On a Whovian Theology

Okay, I lied. I’m still on a Doctor Who high at the moment. Yes, I did say a few days ago that, just last week, actually, oh let’s see what the quote was, “hopefully I’ll be writing about something other than Doctor Who for a while.” It happens.

Something I came across in my ‘net travels–a dissertation on the “Theology of Doctor Who.” From its introduction: “Firstly, it is an examination of the treatment of religion and religious themes throughout the series. This will show how Doctor Who is influenced by its context, and by the individual writers who shape it. [SNIP] Secondly, this dissertation examines the theological implications of Doctor Who. This reading will draw on a theological interpretation of the story and themes of Doctor Who including the nature of good and evil and what it means to be human.”

Hmm, said I. This sounds fascinating.

Links:

I’m going to have to sit down and study this. It’s interesting to see a Christian theologian praise Who producer Russell T. Davies for his “atheist agenda” because it allowed stories about religion–like “The Impossible Planet”/”The Satan Pit”–to be told that questioned the nature of belief and the human need for belief. At the same time, there’s discussion of Erich von Daniken and what extent his ideas may have influenced the series. The writer knows his Whovian material, that’s for sure.

There’s some discussion of how the Doctor fulfills the Campbellian archetypes, which reminded me of this passage from Lawrence Miles’ analysis of “Utopia” (which, actually, had nothing to do with “Utopia” and everything to do with anthropology):

“The incongruous inside the mundane” is the essence of Doctor Who because Doctor Who relies on the most primal, mythic imagery in order to function, and for human beings, there’s nothing more primal than that mind / body divide: it’s the thing that’s been with us ever since we started to use tools, ever since our ancestors began to realise that a big sharp rock could become an extension of the human body, and thus reached the conclusion that the body itself is just a tool of an invisible, untouchable Inner Self which somehow pulls all the levers. The divide is human culture, in a way. It’s the notion that’s shaped all our ideas about identity and society, even though it doesn’t really exist. From the Trick Top Hat of the TARDIS to the vulnerable, techno-dependent squid-horror of the Daleks, this programme has spent more than forty years working on the same primal impulse, and dear God it sounds as if I’m writing the closing speech of a BBC4 documentary now. But even the Doctor himself, a man who gets a new body at irregular intervals while somehow keeping the same indefinable core of Doctoryness, can’t survive without that imagery. If you are familiar with BBC4 documentaries, then you may have seen the channel’s recent history of children’s television, in which one modern-day four-year-old excitedly explained that ‘the old Doctor turns into the new Doctor!’… and said it with exactly the same conviction as a Christian claiming that ‘on the third day, he rose again’. Well, naturally. Both events seem equally irrational, but both have the same aesthetic logic. They appeal to the same human impulse. The Inner Self. The immortality nerve.

Which, of course, reminds me of the cartoon that showed a conversation between a Jehovah’s Witness and a Whovian–of course the Doctor is a better saviour than Jesus; the Doctor has thirteen lives while Jesus only has two. 😉

The one weakness I’ve noted is that the Buddhist and Pagan origins of Who are covered at greater length in the About Time series from Lawrence Miles and Tat Woods, so the chapter on Barry Letts and the Buddhist influence he brought to Doctor Who feels all too cursory.

The links, btw, are really for my reference. The problem with posting something like a dissertation on a blog is that blogs generally run backwards in time. The links put the chapters in the right order, for a coherent reading. Some of the footnotes are fascinating, though–there’s a reference to a book that discusses Gene Roddenberry’s “The God-Thing,” and I may have to seek that out.

One thought on “On a Whovian Theology

  1. Allyn,

    Thanks a lot for these links. I am fan of the Doctor and I am interested in theology so this should be a great read. I do like how the stories about the Doctor have a kind of mythology in the story telling that helps us ask questions about humanity, morality, science, the universe and even God.

    I am not sure yet why Russell T. Davies is accused of having an “atheistic agenda”; is that something he has said? I don’t sense any kind of agenda from the show- so I don’t get that particular observation. I’ll have to find some time soon to read the posts so I can get some context and explore his thoughts about Doctor Who and theology more.

    Thanks for the post, I am glad I found your blog.

    Peace,

    James

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