Lately, I’ve been working through Season One of Torchwood, a BBC spin-off series from the popular Dr. Who. Getting into everything about the show would defeat the purpose of my post, so google it if you need other background.
I just watched the two episodes “They Keep Killing Suzie” and “Random Shoes.” The writing on the show seems to indicate a prevailing attitude that death is the end (which, as an American watching a British show, doesn’t really surprise me much). However, they are dealing with the question of death.
In the first episode I referenced, Gwen (one of the newer members of the Torchwood team) is asking Suzie (who is a deceased but re-animated previous member of the team) what death is like. Suzie tells her it’s just a black nothingness…that the only thing worth it is here and now. Eugene (the main character of the “Random Shoes” episode) tells a similar story in his post-script monologue in the final scene, albeit with a more optimistic tone in his voice.
And yet, the writing team of the show still paints a very different picture. Suzie (without giving TOO much away) is shown as conflicted yet clearly evil. Eugene, by contrast, is nuanced and conflicted, but is shown in a much better light. I don’t think that such depictions are mere literary devices for the sake of telling a good story. I think the issue goes much deeper than that.
Even for all the talk on these two episodes which makes a point that now is all there is, I’m not sure people REALLY believe that. And my specific religious convictions preclude the conclusion that now is all we have. Even if the writers really believe this, I’m not sure it really plays to our very human desire for story…which based on the way the series is written, seems to be understood by the writers. Nihilism simply doesn’t sell–and for good reason. There’s nothing exciting about it, nothing admirable. It’s very much a cynic’s view of the world and only plays well when the audience is depressed. But all of us hope for something much more…full. Much more beautiful.
Does a show like Torchwood help us progress to a better theology of life? I think it certainly can; all good art can point us to the Great Artist. Not infallibly so, obviously–scripts are not Holy Writ. But just as creation itself testifies to the majesty and glory of God, good scripts can point us to that same Life-Giver: Jesus, the one in whom all things hold together.