The Church of Who?

By Phil Plait | October 5, 2012 10:09 am

I have been remiss about keeping up with the new season of Doctor Who – I have the episodes recorded but haven’t had a chance to watch yet, so no spoilers, sweeties! – but this has not in any way tarnished my love for the show.

But love has different levels, different strengths. While I do very much enjoy the show and think about it a lot as any geek does, I don’t think I would say I worship it. Still, I had to smile as I watched this video by Mike Rugnetta at the PBS Idea Channel, where he asks: is Doctor Who a religion?

It’s a funny idea, and he certainly brings a lot of evidence to the table! If I were taking the question seriously, I’d say it’s not a religion unless people actually believe the show is real. Otherwise, it’s more of a philosophy.

But then, of course, there’s this. Hmmm:

Thinking on this more, though, I suspect that if I had to start a church of Who, it wouldn’t have the Doctor as the central figure. Clearly, if you watch this, you’ll see it’s Karen Gillan who possesses supernatural powers.

Of course, my choice of Ms. Gillan here has nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that when I attended the Doctor Who panel at Comic Con this year and went up to take this photo, she looked right at me:

Sigh. My heart may belong to River Song, but what can I say? Unlike the Doctor, I’m only human.

Tip o’ the sonic to Nerdist.

Related Posts:

Comic Con 2012
Time and Relative Dimensions IN ROCK (also I Am the Piano Doctor Man)
Dragon*Con 2011
My Nerdist episode is online
My Late Late Show segment is now online

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Geekery, Humor, Piece of mind, Religion

Comments (42)

  1. I’ve been catching up with Doctor Who. I’m now on last season (before the current one) and just got done with The Rebel Flesh and The Almost People. When I’m all caught up, I’ll watch the old episodes. I’ve even been thinking of building my own sonic screwdriver. (It’d be a pen to be functional and possibly light up.) While I wouldn’t call Doctor Who my religion, I’d definitely call it my addiction.

    Oh, and that Home On The Strange/Doctor Who comic is great. “When he comes back eight more times he can talk to me.”

  2. dessy

    Fanboy Alert!!!!

  3. noen

    Dr. Who is a romantic drama that used to be a science fiction serial. It no longer has any scientific content. The Doctor’s sonic screwdriver is little more than a glorified magic wand and the situations they encounter are pure fantasy and not even remotely plausible in this world (sometimes not in any possible world).

    The show used to care about things other than the internal psychic dramas of the companions and whether or not the Doctor was sufficiently attending to their needs. It was about science and intellect triumphing over ignorance and stupidity. Or they were historical set pieces like Marco Polo.

    But… it is just a kiddie show that adults can also enjoy anyway.

  4. Aaron

    Crap, if Karen Gillen made eye contact with me I think I would genuinely freeze like a deer in headlights.
    She makes me swoon like a Victorian lady.

  5. Fizz

    That bowling was the most fun thing i have watched in an extremely long time…

  6. Chris

    I always drop everything I’m doing and watch Doctor Who as soon as possible. Mainly because I fear I may die and not see latest episode. I guess in that sense Doctor Who is like a religion, it gives me a reason to live. Geez I really need to get a girlfriend, don’t I?

  7. Keith Bowden

    *sigh* Ah, Karen…

    I’ve only seen the first three episodes (and not even the xmas special) of “season 7” *ahem*, but it’s been a fun ride so far!

  8. Almir Germano

    Man, she was staring at you! Do as she commands!

  9. Sometimes I get the feeling that a lot of people claim to be Trekkies and Dr. fans just to establish geek cred. And while it does make them geeks, it’s not a flattering kind and not the kind they think they’re getting.

  10. Bill

    I hate to ask, Phil…but are you sure it was you she was looking at and not the camera?

  11. I see it’s time to bring back the basics. “Doctor Who” was devised in 1963 as a semi-educational show for the whole family, to fill in the empty space on Saturday evenings between sports and prime time. It has never been particularly about science above the “Popular Mechanics” level, and it has never been about history above the “Life Magazine special issue” level. The present-day science is usually OK, but the future science is even more nonsensical than that of “Star Trek”.

    That doesn’t mean it isn’t great entertainment. It is, and it always has been, except, perhaps, for the era when John Nathan Turner began to lose the distinction between SF and surrealism. But don’t confuse it with, on the scientific side, “Men into Space”, or, on the dramatic, “Babylon 5”. Just accept it for what it is and enjoy it.

  12. Hey in the UK Jedi is an official religion, so maybe Doctor Who is next.

    I wonder if any real world religions just started off as stories for people’s entertainment way back in pre-history and later generations started taking those stories just a wee bit too seriously.

