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Time Lord show is who's who of faith, says new book

One of Britain’s most popular TV shows ever should be recognised for its contribution to the UK’s religious culture, according to a University of Manchester academic ...

One of Britain’s most popular TV shows ever should be recognised for its contribution to the UK’s religious culture, according to a University of Manchester academic.

Dr Andrew Crome, says Doctor Who – which is celebrating its 50th anniversary next month – has given its fans a much wider of understanding of many religious traditions.

The lecturer in the History of Modern Christianity, and Dr Who fan, has edited a book (right) on the cultural legacy of the programme, published by Darton, Longman and Todd, to mark the anniversary.

Dr Crome has also organised a Religion and Dr Who day on 2 November, with Doctor Who audio writer and Church of England minister Caroline Symcox as keynote speaker. Cultural commentators from across the world will be attending.

According to Dr Crome, Buddhism has been a strong theme, especially in the first 20 or so years of the show.

Producer Barry Letts, a Buddhist who died in 2009, regularly referred to his religion: for example, the episode in which Jon Pertwee’s Doctor regenerated into Tom Baker was based in a Tibetan Buddhist meditation centre.

Writer Russell T. Davies, who revived the show in 2005, promotes atheism in his writing, says the lecturer.

The Daleks, he says, have been depicted as religious fundamentalists while recently Steven Moffat has depicted 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.

On the other hand Gridlock from the same year, was viewed by some as a Christian allegory, and nominated for an Evangelical award in the US.

There have also been depictions of paganism and Ancient Greek and Egyptian mythology.

Dr Crome said: “As Doctor Who celebrates its 50th anniversary, we mark its importance as a cultural phenomenon in both the UK and the United States.

“In many ways, Doctor Who charts British attitudes to religion over the course of those 50 years and this is a way of recognising that.  

"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.

“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 Richard Dawkins.”

He added: “There’s no single theme: in the 1970s, you might argue there was subversive element in that a number of Dr 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.”

  • Time and Relative Dimensions in Faith: Religion and Doctor Who, edited by Andrew Crome and James McGrath, is published by Darton, Longman and Todd
  • Religion and Doctor Who Day will be held at the John Rylands Library on Saturday (2 November)

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