For Doctor Who to venture into religious and philosophical territory is not only an act quite ambitious in itself, but is also truly unexpected from a television series that takes pride in its unabashed cheesiness and appeal to the younger demographic.  Moreover, Russell T. Davies is openly an atheist, and for an episode such as this to emerge from the series is quite telling.  It somehow challenges its audiences to separate the often intricately intertwined concepts of religion and faith, and even reflect on the ways through which they respond to them.

One of the highlights of The Satan Pit is when The Beast finally manifests itself in its full form.  Despite having caught the brief scene where The Beast’s head was projected via hologram, I was slightly disappointed that it had indeed taken on a form too similar to the Judeo-Christian perspective of the embodiment of evil.  It is massive and red, with horns indicating how the early Christians bastardized Pan the satyr as an attack against paganism.  There are different ways of conceiving of the form of evil, which The Doctor himself acknowledges —

The Doctor: If you are The Beast, then answer me this: which one?  ‘Cause the universe has been busy since you’ve been gone. There’s more religions than there are planets in the sky. The Archivits, Pordonity, Christianity, Pash-Pash, New Judaism, Sanclar, Church of the Tin Vagabond…  Which devil are you?

The Beast: All of them.

The Doctor: What?  Then you’re the truth behind the myth?

— and for The Beast to claim his Judeo-Christian form as the ultimate form of all evil, amidst an entire constellation of diverse mythological beliefs, is pretty strange.  It doesn’t quite work for me as I was expecting something even more terrifying, unfamiliar, and unknowable, yet my hunch behind this move is that the writers wished to capitalize on that which was most familiar to Doctor Who audiences.  Perhaps, they believed that even the most recognized fears can be the most terrifying, as they are in some ways archetypal — they resonate with a person’s deepest core.

Speaking of terror, The Beast capitalizes on the fears of all the crew members, taunting them for all their weaknesses and insecurities.  It even foreshadows Rose’s fate as “the valiant child who will die in battle so very soon” (spoiler alert for the season finale!)  Such behavior is indeed reminiscent of how Satan behaves in the Bible — he thrives on fear, insecurity, and division.

Interestingly, there also seems to be some fear on The Doctor’s part — he is fearful enough at one point to want to retreat — an unbecoming trait perhaps brought about by the fact that he faces an enemy he doesn’t fully know.  Knowing, after all, is half the battle.  And The Beast’s existence doesn’t quite fit into The Doctor’s paradigm for understanding the world — the “rules” by which he believes all things thrive and exist. This point emphasizes how beliefs, no matter how potent or no matter how widely accepted, may not always hold true.  There will always be things beyond our own limited models of coming to terms with the vastness of the cosmos.

Furthermore, the context through which the following lines are delivered …

The Doctor: That’s impossible.  No life could have existed back then.

The Beast: Is that your religion?

The Doctor: It’s a belief.

… draws a line between religion and belief, implying that to believe or to have faith in something is not necessarily to participate in a shared religion.  Personal belief is not always integrated into the organized system of religion, and religion is not always reflective of personal belief.  Case in point: TV as religion, as cult object, anyone?

Yet there is one thing that The Doctor believes in, and that is Rose.  He take a leap of faith by choosing to destroy The Beast, knowing that this will in turn destroy the entire planet and hurl it into the black hole, but with faith that Rose will safely figure her way out.  It’s a beautiful expression of love, I think, to express having faith in a person.  In a way, it reminds me of Gabriel Marcel’s quote, “Love is saying to another: you will not die.”  To have such a strong faith and love in somebody is essentially to anoint them as eternal.  That faith and that love is enough to keep them alive.

At the end of it all, The Doctor recognizes that the entirety of the universe still provides some uncharted territory — and that the reason behind all his traveling is to be “proven wrong” in his beliefs.  In the episode’s conclusion, he accepts, in some act of humility, that there are things beyond him and his own understanding, and that the day he knows everything is the day he might as well stop.

It serves not only as a beautiful allegory on the importance of knowledge, but also of how faith and belief somehow operates in our lives.  To stop having faith in something, it seems, is to give up an important aspect of what makes us truly human.