The rebooted Doctor Who franchise has always drawn heavily on religious imagery and ideas, from a giant fiery devil figure in The Satan Pit to the climax of the David Tennant/Master showdown where the entire world prays for the Doctor (via the 'Archangel' satellite) and he's effectively resurrected and transfigured all in one go, and then bestows forgiveness on his mortal enemy.
The current series doesn't show any signs of letting off. The mid-series cliffhanger introduced the Headless Monks (bad) and the 'Clerics' - the church has become a military unit, though it's not quite clear who they answer to. 'Lets Kill Hitler' had several religious allusions too:
- River Song poisons the Doctor with a kiss, the poison is revealed to come from the Judas Tree. No prizes for guessing where they got that one from.
- The Silence is revealed to be a religious order, not merely a species.
- River is cared for in a hospital run by nuns, the Sisters of the Infinite Schism. Great name. Think I know some of those.
With the religious thing thrown in about the Silence on top of the Headless Monks, the current impression is that this batch of Doctor Who writers lean towards the 'Religion is Bad and Dangerous' pole, which, to be fair, is probably the view of most people. The name given to the nuns suggests they are on the margins of religion - suggesting it's here that you find good, not at the centre.
Does Doctor Who get religion? It clearly gets the power of religion to command allegiance, but that's mostly portrayed in a negative way. Institutional religion is armed (the clerics) and dangerous. It'll be interesting to see where the whole Silence part of the story goes. Many of the good bits - e.g. elements of the life of Jesus, prayer, resurrection, life after death (e.g. Silence in the Library, which could have been written by N T Wright*) are all Doctored to retain their appeal but turn them into sci-fi.
I've written so much stuff on this blog that I can't remember if I've made this observation before, but it's remarkable to see the transformation in the sci-fi genre. From the thoroughly humanist Star Trek, sci-fi and fantasy have become the genre of choice for exploring spiritual issues. With the demise of the Biblical epic, and the blockbusting precedent of Star Wars, if soap operas are where our society holds up a mirror to its morality, sci fi and fantasy movies are where we hold up a mirror to our souls. Jesus figures abound, from Gandalf to Harry Potter to the Doctor himself, issues of destiny, prayer, life and death, character, the nature of evil, and the great rules/powers/persons that govern the universe, it's all there.
What's being said, well, that's debatable.........
*Silence in the Library has a 'resurrection to eternal life' based on using an advanced computer chip to store all the vital data about a person. After they die physically, this data is uploaded to a giant computer, where the dead enjoy a new virtual life, dressed in white (really? you don't say...) and reunited with their loved ones. This bears a striking similarity to an image used by Wright to describe how the resurrection works.