PhilosophyReligion and Spirituality

Is Doctor Who A Religion?

It’s an interesting point put forward by PBS’ Mike Rugnetta on the Idea Channel. Doctor Who’s exuberant following, fairly consistent moral judgments, and common symbolism are all called into question when comparing it to religions. I know that my fellow atheist Whovians may be put off by the comparison–but let’s hear what the guy has to say and give him the benefit of the doubt.

If you’re unfamiliar with the basics of Doctor Who, Rugnetta describes them well without spoiling any major plot details, so I’ll not be explaining them. However, I will make references to some details, so please be aware that I might spoil something for you.

The definition of religion which is offered in the video refers to a system of symbols which establish “moods and motivations” and a general order of existence, or “cosmology”. A cosmology is an explanation of the beginnings of the universe. Calling it a ‘general order’ as in the video may be a stretch of the definition, but establishing a general order is typically the function of religion. It has developed all over the world as a way to explain the unexplainable and serve as a guide by which to live your life.

Symbology in Doctor Who ties together different plot points and gives us a sense of continuity. The TARDIS is supposed to camouflage to each environment, but a shorted circuit keeps it as a police call box for continuity’s sake. Tennant’s Doctor asks “Are you my mummy?” with a gas mask, giving us a connection between himself and his previous incarnation. Just as those who know about Christianity think of that religion when they see a cross, Whovians hear the words “Bad Wolf” and think of Rose.

Essentially, the Doctor is cast as a deity in this comparison. He collaborates with humanity and protects us, he has one of the strongest moral compasses and has a consistent philosophy. He dies and is, essentially, resurrected as a new man. However, the Doctor doesn’t want to be revered or recognized. He asks people not to salute him or give him more respect than others (then turns around and swaggers about, making whole armies turn tail). If we see him as a deity, he is definitely a reluctant deity who only directly exposes himself to individuals.

The massive following behind DW finds itself deeply affected by the show. I, myself, have recognized that I’m emotionally affected and swayed by it. (My middle name is Lykou, Greek for ‘wolf’. Yeah.) Some people do use it as the basis for moral judgments in their life, which is surprising when you consider the number of people who have given their lives that the Doctor might live. (Suicide by Doctor, it’s a Thing.)

He promotes working together, coming to conclusions based on evidence and exploration. I’m sure we can all get behind those ideals. He also destroys whole civilizations and is known as the Predator to the Daleks. So, he has some elements of a god and also a devil.

The one main thing that Doctor Who lacks, which I think permanently disqualifies it as a religion, is belief. No reasonably sane person believes that the Doctor actually exists and that time travel in that capacity is actually possible (at this time). Faith in the unbelievable seems to be a main component of many religions. Even if you’re a Buddhist, you believe that a man sat beneath a tree and lived off of fig for an extended length of time. Truly believing in some of this stuff requires a suspension of disbelief at the mental gymnastics level of anti-contraception pro-lifers.

That is not to say that it won’t become a religion, truly believed by thousands. If DW becomes ingrained enough in our culture and its origins forgotten, it may become ‘fact’ in the eyes of the populace. No one was around for Jesus, but people still believe he existed because he was written about by several people.

Do you suppose DW might become a religion, even if it’s not at this point? I’m sure lots of people want the tales to be real, but we all know it’s just actors on a set. Perhaps someday that knowledge will be lost.


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Lux is a female genderqueer weirdo, writing from Kansas. They happily identify as a militant atheist(+), feminist and liberal. Their time is consumed with Doctor Who, reading, and playing WoW with a cat on their lap. If you're lucky, you might catch them smithing jewellery or cleaning something.


  1. November 13, 2012 at 8:12 pm —

    Why would people want the stories to be real? We would have an alien invasion every freaking second. -_-

    • November 13, 2012 at 8:22 pm —

      “The Doctor is worth the monsters.”

      /end of argument :p

  2. November 19, 2012 at 1:32 pm —

    Hee! This totally reminds me of a conversation I had with my husband after watching the TARDIS appear at Amy and Rory’s wedding reception…
    me: *sigh* I wish that had happened at our wedding
    my husband: Noooo… (in an explanatory sort of tone)
    me: Yes, I do.
    my husband: But it’s not real.
    me: That doesn’t mean I don’t wish it had happened.

    In other words, at 36 I may logically know that the Doctor doesn’t exist, but my inner 10-year-old who was emotionally abused by her parents and didn’t really have any friends is still waiting to hear THAT NOISE (whoosh-thump, whoosh-thump) and see the Doctor come around the corner and grin before whisking her off.

    • November 20, 2012 at 8:47 am —

      Yeessss. I know that he’s not real, but damn if I don’t wish he were.

      I’m fairly sure that I’m in love with the Doctor. I mean, I’m married, but I would definitely still run away with him. Luckily, that is not ever going to happen. XD

      We’ll keep the dream alive, though. You can’t prove there ISN’T a guy flying around in a blue box saving the universe.

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