If You Could Only Pick Two Episodes

I will be giving a guest lecture at another university in October, on the subject of Doctor Who and religion. I was asked to pick two episodes that it might be worth watching in between now and my lecture, which might be shown at student events between now and my talk.

I have a couple in mind, but the truth is that there are a great many that would be appropriate choices for this purpose.

And so before I tell you which two I am inclined to go with, I thought I would ask readers of this blog: if you had to pick two and only two episodes from the show’s entire 50-year history to illustrate its treatment of religious themes, which would you choose?


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  • Just Sayin’

    The Chris Eccleston ‘Last Dalek’ episode for sure.

  • Tony

    The Curse of Fenric and The God Complex, maybe. Although, as a huge Pertwee fan, I’d probably just choose The Time Monster and Death to the Daleks.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      I would have thought “The Daemons” was a more natural one from the Pertwee era than “Death to the Daleks” on this particular topic.

      • Tony

        Sure, that episode would be great, too, and would certainly be a more natural choice. I guess I just prefer the concepts in “Death to the Daleks” better: worshiping creating things, the interrelation of religions, etc. Good luck on your lecture! Sounds fascinating!

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

          The Doctor’s faith in the Curse of Fenric is particularly amazing, although you have to listen closely to what he is muttering, and to know the show’s history in order to get what it means.


          • Tony

            I love that moment. It’s incredibly touching.

  • arcseconds

    Assemble a montage of all the ritualistic or otherwise religious-looking behaviour of highly technologically advanced societies!

    I think there’s a substantial amount here, but the Time Lords of course are big ‘culprits’, any of the ones showing the Cardinals and the President, the one where the Doctor becomes president (‘Invasion of Time’ or something?) would work.

    There’s also the mathematician monks that do the bloc transfer computations that keep the Universe alive in, er, one of the very last Tom Baker stories.

    On that note, you could also do something on monastic/eremitic behaviour, which is almost always portrayed positively, in contrast to how religion is usually portrayed. The mathematician monk guys would do here to, as well as the eternal-flame-keeping women, and the Doctor’s mentor in ‘The Planet of the Spiders’.

    (The Meddling Monk isn’t a positive portrayal, but I think it’s pretty clear his monkiness is just a front)

    (Sorry I’m not doing terribly well with the proper nouns here… frankly they’re always a bit of a struggle, I think I’ve got a mild case of nomial aphasia…)

  • Marta L.

    I’ve only seen the New Who, but “The Satan Pit” episode jumps to the top of my personal list because it gets at the really interesting conversations about what it means to be God (or in this case Satan) – whether one culture’s or religion’s conception has to be the “real” one or rather there’s a kind of authentic reality behind all those figures we call God.

    For the second, I’d probably want to look at the difference between justice and mercy + forgiveness, of punishing wrongs done versus having understanding and actually doing something restorative. And for that I’m not sure it gets better in the New Who canon than “Let’s Kill Hitler.”

  • Jonathan Bernier

    I’d want to have at least one regeneration episode, as that gets into the whole resurrection/dying-and-rising god thing. I’d want it to have religious themes in addition to that, though. So, “The Time of the Doctor.” You have regeneration and also this curious thing about the Doctor’s name: it’s the single most important word in all the universe, yet for that reason it cannot be spoken. You also have the Doctor as the benevolent father protecting his people.

    Also, “Gridlock”: Cat(holic?) nun, dying God (face of Bo), the promised land, etc.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      Yes, Gridlock is a good one as well for the use of hymn singing, and the reference to the Doctor as a “lonely god.”

  • Kubricks_Rube

    Human Nature/Family of Blood (aka The Last Temptation of The Doctor)

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      “And the Doctor was made flesh and dwelt among us…” :-)

  • Sean Garrigan

    I haven’t watched Dr Who in so many years that I’m taking a chance on faulty memory here, but I would think that the last episode with Tom Baker would be a good choice. As I recall, in that episode someone was killing those who were charged with keeping the universe on track. The possible point for discussion: Is the universe truly sustained by purely physical laws, or is there a sense in which the great divine mind must influence its continuation?

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      Logopolis – yes, that would be an interesting choice!

  • Marcus

    I’m late to the game on this, but I think Davies era episodes have the highest concentration of extended and non-superficial reflection on religion. To me the pinnacle is the 3 part finale to season 3 with it’s reworking of elements of the passion and focus on forgiveness.

  • Ursula L

    I’m late to this, but in “The Eleventh Hour” the Doctor is literally the answer to Little Amelia’s prayer to Santa.

    I also wrote an essay on the Doctor as the Ponds’ Household God, as part of the discussion on the Mirror threads at Gallifrey base. You have to register to read it, but registration is free, and it may be interesting to you. http://gallifreybase.com/forum/showthread.php?p=5843446#post5843446