  13. Noen (#3): Thank heavens you said that! After all – when I write about how much I like a show, link to times I’ve discussed happily it in the past, and include pictures I myself have taken of the actors – I was hoping someone would come in here and be a huge wet blanket and try to ruin all the fun.

    Helpful hint: when I – or anyone – talks in some way about something they really like, you are under no obligation whatsoever to chime in saying you don’t like it. None. In fact, not doing that might be the right thing to do.

    Consider this a reminder.

  14. Maria

    Doctor Who is and has always been a glorious romp with occasional dashes or cups of cheekiness, sentimentality, darkness, sadness, nonsensicalness, zanyness, creepyness, and absurdity thrown in. Even the old Who. Netflix has a bunch of the old episodes on streaming but mostly on DVD. Not nearly enough. :(

    Oh, to start the new religion off right:

    I have to add, seeing poor old 9th in the corner there…. I re watched Eccleston’s entire turn as the doctor recently. I wish he’d had a slightly longer go at it. He doesn’t get nearly enough love or credit.

  15. Fizz

    I’ve been a Who fan since the 10th Doctor, and then retroactively watched them all from 9 onwards.

    But would i call it a religion? No. A few people might be religious about it (depending on your definition of ‘religion’), but if the quality went down people would stop watching. They don’t watch out of fear or sense of duty. People watch because it is fun.

    I prefer to call it sci-fantasy. Or perhaps scientasy?

    No more until the Newtonmas special though. So you’ve got some time to catch up, Phil. :)

  16. Peter Davey

    For those disatisfied with Dr Who, you might be interested to know that a new series of “Red Dwarf” has just materialised, after an absence of ten years.

    Interestingly, Professors Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen (who has collaborated with a number of science fiction authors), in their book “The Science of Discworld” (with assistance from Terry Pratchett) refer to science as providing “stories” to assist humanity in its understanding of the way the Universe works.

    Some years ago, as you may be aware, one Professor Frank Tipler produced a scientific paper entitled “Rotating Cylinders and the possible violation of Global Causality”, which, if accurate, would enable the human race to do everything the Time Lords could do, if not so easily (Tipler’s idea would require cylinders of ultra dense matter rotating at greater than one half lightspeed – still, everyone has to start somewhere).

    The science fiction writer, Poul Anderson, used the principles in Tipler’s paper in his novel, “The Avatar” (no relation to the film), with a spaceship zigzagging across time and space in a desperate attempt to return to Earth.

    From imagination to reality – and possibly back again.

  17. Juan

    Some of us do have a certain religious fervor about the show. Personally, I just want to tell everyone about it. Share the Good News, I would say.

    “Hello, Sir. Do you have a moment to talk about the Doctor?”

  18. Reno Hates Me

    The older I get the more I find myself pulling my personal life philosophy from Dr. Who.

    And I find that disturbing until I think about what I’m taking away from this show: the idea that experiences are more important than material goods, the idea that we should push ourselves past the boundaries of our comfort levels, the idea that we can all be better than we think if we just try.

    These ideas from a television show helped push me to take a solo trip to Thailand this summer to do volunteer work. I’m not sure if I would have done that without inspiration from Dr. Who.

    Does that make it a religion? Of course not. But it does make it highly influential to my life (more so than any “other” religion). And, unlike other religions, no one has started a war over Dr. Who.


  19. Crux Australis

    Gash darn, that made my Saturday 😀

  20. Frost Bite

    An interesting story(rather than a truthful one)is the basis of all religions, a Church of Who is plausible in the future. After all, there is Scientology.

  21. Chet Twarog

    Thanks for putting in the exclusive ten pin bowling celebrity vid. It was a joy to see them more personally.

  22. Grand Lunar

    The team bowling was great.
    I’m surprised you didn’t mention Wil Wheaton was in it as well!

    Like others have said, I watched the show religiously, though I wouldn’t call it a religion. At least, not yet. 😉

    I say “watched”, because at my current place of residence, they don’t get BBC America.
    This has left me sad.

    Closest thing I have to fill the void in my life (or lack thereof!) is “NCIS”.
    Fun as that can be, it’s nowhere near “Doctor Who”.*

    *Willing to be many people will yell at me for those remarks.

  23. Jess Tauber

    I dunno about religion, but I think we should have new constellations, with Karen/Amelia’s face being circumpolar, so I can stare at her every clear night in the Northern Hemisphere (Rory should get the southern pole, not that I’m trying to keep them apart or anything but if he could stand 2000 years as a plastic centurion I’m sure he can wait for stellar drift to bring them together again). Oh, and Phil SPOILERS- if the Doctor can fake his own death a little while back, there is no reason that the Weeping Angels have to be unshakeable killjoys either. Seeing may be believing, but what exactly did we see? Show me the beef!

