revived by her last breath. And the blessing that results from Martha's sacrifice is that his resuscitation results in hers, so the circle is closed: the Doctor saves the people, Martha saves the Doctor, so then the Doctor saves Martha without sacrificing himself again.

And they all live happily ever after.....?


fred putnam said...
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fred putnam said...

Thanks for another thoughtful review.

A quibble re LOTR, however: Perhaps orcs are the equivalent of a sub-race of fallen angels ("sub" because "mal-formed" by Sauron in imitation of elves, as Gandalf says).

Your comment also raises a most interesting question: is anything worthy of condemnation by virtue of its nature? To which we might reply: Of course--humanity, by virtue of its rebellion against its Creator and the rest of his creation. But God ..., which (apparently) cannot be said about Sauron, Melkor, or orcs. Saruman, on the other hand, "was once ..." (so Frodo) and is therefore(?) offered repentance and redemption.

And there are two further gaps in our knowledge about Middle Earth. We do not know: (1) whether or not orcs (or any individual orc), when offered the opportunity to repent, would respond positively (as, e.g., Rahab among the Canaanites), or scorn the offerer (and offering); and (2) whether or not any orcs did (in fact) repent.

It is also striking that "all of the works of Sauron" were fit only for destruction (i.e., not merely the orcs).

I'm not arguing (honest!), just thinking along lines prompted by your comment, especially since it resonates with many people's response to the divine decree of execution upon the Canaanites (even to their cattle).

Thanks again--you make me think!

Iambic Admonit said...

Thank you, Fred! Yes, good points. The orcs function as embodiments of JRRT's theology about evil: that evil has no independent existence and cannot create anything. Evil can only take good things and twist them. You raise a good point: if an orc had been offered a chance (like Gollum), would he have repented? Your OT parallels are good ones, too. Thanks for the thoughts.

Dominic Christison said...

The co-inherence idea - well the idea wasn't new, since you can find a number of biblical passages exemplifying this quality of fellowship. Sometimes it can be spontaneous, sometimes needs to be deliberate. In a real sense for me, when someone has taken it on to bear my burden, even in a tiny gesture, it can have an exponential beneficial effect on my faith....

Fun blog!

Iambic Admonit said...

Thanks for the comment, Dominic! Yes, the idea is Biblical -- but Charles Williams often pushes it to strange extremes. Have you practiced Exchange with anyone? How did it work out?