Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast. (Psalm 139:7-10)
The Doctor’s identity as the “Last of the Time Lords” is emphasized throughout the first few series of New Who, the idea that he is the last of his kind, the only one of his race left in existence. He is, he believes, alone in the universe.
This theme is explored on a larger scale in the 3rd series episode, “Gridlock.” The Doctor and Martha Jones find themselves in a very different 15-times-new New York than the bright, white city he had previously visited with Rose Tyler, misadventures with cat nuns notwithstanding. They find dark alleys full of drug sellers and an exhaust-choked motorway full of cars going nowhere, vehicles that, quite literally, have been stuck in traffic for years.
Throughout the episode, the Doctor and Martha meet a variety of denizens of the motorway as they make their way back to each other after Martha is kidnapped. Each small group has made a home in the midst of its isolation, waiting, creeping forward inches at a time, looking forward to the day when they might finally reach an exit and escape the madness. Rarely do they see others. Their radio calls to the police never get a response. They are fending for themselves.
What if they have been abandoned to the motorway, what if there are no exits to greener pastures after all? “We’re not abandoned,” Brannigan tells the Doctor, “not while we have each other.” Brannigan is referring to his wife and their kittens, but the daily radio broadcast reminds each car load that there are many others listening in many other cars at the same time. It never really provides new information, but it always ends with an ancient song so well-known to everyone that they all stop to sing along, something that has become somewhat of an anthem for all of them. It is neither a great work of classical music nor an iconic pop song that has survived the millions of years and millions of light years. It is a far more interesting choice - the old familiar hymn “The Old Rugged Cross.”
I wonder what the people of New...New York make of the words, or if they even look beyond the comforting familiarity to examine them. Regardless of Russell T. Davies’ intentions, though, the hymn is a potent reminder to Christians that we are never alone. Even when we are stuck in the rat race of life, unable to exit the endless traffic jam and choking, poisonous air, and all of our cries for help seem to go unanswered, we “cherish the Old Rugged Cross” because of the one who died there and rose again, the one who goes with us every step of the way and reminds us that we are never abandoned.