  24. Krissy

    First, if Doctor Who is a religion, I pick David Tennant to play the part of god…

    To be honest, though, I haven’t managed to really get into this season yet, though I’ve only watched the first three episodes so hopefully it’ll pick up soon. I guess I’d gotten too used to the really strong story arcs in the last few seasons, so the return to good ole random adventuring was a bit of a shock to the system. Who knows, this may be one of the seasons that plays better on the second go-round.

    P.S. If you enjoy disecting your favorite media (I know not everyone does, so ignore this if it’s not for you), is great and really thought-provoking. And hey, what’s a religion without a few skeptics/reformers?

  25. Bruce

    The people who think Dr. Who is real are the same morons that worship the religion of global warming.

  26. Gavin Flower

    I think that the people who can’t see the clear evidence of global warming are the morons!

    It is the existence of global warming denialists who might just make Dr Who give up on trying to save us…

    I think that @Bruce Says #25, should seek professional help to distinguish reality (such as global warming) from fiction (Dr Who).

  27. noen

    Oh BTW, I absolutely love Doctor Who. The final episode with Amy and Rory had me verklempt. And my criticism that it is no longer a pro science show for kids is probably not fair. I have not watched the Sarah Jane Adventures but if I recall it really fulfill that role.

    As a drama Doctor Who is very good. What I *really* miss is Torchwood. Children of Earth just… just… man o man… and Miracle Day. Oh my!

    The best adult sci-fi show today is Alphas. (There might be others but I can’t watch everything.) Warehouse 13 is.. meh…. the characters are not adults. They’re glorified teenagers. Continuum seems promising. Fringe I have never seen, I hear it’s good.

    Oh and… Tom Baker forever.

  28. Wzrd1

    Phil, I’ve mulled over this an entire day before replying. Especially in light of your comment above.
    Honestly, I agree FULLY with John W. Kennedy and partially with Noen.

    IN the past series, the Good Doctor would use his MIND to find ways out of the problem du jour. Today, he waves his sonic screwdriver in PRECISELY the way it was NOT intended to be used, as a magic staff to part the flatulent sea of adversity. No magical tricorder that it is today, with laser weapons newly attached. Only a simple device to unscrew or move matter.
    Today, it’s Harry Potter meets a TARDIS, with a bit better drama for the childish side, plenty of punishment for adversaries now and zip for *REALLY* being clever.
    I honestly miss both the ORIGINAL learning series *AND* the Clever Doctor. Without his magical infinitely potential wand of magic.
    Now, to see a happy marriage between the three, THAT WOULD BE MAGICAL, in a MENTAL sense.

    BTW, thanks for the bowling bit. I must have missed Wil posting it or his squad due to familial issues of late. It GREATLY lightened my heart.
    Wouldn’t mind trying some Snooker if she tried out my distance shooting. Seems like a very nice and mathematical minded kid, to judge by her performance at bowling, she’d be doing 1 K shots without much difficulty. :)

    @Noen, I FAR prefer “fancypants” to the other doctors. He had… Style. 😉
    Children of Earth was good, didn’t see the rationale of the aliens coming. Considering life experiences, I found it far more disgusting than most would in the world.
    Miracle day was BEYOND cool, though I was beginning to suspect something along the lines of the plot line coming. Still, the ending was totally cool.
    AM the same on the final episode with Amy and Rory. My wife and I agree on her choice.
    Not watched Sarah Jane, I might purchase the series and store them for our grandchildren (who are now extant), but I’m too sorrowed over the loss of the lead actress to view the series.
    Alphas is cool, though I suspect they’ll devolve into the “war thing” and destroy the series (see “Enterprise”). LOADS of potential, loads of misuse and war trending due to an apparent view of producers that fail to understand the rich conceptual background for the series).
    Frankly, I LOVE Warehouse 13, it’s a playful romp through tired urban legends, conspiracy theories and general lunacy that is rather fun to this half century old man and his wife. :)
    Fringe is something I lost track of while I was deployed. My ONLY access was through download on Hajinet and THAT MPAA’d… Didn’t bother with trying to catch up since I got home, both family issues kept me distracted AND unemployment derived poverty kept me distracted. But, I’ll not abandon my elderly father for simple money.
    I *WILL* have to look up Continuum though… :)

  29. davem

    The one and only true Doctor Who was William Hartnell. Anyone who worships the later fake prophets are SPLITTERS!

  30. splitters don´t deserve mIrc

  31. Trebuchet

    At the risk of losing whatever nerd cred I may have had….I only just started whatching Who, with the current Doctor, about two weeks ago. Amy is cute, I guess, but I’m IN LOVE with River Song.

