Tardis Theology #3: In Which Charles Dickens Questions The Value Of His Life’s Work

ImageWhat could be better than a Christmas ghost story by Charles Dickens?

How about a Christmas alien invasion story featuring Charles Dickens, in which the master of melodrama himself helps the Doctor thwart an extraterrestrial horde’s plan to conquer the Earth?

Yes, it’s an absurd premise.  Absurdity, after all, is part of the fun of Doctor Who.

But this episode gives us more than time-travel hijinks.

When first we meet Charles Dickens, he is moping in his dressing room prior to a Christmas Eve lecture/reading of “A Christmas Carol.”  Remember that in the late 19th century, great authors were also famous stage performers who toured the world, entertaining huge crowds with the sheer force of their personality.  The Dickens we meet is exhausted from the pressures of this life.

“On, on I go. Same old show,” he tells the stage manager, “I’m like a ghost, condemned to repeat myself for eternity … I’m an old man.  Perhaps I’ve thought everything I’ll ever think.”

Dickens’ struggle is what makes this episode more than an adventurous romp.  Dickens wrestles with burnout.  His creative energies have ebbed.  He plods through life, weary day after weary day.

Perhaps that is a struggle you have experienced at some point?

The struggle comes to us in many different forms.  It might be a deep feeling of disconnect with our work.  It might be that nagging sense that we’re living our lives according to someone else’s script.  We might say that we’re “in a rut.”  Perhaps we medicate with alcohol or amusement or anything to help us forget the ennui.

No matter the external manifestation, the internal struggle finds its root in one question:  “What’s the point of it all, anyway?”

As Dickens works with the Doctor to understand the nature of the alien threat, his inner struggle becomes more intense.  He tells the Doctor:

I’ve always railed against the fantasist. Oh, I loved an illusion as much as the next man, revelled in them. But that’s exactly what they were. Illusions. The real world is something else. I dedicated myself to that, injustices, the great social causes. I hoped that I was a force for good. Now, you tell me that the real world is a realm of spectres and jack-o-lanterns. In which case, have I wasted my brief span here, Doctor? Has it all been for nothing?”

And there is the Biblical touchpoint.

Scripture teaches us that our lives are God’s works of art:

“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb…My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place.  When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body.  All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”  (Psalm 139:13, 15-16).

There is no waste in God’s economy.

As Christians, we learn to discover the meaning that God has woven into our lives.  We learn that we are sent by God to do good work, which He has prepared in advance for us (Ephesians 2:10).  We come to grasp that whatever honest work we apply ourselves to is a service unto the Lord, and therefore it has dignity and meaning (Colossians 3:23-24).

In the Doctor Who episode, Charles Dickens is rejuvenated by the adventure and the discovery that the world is far bigger than he expected.  It leads him to personal renewal, telling the Doctor: “I shall spend Christmas with my family and make amends to them.  After all I’ve learned tonight, there can be nothing more vital.”

His final question to the Doctor is whether his books last.  The Doctor reassures Charles Dickens that his books last forever.

For the Christian, we take assurance that our vocation, our work will endure because it is work that has been given to us by the One who Endures.  Our lives have meaning because the One who Calls is the giver of meaning.


For Reflection:

Watch:  Doctor Who, Season 1, Episode 3 “The Unquiet Dead”

Read: Psalm 139, Ephesians 2:8-10, Colossians 3:23-24

Reflect:

Make a list of the different roles you play in life (parent, student, employer, citizen, friend, etc).  Try to list as many roles as you can.

  • Which of these roles are easy and energizing?
  • Which of these roles are tiresome and difficult?
  • Which of these roles seem important?
  • Which of these roles seem insignificant?
  • In light of the scripture passages we looked at, how might you re-consider all your roles as opportunities to do the good work God has prepared for you?
  • What do these passages say about the relationship between God’s favor and our good work?

2 thoughts on “Tardis Theology #3: In Which Charles Dickens Questions The Value Of His Life’s Work

  1. What an interesting premise for that episode of Dr. Who! I greatly appreciate your analogies to the Christian life, and your encouraging conclusion: “For the Christian, we take assurance that our vocation, our work will endure because it is work that has been given to us by the One who Endures. Our lives have meaning because the One who Calls is the giver of meaning.”

    Good stuff! Thank you, Russell.

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