Saturday, 26 May 2007

Demons and Angels

A little something from the latest issue ...

Has anyone else noticed the odd biblical fascination that has crept into the Doctor Who and Torchwood production offices? During Series One of Who there were observations raised on the message boards about the used of the word “hell” as a socially acceptable expletive to be used in the family friendly series, however in Series Two the term seems to be used less figuratively and in more definite sense. When the Doctor is talking about Hell between dimensions we get the distinct impression he is talking about a definite place, and in Torchwood we find that it is a space inhabited by lost souls (They Keep Killing Suzie) and big bad demons straight out of the book of Revelation. And not just “like” a biblical monster (as one would see in Buffy) but actually Abbadon, with Ianto reading chapter and verse from Book of Daniel. In The Satan Pit the Doctor meets the Devil (in both cases the definite article) with none of the trappings of psydeo science ala The Dæmons. Even in the new Sarah Jane Adventures we are presented with a villain called Wormwood and reminded that the name comes from Biblical prophecy.

Apart from that, and the very evocative episode titles (Doomsday, End Of Days, The Satan Pit), also consider that both Jack and the Doctor seem to have picked up thematically characteristics of the “Wandering Jew”, or Longinus (a Roman legionary if you want to push the foreign solider analogy for Jack) apocryphal tales popular in the early Christian church, about a sinner, cursed with immortality, left homeless to wander the earth, seeking redemption before the Day of Judgement.

Nicking stuff from religion for science fiction/fantasy is nothing new. Both Buffy and The X Files (two of the most influential shows to Torchwood) did it on a regular basis, but neither of these shows have taken biblical prophecy like this and incorporated it into a physical being to be a villain in the show. Similarly both Buffy and The X Files have also mentioned the positive sides of belief (Scully’s Catholic faith (All Souls), Buffy’s belief she went to heaven (Once More with Feeling)). But Torchwood seems to be trying to have both ways, denying an afterlife on one hand (“There is nothing there!”), but on the other pillaging the Bible for monster material - material it doesn’t essentially need. Doctor Who survived for years with the outré and strange being simply alien, the few times in the old series where religion entered into plots it was explained away with science and Clarke’s Law.

So why change now? There is obviously a thematic plan to this even if it is only window dressing. Do the production teams think their science fiction “looks better” with a thin veil of Judaeu-Christian mythology? Does it add impact, depth or drama? Or is it simply because demons are “cooler” than angels, and satanic monsters are easier to push through the watershed than overt religion in these PC times?

- David Ronayne

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