DOCTOR WHO - A Kick In The Nethers: Redux

Tony Fyler gets metaphysical on your Whovian ass. Again.

As the arc of Missy and the Nethersphere draws, we assume, to a climax, it’s seeming more and more likely that a metaphysical dilemma is being made, if not exactly flesh, then certainly steel over the course of two episodes: with Steven Moffat saying the finale pushes the boundaries of what’s acceptably vague sci-fi language for concepts like souls, life after death, and Heaven and Hell, it begins to look as though there might be some merit in the idea that the Nethersphere is either exactly what it says on the tin, a kind of Heaven where dead people go, or some deviously alien plan to recruit exactly the kind of people for whom being reborn and allowed to live on forever, albeit as Cybermen, would be attractive: the dead.

Could it conceivably be that the latest Cyber-upgrade takes them beyond the flesh altogether? That the ‘organic’ components of the new Cybermen are actually ‘souls’? Consciousnesses, essences, call them what you will – and Doctor Who has, throughout its fifty-one years, used a number of euphemisms for the otherwise disconcertingly religious notions of coherent ‘people-prints’ living on beyond the life of their mortal bodies.

If you stop and think about it for a moment, the idea of a ‘Heaven,’ from which the dead could come back, must surely be a horrifying and a nightmarish prospect from the Doctor’s point of view. The Pandorica Alliance laid the blood of a thousand worlds at the Doctor’s feet. Arguably, the Kovarian Chapter’s demented plan to kill the Time Lord resulted in huge amounts of bloodshed, all based on the Doctor’s stubbornness. Davros screamed his accusation that the Doctor was “the destroyer of worlds.” Even Clive, the nice, geeky internet conspiracy theorist, claimed that whichever way you looked at it, Death was the Doctor’s constant companion.

Imagine the weight of all the people you have failed to save if you’re the Doctor. Then imagine, to use the Tenth Doctor’s phrase, you “got clever – got people to sacrifice themselves” for the cause you espouse, and that, to quote Rory Williams, “you make people want to impress you.”

If there’s a scientific and ultimately atheistic universe out there where life is lived and death is died and all that holds you accountable is your past and the difference you’ve made, then the Doctor is still a hero.

But if there’s an afterlife...

An organised ‘Nethersphere’, where the ‘spirits’ or life essences of the people you’ve met along the path of your life are waiting for you…

…And if they’re not happy to have died…

Then what you have is not Heaven at all. It’s Hell. A reckoning, beyond the physical universe, where every person you ever wronged, or who ever felt you’d wronged them, is waiting to ask you why. Why you didn’t save them. Why they had to die. And most importantly of all, why you survived.

Now of course, Shakespeare deals with this conundrum in Henry V, living in a world where Heaven and Hell were certainties of their daily existence, just as much as life and death. He asks whether a subject who dies in battle, serving a king, will have a right to blame that king for his untimely death, and concludes ultimately that “every subject’s service is the king’s, but every subject’s soul’s his own” – essentially, that the king can’t be held responsible for those who die in his service.

But that rule is for kings who lead armies into battle. Not for doctors. Not for those whose cry is “trust me” and who ask you to put your life in their hands, who promise that what they will do, most of all, first of all, is keep you safe. What lies ahead, if there is an ‘ahead’ for those who claim to be able to save you and don’t?

We saw in The God Complex that the Doctor is full of good intentions, but that sometimes – indeed, if we’re judging harshly, then quite often – his intentions don’t equate to his success in saving ‘the little people’ in the universe. Certainly, Series 8 has had no shortage of people the Doctor has failed to save while ultimately saving the day.

Given what we now know about the series finale, involving both Missy and the Cybermen, could it be that those the Doctor has failed to save could have found a way back into the physical universe, and be spoiling for more of a fight than the Cybermen have given the Doctor for decades? Perhaps the choice when you arrive at the Nethersphere is a simple one: Death is not necessarily the end. But if you choose to return to the world of the living, you do so in a skin of metal, your ‘essence’ stripped of all the things that make you you. Perhaps the philosophical question of the hour is not who is Missy, or what Clara’s talking about in the trailer. Perhaps the question of the hour is which would you choose? If you knew the choice was death and oblivion or return as a Cyberman, on one of those blackest of nights, would you be able to make the right decision?

Tony Fyler lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". By day, he runs an editing house, largely as an excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book. With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at
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