…all this time, I’ve been telling you to dig deep. Find the thing that keeps you brave. I made you expose your faith. Show them what they needed.
If the 2010 season was about fairy tales, the 2011 season of Dr Who was about belief. Although had it been about a Goblin of Indecision that would’ve been very cool. What the doctor’s companions believed about The Doctor, what his enemies believed and how their beliefs shaped them and their actions. There have been intimations of this theme throughout Steven Moffat’s stewardship, given his statements about fairy tales and also how those tales exert their power through an audience’s willingness to believe in them, (they were oral tales in the main remember) and even beforehand, from the introduction of the Weeping Angels in Blink, onwards. Yet even in the Satan Pit the Doctor declared his belief, not in gods or monsters or demigods, or even himself, but in Rose. This is echoed, right near the end in Closing Time, when the Doctor affirms his belief in Craig and all humanity. Even baby Alfie is used as a joke about control and self belief as he calls himself Stormageddon Dark Lord of All. Later, to the (note the title) Holy Roman Emperor Winston Churchill, he asserts his friends have always been the best of him. So his belief is in people, even when they let him down or leave or die or disappear into alternate realities. He believes in them, even as they break his hearts.
However, belief in this program is not limited to what the Doctor believes. It is also about what his companions and friends believe about him. Craig, in Closing Time, believes it is safer to be with the Doctor in a crisis than away from him. Not sure about his logic, but it is a belief. More directly, in The God Complex, each of the characters is betrayed by their beliefs. The AV Club has written quite lucidly about this episode here. In this series, for anyone who wanted the more God-like heroic, martyr-y Doctor, they didn’t get it as events and the Doctor transpire to undermine belief in him. They got a Doctor who was fooled by the Flesh *twice* even as he studies them. A Doctor that even as he rescues Amy again and again, manages to mess her up – he sacrifices Older Amy to save Younger Amy, and she loses baby Melody and he even removes her faith in him from her – although it is again, to save her.
For Amy and also Rory, the Doctor is a story that came true and while Amy believes in him, it’s Rory, consistently who sees the Doctor’s flaws. Rory doesn’t believe in him, but does understand him: You know what it’s dangerous about you? It’s not that you make people take risks, it’s that you make them want to impress you. You make it so they don’t want to let you down. You have no idea how dangerous you make people to themselves when you’re around. Rory also sees his vanity: This isn’t fair. You’re turning me into you.
As Older Amy comes to understand, the Doctor does lead the life of a kind of a God, even as the Doctor latter learns from the mouth of another ancient god, trapped in a box, travelling through time and space, the Minotaur:
DOCTOR: (translates) “An ancient creature, drenched in the blood of the innocent, drifting in space through an endless, shifting maze. For such a creature, death would be a gift.” Then accept it. And sleep well.
The DOCTOR stands and walks away as the BEAST growls again.
DOCTOR: “I wasn’t talking about myself.”
Old Amy sees too that the Doctor, is also a God of a kind of Hell.
OLDER AMY: And there he is, the voice of God. Survive. Because no one’s gonna come for you. Number one lesson. You taught me that.
OLDER AMY…Don’t you lecture me. Blue Box Man, flying through time and space on whimsy. All I’ve got, all I’ve had for 36 years is cold hard reality. So, no, I don’t have a sonic screwdriver because I’m call it what it is. A probe. And I call my life what it is. Hell.
Yet Moffat, it seems, is also commentating on belief in organised religion. In The God Complex people develop sufficiently to exile their God to a prison. He has the Doctor say religion is fine…for a while.
DOCTOR: Distant cousin of the Nimon. They descend on planets and set themselves up as Gods to be worshipped. Which is fine, until the inhabitants get all secular and advanced enough to build bonkers prisons.
Moffat also gives us the monks with their severed heads, who eschew rational thought to follow their hearts, literally. In addition, there are the soldier Clerics who also call themselves the Anglican Marines, who were at the Byzantium crash and Demon’s Run, and seem to follow advice from their female Papal Mainframe. What this is trying to say is that belief is blind, and while religions in the future may welcome gay fat and thin married men and female computer leaders, they still impose order from above; they still demand obedience. To the writer, you literally must be out of your mind to join. And even those who join out of other motives, like Lorna, also pay a high price.
I’m not a phantom. I’m not a trickster. I’m a monk
Then there are the Silents. A religious order who act as sentinels of history. Much like Time Lords once did really, but instead of just observing, take a hand in affairs through the manipulation of events. In this way, through their interaction with peoples, they are more like the Doctor. What the Doctor does to save people, time and planets mostly goes unheralded or is heralded, but then somehow forgotten, exactly like the Silents are, through time going backwards or an alternate reality collapsing or the universe expelling him.
The Silents, for all their unsavoury tactics, act out of a belief the Doctor needs to die to avoid some kind of apocalypse. The Doctor has done similar. Acting to save the world, he too has killed. He is the one who sees what is fixed and what is in flux. What he can and can’t do and knows the trouble that comes when things happen that shouldn’t or when things that should happen, don’t.
To achieve their mission, the Silents rally their clerics and monks and organise themselves. Similarly, ahead of Demon’s Run, the Doctor used their exact tactics, gathering his own army of believers to save Amy and Melody. Both assembling armies (of a sort) against each other, yet leading from the shadows. This time, as a leader and organiser, The Doctor fails, as opposed to those times when he refused to lead, and won the day.
DORIUM: There are people all over this galaxy that owe that man a debt… If that man is finally collecting on his debts, God help you. And God help his debtors.
And they all fail. Whatever any of them believe, they fail. Despite his massive bravado and confidence in himself, The Doctor fails to save Melody/River. As he must. The Silents fail in their mission to execute the Doctor, even if to most people he is considered dead. As they must fail. River fails, then succeeds in her own mission to kill the Doctor, which in reality, is a failure, but a failure only Dorium, River, Amy and Rory know about. They all fail and history and time are put aright. But the end game is not finished. The audience is left with a kind of feeling that organised religion = Bad, Doctor trying to do good = Good.
Maybe it’s the vibe of the thing, as they say. Dr Who was always one man on his quest to see the universe and being there/here to help. It was never about organised anything, not religion, not society – he’d fled his own highly organised world. He follows no law, abides by no rules, except that of time (when he has to). On an Earth regimented by governments and their laws, by rules and guidelines, by religions or faiths or moralities, as well as social pressures, the need to work and have ‘two week package holidays’, Doctor Who is revolutionary. It indeed shows there is another way or as Rose put it, ‘a better way’. Where actions and individuals matter, where every minute is a moment to feel alive in. Although Rory, the ever-wise, realises human scale victories like Howie overcoming stammering, are just as momentous. No wonder Dr Who has so many fans who believe.