So here’s the thing about Rory Williams: he doesn’t really fit in.
First, some context. Doctor Who is a television show birthed in 1963 and initially envisioned as a children’s program. Over the course of more than five decades, however, it transformed into a science fiction phenomenon complete with its own devoted fan base poring over every aspect of the show’s history, arc, characters, and impact. Part of its appeal comes from the titular character. The Doctor is an alien from Gallifrey, human in nearly every way except for the fact that Gallifreyans have two hearts and can regenerate when close to dying. More, this particular Gallifreyan can travel anywhere in time or space. He goes from place to place, time to time, a wandering soul in search of adventure. He is generally kind, always magnetic, and sometimes lonely being. The Doctor nearly always has friends who join in on the escapades. These friends are called “companions” and reflect the audience’s wonder and excitement in exploring the universe with him.
Rory Williams was a companion. What made him unique was the fact that he didn’t want to travel with the Doctor. Nearly all of the other companions couldn’t bear to watch the Doctor fly off after encountering him. They begged him to allow them to join him on his adventures. They cajoled him to let them travel in his TARDIS, a time machine disguised as an old blue police box. They leaped forward into adventure, straining to leave the confines of their own life, their own familiar time and space on Earth for the unfamiliar excitement of time and space fully unknown.
Not Rory.Like Rory in Doctor Who, we are called to show up in the difficult places, called to be near broken people and called to uncomfortable situations.
He was a simple man who desired a simple life—a wife, a baby, a steady job. But he fell in love with Amy Pond when he was very young and, unknown to him, that simple fact would alter his entire existence. Amy Pond was a typical companion. She wanted adventure in the Great Wide Somewhere and when the Doctor visited her as a young girl, she never forgot. When he came back for her after she was grown, she leaped at the chance to travel with him. Rory got pulled into her adventures, bound not to the Doctor but to Amy. Rory was a nurse, a stark contrast in both name and character between himself and the Doctor. He was easily frightened and preferred his feet firmly rooted to the earth. But he loved Amy Pond. This is his defining characteristic. Initially introduced as her “sort-of” boyfriend, he allowed his love for her to lead him into all kinds of wild places and stories.
Rory started off his journey as a young man, afraid and insecure. That didn’t stop him. As he traveled with Amy the Doctor, he experienced death and rebirth multiple times. Once, he returned to life as a Roman Centurion who was made of plastic. This alternate reality Rory, still in love with Amy, volunteered to guard her while she was in stasis. He protected her for two thousand years, earning himself the moniker The Last Centurion. Although his heroic act paved the way for all reality, including his own self, to be restored to its correct form, The Last Centurion did not forget his experience. He married Amy and then this brave Centurion later returned to search the universe for Amy and their child.
Even after experiencing all these majestic moments, Rory does not fit the typical mold of those who travel with the Doctor. His overarching quality is always his love for Amy, not a desire for adventure or a deep-seated need to get away from his own life. He was quite content with life on Earth. And in the TARDIS, he remained content in his life because he was with Amy. He was rarely the driving force in the circumstances in which the travelers found themselves. He grew to participate fully in his own life but still never really followed the pattern of those around him. He was a stranger in many strange lands. But he just kept showing up. His love for Amy changed his entire life.
Seeing Ourselves in the Story
How similar might it be for us as Christians? We too are called to be strangers in a strange land. We may not meet a time-traveling alien with two hearts with an old blue box but we’ll surely see many strange things. More than that, we ourselves are strange. We don’t fit in. Rory was an Earthbound man traveling all manner of time and space, defined by his love. We are heaven-bound people firmly rooted in this particular time and space. And yet what should define us is our love.
We live in a world of confusion, a time of misunderstanding that leads to hatred. A time of Other versus Other, Us versus Them, Me versus You. The lines are drawn hard and fast in some places, stern lines carved in stone, unyielding and unmoving. And yet we are called to show up in the difficult places, called to be near broken people and called to uncomfortable situations. Most importantly, we are called to love in the midst of it all.
Doctor Who tells the story of Rory, who left his place of familiarity and comfort because of his great love for Amy. The gospel tells the story of God, who willingly chose to leave his place of familiarity and comfort because of His great love for the human race. This perfect God-man chose to associate and be with us although He was not like us. Although clothed in skin like us, He was and is different. And yet He loved so deeply, even to the point of death. And so we too, as His followers, are called to walk in that same love (John 13:35).
One of the most impressive moments of Rory’s entire arc is in the last episode in which he appears. Over the many episodes prior, he continued to show up for adventures and matured as a result. He, Amy, their daughter, and the Doctor are trapped in a paradox of the space-time continuum. Rory, caught on a rooftop, realizes that if he jumps to his death, the paradox will heal itself and they all will wake up where they were before the paradox occurred. At least, he thinks and hopes this is the case. So he climbs up onto the ledge, spreads his arms wide, and prepares to fall. Amy, realizing what he is about to do, demands to know why he is doing it. He responds with his conjecture then tells her to push him. Amy can’t do it. She asks him, “If it were me, could you do it?”
“To save you,” Rory responds, “I could do anything.”
In this moment, Rory has come full circle. Once a timid nurse, not fitting the mold, too frightened to go traveling and too insecure to trust the one he loves, he now is brave enough to die to save her. Still frightened, he stands on the edge of the rooftop, arms outstretched and declares, in so many words, that he would die to save her.
We too have one who declares this truth to us. The holy scriptures tell us that greater love has no one than he that lays down his life for his friends. Even more astonishing, is that Jesus laid down His life for us when we hated Him. This love, so powerful that it transcends all other powers in the entire universe, doesn’t fit in to feeble, human understandings of love. This love embraces the unlovely, cherishes the broken, and lifts up the weak. As we manifest this love to the world, we stand out. And we should. We should stand out from among the crowd and be known by our radical love; a love that seeks the good of the other; a love that builds up instead of tearing down. This allows us to face our fears, no matter what they are, as we are propelled by love. And as we grow in love and reflect the love of Christ, we are able to go to great lengths that His love may be known.
Like Rory, we must continue to show up for our own adventure, despite a path that is difficult, arduous, and unknown. We may not seek the adventure for our own sake. But, for the sake of others, we can be present in love and care. There is no telling the adventures that await those who are faithful to their calling, to those who walk in love even to the point of death.
As for Rory, he chose to fall off the rooftop. The paradox resolved and all went back to the way it had been. All was safe until one last Weeping Angel touched him, sending him hurtling back through time in a fixed point that could not be undone. He could never see the Doctor again. In that moment, Amy was faced with a choice—continue traveling with the Doctor or be sent back in time with Rory. Should she follow Rory, her time with the Doctor would be over, forever. She made her choice without hesitation. “It will be alright,” she told the Doctor. “I’ll be with him.” And she allowed the Weeping Angel to touch her as well. Rory’s life of loving sacrifice had left such a mark that Amy was willing to do anything it took in order to stay with him.
This is the meaning of it. This is what it’s all about. This is what it means for us to love lavishly and sacrificially.