Peacenik Doctor Who to ruin Blair's Christmas
Peace and goodwill may be in short supply around the world right now, but Britain's leading fictional hero, Doctor Who, is about to pitch in with an anti-war Christmas message targeted at the Blair household - which is reputed to be devoted to the show.
The revamped Doctor Who - which also numbers the family of Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams among its fans - has proved a big hit for the BBC. It had over 7 million viewers tuning in for the final episode of the last series earlier this year.
On Christmas Day the next series of the constantly re-generating goody Time Lord's adventures begins with a definite riposte to war-mongers, its chief scriptwriter has announced.
The episode, called ëThe Christmas Invasion', features the debut of actor David Tennant as the tenth incarnation of the Doctor, succeeding the acclaimed Christopher Eccleston.
It takes a less-than-coded swipe at the US and British-led war Iraq. Penelope Wilton plays a newly-elected British prime minister having her Yuletide fun ruined by aliens intent on taking over Planet Earth.
Told by an aide that the American president is on the phone wanting to assume control of the crisis, she replies: 'He's not my boss and he's certainly not turning this into a war.'
Journalists who have previewed the episode say that a later scene also recalls ex-PM Margaret Thatcher's decision to sink the Argentine warship the General Belgrano during the Falklands/Malvinas war in 1982.
Responding to pre-broadcast comments, award-winning scriptwriter Russell T Davies declared: 'It's Christmas Day, a day of peace. There is absolutely an anti-war message - because that's what I think.'
Meanwhile, looking up somewhat wearily from his computer, Doctor Who commentator and fiction writer Mark Clapham told Ekklesia: 'The Doctor has usually been a character who advocates peaceful means before violent solutions.'
He added: 'He's not a particularly dedicated pacifist though - he often finds himself having to apply violent solutions sooner or later.'
Author and Who analyst Jim Smith, who co-authored the Virgin Books guide Who's Next? with Clapham and Eddie Robson, went on: 'There are many stories which are definitely anti-war. Not a particular war - just war itself. ëThe Crusade' (1965) is specifically about the futility of religious warfare and is even set in Basra. While it's adventure fiction and thus has fighting in it, the whole show is deeply suspicious of politicians, soldiers, military means, military objectives, and so on.'
Doctor Who long ago cast an eye on terrorism and possible superpower reactions to it. Says Smith: 'In 1970 ëThe Ambassadors of Death' featured a xenophobic political group trying to scare the whole human race into attacking some harmless aliens.'
Whether the Christmas day episode will feature Doctor Who's iconic enemies, the Daleks, remains to be seen. But if it does, the spiritual head of the world's 77 million Anglicans will be on-hand to comment.
Speaking in a central London church last year, Dr Williams, taking a well-earned break from the war about sexuality in his own backyard, said that 'in our family, we have several dozen videos of early Doctor Who episodes.'
Warming to its theological resonances, he observed: 'One of the things that strikes me as I watch Doctor Who is how very often villains are pure intelligence. They can't create anything different and they can't rejoice in anything different. If you're a Dalek you're very clever; but there is [little] you can do about relating to anything that isn't a Dalek or prepared simply to reflect Dalek-hood back to youÖ So intelligence alone doesn't cut it. Our existence as [fruitfully] intelligent creatures -- loving, risking and questioning -- somehow fits with the idea that God is a God of loving intelligence, who calls into being that which is different...'
Russell T Davies, who is an atheist, has also tackled spiritual themes elsewhere - in the acclaimed TV drama The Second Coming, which deconstructed human obsessions with messiah-figures.
Meanwhile, former Who star Sylvester McCoy studied at a Scottish seminary with the intention of becoming a Catholic priest, but eventually left to become an actor - playing the seventh Doctor from 1986 to 1989. For many fans he proved to be no saviour.
Others who have recently probed the religious issues in Doctor Who include the evangelical Christian culture-watchers at the Damaris project, in a new book called Back-in-Time.
Mark Greene of the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity is an aficionado too. He dubs the Doctor 'the Sherlock Holmes of sci-fi.'
However, back at their cyber-HQ Shiny Shelf, Mark Clapham and Jim Smith are getting ready for ëThe Christmas Invasion' with a more humanistic hermeneutical perspective: 'It's going to be great!' they say, with quiet - no, make that noisy - confidence.
[Also on Ekklesia: Consuming Passion, edited by Simon Barrow and Jonathan Bartley, on religion and violence; Why the Lion isn't safe (Glynn Cardy on C.S. Lewis and Narnia); Discomfort through the wardrobe (Giles Fraser); Briefing on Christian Peacemaker Teams; Pope's warning about myth of redemptive violence; Does Christianity kill or cure?, Taking the murder out of religion, The 'which Blair?' project and Why history cannot forgive us (all by Simon Barrow); Schwarzenegger vows to terminate reformed gang leader; Becoming a Peace Church (File Format: PDF/Adobe Acrobat - View as HTML); When the Powers Fall: Reconciliation in the Healing of Nations and Jesus and Nonviolence: A Third Way (Walter Wink); Demanding Peace: Christian Responses to War and Violence (A. E. Harvey); Violence in God's Name: The Role of Religion in an Age of Conflict (Oliver McTernan); War in the Hebrew Bible: A Study in the Ethics of Violence (Susan Niditch); Christianity and Violence (Giles Fraser); Is Religion Killing Us? Violence in the Bible and the Qur'an (Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer); God's Just Vengeance: Crime, Violence and the Rhetoric of Salvation (Timothy Gorringe); TV producer defends claims about God, Bush and Iraq; Williams tells Muslims crusades betrayed Christian beliefs; Anti-war sermon brings tax trouble; President Bush's church decries injustice and war in Iraq; Evangelicals slam bush for his 'theology of war'; Problems in Theology : War and Peace; Bush criticised for claiming God made him go to war]