Die hard Doctor Who fans who readily admit to worshipping the show may well have sympathy for recent claims that the long-running BBC sci-fi drama has aided our cultural understanding of religion.
Dr Andrew Crome, a lecturer in the History of Modern Christianity at the University of Manchester, says Doctor Who has given viewers a much wider understanding of many religious traditions during its 50-year history – and even recommends that it be used to help teach Religious Studies in schools.
“In many ways, Doctor Who charts British attitudes to religion over the course of those 50 years,” said Dr Crome.
“Over the show’s long history on television – and in various spin-off TV shows, audio adventures, novels and comic books – religion and religious themes have consistently been a subject of interest.
“The show has attracted everything from Church of England conferences dedicated to its use in preaching, to guest appearances by [high-profile atheist[ Richard Dawkins.”
Dr Crome, himself a Doctor Who fan, is co-editor of a new book, Time and Relative Dimensions in Faith, examining the relationship between Doctor Who and religion.
And so convinced is he that the series has valuable things to say about the subject, he believes it could be made part of the educational curriculum.
“Religion has always had some role within the universes of Doctor Who and I would argue there is a good case for using Doctor Who to teach Religious Studies” said Dr Crome.
Crome has identified numerous examples of the appearance of religion and religious allegories in Doctor Who but says the exact focus has varied throughout the years
“There’s no single theme: in the 1970s, you might argue there was subversive element in that a number of Doctor Who episodes were critical of religion.
“But other episodes have endorsed different beliefs in that believers see the show as a way to define themselves.”
Barry Letts, an influential director and producer on Doctor Who between 1967 and 1973, was a Buddhist who regularly referred to his religion through the show – perhaps most notably during the 1974 episode in which Jon Pertwee regenerates into Tom Baker’s fourth Doctor with the help of Tibetan Buddhist monk.
The Doctor’s original foes the Daleks have been depicted as religious fundamentalists according to Dr Crome, while current showrunner Steven Moffat is said to have shown the Church of England as a paramilitary Christian group.
The 2007 Christmas Special Voyage of the Damned caused some Christian groups to complain about overt messianic imagery, while Gridlock, an episode show later that year, was viewed by others as a Christian allegory, and nominated for an Evangelical award in the US.