Ethos Education

Doctor Who: Dark Water: What difference does it make when people receive better treatment than they deserve?

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Learning Objectives:

  • Awareness of Christian teaching on forgiveness.
  • Awareness of the importance of forgiveness and repentance in Jesus’ earthly ministry.
  • Understand the concept of grace.

Learning Outcomes:

  • Reflect upon a number of statements concerning consequences.
  • Analyse a clip from the Doctor Who episode Dark Water to understand the difference between grace and what people who have done something wrong really deserve.
  • Analyse Matthew 18:21-35 in order to understand the idea of a debt that is too large to pay off.
  • Reflect upon the differences between the Christian concept of grace and the idea of wiping out wrongdoing by one’s own efforts.
  • Reflect upon the role of the Holy Spirit in helping Christians not to keep on doing wrong things after receiving God’s grace.
  • Synthesise learning by rewriting a scene from an episode of Doctor Who to demonstrate their understanding of Christian teaching about grace, forgiveness and changed lives.


Ask the students to all stand up, and only to sit down if they disagree with the statement you are about to read out (make sure to stand everyone up again between statements). After each one, invite one or two students to give reasons for their agreement or disagreement. Here is a selection of statements, use at least three or four, making sure to finish on the last one listed:

  • People who commit murder should be executed for their crime.
  • If my boyfriend or girlfriend cheated on me, I could never forgive them.
  • A footballer who misses a penalty shouldn’t take his team’s penalties any more.
  • Politicians caught cheating on their expenses should be barred from public office.
  • It is possible to avoid the consequences of our own actions.
  • If someone does something wrong, they deserve to be punished.
  • If I do something wrong, I deserve to be punished.
  • Everybody deserves a second chance.

Explain that in today’s lesson you are going to be thinking more about second chances, and in particular about the Christian concept of grace.


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 Clara (Jenna Coleman) is grieving after the sudden death of her boyfriend Danny. In this scene she goes to elaborate lengths to persuade the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) to help her change the past so that Danny isn’t dead any more. Ask the students to pay particular attention to the Doctor’s reaction to Clara’s high-stakes demands.

  • Start time: 0.05.47 (beginning of chapter 2 of the DVD)
  • End time: 0.14.24
  • Clip length: 8 minutes and 37 seconds

The clip starts with the Tardis in volcanic surroundings. The Doctor wakes up to find Clara standing. The first line is the Doctor saying, ‘Clara?’ The clip ends after the Doctor says, ‘It’s like they inflate.’

Ask the students if they agree with Clara that it would have been absolutely fair for the Doctor to have wanted nothing more to do with her after the way she tried to blackmail him into helping her. Why do they think that the Doctor was willing to help in spite of recognising that Clara had betrayed him? You might want to remind the students of the Doctor’s line, ‘Do you think that I care for you so little that betraying me would make a difference?’ Point out that this line is a helpful way of understanding God’s response when people reject him. Despite their betrayal God continues to love them, and so he still wants to find a way to put things right between himself and the people he made.

Read Matthew 18:21-35 with the students. Ask them what the first servant could have done to wipe out his debt to his king. Draw out that his financial debt was the equivalent of millions of pounds and that there was no way he could ever have paid it off himself. Ask the students to imagine what it would have felt like to try paying off that kind of debt without any help.

Christians believe that everybody – including themselves – are sinners and that everybody has fallen short of God’s standard of perfection (see Romans 3:23-24 for example). This sin is perceived to have consequences in people’s lives today and also far-reaching eternal consequences. In the here and now, sin corrupts people and spoils their character. It creates bad habits and guilty consciences which have an impact on the day-to-day lives of people. Sin also separates people from God, preventing them from enjoying the relationship with him that they were made to have. If the problem of sin is not dealt with, Christians believe it will keep someone separated from God for eternity.

Although the main point of this parable is one of how forgiven people should treat those who seek forgiveness from them, it also serves to illustrate another important concept: grace. Remind students of the earlier discussion about sin. God’s response to the problem of sin was to allow Jesus to take the punishment that everybody else deserved, so that by putting their trust in him anybody can be forgiven. Christians believe that forgiveness is not earned but is a free gift that God offers to everyone despite the fact that nobody deserves it. Clara agreed that she didn’t deserve any further help from the Doctor, but because of their friendship he was willing to venture into the unknown to try to find Danny for her. This is grace – God’s undeserved favour, freely and abundantly given. Students might like to remember the concept using the mnemonic God’s riches at Christ’s expense (although this mnemonic doesn’t include any mention of ‘undeserved’, a vital part of the concept of grace).

Bono, the lead singer of U2, gave an interview in 2010 where he talked about his understanding of grace. Read the following exchange to the class:

  • Bono: ‘You see, at the centre of all religions is the idea of Karma. You know, what you put out comes back to you: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, or in physics; in physical laws every action is met by an equal or an opposite one. It’s clear to me that Karma is at the very heart of the universe. I’m absolutely sure of it. And yet, along comes this idea called Grace to upend all that ‘as you reap, so you will sow’ stuff. Grace defies reason and logic. Love interrupts, if you like, the consequences of your actions, which in my case is very good news indeed, because I’ve done a lot of stupid stuff’.
  • Interviewer: ‘I’d be interested to hear that’.
  • Bono: ‘That’s between me and God. But I’d be in big trouble if Karma was going to finally be my judge. I’d be in deep s—. It doesn’t excuse my mistakes, but I’m holding out for Grace. I’m holding out that Jesus took my sins onto the Cross, because I know who I am, and I hope I don’t have to depend on my own religiosity’.

(You can read more of the interview at Ask the students whether Bono’s description of grace interrupting the consequences of your actions and defying reason and logic fits with what they saw in the film clip and read in the Bible passage.

Ask students what is to stop someone who has received God’s grace from going out and doing lots of bad things again, knowing that they can always be forgiven again. Look at John 14:15-17 and 25-27 with the group. Ask the students (in pairs or small groups) to look at these verses and see what they suggest would prevent a Christian from simply going back to doing whatever they wanted.

Draw out from the students that Christians believe that forgiveness and grace happens in the context of a relationship. Christians believe that God sends the Holy Spirit (the third part of the Trinity) to live with Christians (v17). The Spirit’s role is to help Christians to become better at recognising the things in their lives that need to change, and to be better at living the way God wants them to (v26).


Ask the students to re-write the conversation between Clara and the Doctor, so that the Doctor’s explanation of his decision to help Clara reflects Christian teaching about grace, forgiveness and changed lives.


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