Doctor Who and Atheism

To start off, I’m on a Sci-fi kick as of late. I’ve already posted a little bit about TZ and Atheism, but now I want to move on to my greatest sci-fi love: Doctor Who.


For those of you out of the loop, Doctor Who is one of the longest running television shows in history, and is personally my favourite import from the British Isles. The first season aired all the way back in 1963, and nearly 50 years later (save for a hiccup in the 90s) the show is still running to a massive viewerbase.

The show follows the adventures and exploits of a hyper-intelligent humanoid alien “timelord” known as The Doctor, who travels the universe in his personal (stolen) time travel machine, the TARDIS. The highly eccentric Doctor frequently travels with a (usually) human companion on his many journeys through time and space, as he visits figures like Winston Churchill and Charles Dickens or explores foreign planets inhabited by titanic squids and plastic people. The Doctor can also, when in dire need, regenerate his body into an entirely new person; complete with a new appearance and personality.


So, how does this show relate to Atheism? Fantastic question!

Well, for one, the show has a deep tradition of atheist writing. You may have heard of a fellow by the name of Douglas Adams…yep, he started with Doctor Who before writing The Hitchhiker’s Guide series. Both head writers of the “reboot era” (Russel Davies and Steven Moffat) are atheists. Even a few of the actors who have played the Doctor have been Atheists: Sylvester McCoy and Christopher Eccleston for certain.

Secondly, episodes and serials of Doctor Who often revolve around pro-skepticism and freethought themes. The plots to DW episodes typically center around events and actions that (at first) appear to be supernatural or unexplainable. Then the Doctor, using his vast knowledge and detective skills, will progressively learn the truth of the matter; which is almost always scientifically explainable within the realm of (fictitious) reality. This relates perfectly to a common case brought up in religious/areligious debates: the “God of the Gaps”.


The God of the Gaps argument is the argument that people only see God’s existence in the gaps of the scientific knowledge of the time. Ex: in ancient Greece, lightning was the doing of God. Now that science has shown what it actually is, it is no longer attributed to God, and the “gap” has narrowed.


Doctor Who episodes based on the aformentioned formula all focus on narrowing and resolving the “gap” of what is unknown and assumed to be supernatural into clear, scientific fact.


Ex of episodes with GOTG formula:


“Vampires of Venice”

Venice is being ruled by a mysterious and vicious foreign Queen, whom the Doctor is unfamiliar with from history. Many Venetians believe the cruel ruler to be a vampire. The Doctor, through scientific investigation, discovers that she is not in fact a vampire; but rather an exiled alien from another planet (a Fish from Space). She is forced from her throne, and her sinister plot is foiled by good, rational thinking. Additionally, supernatural assumption is once again dismissed by the scientific truth.


“The Unquiet Dead”

It is Christmas 1869 in Cardiff, and dead bodies have inexplicably begun to stand up and walk. Charles Dickens, who is in town, witnesses such an event to his great disbelief. The assumption of townspeople is that the bodies are possessed by demons. The Doctor appears, befriends Dickens, and goes about trying to discover what is behind the strange events. Eventually, The Doctor finds that a gaseous Alien race is manipulating the corpses, and a full-scale invasion is avoided as a result. The lesson of the story is that there is always more to be learned, and Dickens is inspired by the events of the ordeal. The Doctor once again dispells unfounded superstitious thought.


These are of course only two of *dozens* of examples that I could give from the Doctor Who canon.

If you are a free-thinker looking for a new show to watch that shares your rational values, check out Doctor Who. All of my heathen-buddies love it, and I promise it is more than worth the time.


Seasons 1-5 are available instant streaming on Netflix, and the original run (1964-1989) is available to stream at on the TARDISmedia channel. Season 6 is currently at the halfway point, with more new episodes airing on BBC and BBC America starting at the end of the month. However, I suggest catching up with season 6 before then. Out of courtesy to spoilers, I’ll just post the trailer to the first half of season 6.



Evolution of the theme

Also, once again, this guy looks exactly like the 10th Doctor (David Tennant):

And for comparison, David Tennant:



About Gordon Maples

Writer of the Misan[trope]y Movie Blog and the (Plot)opsy Podcast. A bad movie expert, if there ever was such a thing. Movie nerd, professional organizer, and political progressive.
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5 Responses to Doctor Who and Atheism

  1. Carly Casper says:

    I love you so much! Yes! Yes!

  2. “I’m glad you have an absolute idea of life in the universe, professor, but maybe the universe has ideas of its own.” Ten, Midnight.

    “You lot. You spend all your time thinking about dying. Like you’re going to get killed by eggs or beef or global warming or asteroids. But you never take time to imagine the impossible. That maybe you’d survive.” Nine, The End of the World.

  3. Kimberly says:

    Tom Baker is “irreligious.” Lalla Ward, or better known as Romana II, is married to Richard Dawkins. And now you can add Matt Smith to that lists of atheists, too.

  4. I would note that the first episode of the 8th season of the 21st century “Doctor Who” involved a cyborg who was trying to stay alive long enough to reach the “promised land”. It was interesting to me that the Doctor immediately dismissed the “promised land” as a myth, and tried to convince the cyborg of the fact that this was the reality of the situation.

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