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Who wants to live forever?} ?> Stories about eternal life on earth abound in sci-fi and fantasy; I think of the Dúnedain from The Lord of the Rings, That Hideous Strength by C.S. Lewis, many a Star Trek episode, and the list could go on… The Highlander movie and TV series, however, is a favourite of mine. My family will attest to my random singing of “Who Wants to Live Forever”by Queen, or shouting out the catchphrase “there can be only one!” during battles with… well, anyone who will battle me.
The theme of immortality is also a constant in Doctor Who, since the Doctor is essentially immortal. Though there were two recent episodes that dealt with immortality head on—”The Girl Who Died” and “The Woman Who Lived.” In the first episode, a young Viking woman named Ashildr dies to save her village from aliens using a helmet that the Doctor modified. Feeling sad for her poor, grieving father, and perhaps guilty for his part in it, he decides to bring her back to life. He uses a modified microchip (he’s really into modifying alien tech in this episode) to bring her back and gives her a second one to use on someone else so that she will not be alone—because there’s a catch to this remedy—she will be immortal.
“The Woman Who Lived” picks up in Ashildr’s adulthood, several hundred years after her encounter with the Doctor. We find her so jaded, broken, and lonely from the solitude of her immortality (she never did use the second microchip) that she has been living a life of crime.
She reveals that, since her memory is mortal-sized, the only way she could remember everything that has happened to her is by writing it out in a journal. But after a while, the depression of leaving people behind was so heavy that she ripped out the more difficult moments of her life so she wouldn’t have to look back on them.
She chose to lose herself by forgetting her name and calling herself just “me.” Her life became self-centered because she was all she had. She tells the Doctor that he didn’t save her life; he trapped her inside it. Her recklessness shows a sort of disdain for her many years—unlike normal mortals whom, she points out, “know how precious life is.”
Ashildr leagues herself with an alien who she believes will take her away from the world that has been such a source of grief, but of course, he’s lion. I mean he’s lying. He was a lying lion.
After an adventure where they end up using the second microchip on another human to save the world, Ashildr asks the Doctor if the guy is immortal now too. He replies, “Do you want him to be?” She says, “I don’t think I want anyone to be.” She comes to terms with her immortality—maybe because now she’s not alone, maybe because she has found a purpose in keeping an eye on the Doctor—but she vows to make sure that he doesn’t become what she had become. She knows what can happen when a person has too much time on their hands.
Like so many stories before, this Doctor Who episode is a cautionary tale. It asks Queen’s question, “Who wants to live forever?” and requires us to consider the consequences. As a Christian, I believe that humanity is made for immortality—but not in this broken world. Living forever on this earth would be too hard. I believe that God made us for something far, far better. The immortality that I am waiting for is one where, instead of becoming overwhelmed by loss and weary from the burdens of this world to the point of losing myself like Ashildr did, I will become most perfectly myself. I believe that Heaven is a state of peace, joy, rest, and fulfillment. We’ve seen what immortality would probably look like on earth; I prefer the one that God intends.