Doctor Who TV Movie Rewatch: Harmonizing Canons in Science Fiction and Religion

Tonight I re-watched the Doctor Who TV movie from 1996 – only the second time I’ve watched it. It was actually at least as good as, and in some respects better than, I remembered it having been.

The most controversial element in the movie (which was filmed in Canada in the hope of reviving the series in the Americas after its long hiatus in the UK) is the suggestion that the Doctor was half human (on his mother’s side).

I think that the producers have pretty much decided that that will not be part of the show’s “canon.” Indeed, some things mentioned in the rebooted series (such as the impossibility of a human-timelord hybrid mentioned in connection with Donna) may actually be intended to leave that idea behind. But in the process, contradictions are created.

I think it is one of the interesting talking points about sci-fi that it tends to have a “canon” in a way that religions might, but other TV and film genres tend not to.

Also an interesting talking point at the intersection of religion and science fiction is the way both so-called Biblical literalists and fans of a particular sci-fi series will put their creative efforts into harmonizing contradictory elements found within the canon of the show/scripture.

For the Doctor Who fans reading, what do you do with that detail – especially now that we have perhaps caught a glimpse of the Doctor’s mother on the show? Just ignore it – or blame it on the Canadians? Harmonize it somehow?

But more importantly, do you think that harmonizing contradictions in scripture and doing so with a sci-fi series are precisely the same phenomena, or are they different, and if so in what way?

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  • Just Sayin’

    Who cares if Doctor Who contradicts itself?

    People care about the Bible.

    There, that’s the difference.

  • Gakuseidon

    Lots of people care if Dr Who or Star Trek contradicts itself. There are fan sites set up where people try to resolve contraditions. Here is an audio clip from the Simpsons, where Lucy Lawless is explaining continuity errors in “Xena” to Xena fans:

    I do think it is the same process as harmonizing scriptures. You have a “canon” that any resolution needs to be validated against. And the strength of the conclusion is determined by how it harmonises against all the other “canon” materials. You also have “apocrypha”, those books or fan-films that tend to build off canon elements, spinning their own stories.

  • Mike

    A fun, interesting comparison. I suppose the difference is that there’s no serious group of people claiming that one mind (not to mention a divine mind!) is behind the Dr Who canon.

  • Just Sayin’

    Anyone who really cares about a plot contradiction in a decades-long tv series needs to get a life.

  • James F. McGrath

    Some would say the same about anyone who cares about contradictions in a collection of 2,000-year-old literature. :-)

    • Just Sayin’

      People don’t live their lives according to Doctor Who; billions live their lives according to the Bible.  Are you seeing a difference here?

  • James F. McGrath

    Of course I see the differences. Do you see the similarities?

    • Just Sayin’

      I see the vast difference and the trivial similarity, yes.

  • Pseudonym

    While other genres don’t use the word “canon”, any franchise which runs long enough and maintains continuity (e.g. not The Simpsons) must have an equivalent. Long-running soap operas, for example, have “the book”. They even engage in explicit retconning, “amnesia” being the most famous cliche.

  • William

    Blessed are the cybermen for they shall inherit the Earth.
    Blessed are the daleks for they shall know davros.
    Blessed are the weeping angels for their’s is the kingdom of heaven.
    Blessed are all the aliens the doctor shall wipe out for they will be conforted.

  • anonymous fan

    I think the similarities are bigger than you think – and that it’s not offending religion to say that – if anything Sci-Fi fans would be offended that they’re viewed as taking it as seriously as religion, but you know what A LOT OF THEM DO… Go to DragonCon and then say that there are only trivial similarities between fandom and religion… 

    I personally think there’s a great difference between fandom and the TRUE religion of Christianity, but that’s entirely different than comparing fandom to religion in a general sense (and that has to do with my own beliefs and assumptions and such, that not all would agree with)

  • Just Sayin’

    No doubt a sardine has multiple similarities to a cruise liner.

  • Gary

    Except man can make a cruise liner. He can’t make (yet) a sardine. Revelation, out of context and presented to someone that never heard of the bible or Jesus, might think it is an excellent sci fi script, special effects and all.

  • James F. McGrath

    Maybe I should put the matter a different but related way: Does the Bible contain “continuity errors”? 

  • Gary

    Season 1, creation order: plants (Gen 1:11), animals (1:24), man and woman (1:27).
    Season 2, creation order: man (2:7), plants (2:8), animals (2:19), woman (2:22).
    Too many examples to list. From Friedman.

  • James F. McGrath

    I actually had someone share a video with me on YouTube today that relates to this very topic. If I could embed the video, I would share it as a separate post. Here’s the link:

  • Gary

    Never realized the relationship between bible nerds and physic majors until now. “Little or NO premarital sex”. Physics was never a hotbed for getting lucky. Oh, if only cheerleaders realized the importance of Newton’s Laws over football quarterbacks, we’d have many more scientists.

  • Gary

    Now that I think about it, because of genetics, we’d also have much better looking scientists, both male and female.

  • Gary

    I started reading Michio Kaku’s “Physics of the Impossible”. 1st page, Arthur C. Clarke’s three laws:
    I. When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.
    II. The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.
    III. Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.