I talk to God but the sky is empty. -Sylvia Plath
What does a nine-hundred-year-old Time Lord have faith in?
Turns out, not much.
After destroying the Daleks and the Time Lords in the Time War, the Doctor is left to roam the galaxies and timelines without any ties, any anchors, other than his companions. By the time Ten and Rose Tyler find “The Impossible Planet,” we’ve seen that the Doctor relies on facts and logic and data–if there isn’t an explanation then it must be impossible. And if we had seen as much of the universe as the Doctor, we would probably feel the same way. However, on this impossible planet on the brink of a black hole, the Doctor is repeatedly faced with the impossible and is forced to question everything he believes in.
On this planet, the laws of physics are declared impossible; there’s a language on the wall that is so old that the TARDIS can’t translate it (which is impossible); and there’s something possessing the Ood which claims to be the Devil. All impossible, according to the Doctor.
But that doesn’t stop any of it from happening.
What can the Doctor trust if not the laws of Time and Space? Does the Doctor have faith? What we see, as the Doctor descends into the Pit in the center of this impossible planet, is a Doctor we’ve never seen before. Up to this point in “The Satan Pit,” the Doctor believes that he’s lost the TARDIS for good and that he and Rose Tyler will have to live life in the slow lane and *gasp* have a mortgage. Now that he’s trapped in the center of the impossible planet and descending into a seeming abyss, he does what anyone would do when faced with the end: he questions his faith. He believes only in the possible as he says:
I… believe. I believe I haven’t seen everything, I don’t know. It’s funny, isn’t it? The things you make up—the rules. If that thing had said it came from beyond the universe I’d believe it, but before the universe… that’s impossible. It doesn’t fit in my rules. Still, that’s why I keep travelling. To be proved wrong.
The Doctor cannot say that he believes in the possibility of the metaphysical (God, the Devil, etc.) but neither can he deny the possibility, because that would be illogical. Rose asks him to tell her that there is “no such thing” as Satan and he can’t. This, perhaps, is the saddest point in the episode, because the Doctor does not have enough faith either way to either absolutely confirm or emphatically deny the existence of the Devil. Even when he is face-to-face with the Devil, he says, “I accept that you physically exist. I don’t have to accept what you are but your physical existence, I will give you that.”
I can only wonder how the Doctor reached this point: questioning the existence of a monster that his staring him in the face. In this two-episode existential crisis of faith, the only thing the Doctor demonstrates any faith in is his companion, Rose Tyler. The Doctor’s “final judgment” is that he must choose to kill the creature and let Rose die, or let the creature and Rose live. Here is the test of his faith.
But that implies, in this big grand scheme of gods and devils, that she’s just a victim. Well, I’ve seen a lot of this universe. I’ve seen fake gods and bad gods and demi-gods and would-be gods. I’ve had the whole pantheon. But if I believe in one thing… just one thing… I believe in her!
In the end, he chooses to have faith that Rose is more than just a victim, that she is capable of defying the impossible and making it out of the final judgment. He has faith in her. He destroys the creature’s and plunges the planet into the black hole because he believes that Rose, a normal human girl, will find a way to keep the Devil’s mind from escaping its dungeon.
In the grand scheme of Doctor Who, I believe that this changes the character of the Doctor. Instead of a planet and a race of Time Lords to rely on, he now has only his companions. What does the Doctor have faith in? I believe they go by the names of Rose, Jack, Martha, Donna, Sarah Jane, Amy, Rory, and Clara. The Doctor has changed since the Time War, and the “The Day of the Doctor”–due to premiere in less than a week–will probably tell us just how the Doctor encountered his loss of faith, and, more importantly, just why he needs his human friends. To paraphrase Sylvia Plath, the sky may be empty for the Doctor, but the TARDIS isn’t.
Disclaimer: I own none of the images or video clips.
- A Fantastic Leather Coat: A Ninth Doctor Appreciation Post (acollectivemind.wordpress.com)
- ‘Doctor Who: Day of the Doctor’ 50th Anniversary Trailer: Three Doctors vs. the Time War (screenrant.com)
- Doctor Who – 50 years of memories (bbc.co.uk)
- The Night of the Doctor rewrites Doctor Who history for the better (metro.co.uk)