Doctor Who: The Mountaintop That Is Traveling With the Doctor

It’s 12:19 on a Wednesday morning. I can’t sleep. I was about to pop in an episode of Doctor Who, one of my favorite shows of all time, when I remembered I had started an entry on Sunday that I never got around to completing, because I wasn’t sure where I wanted to take it. I’ve just decided to take it in both of the directions that I was considering! Here it is:

I was sitting watching Doctor Who Sunday morning, (Now you see why watching Doctor Who reminded me that this was here.) and a piece of dialogue jumped out at me. The set-up is this: Donna Noble had been caught up in a plan for an alien to use the Earth as a breeding ground for her arachnid children at the beginning of the previous season. She met the Doctor, who saved the day while introducing her to the concept of space and time travel. After their brief adventure, the Doctor went on his way, taking on a young physician named Martha Jones as his companion for the rest of the season, until she decided to return to Earth to continue her life. The following dialogue is from Series 5, Episode 2 “Partners in Crime.” This is all copyright by BBC, so hopefully they don’t shut down my blog and sue me for thousands of pounds.

Donna: Still on your own?
Doctor: Yeah. Well, no. I had this friend. Martha, she was called. Martha Jones. She was brilliant, and I destroyed half her life. But she’s fine. She’s good. She’s gone.
Donna: What about Rose?
Doctor: Still lost. I thought you were going to travel the world.
Donna: Easier said than done. It’s like I had that one day with you, and I was going to change. I was going to do so much. Then I woke up the next morning… Same old life. It’s like you were never there. And I tried… I did try. I went to Egypt. I was going to go barefoot and everything. And then it’s all bus trips and guidebooks and “Don’t drink the water” and two weeks later, you’re back home. It’s nothing like being with you.

This really stood out to me. Donna had one of those life-changing moments. She met the Doctor, who made her realize there was so much more to life than what she was living. She decided right then to change and truly experience the world around her. Then she woke up the next morning. She was in the same bed. The same alarm clock. The same morning news shows. The same cereal in the cupboard. Despite what she had seen and gone through, the rest of the world was the same.

She attempted to make the change. She made the first of the many trips she promised herself. It wasn’t what she expected, because it was exactly what she expected. In two weeks, she was back home, feeling completely let down by the experience. She chased after what she got a taste of, but she couldn’t recapture the experience, the feeling of it. Instead, she spent the next year looking for the Doctor in the hopes of finding him and traveling with him. He brought that feeling to her, and she believed that he would do it again. Of course, he does. After all, he’s the Doctor, and it’s scripted television.

There are always moments in life, these mountaintop moments, when you feel lifted up and excited and changed. The problem is, you go up the mountain, but you can’t live there. You can see all there is around you from the top of a mountain. You can see your options for where to go, what to see, what to do, but when you get to the top of the mountain, you have to make that choice of what to do and then do it. You can go back the way you came or you can strike out in a completely different direction. Once you’ve reached the top of the mountain, though, there’s no higher to go. You have to go back down. Worst of all, if you try to stay on top of that mountain, it will sink beneath your feet until you feel like that mountain you once climbed is now only a hill, and the amazing feeling that you had from being on it is a mere fraction of what it had been.

Donna never had a chance to stay on the mountain. The Doctor never stays, except for the seasons that the Time Lords had stranded him on Earth as punishment for breaking their laws. He always moves on after each adventure. He climbs a mountain and then searches for the next one to climb. That’s where his experience on the show differs from real life: he never has to deal with coming back down off the mountain. There are no consequences for his constant search for adventure. Donna did have to come back down. Egypt was supposed to be her next mountain, but the tour buses and safety guidelines and tourists and trash and everything else made certain that no matter what, she would not be able to get the same experience she had before. It was predetermined and planned. She needed the mountain, but she got a hill. She was so let down that she gave up on the search for the mountain and instead searched for the Doctor to take her away to his next mountain. No matter what adventure she found, she had to come home to bills and laundry, the two things that the Doctor and his companions never seem to have to deal with.

If she used the mountain as an opportunity to find a new, sustainable purpose in life, Donna would have profited greatly from her time with the Doctor. Instead she immediately began to look for the next mountain.

The reason that segment of the show stood out to me was because I had seen a lot of information about a church Youth conference in the past few weeks. The first thing I saw was on the blog of another Youth leader. He talked about taking over the position at a new church, and the kids kept asking about going to an event that they went to every year. He took a group. They had that mountaintop experience. The kids were fully energized and involved and devoted the entire time they were there. There were group sessions where the kids talked about their lives, and a number of the kids brought up things that they should be seeking professional help with. Because of the emotion of the event and the encouragement of everyone else, they delved deep into their souls and the psyches. Unfortunately, there was not anybody there equipped to properly handle some of the things that were coming out, and the kids opened up major issues that would need long-term professional guidance to deal with but without anything in place to help them once the weekend event was over.

