“The last of his Kind:” Doctor Who, empathy, and the ultimate Freedom
March 28, 2013 at 2:35 pm, by ELight
On the holiday of Passover, we celebrate our freedom. And when I think of freedom, I think of a crazy British alien in a blue box.
This particular alien is a time lord who’s real name has been lost to history. He is simply known as “The Doctor,” and the television show that bares his name has been on the BBC for decades. Because time lords regenerate, instead of dying, the series has been able to continue with little interruption since 1963 with a parade of different faces.
- The Doctor has no family, not even distant cousins. The entire time lord race was wiped out in the last great Time War, when the Doctor made the difficult choice of destroying his own people to save the entire universe from the Daleks.
- His planet, Gallifrey, was wiped out in the war too. So no more species, no more planet.
- That blue box from before? That’s a time machine, allowing the Doctor to travel anywhere and any-when. Ever.
- Also, as previously mentioned, it is really difficult for him to die. Sure, if you get at his hearts (he has two) without giving him time to regenerate, then maybe, but he’s been going this long without that happening and the show has too big of a following to stop now.
So, to recap: He is a basically immortal alien with no family and no home who can go anywhere in time and space.
If you were that free, where would you go? The Eye of Orlon, the most peaceful planet in the universe? Maybe the lovely sand dunes of the Cheetah Planet, or the sapphire waterfalls of Midnight?
The Doctor could go to any of these places. He could build a bungalow on top of a large tree somewhere and swing in a hammock drinking cocktails for eternity. But he doesn’t. He spends his life…. helping people. Specifically the people of earth, saving them from calamity after calamity.
And not only does he save the earth, he does it with incredible kindness. Even to the worst of his enemies he gives a choice, only using force when absolutely necessary. He is feared among those who seek harm and hailed as a hero by the thousands he has saved, all without picking up a gun. In this clip from the first episode featuring the eleventh doctor, he explains to the Atraxi, quite politely, why they should leave earth alone. And they do.
And even though he has no family, the Doctor always finds people to travel with, companions that help him remain kind and keep his power in check. He could be absolutely alone but he seeks others.
Why? Why tie yourself down to other people and spend your time saving planets when you could literally be doing whatever you want? Isn’t that the ultimate freedom? Maybe to some, but not to the Doctor. And not to the ancient Israelites.
God took us out of Egypt from slavery to freedom. But what kind of freedom? In a recent blog on the Huffington Post, Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson, dean of the Ziegler school of Rabbinic studies (and a close family friend,) distinguishes between “freedom from” and “freedom to:”
A mature freedom is not an escape from responsibilities. It is the acceptance of responsibilities which work l’takken olam b’malkhut Shaddai, to repair the world under the sovereignty of God.
This is the freedom to help, to save, to love, to give. Our freedom becomes our responsibility, not a burden, but a holy task. Coupled with this is our duty to empathize with the stranger, to take care of those in need. In Leviticus 19:34, God reminds us to “love the stranger as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”Artson writes, “Drawing on the memory of having been slaves, we Jews have a special obligation to empathize with any group who are outcasts, oppressed or dehumanized. We, who experienced suffering, must always train ourselves to identify with those who suffer.”
We could just take care of our own, our own family, ourselves. We could go with a more “American” version of freedom, meaning “I can do whatever I darn well want.” Or, we could choose the freedom of the Torah, the true freedom of the Exodus, the responsibility to live a life of duty and empathy. This is the freedom of the Doctor.
It is because of his freedom, not in spite of it, that the Doctor dedicates his life to others. He protects the innocent and gives invaders a choice because he is the last of his kind. The Doctor has incredible empathy, even for his enemies, because he understands that pain, that loneliness. That is why he seeks companions, and saves planets. Because he is the last, it has become his responsibility.
This Pesach, may we understand what true freedom means. May we use our past pain to become more kind, and to grow in our empathy. Even the Doctor knows that we can’t just all stay in our own little blue boxes forever. How will you use your freedom to? Because you may not have two hearts, but you do have one. And one is all you need.