Seven/Religion (part two)

Hosts Ben McKenzie, John Richards and Petra Elliott, along with guests Paul Callaghan and Dave Bloustien, return for the second half of our seventh live Splendid Chaps episode, recorded at The Public Bar in Melbourne on July 14, 2013. In part two we’re joined by the Reverend Doctor Avril Hannah-Jones, famously of the Church of the Latter Day Geek, to discuss religion and Doctor Who. Plus not one, but two musical numbers: one from guests Lee Zachariah and Adam Rudegeair – aka “Electric Menorah” – and one performed by the Splendid Chaps Seven audience!


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As mentioned on the past for part one, you can go into the draw to win the (Region 4) DVD box set Ace Adventures, featuring the stories Dragonfire and The Happiness Patrol, from our good friends at BBC on DVD. Enter by commenting on this episode below (or on part one) with your questions, thoughts or feedback about the episode and religion in Doctor Who. Comment by August 10 to be in the running, and we’ll announce the winner at the recording of Eight/Science on August 11.


  1. TimCav says:

    I’ll never forget pissing off the teachers at my Christian school by reading everyone of the target novels in one year for English. They were hoping I’d read the bible or some such!?!?

  2. Donna says:

    I can’t comment on this episode because I only discovered you guys a week ago and I am trying (a bit unsuccessfully) to listen in the right order. So I guess my comment is “eagerly anticipating this content” But on episode 2 and the subject of evil – anyone who mixes orange and chocolate together is pure evil and should die horribly. I don’t recall a villain of this magnitude in the history of the show.

  3. camila says:

    Very interesting discussions. As a (veeery radical) atheist, I can’t say I agree with…a lot… of what was said haha, but I really liked the points about how the show is successful with a lot of different people because it hangs onto very moral, universal themes like the importance of doing the right things for others, and standing up for what you believe in (or not, whatever it may be), and the strenght that friendships and unity brings to humanity, etc.

    One thing:
    I’m surprised you guys didn’t talk about The Rings of Akhaten! it’s a very recent episode, but I think it’s a very nice example of that universal appeal of Doctor Who: the story is respecting the ideas of religions/religious people, while also showing the moral value of atheism.

    Specifically, I’m thinking about two scenes: when The Doctor and Clara first arrive on one of the satellite planets, The Doctor tells her about the aliens’ belief on how life in the universe originated in Akhaten, and the pyramid in the center is the center of all life. Then, Clara asks him, “is it [their story] true?”, and when he replies, The Doctor doesn’t dimiss it! instead he says, (with a very sympathetic expression in his face): “Well, that’s what they believe. It’s a nice story.”

    There are more “homenages” to religion and the positive sides of religion toward the episode (like the importance of a sense of community which you guys talked about, such as in the scene where the little girl is singing with all the aliens to “calm down” the hungry monster…planet…star-thing). But what I like so much about the episode is that it doesn’t stay there, it goes ahead and “makes the case” for atheism as well, so to speak. Towards the middle-end of the episode, the doctor says to the little girl:

    “Hey. Do you mind if I tell you a story? One you might not have heard. All the elements in your body were forged many many millions of years ago in the heart of a faraway star that exploded and died. That explosion scattered those elements across the desolations of deep space. After so, so many millions of years, these elements came together to form new stars and new planets. And on and on it went. The elements came together and burst apart, forming shoes and ships and sealing wax and cabbages and kings. Until, eventually, they came together to make you. You are unique in the universe. There is only one Merry Galel. And there will never be another. Getting rid of that existence isn’t a sacrifice, it’s a waste!”

    And I really appreciated that, because atheism (and science!) is always portrayed by its detractors as something that is dry and cold, and HUGELY amoral…but that has never been the case at all. People say that we “need” religion to keep us humbled, but there’s nothing else more “humbling” to me than seeing nature and the universe itself, the infinite wonders of it, and how tiny we are in front of those millions of galaxies…and that’s /without/ attributing any “higher powers” to that nature and that reality.
    As a passing thought, I think the episode plays a bit into the thought that the only thing the doctor /truly/ believes in, in the end, is his companions. His big speeches and “god-like” knownladge don’t save the day, it’s Clara’s terribly mundane leaf that does.
    lol anyway,sorry for the long comment, can’t wait for the next podcast!

    • Camila, I’m so glad someone else responded that way to the Doctor’s line in Akhatan! The “Well, it’s what they believe”. It feels like the sort of “Maybe it’s true, maybe it isn’t” equivocation that science fiction shows are careful to apply to Earth religions, whereas they’ll be happy to reveal that some alien god was really just a ship’s robot that crashed thousands of years earlier.

      And your point about atheism also being shown to be anything but dispassionate: totally agree. Beautifully handled.

      • John Richards says:

        I think you make excellent points, Camila. I had actually forgotten Rings, since I spent most of it shouting abuse at my television and managed to block it from my mind after (it’s up there with Twin Dilemma for me, I’m afraid. But there’s NO WRONG WAY to be a Doctor Who fan).

