From Empty to Child
A look at a few of the spiritual themes in Doctor Who, episodes “The Empty Child” and “The Doctor Dances” by Steven Moffat
SPOILER ALERT: As we look at this Doctor Who episode, I wanted to give my warning again: I will be giving away the end of the episode.
What you need to know:
In the frequently bombarded, WWII London, a ghostly boy of five, wearing a gas mask, wanders the streets calling for his mummy. The child doesn’t seem to have much vocabulary or understanding beyond asking, “Are you my mummy?”
Oh, and he isn’t wearing a gas mask, his face is a gas mask. And anyone he touches becomes sick, dies, and is reanimated with a face turned into a gas mask.
The boy targets a girl named Nancy, following her throughout the town, persistently asking, “Are you my mummy?”
The cause of the troubles is a space ambulance that has crashed in London. The ambulance was full of nanogenes – the way they heal is by invading the body of the patient and rebuilding the DNA to replace the sickly parts.
When the ambulance crashed, the only “patient” nearby was the boy – already dead and wearing a gas mask. The nanogenes didn’t know what a human was supposed to be, and assumed the gas mask as a face, and rebuilt the boy as best they could – animated outside, near empty inside.
And then assumed that all of humanity was supposed to be like this dead boy – and so whenever the nanogenes are transferred to another, they remake the new person in the image of the scared masked boy looking for his mother.
Before I continue, here’s a story from history:
Jesus of Nazareth was traveling about with his disciples,teaching and healing. One day as they walked along a road, they came across a leper.
Leprosy is a highly contagious disease that disfigures the victim; in that day there was no known cure. As such, lepers were labeled “unclean,”and laws strictly forbade any physical contact.
This leper fell to his knees in the path of Jesus and the disciples.
“Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean,” he called out.
So what did Jesus do? Not caring what would happen to himself, he reached out and touched the leper, saying,
“I am willing. Be clean.”
And the man was instantly cured of his disease. The healed man then went about the countryside, blabbing about his healing, which brought even more crowds to the healer.
Now back to the Doctor:
At the climax of the story, the Doctor, Nancy, Rose and Jack are at the site of the crash, and the Doctor has figured out what the nanogenes are doing. But, alas, there is no weapon that can stop the little healers from destroying all of humanity.
All the gasmaskers show up, led by the little boy, still calling for his mummy.
And the Doctor figures out one more thing – why the boy keeps chasing down Nancy. Up to now, it has been thought (by Nancy’s own lie) that the boy is her brother. But she is a bit older than she looks…
The Doctor encourages her to face the truth, and answer the boy.
Are you my mummy?
(kneeling before him)
Are you my mummy?
He doesn’t understand. There’s not enough of him left.
Nancy looks at her little boy.
I am your mummy. I will always be your mummy. I’m so sorry.
And she takes him into her arms, no longer caring what will happen. The nanogenes surround them, making them glow with a golden light.
Please note that little bit of action – she takes the child in her arms, not caring what will happen to herself.
The nanogenes wrap up the duo, and when they separate, the boy takes off his gas mask – back from the dead and fully healed.
As the doctor explains, the nanogenes recognized the mother as the true model, and corrected their mistake.
Then, with prompting from the Doctor, the nanogenes revisit all the people they’ve corrupted, and heal them.
And not just from the damage done by the nanogenes – but from all prior damage. They are now in perfect health.
Here are a few things that I took away from these stories.
Transformation starts with an act of love and transformation is risky. It starts with a reaching out, a touching – and such actions comes with risk of infection.
Transformation is a gift from the outside. The power doesn’t come from within, but is sparked by the outside. We can’t transform ourselves on our own; but perhaps we can be the catalyst to someone else’s transformation.
Transformation is contagious. From the example of the empty child becoming a boy named Jamie again, others likewise afflicted are able to be saved. One leper healed on the road leads to crowds coming for healing and teaching.
Transformation requires a modeling of the healthy DNA. The nanogenes were working on the wrong model,and needed to encounter the correct model before they could be set right. (Likewise, the leper’s body was working on the wrong model…)
An act of love, a risk, a transformation, a modeling.
Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man.
“I am willing,” he said.
Just my thoughts,
ps I do have one more point to make on this episode, but let’s hold that off for next time, shall we?