In this episode, the Doctor takes Rose five billion years into the future to view the end of the world. They crash an exclusive soiree for the Universe’s wealthiest notables. Held on a specially shielded space station, this cocktail party’s main event is the viewing of the expansion of the sun and fiery death of the planet Earth.
Perhaps you are thinking: “Ah, the end times! That is the Biblical touchpoint he’s going for….”
Sorry, but no. I have something else in mind.
For it is at this function that Rose meets Lady Cassandra O’Brien, the last human.
However, Cassandra looks more alien than any of the other creatures at the party. She’s nothing but a smooth sheet of skin, translucent enough to reveal the blood pumping through. Her brain is kept alive in a small tank below the frame on which her skin is stretched. Cassandra’s eyes and mouth offer the only texture to her otherwise flat “body.” She confesses to having had over 700 operations to achieve her completely smooth skin.
The Lady Cassandra is a sight both horrifying and absurd.
(I can’t help but wonder if Cassandra is an homage to Katherine Helmond’s plastic surgery obsessed character in the 1985 dystopian classic, Brazil – but I digress)
The ever-adventurous Rose initiates a conversation, only to discover that Cassandra is vain and condescending. Rose, not being one to back down from an insult, blasts Cassandra with this retort: “…you’re not human. You’ve had it all nipped and tucked and flattened til there’s nothing left. Anything human got chucked in the bin. You’re just skin, Cassandra. Lipstick and skin.”
Bazinga! There is the Biblical touchpoint: “what is it to be human?”
One of the virtues of Science Fiction is that it pushes us to ask that question. It’s a question that Doctor Who returns to again and again. What defines humanity?
And it’s one of the key themes of the Bible.
The Bible presents humans, all humans, as bearers of the image of God. Theologians debate a lot about what exactly it means to bear the divine image. For the purpose of this reflection, we’ll focus on one aspect:
To bear the image of God is to carry an intrinsic dignity.
Psalm 8 celebrates the wonder and glory of the natural world, asking God the question: “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?”
There it is: What is so great about humanity?
The Psalmist continues: “You have made them a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honor. You made them rulers over the works of your hands; you put everything under their feet…”
That’s a dignity that exists in every human regardless of ethnicity, regardless of gender or age or economic status. That dignity is carried by every human being, even if they are mentally incapacitated or disabled in some way.
No amount of self-degradation can strip away that dignity. It exists. It is there.
And therefore, no human being, none whatsoever, is beyond redemption.
So Rose Tyler is wrong. Lady Cassandra may have completely degraded her body. Yet she is still human. So it is that, even though Cassandra is a scoundrel and a murderer, Rose pleads with the Doctor to save her from death. Rose, in the end, recognizes that there is dignity yet in Cassandra.
There is more to being human than having a functioning body.
To be human is to bear the image of God.
Watch: Doctor Who, Season 1, Episode 2 “The End of the World”
Read: Genesis 1:26-28; Psalm 8
- When have you had a hard time honoring the image of God in another person?
- How have you seen human sinfulness affect our ability to honor the image of God in others?
- In what ways has Christ worked in you to renew your perception of the image of God in others? In yourself?
- What are some ways Christ might be leading you to honor the image of God in others? in yourself?
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