It sounded like it was a true mountaintop experience, but then the event ended. Everyone came back home, and the Youth program continued as normal. The kids all wanted to know why every Youth meeting wasn’t like the event, and questioned their faith when they didn’t have that feeling every day. This Youth leader wasn’t alone. There were comments from Youth leaders across the country discussing dealing with the same thing. The events never prepared the kids to come back down the mountain. They were great for invigorating faith while the kids were there, but there was no direction when they came back to the real world of their families and school and chores and sitting in their Youth groups discussing life and faith without rock bands and emotionally charged speeches. Everything expressed at the event was that faith was always the mountaintop. At the event, there are no friends making poor life choices and trying to get you to make them, too. There are no deaths of people you know. The kids are in a sterile, isolated world, which is wonderful while it lasts. Unfortunately, you can’t live on the top of the mountain. You have to come back down to where you have to make hard choices and deal with bad things happening, or even harder sometimes, nothing happening. The event never prepared the kids.

As I was reading what these other Youth leaders had to say, I thought back to the time I went to the Presbyterian Youth Triennium in 1998. It’s a week-long assembly of Presbyterian youth from around the world. I was going into my senior year of high school. I had an amazing time. I had my first “girlfriend.” She was from Canada, and yes, she was real. We discussed life and faith in small groups. We heard emotionally charged speeches. There was rock-like music (as well as goofy music and legitimate, traditional church music). I don’t remember ever feeling the shock of suddenly being off the mountain though. I can think of a few reasons for this.

A  day before the end, I broke my toe while playing volleyball. I missed about a third of a day’s worth of activities. Because of that, I experienced more than just the joy and excitement of the event. I also experienced pain and loss. Because of the broken toe, I couldn’t meet the “girlfriend” when I was supposed to because I was in the first aid station. We were going to exchange information to keep in touch after it all ended. (Remember, this was before Facebook and AIM and ICQ were popular, so we couldn’t just look each other up when we got home.) I worried for the rest of the time I was there and the trip back that she would think I was a horrible person. Knowing what I know now about teenagers, she probably did at the time and has since completely forgotten that I exist. Still, I had things bringing me down from that mountaintop while I was still there.

When I got home, I started band camp the next day. (Yes, even with a broken toe. I re-broke it many times through the fall.) I was with my closest school friends again from 8 in the morning until 5 or 9 at night for the next two weeks. It was almost like being on top of another mountain, except I had my toe and 95 degree weather and the bee tree to keep it from being perfect experience.

I’d also like to think that what they told us at Triennium helped with it, too. We talked about life. We talked about going back to our churches, with the quietly sitting and organ music. We heard and talked about going back to school and friends and dealing with things in a more realistic manner than just being told to make the right choices. We did role-playing and actually made things difficult on each other. There was a mountaintop for nearly the entire time I was there, but I felt prepared to go back to life and the real world. I had direction and felt refreshed to take it.

From what I’ve read, that is what is missing from many of these Youth-geared events. The organizers know exactly how to bring kids to the top of the mountain, but then they leave them there. There’s no direction for making it back down the mountain or into whatever lies next.

Before I saw that blog entry, I had never heard about that event. It turns out that it’s an annual event held in multiple cities across the country. I read the blogs of a few other Youth leaders, who all said similar things and had similar experiences with other similar events. About a week after I read that first blog entry about the event, I got an email from my church. The church had received an invitation for our Youth to attend this event in a city about six hours away.

I decided to take a look at the information that was on their website. After a couple of hours of reading testimonials and hearing their promotional information, I decided to just let it sit in my inbox. That’s my equivalent to placing the Ark of the Covenant in a government warehouse or donating anything to a museum. Nothing they had waylaid my concerns, and several things brought up even more concerns than I originally had.

I want the kids in my Youth Group to have mountaintop experiences, but I want to make sure that when they do, they’re experiences that leave them with a good idea of how to get back down and live their lives. Life isn’t just one mountain after another. This isn’t Doctor Who, and I don’t want my kids to be Donna Noble. It can be hard enough for teenagers to be Christian without throwing that at them!

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Explore posts in the same categories: Church, Growing Up, Observations

One Comment on “Doctor Who: The Mountaintop That Is Traveling With the Doctor”

  1. Amanda Says:

    1. This is really great writing, thanks for posting this. 2. You’re a great youth leader!!


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