        • Murray says:

          Not a fan of the ending of that one. Moffat can be so brilliant, but those “power of the story” episodes that he throws in really disappoint me.

    • Steve says:

      > Clara’s terribly mundane leaf
      Oh dear, I just realised… Clara destroyed the last shred of credibility in the plot evil bad monster of the week using the power of be-leaf.

      John, I have no doubt that shouting abuse at the TV was cathartic; I’d have done the same if wouldn’t have woken up both my daughter and the neighbour’s dog 🙂

  4. Alex says:

    I love Splendid Chaps with all my heart, and this was the best Podcast yet. Avril Hannah Jones definitely the most interesting guest so far. She spoke without cliche offering really thought-provoking ideas with a refreshing lack of pretension or pomposity.

    Personally whilst I love DR WHO, I sometimes feel my intelligence is insulted by the apparently ubiquitous notion in a lot of the show’s stories (old and new – the character of Tavius in THE ROMANS being an honourable esception) that if you believe in anything supernatural or metaphysical you’re a credulous fool or a superstitious savage. THE CURSE OF FENRIC is an entertaining story but it totally misunderstands the nature of faith. There are many instances in the Bible of people’s faith being shaken and disturbed to sometimes severe levels. There are also acknowledgements that this sometimes “wobbly” faith in God’s nature is a very human quality common to many of those who love God deeply – not one that marks them out as especially weak or lacking in something essential ( cf MARK 9:24: “Lord I do believe, help me to overcome my unbelief!”). It’s certainly not something that would separate a person from the love of God. Thank you Avril for providing a strong calm defence for anyone who happens to be a believer. So inspiring. If I lived in your part of the world I would definitely go and hear you preach..

    Loved the ELECTRIC MENORAH song at the end as well. Inventive and hilarious. More from them please.

  5. Ryan White says:

    Thanks for the podcast chaps. It seems that a lot of people, especially the companions, have great faith in the doctor. I’ve been reading through a lot of the New Adventure novels recently and it seems that Ace is one who lost her faith in the Doctor and may have found it again toward the end of her run with him. That doesn’t seem to happy very often with the companions, but Ace was different than most of the prior companions, so that shouldn’t be much of a surprise.

    Any chance that you will go into more detail about the different phases of the 8th Doctor in the next podcast. I discovered the BBC novels in his range and the missing Doctors range around the time of Demontage, and bought back to the start in both and then looked forward to new releases each month, then each couple of months, and then it died off slowly. I was excited about the series reboot, but disappointed at the same time because it would be the end of the 8th Doctor.

    Thanks for the podcast, I have really enjoyed it.

  6. Frances says:

    Thank you to Rev. Avril Hannah-Jones for an insitful Christian perspective on Doctor Who, it was a joy to listen to such a calm and rational discussion of a topic that so often gets blown up to petty arguing.

  7. Donna Clayton-Smith says:

    Why do so many think McCoy was the worst doctor? Maybe because he was performing the role when the show was cancelled so they consciously or unconsciously blame him for that?

  8. Alex Bennetts says:

    Great episode. Hoping one of the themes (maybe for 10?) is “Women”. Could lead to some good discussion, I think.

  9. Sam Streeter says:

    This was a brilliant discussion to witness & I’m so glad that you made it a 2 parter as I think too much would have been lost otherwise. Thank you all who participated!

  10. Richard Ingram says:

    A great episode again, I was fascinated listening to Avril views. I am looking forward to the next episode, as that is when i started watching the original broiadcasts.

  11. Clang says:

    Having grown up with Who on the TV, starting with Tom Baker, and the target novelisations, I always had the strong impression that Doctor Who wasn’t against religion or faith in themselves, but rather was firmly against BLIND faith.

    Inevitably, when the Doctor in old Who came up against people with a religious bent to their world view, it was blind adherence and worship of an unquestioned “god” or organised religion that led to trouble. The Doctor’s role in undermining blind faith served the same role as when he would inevitably support any underclass against unjust rulers or overlords: to overthrow an corrupt or evil system. In both cases, if the blind worshippers or underclass had thought for themselves or railed against the standard social order or religion, he wouldn’t have been needed. He seemed to have the same attitude to the military, too: being the best of friends with the Brigadier, Benton and so on, but railing against them when they blindly following orders.

    I think that perhaps modern Who fits this mode too, particularly in the case of The God Complex. In that story, it is not just faith, but blind faith that leads to the downfall of the Nimon’s victims – once Amy was forced by the Doctor to critically examine her faith in him, she saw that it wasn’t justified, and she was saved.

    Anyway, that was an awesome show, as always, and one of your most thoughtful discussions yet, and Reverend Hannah-Jones did a magnificent job. I heartily wish all your shows went for as long. Keep it up, and please, consider coming up to Sydney for a show sometime!

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