Some Doctor Who stories are good, if a bit mundane. I mean, it’s not an out-of-this-world story that has the Doctor’s friends under mental control of some alien influence that tries to kill them. Been there, done that. What is interesting is that this story has something to say about religion and that adds a layer of complexity to my feelings about it.
The Doctor, C’rizz and Charley arrive in the Multihaven; a zone where religion is handled like a marketplace. When they arrive they can claim any religious affiliation and even whether or not they are a God or have one about their persons. Automatically the concept is interesting, and more than a bit comical. I loved the idea of carrying a god about my person! When The Kro’ka say the Doctor “won’t leave the Garden”, I was immediately looking for the religious symbolism in that and what it meant for the whole story. Is the Doctor the good, law abiding member of Eden’s garden? Well, perhaps I was stretching things a bit, but I felt like there was a commentary here. As the story progresses, we are also reminded that C’rizz killed his lover, L’da, solely so that the end of chapter one could have the roles reversed. I started to think that this was an anti-religion story because it seemed to be about the way religions convert people and seemingly brainwash them and I again commend Big Finish for taking a brave storytelling approach. Towards the end of the story, I was utterly convinced that was the point when the Doctor was talking to Jebdal:
Doctor: “Then you will help me?”
Jebdal: “I’m through with blindly following leaders! I’ll do whatever you ask me without question!”
I mean it makes me laugh even typing it and it’s perfectly followed up by McGann, whose expression of shock can be seen in the minds eye with crystal clarity. Religion asks people to put their faith in something blindly. Is that a good idea? Let’s not ignore that this could equally apply to fandom. Is that a statement about Doctor Who fans who love everything with the Doctor Who logo on it? Bravery, nothing! Big Finish better be careful, lest someone realize they were following blindly! But is it Doctor Who’s place to question religion?
I’m going to say yes, with a caveat. It’s ok if it allows the audience to listen and enjoy without feeling condemned and for the audience to be allowed to make up their own minds about the answer. In that regard, the story succeeds because at no point does the story actually bash religion. It leaves it open for the listener to take what they want from it if they chose to take anything at all. On the one hand, it might be a message, but very easily on the other, it is just a story in the Divergent universe. Adding a sense of humor helps because it shows the absurdist side of things when the Doctor encounters the followers of the great God, Whoops. The followers of Serendipity wish you well by hoping your path is strewn with obstacles. The Doctor knows his path always will be and acknowledges as much. The sense of humor, while not over the top, does add a layer of lightheartedness to this story that takes any edge off of what the author personally thinks of religion. If you’re in the market for a new faith, this is the place for you. If not, just enjoy the story.
And there are things to enjoy! The Doctor performs his Venusian Akido on someone and hurts his hand in the process because he’s out of practice. C’rizz is said to have a “grotesquely overextended remorse node”, treating emotional troubles like a physical injury. And there’s that subtle thing I love in stories when the writers display a very real event: the verbal misunderstanding. It takes all of 2 seconds; hiccup and you’ll miss it, but this happens:
Jebdal: “I’m a worm.”
Doctor: “Say again?”
Jebdal: “I’m a worm. I beg your forgiveness.”
Doctor: “No you’re not a worm, I’ve seen worms and you’re not one.”
Whether it’s the Doctor not understanding her meaning or helping her get back on her emotional feet, it’s not even the end result that I’m talking about. It’s the “say again” bit. I don’t know about you, but talking to people all day, I invariably miss some things. A simple thing like that always impresses me. (Remember Colin Baker in Trial of a Time Lord? “What now?” “Yes now!” “No, I meant what do you want now?”) I actually really appreciate little touches like that. You can’t do it all the time; it’s got to be done sporadically at best, but doing it now and then is a treat. It makes it real.
Know what else I loved about this episode? The Doctor as Captain Kirk. There’s an expression: “always be yourself… unless you can be Captain Kirk. Then be Captain Kirk.” The Doctor does what Kirk was best at: he talks the enemy into self destruction. Oh, not in a mean way, just a way that says “you’re not real, go away”. The Doctor doesn’t seem so powerful when he does that but just really logical. Kirk did it best with Nomad, but the Doctor does it with what reminded me of the Dream Lord’s dust, making the enemy uncreate itself. Fun stuff, if totally off the wall. Somehow it works.
I won’t say this is a favorite of mine, but I will give this story credit; it’s clever, mild and has a little something for everyone. I was not in the market for a new faith when I started the story, but my faith in the writers of Big Finish did increase after listening to it. Praise be to Big Finish… ML