I think it is fair to say that Dr. Who is not as well-known as other popular science fiction. Most people will have at least a passing understanding to a USS Enterprise or Darth Vader reference. However, the same thing cannot be said for the TARDIS. Even though it has gained a lot of popularity in recent years, Dr. Who is still very much in the realm of “cult favorite.” The Doctor has not reached true mainstream appeal, but the show has an absolutely rabid fan base. Many Whovians are just as dedicated as Klingon speaking trekkies or members of the 501st. Dr. Who also has an incredibly rich tradition of storytelling that spans decades. Considering the fan base and the amount of content to mine, it is honestly kind of surprising that it took this long for a book to be written that seeks to connect the dots where Doctor Who and faith intersect.
United Methodist Pastor and author Matt Rawle took on this task for a full DVD based curriculum. The Salvation of Doctor Who was published in 2015 by Abingdon Press. The full curriculum kit consist of the book, a four session DVD, and a discussion guide. The question is does The Salvation of Doctor Who reach the heights of David Tenant’s tenth Doctor or is it more like Sylvester McCoy’s seventh Doctor?
The book manages to be very accessible while still appealing to people who are fans of the series. The book begins by giving a brief summary of Doctor Who for the benefit of completely newbies to the Doctor’s mythos. However, the chapters are full of referencing specific episodes and quotes from various episodes. The book is written well. The points the author is making are not lost on anyone, but a more dedicated fan of the series will get the most out of the book.
The book, like the DVD, is organized into four chapters. Calling these chapters is a bit of a misnomer. It is probably more accurate to call these divisions sections. Each section has a general theme. For example, the second section is entitled “God and Time and God’s Time.” These sections basically contain a collection of essays loosely related to the topic. Using subheadings in chapters is a common practice in Christian books, but here it feels a little disjointed. Each essay feels very disconnected from the others. This leads to a somewhat uneven read. Some of these essays are excellent. For example, one of them expertly uses the TARDIS as a way of explaining The Trinity. This is a topic that is notoriously hard to tackle and Rawle does it in a way that is understandable, relatable, and theologically sound. There are other places though where Rawle’s point get a little wibbly-wobbly. For instance, in the “God and Time and God’s Time” section Rawle wanders headfirst into the controversial viewpoint of “open theism.” Unfortunately, he only spends a paragraph under-developing the point he is trying to make.
This does not have a strong life application angle, but rather it focuses on relating more difficult theological concepts in understandable ways by using Doctor Who to deliver the point. The book works very well at achieving this. This is not an academic book, but there is some meat to it as well. This book reads like a book written for Doctor Who fans by a Doctor Who fan. For people who are interested in how things like Doctor Who speaks to the Christian faith this book is very much worth investing the time in.
One of the well-known quirks of Doctor Who is that the episode quality is somewhat uneven. There are some absolutely legendary episodes, but then there are some that even cause the most dedicated Whovians to roll their eyes. Unfortunately, this curriculum is uneven as well. The book is good and recommended but the same cannot be said about the video.
Rawle’s delivery in the video is good. I get the sense that he is a great Sunday morning preacher. However, the message in the video is essentially a summary of some of the essays from the book. The video basically serves as a cliff notes version of the book. What makes the video most disappointing is that the Doctor is nowhere to be seen. Doctor Who is a visual medium and this is a visual presentation about Doctor Who. It is somewhat unforgivable that there is not a single clip or even still image from Doctor Who present. When Rawle talks about Cybermen, why is there at least not a picture to show what this villain looks like?
I can understand that licensing might have been an issue, but the DVD retails for $40. It is forty minute video! At that price I find it hard to believe that some clips could not be included. The overall presentation of the video is just not good. It involves Rawle speaking in an empty room that has a VBS prop quality TARDIS replica and a fog machine. I actually used this curriculum with a small group, and they were all very disappointed with the videos. Given the price point, I sympathize with their disappointment.
The Discussion Guide
This is a fairly standard and straight forward leader guide that tends to accompany these kind of curriculum kits. That is not necessarily a negative thing. It has been my experience that with these kind of guides “your mileage may vary.” A group facilitator who is used to doing their own thing will not find much in here they are not going to already cover in their own way. However, this book is good for more inexperienced group leaders. The preparation section for each session is especially nice. There is a lot of suggested content in this discussion guide. With just a little augmenting, each section could be divided into two. Doing this grows the study from a quick four week diversion to a much meatier eight week exploration.
Like a typical season of Dr. Who this curriculum has its standout points and it’s not so good areas. The book is excellent and highly recommended. I think the best way to use this curriculum is to have everyone read the book, and spend two weeks per section. I would skip the DVD portion. The book says everything the DVD does better, and the DVD just is not worth the price. For almost half the price of the DVD an entire season of Dr. Who can be purchased on Amazon. Quite honestly that is a better use of funds, as then the clips referenced in the book can be shown. For people who are very interested in where pop culture and faith intersect, then The Salvation of Doctor Who is a good use of both time and space.