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The Bible According to Doctor Who

By Gerald Joblin

Religion may not appear to most to have a very prominent place in the mythos of Doctor Who. But upon examination, it is apparent that since the beginning the show has used biblical episodes and Christian ideas as background, parallels and general dramatic inspiration. Whether these are intentional or not is often impossible to tell, but the influence is sometimes very obviously there.

It may well be that there are some who believe this article to be embarrassingly out of place. However, most fans I know are thoughtful and questioning so I therefore regard it as an opportunity to be seized.

Writer Bill Cotton once said: "We have had quite a number of letters from the clergy, many of whom seem to like Doctor Who because Good always triumphs, and Evil is confounded", and producer John Wiles recalled a story idea he'd had which would have given the show greater and more obvious religious content: "Imagine being in a spaceship and you see yourself right up against this gigantic face - the very face of God. There is so much wonder of the miraculous in the Universe that is never exploited." The Face of God was deemed too sensitive an idea to incorporate into the show and for this reason never got off the ground.

The Doctor
Rather than being simply a degree or title, I feel that his name has a deeper significance. He arrives in a situation or civilisation at a critical time and sorts out their problems, bringing communal and/or personal salvation, wholeness or healing by preventing a war, liberating the oppressed or finding a cure for a disease - "They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick." (Matthew 9.12). In this sense the Doctor can be viewed almost as a 'Christ figure'.

Arc of Infinity
In this story the Doctor fits the role of the 'Christ figure' mentioned above, as it is virtually a Gallifreyan version of the Easter story. The Doctor returns to the Capitol (Jerusalem) where he is betrayed by a friend, Hedin (Judas Iscariot) who is working for Omega (the devil). He is arrested by Maxil and the Chancellery Guards (officers of the temple guard), taken to the High Council (the Jewish Council of teachers of the law, chief priests and elders), where he is found guilty and sentenced to death by Lord President Borusa (the Roman governor Pilate). He is taken to the Termination Chamber (Golgotha, the Place of the Skull) where he is terminated (crucified). He goes to the Matrix (heaven) but materialises back on Gallifrey (the resurrection). The dialogue at some stages almost quotes the scriptures, especially when Thalia says, "If we spare the Doctor we condemn untold millions to destruction. That is the choice we face here.", parallelling Caiaphas's decision during the plot against Jesus: "...it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not." (John 11.50)

Kinda
This story also hints at an early biblical episode, the disobedience of man in Genesis 3.1-13. Tegan (Eve) is possessed by the serpent-like Mara (the devil/snake) in the jungle paradise on the planet Deva Loka (The Garden of Eden).

Snakedance
There are yet more parallels in this, the sequel to Kinda. The wise old man Dojjen (Moses) abandoned his post as Manussan Director/Federator (Egyptian prince) and fled to live in the desert (Exodus 2.11-16). He took a snake and put it on a pole. "...every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live." (Numbers 21.8-9). The Snakedance itself, an ability of the mind, appears to be described in Mark 16.17-18: believers will be given the power to perform miracles: "...they shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover."

The Ark / The Ark in Space
Both of these adventures see the future population and life of Earth on a huge spaceship, escaping the uninhabitable planet, based on the biblical episode of Noah and the flood from Genesis 6-8, and in Matthew 24.37-39 Jesus says that the last days will be like what happened in the time of Noah. In The Ark in Space the Earth has been ravaged by solar flares; in Revelation 20.9 before the end of the Earth, "fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them."

The Dæmons
Azal, a devil-like outer-space creature, is described in the novel as "a figure with the legs of a great animal... with its cloven hooves; its face was the face of a devil; while from its brow swept two magnificent goat horns." and in Leviticus 16.5-10, 20-27 God tells the Israelites to send the "scapegoat" into the desert to the demon Azazel.

The Armageddon Factor / Enlightenment
These stories show the ultimate personifications of Good and Evil, the Black and White Guardians, together the closest Doctor Who has come to portraying God and the Devil. The White Guardian wears a dove on his head, and at the baptism of Jesus "the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him." (Matt 3.16). The Black Guardian wears a raven and in Isaiah 34.11 ravens will take over the land of the people whom the Lord has condemned to destruction. Their differences are summed up in Genesis 8.6-12: while still in the ark, Noah "sent forth a raven", but it did not come back, unlike the dove which returned to him with a fresh olive leaf in its beak. In The Armageddon Factor, the Doctor faces the Black Guardian, disguised as the White Guardian; "Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light." (II Corinthians 11.14-15). Also, in Enlightenment the White Guardian says to the Black Guardian "You will never destroy the light" - parallelling John 1.4-5 which says that "The light shineth in darkness" and the darkness has never put it out.

City of Death / Earthshock
These are the first of four Doctor Who stories which attribute the acts of Creation to spaceship explosions, caused by aliens - some modern theologians are of the opinion that God is an alien astronaut! In City of Death it is Scaroth's Jagaroth ship which explodes and creates life on Earth. In Earthshock, a time-travelling space freighter explodes, an incident which apparently gives rise to the human race.

Terminus / Slipback
Two more stories tackle creation on a grander scale - involving the entire universe (Genesis 1.1-19). In Terminus the universe comes about through the explosion from one of a giant space craft's engines in an earlier universe, and in Slipback, possibly set in an alternative universe, the explosion of a galactic survey ship called the Vipod Mor is responsible for the creation of the universe.

Battlefield
The monster of this story is the Destroyer (another demon intent on destroying the world from a church by witchcraft) who, in Rev 9.11 is "the angel of the bottomless pit."

That's all I can find apart from some more obvious yet comparatively minor references which I didn't include, e.g. The Massacre, The Crusade, The Awakening, Ghost Light, The Curse of Fenric - I could go on.

I can only find two references in the novels which weren't on TV. The first is from The Doomsday Weapon p.137 in which John Ashe reads the Bible - "It contained four versions of a story about a man who sacrificed his own life for the sake of others. It was this part of the book that most interested Ashe, because it was so difficult to understand. Why, he asked himself, should anyone willingly give his own life for other people?" This later results in Ashe's sacrifice for his follow colonists.

I'll finish with a pertinent quote from another Malcom Hulke book, The Dinosaur Invasion. On p.141, the Doctor gets Sarah to read Ezekiel 1.5-6 from the Bible, then tells her "The whole Universe is full of mysteries. The important thing is to keep an open mind."

This item appeared in TSV 33 (April 1993).