Series 1, Episode 5
World War Three
By Russell T Davies

The parable of the sower

200-word synopsis

The Slitheen’s cliffhanger electricity attack proved fatal to all of the alien experts assembled in 10 Downing Street, but the Doctor rebounded the attack towards the Slitheen. This temporarily stunned them; he escaped. Meanwhile, Rose and interfering MP Harriet Jones escaped from the Slitheen that had trapped them and, with the help of Mickey, Jackie escaped from the Slitheen that had come to her house dressed as a policeman.

The Doctor teamed up with Rose and interfering MP Harriet Jones to blockade himself in the Cabinet room, directing Mickey via telephone. The Slitheen revealed their plot to use the UK’s nuclear weapons, having sought permission to access the launch codes from the United Nations. They intended to provoke a nuclear war so that they could take control of the earth and sell off its fallout-ridden remains to alien species.

The Doctor directed Mickey to hack into a website so he could remotely launch a (conventional) missile towards 10 Downing Street. The Slitheen all died. The Cabinet room survived. Interfering MP Harriet Jones took to the airwaves to reassure the nation that all was well. The press reported the alien invasion as a hoax. Rose re-committed to travelling with the Doctor.

Although this is the second of a two-parter, the important stuff of life and death and saving the day failed to strike much of a chord. The absurdity of the Slitheen’s plan (and their ungainly physical appearance) made it difficult to take the end-of-the-world peril of the episode seriously. But this story was never really about that. Instead, it was an extended answer to the questions asked in the first part about what it means for humans to “grow up” and engage with the alien world.

And what was the answer? It was an elaborate retelling of the parable of the sower from Mark 4.

The parable

‘Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, some multiplying thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times.’

Then Jesus said, ‘Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.’
– Mark 4:3-9

This is one of Jesus’ most well-known parables. It is also one of his most controversial. The lesson is that lots of people will hear about Jesus, but few will trust in him and remain in him for the long haul. We know this is what he meant by it because he told his disciples as much:

‘The farmer sows the word. Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them. Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful. Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop – some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown.’
– Mark 4:14-20

Let’s imagine for a minute that the word of God is equivalent to knowledge of an aliens. This two-part story has the Doctor teaching about aliens what Jesus teaches about following him.

The masses: the rocky soil

For the average guy on the street, there will be no engagement with the alien world. Mickey, himself hardly more than an adolescent in these things, is aghast when he discovers that the media will respond to an alien invasion, a coup d’état and an imminent nuclear war with a shrug of the shoulders:

I just went down the shop and I was thinking, like, you know, the whole world’s changed. Aliens and spaceships, all in public. And here it is. [Holds up newspaper with the headline “Alien Hoax?”] How could they- how could the do that? They saw it.

The people saw what they wanted to see. In this, they are rather like the people who heard Jesus teach, whom he was calling out by telling the parable of the sower. In the verses between the parable itself and the explanation, which I quoted above, Jesus explained to his disciples why he taught in parables. He deliberately concealed the meaning of what he said so that only those with eyes to see and ears to hear would understand his teaching:

When he was alone, the Twelve and the others around him asked him about the parables. He told them, ‘The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables so that, “they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!”‘
– Mark 4:10-12, cf Isaiah 6:9,10

In his terms, Jesus attributes this to a spiritual blindness. He says that only those whose eyes have been opened by the Holy Spirit will be able to understand what they have seen and heard about his teaching. Other people are simply not able to comprehend it. They are blind: their eyes are closed.

The Doctor teaches a similar doctrine. He explains to Mickey why the human race would assume that an alien invasion was an elaborate hoax:

You’re just not ready. You’re happy to believe in something that’s invisible, but if it’s staring you in the face, you can’t see it. There’s a scientific explanation for that – you’re thick.

What Jesus said of the rocky soil was much more polite but no less devastating. Jesus calls out spiritual blindness as a wilful blindness: people do not want to see, and therefore cannot see the truth about him. The Doctor shows how the same truth applies in his universe, although he attributes it to intelligence rather than spiritual health: people are too thick to believe what is staring them in the face.

Mickey: The weedy soil

The seeds sown in weedy soil seem to do well at first, but as time progresses the cares of this life grow up and tangle the plant and smother it. Mickey is our model of weedy soil.

Things seem to be going well for Mickey. Until now he has been “Mickey the idiot,” or just “Ricky,” depending on the Doctor’s mood. But now that he has proved his worth in combating evil, the Doctor begins to show him some respect. He even invites him to join Rose on her adventures in the TARDIS:

The Doctor: Come with us.
Mickey: I can’t. This life of yours – it’s just too much. I couldn’t do it. Don’t tell her I said that.

