Weapons, Teleportation, and Religion Forbidden

Weapons, Teleportation, and Religion Forbidden November 2, 2013

There are so many wonderful little details in Doctor Who that one is liable to miss the first time around. For instance, how did I miss until recently that, in the episode “The End of the World,” a computer makes the following announcement:

Shuttles five and six now docking. Guests are reminded that Platform One forbids the use of weapons, teleportation and religion. Earth death is scheduled for 15:39, followed by drinks in the Manchester suite.

There are lots of ways that one could take this. One might be to note that the first two rules are broken, including by the Doctor himself (the TARDIS’ arrival is a form of teleportation), and it isn’t clear that the presence of religion would have made matters any worse. Another would be to note that rituals are performed and the witnessing of the Earth’s destruction may be mere entertainment to some, but has a solemness for others.

Doctor Who mentions religion often. Many times it is a jibe of some sort, but not always. Often the reference is humorous, and if it isn’t, it is probably disturbing or depressing.

But beneath the surface, there is usually some profundity.

Few swear off weapons entirely. Not even the Doctor does that. And few oppose teleportation in principle, but most would recognize that it needs to be restricted.

And so the jibe at religion need not be considered a statement that religion is dangerous and ought to be prohibited under all circumstances. Rather, it recognizes that the end of the world is precisely the moment in conjunction with which religion tends to become dangerous. And so ruling it out on this space station makes sense. But that doesn’t mean that it cannot have its place, even in the Whoniverse.

Today there is a conference about Doctor Who and religion taking place in Manchester, England. I hope that the rest of us – and even some at the conference – will take this opportunity to have a Doctor Who synchroblog. It isn’t too late to join in – and if you do, please let me know about your post!

Of related interest, take a look at this genuine science paper with Doctor Who illustrations!

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  • T. Webb

    Dr. McGrath, as a progressive Christian, you can choose to take it that way if it makes you feel good, but it is far from the most straightforward interpretation. Weapons are forbidden on Platform One, so is teleportation, so is religion. Period. I think it’s more a statement that in the future, religion will be seen as completely unnecessary (even as it is to many now) on the one hand and necessarily outlawed on the other (assuming an interpretation of “religion” that equals belief in things “supernatural”, that is “outside of nature”). I have a strong suspicion over the course of Russell Davie’s tenure as producer that he is not friendly to “religion” as such, and this would fit in with many of the other episodes he produced. The Doctor may show courtesy to those who believe in some god, but he certainly does not believe in the supernatural and certainly does not believe in anything that could be close to “religion” – as much as something like that can be said of a series across hundreds of episodes with a dozen major actors playing a character and dozens of producers, etc.

    • Scott Paeth

      Well, what’s interesting here is the way that it’s framed: “Use” of these things is forbidden. But what does it mean to “use” religion in this context: Presumably it means to treat it as a tool, presumably for violent or nefarious purposes (as with weapons and teleportation).

      There’s no question RTD was not himself religious (this is widely known), and certainly uses Doctor Who to make some sharp satirical comments about religion. But at the same time, he’s also cognizant of the symbolic power of religion, as illustrated in episodes such as “Last of the Time Lords,” in which the Doctor is a clear Christ analogue. Or in “The Impossible Planet/Satan Pit” in which a clearly demonic figure is defeated (exorcised?) by the Doctor.

      But back to this particular example, I think the idea here is that in the future society, religion isn’t seen as being “unnecessary” but as being an instrument for destruction. There may be time and places where such instruments can be properly used, but clearly this time and place are not one of them.

      I’m wondering, the more I think about it, how Steven Moffet differs from RTD on this. After all, religion is clearly present and functional (if someone different) in his shows. We’ve got the Anglical Marines, the Headless Monks, and we’ve got the ritual in the “Rings of Akhatan” that are clearly religious in form. The main difference seems to be between religion which is designed to constrain some super-powerful but still finite threat (like the creature in the Satan Pit or the Grandfather in Rings of Akhatan) and religion as symbolic attempt to comprehend that which is in principle infinite (as in what H. Richard Niebuhr might call “radically monotheistic” faith).