Doctor Who thing of the day: Is the Doctor a god for our times?

Doctor Who Voyage of the Damned David Tennant

Stephen Kelly in the Guardian thinks so:

He may not be the messiah but this Sunday [that is, Christmas day], one and all shall gather to worship in his name. That name being the Doctor: he who, the Scriptures of Moffat say, brings salvation wherever he goes – transforming the lives of whoever he meets through kindness and sacrifice. Ridiculous? Well, maybe, but such an analogy, for me at least, has always seemed perfectly apt – not only in the context of the show or as a fan, but as an example of what is a wider social shift. That is: heroes of popular culture becoming modern figures of worship.

This is a personal case, obviously. I’m not a religious man: I don’t pray, don’t go to church. I don’t even believe in God. Yet I’ve always admired Doctor Who; not only for its values of intellect and empathy, but also for its often overlooked ability to explore deistic themes – both in the show and through the ardent devotion of fans. The Doctor, of course, isn’t marketed outright as a messianic figure but it’s all there: “the lonely god”, more of an idea than a man, who resurrects himself in a crucifix position; who has, literally, defeated the devil, resisted temptation and forgiven his greatest enemy; “he’s like fire and ice and rage”, it was once said. “He’s like the night and the storm in the heart of the sun. He’s ancient and forever. He burns at the centre of time and can see the turn of the universe. And … he’s wonderful.”

Even the main premise of the show is built upon the concept of existential salvation: the idea that one day this wonderful being will drop out of the sky to rescue us from the crippling tedium of adult life, to make us believe that there is more to existence than work, bills and over-thinking popular tea-time television shows.

As much as I love Doctor Who, I can’t agree with this. An appreciation for escapist fantasy is not the same thing as a desire for religion or for guidance from a deity. And we readily see as nutso people who believe that, say, Star Trek is actually really real — grounded fans realize that their fantasy is nothing more than fantasy, which cannot be said of the religious. (I might wish that the Doctor would come for me, but I know that will never, ever, ever happen. But plenty of folks honestly and truly believe they will go to heaven when they die, which has no more basis in reality than Doctor Who does.)

What do you think? Is the Doctor a modern god? Why, or why not?

(If you stumble across a cool Doctor Who thing, feel free to email me with a link.)

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