Autumn Aelwyd (autumn_hearth) wrote,
Autumn Aelwyd
autumn_hearth

Pagan and Occult themes in Doctor Who

Today is the 50th Anniversary of the first broadcast of Doctor Who. I came to the show rather late, through Netflix in 2009. The husband and I watched all the New Who available there, then caught up with the current series, we fell in love with David Tennant's 10th Doctor and again with Matt Smith's 11th, who is Rowan's Doctor and our family Doctor. We also went back to the Classic Series in between. My husband embraced Classic Who much more enthusiastically than I did. It took me awhile to get used to the slower pacing and yes I realize many older fans dislike the fast pace of the new series. However in the last couple months I've been watching and re-watching episodes furiously and falling in love with all the Doctors.

A week or two ago posted a list of my favorite modern episodes on FB and the other day I sat down to make notes of some of my favorite classics, though I think it will be a long time before I have a true list as there are many more I need to watch, but as I was making my notes I realized a theme in some of my favorites and decided to make a separate list based on that: Doctor Who episodes with a pagan or occult theme. This list is by no means complete and the descriptions are kept short so as not to give away the whole plot. If you are a pagan and Whovian and haven't seen some of these I highly recommend them or if you are a pagan with lots of Whovian friends who are always encouraging to start watching, these might be good episodes to dip your toes into. The modern ones and a few classics are on Netflix, the others may be harder to come by. But if you are interested and don't have access I could ask my husband to burn some discs.

1. The Daemons- The fifth and final story of Season 8 (classic). This is the first Classic story that fully engaged me. It's the Eve of Beltane in the village of Devils End, an archaeological dig of the Bronze Age burial mound of a warrior chieftain, disturbs a demonic (or is it alien?) force. Featuring the Third Doctor and Jo, the Brigadier, a local white witch named Olive Hawthorne (great name!) and the Master posing as a Vicar doing some full on ceremonial magic in the crypt, seriously what could be better?

2. The Brain of Morbius- The fifth story of Season 15 (classic). This one I watched after the "The Night of the Doctor" minisode prequel to the 50th Anniversary Special popped up online and tickled my curiosity of the Sisterhood of Karn. It's Frankenstein vs the Doctor vs the Vestal Virgins aka The Sisterhood of Karn. Science vs religion, but which is the cult? Featuring the Fourth Doctor and Sarah Jane. Fabulous ceremonial garb and much chanting ensues!

3. The Fires of Pompeii- The second episode of Series 4 (modern). A personal favorite, such a fun yet poignant episode. More priestesses in beautiful red garb! This time its the Sisterhood of the Sibylline, a prestigious cult of soothsayers, but where are they getting their visions from? Featuring the 10th Doctor and Donna with fantastic references to household gods!

4. The Rings of Ahkaten- The eighth episode of Series 7 (or the second episode of the second half of series 7, modern, not yet on Netflix but should be soon) The 11th Doctor takes new companion Clara "some place awesome" at her request, they land on one of a series of planetoids orbiting a larger planet and make their way to a beautiful bustling alien market on the day of a religious festival. Clara gets separated from the Doctor and meets a frightened young girl, Merry Gejelh, The Queen of Years who must sing to the Old God, called Grandfather in front of everyone. And yes, there are beautiful red robes! A gorgeous episode both visually and emotionally.

5. The Aztecs- The sixth story of season 1 (Classic and on Netflix!) A Classic First Doctor episode in all it's beautiful black and white glory! No, I'm serious I probably wouldn't like the costuming, props and setting half as much if it was in color, you'd see how fake they are, but in that glowing silver and white, simply gorgeous! I was wary of watching this one, because of the human sacrifice theme but was pleasantly surprised at what a well balanced story it was. The 1st Doctor and his companions land in an Aztec tomb in the 15th century. When Barbara, an archaeologist, puts on an arm ring an walks out the tomb, the priests mistake her for the reincarnation of the deceased high priest and therefore see her as a god. She and the other companions must keep up this ruse or risk their lives, while looking for a way back in the sealed tomb. I like the complexities of the attitudes toward sacrifice of various priests, warriors and even the Doctor.

6. The Pyramids of Mars- The third story of Season 13 (Classic and also on Netflix!) A very popular classic story featuring the 4th Doctor and Sarah Jane. If you're at all into Egyptology here's a good one for you, though you might find it a bit sparse as I did. Synopsis: "In a Victorian Gothic mansion, strange things are afoot. The master of the house, away in Egypt, has been replaced by a sinister Egyptian. Cloth-wrapped Mummies roam the grounds, killing people. Beneath a pyramid, the last of the Osirians — Sutekh the Destroyer (another name for the god Set) — waits to be freed, to at long last bring his gift of death to all who live."

7. The God Complex- The eleventh episode of Series 6 (modern, on Netflix). The 11th Doctor, Amy and Rory land in what appears to be shining-esque 1980s Earth hotel, but soon find out things are not as they seem as occupants faiths are tested by a Minotaur like creature wandering the labyrinth like halls. This one doesn't speak to my paganism as much as the ones above, but is certainly worthy of a place here for its mythic and modern faith themes.

8. The Shakespeare Code- The second episode of the Series 3 (modern, on Netflix). Feeling a bit witchy? The 10th Doctor and Martha travel to 1599 London and head to the Globe Theater to watch "Love's Labor Lost" but there is witchcraft afoot. Shakespeare flirting, witches and references to JK Rowling abound, very fun!

9. The Time Meddler- The ninth and final story of Season 2 (Classic). Not much to do with spirituality, but if you're feeling a wee bit Vikingy or Saxony, this is quite good story, despite some ridiculous hair and helms. "The Doctor, Vicki, and new companion Steven Taylor arrive in Saxon Northumbria on the eve of the Viking and Norman invasions. It is 1066, a pivotal moment in British history. The hand of a mysterious Monk is at work in the nearby monastery, intending that history takes a different course". This story was the first pseudo-historical: a historical story with science-fiction elements other than the presence of the regular characters and the TARDIS. It is also the first appearance of another Time Lord.

There are plenty of other episodes with spiritual themes or references though I have heard that some people of various faiths begrudge at least the modern series as being anti-religious or feel that faith is dismissed away by science or gods being merely alien beings, my polytheistic world view does not feel at all attacked by the show. Other episodes of interest- The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit (two parter, episodes 8 & 9 of Series 2, modern) deals with The Beast, or the ultimate evil of many planets, who we call Satan. This has nothing to do with my paganism so I didn't list it above, but its worth mentioning. The Pandorica Opens/Big Bang Two (another two parter, this time the season finale of series 5) it takes place at Stonehenge 102 AD with call from Cleopatra and Roman legions that aren't all they appear to be, however I recommend having watched the rest of the season.

The husband and I also listened to a Fourth Doctor audio drama called "The Wrath of the Iceni" featuring Boudica and her rebellion. I'm sure there are other stories with pagan themes in the audios, classic series and maybe even some of the modern that I've missed. Please add any recommendations in the comments below and have a very merry "Day of the Doctor"!
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