My experience in youth and young adult ministry trained me to hear God’s voice speaking through popular culture so that I could help connect the Catholic faith to teenagers and young adults. As such, movies and television have become an important part of my ministry, as well as a guilty pleasure, especially when I need to process, reflect, and rest.
This week, I took time to catch up on the new season of Doctor Who, the long-running BBC show about an alien time traveler named The Doctor, who often saves the day using his clever wit and a sonic screwdriver (a futuristic Swiss Army knife).
In this week’s episode (to which I will offer a few spoilers, so be warned), the Doctor comes across an innocent young boy caught in the middle of a desert wasteland and surrounded by “hand mines”. The boy calls for help and the Doctor shows up to offer his assistance. As the Doctor starts to rescue the child, he asks the boy his name, to which he responds, “Davros.” What make this devastating is that “Davros” is the name of the Doctor’s longtime arch-nemesis who would grow up to create the race of killer robotic aliens known as the Daleks. The Doctor is faced with a dilemma: Does he save the child and, in so doing, allow the child to grow up to become a villain that would destroy so many, or does he abandon the child, which might possibly save countless lives? At first, the Doctor leaves – choosing the latter option.
Years later, the Doctor finds himself in the presence of the adult Davros who has exterminated entire races throughout his adult life. Davros is bitter and broken. He is dying and asks the Doctor for one final moment, presumably to exact revenge for leaving him to die as a young boy. Davros asks why he willingly came, to which the Doctor responds, “I came because you’re sick and you asked.”
Davros replies with bitterness, “Compassion? Always!” the Doctor answers. “I’m helping a little boy I abandoned many years ago.” To this, Davros laughs and mocks him, saying, “Your compassion is your downfall”and proceeds to trap the Doctor.
Without going into too many intricate details of the plot, let’s just say that the Doctor’s companions rush to save him. Upon encountering one of Davros’ creations (the Daleks), the Doctor discovers that –despite the rage and revenge of this alien race, they also understand the concept of mercy.
As the Doctor ponders this concept of mercy and wonders how this “design flaw”came to be in a heartless race of robotic aliens, he has an idea. He goes back in time to the young Davros whom he had once abandoned. Only a moment after he had initially left, as the boy stands crying for help, the Doctor reappears on the scene and offers mercy to his future enemy. The young boy asks “Are you the enemy?” The Doctor answers him, “Friends, enemies, I’m not sure if any of that matters as long as there is mercy. Always mercy.” It seems, in the end, the “design flaw”of the Daleks resulted from young Davros experiencing mercy from the Doctor (and if this all sounds confusing, it’s because it’s a time travel television show).
Pope Francis spoke at great length about compassion and mercy during his visit, too. It was an undercurrent of each of his talks or homilies. He stressed the need to be compassionate with family members, to show mercy to those in prison and to the homeless, to those who disagree with us and stand on the other side of issues and causes. As we continue to process Pope Francis’visit to Cuba and the United States, and as we move into the Jubilee of Mercy, this quote from Doctor Who will continue to resonate with me: “Friends, enemies, I’m not sure if any of that matters as long as there is mercy. Always mercy.”It is a truth that didn’t originate from a science fiction show or even the Holy Father.
It is a truth grounded in Christ, who told his disciples on the mountain: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy”(Mt 5:7) May we, too, be merciful –even to those we may not like or agree with –for God is so gracious in his mercy towards us.