Ethos Education

Doctor Who: Dark Water: What happens to people when they die?

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Learning Objectives:

  • Awareness of different Christian views about Heaven.
  • Awareness of different Christian views about Hell.

Learning Outcomes:

  • Reflect on why some people are afraid of death.
  • Evaluate the response of a fictional character who dies and discovers that there is more to his life beyond death.
  • Reflect upon the range of different Christian beliefs about what happens to people after death.
  • Analyse Bible passages to determine which beliefs about the afterlife each of them could be used to support.
  • Synthesise learning by writing a series of accounts revealing people’s experience of the afterlife.


Brainstorm a list of things that people are commonly afraid of. Encourage the class to include serious suggestions as well as light-hearted ones. Ask a few students to explain what is so frightening about their suggestion.

Point out that for many people, the prospect of death is a frightening thing. Ask the students to suggest some of the reasons why so many people are afraid of death. Possible answers could include:

  • Fear of a physically painful death.
  • Fear of what will happen after they die.
  • Fear that nothing will happen after they die – that death will just be the end.
  • Fear of the unknown – the fact that we don’t know what comes next.

Explain that in today’s lesson you are going to be considering different Christian beliefs about what happens when people die. Although the Bible does address the subject, it is one of the things that Christians don’t agree about, with a number of different beliefs from different Christian traditions.


Introduce the clip from the Doctor Who episode Dark Water. The episode is available on the DVD Doctor Who the Complete Eighth Series (BBC DVD, 2014, certificate 12). Click here to buy the DVD online. Explain that previously in this episode of Doctor Who, we have seen Danny Pink (Samuel Anderson) being killed accidentally while crossing a busy road. Ask the students to pay particular attention to the situation he now finds himself in.

  • Start time:       0.15.52 (in chapter 4 of the DVD)
  • End time:         0.18.45
  • Clip length:      2 minutes and 53 seconds

The clip starts with Danny waking up, sitting at a desk in a modern-looking office. The first line is Seb (Chris Addison) asking, ‘Has anyone offered you a coffee?’ The clip ends after Seb asks Danny, ‘Would you like to breathe into a bag?’

Ask the students how they think they might react in Danny’s position? What do they think it would be like to die, and then wake up to find that there was something more? You could allow the students time to share their own views on what happens after death.

Explain that the topic of what happens after death is something that there is no single Christian perspective on. Different Christian denominations and traditions have different beliefs, although it is possible to summarise these different beliefs into a few broad categories.

Give out the After Death worksheets. Ask the students to read through the summaries of different Christian beliefs about what happens to people after they die, or read through with the class, explaining and clarifying as you go.

The worksheet offers two main alternative beliefs about Heaven, three about Hell and two about Purgatory. Here they are:

Heaven (two main options)

  • Heaven is a real place, and when people die they go there if they have put their faith in Jesus.
  • Death is like a long sleep, until the end of time. God will make a new Heaven and a new Earth and when the dead wake, those whose faith is in Jesus will go there.

Hell (three main options)

  • Hell is a real place, where those who rejected Jesus in life will go for everlasting punishment and suffering.
  • Hell is not a place of punishment, but is a place where those who have rejected Jesus will spend eternity apart from him.
  • Hell is not a real place; those who die without having faith in Jesus will cease to exist (be annihilated).

Purgatory (two main options)

  • Believers who die with unconfessed sin go to Purgatory, where they are punished until they have paid for their sins. The prayers of the faithful on behalf of the dead can reduce the time they spend in Purgatory. (Generally speaking, belief in Purgatory is only found in the Roman Catholic Church, or the Anglo-Catholic faction of the Anglican Church.)
  • Purgatory does not exist at all.

Ask the students to read the Bible passages listed in section two of the worksheet and to write the reference for each next to any of the beliefs listed which the passage seems to support. Make sure that the students are aware that each passage may support more than one belief (for example, a passage might support one particular belief about Heaven as well as another belief about Hell. Another may be open to being interpreted in different ways, thus supporting contradictory beliefs about Heaven or about Hell.)

Here are the Bible passages:

  • Matthew 5:21-22; 27-30; 10:28; 22:1-14; 25:1-13; 25:14-30; 25:31-46
  • John 3:16-18
  • Romans 8:18-25
  • 1 Corinthians 3:11-15
  • 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10
  • Hebrews 9:24-29; 13:14
  • 2 Peter 3:5-10
  • Revelation 20:1-15; 21:1-8

Allow some time for students to feedback and discuss their answers with you and the rest of the class.


Ask the students to write a number of accounts of what happens after death, each representing different perspectives from within the mainstream Christian community.

The following web pages may be helpful for students in further researching this task.


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