    At least I hurl pumpkins. How many other nerds can say that?

  32. Clay Sanders

    John W. Kennedy #11 wrote “The present-day science is usually OK, but the future science is even more nonsensical than that of “Star Trek” – not sure if you are aware of this but many of todays innovations started out as fanciful star trek devices. But really who would believe that you would ever be able to read a book or check out data on a flat touch screen type pad or that you would talk to a computer to get information out of it.

  33. Marc

    I absolutely enjoyed watching Doctor Who, catching it every week when it’s on BBC 1. I watched the end of the series and have to say that it has been fantastic. Slight spoiler: I cried at the end.

    I don’t think it is a religion, but it can be something that one obsesses about. I have to say that I think Amy is way more beautiful than River Song.

  34. Fizz

    @33 Trebuchet-
    Welcome to the club Trebuchet. FYI, if you want the full story of River Song, you’ll need to go back to series 4 (with David Tennant as the 10th Doctor) and see the episodes “Silence in the Library” and “Forest of the Dead”.

  35. A) I first heard about flat screens from “My Weekly Reader”, some time in the late 50s. (They were supposed to be arriving “real soon now”.

    B) Tipler’s rotating-cylinder idea is, from an engineering viewpoint, on a par with building a complete solar system starting with only a sufficient mass of hydrogen, and it can’t take you back to a time before the machine was turned on. It is also generally believed that the resulting time travel would work as in “Babylon 5” or “Harry Potter”—you can only change the past the way you always changed it; however, this is less certain.

    C) Yes, the Sonic Screwdriver can be overused. It was overused before, which is why it was written out back in 1982. But, honestly, it’s no more overused than any TV cowboy’s six-shooter. It solves many of the Doctor’s difficulties, but it doesn’t solve his problems.

    “The true reader reads every work seriously in the sense that he reads it whole-heartedly, makes himself as receptive as he can. But for that very reason he cannot possibly read every work solemly or gravely. For he will read ‘in the same spirit that the author writ.’… He will never commit the error of trying to munch whipped cream as if it were venison.”
    ― C.S. Lewis, “An Experiment in Criticism”

  36. IW

    Those of you who are obsessing on the doctor are forgetting what the reboot has brought with it, including some very up to date science, and including gender equality and much increased prominence given to gender preference issues.

    River Song is every bit the doctor’s equal. She deserves her own series which would be an admirable replacement for the prematurely demised Sarah Jane Adventures.

    And who missed Amy’s recent acceptance of a wedding invitation, the wedding being that of a girlfriend of Amy’s to her girlfriend? There was (and indeed could not have been) any of that in the older series.

    And how can you have missed how far out of a different closet his companions have come?

    Science isn’t the only issue, nor is education rightly confined to history alone. It used to be, in the antiquated series some are championing here, that the companion was merely fluff employed for the sole purpose of getting into trouble so that the doctor could rescue her. Indeed, one companion in the old series quit the show precisely because that was all she was allowed to be.

    If you haven’t noticed how much the doctor’s three most recent companions (River, Amy, & Rory) have been accomplishing, and what strong roles they’ve played, then you haven”t been paying close enough attention.

    Alas Amy & Rory are now gone, but River continues and furthermore, this winter of our discontent is about to be made glorious summer by a daughter of Lancashire.

    Onward and upwards, I say.

  37. IW’s (#40) recollection of the original “Who” is—whatever is the opposite of “idealized”? I cannot seem to find one. Well, lay that aside. Consider the exits of companions like Romana II and Leela. Consider how the early male companions had to take on all the “hero” work. (Ever stop to think how much the original premise of “Doctor Who” resembles that of “Flash Gordon”?) Consider Liz Shaw and Romana I.

    As to gay marriage, etc., that is no more to say that the first era of “Doctor Who” was in the 20th century and the new era is in the 21st.

  38. Matt B.

    I wish I could tell the guy in the first video that the plural of “nemesis” is “nemeses”, not “nemesi”. I don’t know why people keep thinking that the plural of everything that ends with an s is formed by getting rid of the s and the preceding vowel, and then adding a long i.

    Here’s how it works:
    -us changes to -i (in most cases; there are other declensions of -us nouns in Latin),
    -is changes to -es,
    -es stays the same.
    It’s pretty simple.

    And don’t get me started on “biases” and “processes”.

    In the second video, Karen Gillan looks so much like Ellie Kemper (Erin on The Office), I wouldn’t have known otherwise, but then I don’t watch Dr. Who. I would if I had the time and the channel, but what are you going to do?


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