The struggles and concerns of this life are too great for him. He makes excuses. He couldn’t handle the pressure; it would all be too much for him to cope with. So, although he has won the Doctor’s respect, he is unable to capitalise on it. He would prefer to stay at home and pine after Rose on his own than to travel with her into alien worlds. He even gets the Doctor to lie for him, taking the blame for what was ultimately his decision:

Rose: Come with us. There’s plenty of room.
The Doctor: No chance. He’s a liability. I’m not having him on board.
Rose: We’d be dead without him!
The Doctor: My decision is final.

Like the people of the weedy soil in Jesus’ parable, Mickey can’t handle the life that the Doctor calls him into. He knows what it entails. He has considered his options. He has counted the cost. And he has turned the offer down.

Harriet Jones: The fruitful soil

The model response to the Doctor is seen in interfering MP Harriet Jones. She, like Charles Dickens in the previous story (The Unquiet Dead), is an ordinary person who has found herself in extraordinary circumstances.

We first meet her as she is trying to gain access to the acting prime minister in order to promote a report she has produced. She fails to recognise that his priorities might not be quite in line with hers in light of recent events:

I know we’ve had a brave new world land right on our doorstep, and that’s wonderful – I think that’s probably wonderful. Nevertheless, ordinary life keeps ticking away. I need to enter this paper.

The paper is a technocratic report on the designation of cottage hospitals. Few people could argue with the Slitheen imposter acting prime minister when he dismisses her: “By all the saints, get some perspective, woman! I’m busy!”

She sneaks in the cabinet room in order to stash her report in the acting PM’s red briefcase. And this is the turning point for her, for as she begins to gain exposure to the truth behind the alien conspiracy she uses her exceptional skills at interference and persistence to good effect.

First she has the wit to hide in a cupboard to witness the aliens dispatching the General of the army. Then she seizes the opportunity to tell Rose what she has seen. She rapidly builds trust with the Doctor and becomes one of the insiders. She even gives creative input as he works out his plan. So successfully does she respond to the new world order that, by the end of the episode, it wouldn’t have been a surprise had the Doctor invited her aboard the TARDIS for his next adventure.

Obviously she has to stay on planet Earth (because the Doctor already has Rose, and for some reason he always seems to prefer much younger women as his companions). But such a positive reaction to the events of these episodes must be rewarded, and both the Doctor and Rose are enthusiastic about Jones’s potential:

Harriet Jones: Someone’s got a hell of a job sorting this lot out. Oh Lord! We haven’t even got a prime minister!
The Doctor: Maybe you should have a go.
Harriet Jones: Me? I’m only a backbencher.
Rose: I’d vote for you.
Harriet Jones: No, don’t be silly. Look, I’d better go and see if I can help. Hang on!

The Doctor’s famous selective memory kicks in just in time to give us a glimpse of the future, where Jones is amply rewarded for her level-headed response to her exposure to alien lifeforms:

I thought I knew the name. Harriet Jones. Future prime minister. Elected for three successive terms. The architect of Britain’s golden age.

So the kind of politician who wins the Doctor’s favour is the kind of politician who is responsible for an era of remarkable national success. That’s quite some turnaround for an interfering backbench MP with a bee in her bonnet about cottage hospitals.

She won his favour by “growing up.” In the first part of the story, the Doctor told Rose that he would not be interfering because it was time for the human race to reach its maturity. He did interfere, but now is the time where he can calmly walk away and allow the humans to take over again. He leaves knowing that they are in capable hands: interfering MP Harriet Jones, who has grown up.

She is the good soil that, when the seed is planted in it, bears good fruit. She is confronted with the truth about invading alien hoards and she steps up to the plate to fight them. In the aftermath of a missile attack on 10 Downing Street and the dismantlement of the political élite, she alone steps out to take control of the situation.

Which soil?

This story teaches us what Jesus taught his disciples: “they they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding.” Or, as the Doctor puts it, “people are thick.”

So which soil are you, the Doctor asks? When you come face-to-face with aliens, how do you respond? Do you pretend you haven’t seen them after all, and allow that knowledge to be snatched away from you? Do you acknowledge it but choose your easy, boring old life instead? Or do you embrace it and respond to it with good deeds?

And which soil are you, Jesus asks? When you come face-to-face with the word of God, how do you respond? Do you pretend you haven’t heard it after all, and allow that knowledge to be snatched away from you? Do you acknowledge it but choose your easy, boring old life instead? Or do you embrace it and respond to it with good deeds?

Doctor Who Doctrines

  • People are thick: they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding.

Posted on 11/09/2016  •  2220 words