‘Let there be Light’: The Gospel According to Dr River Song

Amy: What does the time energy do?

Doctor: JUST KEEP MOVING.

Amy: Tell me!

Doctor: If the time-energy catches up with you, you’ll never have been born. It will erase every moment of your existence. You will never have lived at all. Now….keep your eyes shut, and keep moving.

Remember how scared you were when you first heard Matt Smith speak those four sentences? As Amy clung to the communicator and shook with fright, the BBC National Orchestra’s string section screeched up the scale and you scooted forward on the couch. I scooted forward on my desk chair and started cramming chicken tikka masala into my mouth at factory speed while watching ‘Flesh and Stone’ on my laptop as a dinner-time break from prepping for my Virginia Woolf tutorial. Since BBC iPlayer posted the episodes out of order, I hadn’t known about the cracks until this episode. I didn’t understand what had
happened to Rory at the end of ‘Cold Blood’ until this moment. And I felt very afraid.

Rory Williams (Arthur Darvill) gets devoured by time-energy in 'Cold Blood.'

Why are the cracks so very scary? If Rory dies in any “ordinary” fashion—getting sprayed with poisonous green gas, shot with a laser gun, or blown up in the Blitz—we throw our dinner plates at the telly screen, at Steven Moffat, at Amy for rendering Rory unavailable in the first place. We comfort ourselves, knowing that Doctor Who has a history of undignified but epic dues ex machina endings, and that Moffat will probably pull one to bring Rory back.

But Rory erased from existence? All the plate-throwing and rationalizing in the universe can’t dampen our rage, grief, and fear.

Why?

Because we know, instinctively, that existence is inherently good and nonexistence inherently evil.

It’s an inalienable truth. We all like existing. Athanasius, an Egyptian theologian born around 298 A. D., expanded on this truth in his book On the Incarnation: ‘It is God alone who exists, evil is non-being [or nonexistence], the negation and antithesis of good.’[1]

In other words, God exists. Goodness exists. Evil does not exist—or, it is nonexistence. Nonexistence threatens to destroy all good things.  So the cracks in Doctor Who that devour all of time and space are evil. They transform everything that exists into nonexistence—they change everything that is good into the ultimate evil. They can even change Rory—who can be too kind-hearted for his own good—into Evil.

And that scares us.

One of the cracks in the fabric of the universe.

But there’s a way to shut the cracks, to bring Rory and otherssucked into nonexistence and evil back into existence:

Angel Bob: The time field is coming. It will destroy our reality.

Doctor: Well, look at you, running away. What can I do for
you?

Angel Bob: There is a rupture in time. The angels calculate that if you throw yourself into it, it will close, and they will be saved.

Doctor: Yeah, yeah, yeah, could do that, could do that, but why?

Angel Bob: Your friends would also be saved.

Doctor: Well, there is that.

River: I’ve travelled in time. I’m a complicated space-time event, too; throw me in!

Doctor: Oh, be serious! Compared to me, these angels are more complicated than you, and it’d take every single one of them to amount to me, so get a grip.

River: I can’t let you do this.

I suspect the Doctor knew then what he had to do. To shut the cracks, he would have to find the explosion that caused the cracks and throw himself into it. That’s exactly what he does in ‘The Big Bang’:

River: The T.A.R.D.I.S. is still burning; it’s exploding at every point in history. If you threw the Pandorica into the explosion, right into the heart of the fire…

Amy: Then what?

River: ….then let there be light.

Vincent Van Vogh's depiction of the T.A.R.D.I.S. exploding.

Specifically, if you threw the Doctor—the most ‘complicated space-time event’ ever—and the Pandorica with its restorative light into the explosion, the Pandorica’s light would shoot through the cracks to every point in time and space, forcing the cracks to regurgitate everything they had swallowed.

Although it’s the Pandorica’s light that brings the universe back into existence, it’s terribly clear that only the Doctor can fly the
Pandorica into the explosion. Only by sacrificing himself—giving himself up to evil, to nonexistence—can the Doctor save the universe from evil.

When River and Amy had that conversation, I immediately thought of the end of C. S. Lewis’ novella The Great Divorce, in which Lewis and others take a bus from hell to heaven—from a huge grey metropolis to an entire world of trees and mountains. When Lewis arrives, he meets Romantic novelist and preacher George MacDonald, who shows
him that hell—which he had thought was huge—was really infinitesimal:

…he made me see, after I had looked very closely, a crack in the soil so small that I could not have identified it without this aid.

‘I cannot be certain,’ he said, ‘that this is the crack ye came up through. But through a crack no bigger than that ye
certainly came.’

‘But—but,’ I gasped with a feeling of bewilderment not unlike terror. ‘I saw an infinite abyss. And cliffs towering up and up. And then this country on top of the cliffs.’

‘Aye. But the voyage was not mere locomotion. That bus, and all you inside it, were increasing in size.’

‘Do you mean then that Hell—all that infinite empty town—is down in some little crack like this?’

‘Yes. All Hell is smaller than one pebble of your earthly world: but it is smaller than one atom of this world, the Real
World. Look at yon butterfly. If it swallowed all Hell, Hell would not be big enough to do it any harm or to have any taste….’

‘I see,’ I said at last. ‘She couldn’t fit into
Hell.’

He nodded. ‘There’s not room for her,’ he said. ‘Hell could not open its mouth wide enough.’

‘And she couldn’t make herself smaller?—like Alice, you know.’

‘Nothing like small enough. For a damned soul is nearly nothing: it is shrunk, shut up in itself. Good beats upon the damned incessantly as sound waves beat on the ears of the deaf, but they cannot receive it…’

For Lewis, hell is a bleak place of near-nonexistence: you’re trapped inside a crack so small, so close to nonexistence, that no one can fit their arm inside the crack to pull you out. Just as the Doctor alone can enter the explosion to bring people out of nonexistence, Jesus Christ alone can enter hell to bring people out of near-nonexistence. Lewis continues:

‘Then can no one ever reach them?’

‘Only the Greatest of all can make Himself small enough to enter Hell. For the higher a thing is, the lower it can descend—a man can sympathise with a horse but a horse cannot sympathise with a rat. Only One has descended into Hell.’

‘And will He ever do so again?’

‘I was not once long ago that He did it. Time does not work that way when once ye have left Earth. All the moments
that have been or shall be were, or are, present in the moment of His descending. There is no spirit in prison to whom He did not preach.’

‘And some hear him?’

‘Aye.’[2]

Sound familiar? Only the Doctor—the most complicated space-time event ever, the last of the Time Lords—can throw himself into the explosion and close the cracks. River Song can’t; the weeping angels can’t; the Pandorica alone can’t. And when he does, he restores every moment and place throughout all of space and time. Similarly, only Christ—the most complicated
space-time event ever, the eternal God turned into mortal human flesh—can be crucified and descend through the cracks into hell. And when He does, he rescues every person throughout all of history from evil’s power, giving them the freedom to choose Him, the Light of the world.

As River so aptly says, ‘Let there be light.’


[1] Athanasius, On the Incarnation., I.4.

[2] C. S. Lewis, The Great Divorce (New York: Macmillan, 1946), 122-4.

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Filed under British Nerdiness, Doctor Who, Film & Telly, Philthy: Philosophy & Theology

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