Welcome to a 47-day series of articles about the revival version of Doctor Who (2005-present). I’ve come up with 47 topics / questions to answer, all of them basically positive and upbeat about the program. Each day (or as often as I can actually write these) I’ll pick one of them at random (using this convenient random number generator) and then write up an answer.
Why 47? It’s my favorite number.
Why Doctor Who? It’s my favorite show.
Why the modern day Doctor Who only? Simply because I remember it better.
Why only positive stuff? Because really, I write enough snark.
Today is Day #7, and around and around goes the Random Number Generator, revealing that today’s number is 11, which means the topic of the day is this:
“Best Historical Character”
So here we’re obviously talking about real people showing up as characters on the series. Not little cameos by real newsreaders or whatever playing themselves, but famous historical figures, generally who are long dead, brought to life by actors, often to play major roles in an episode.
There have only been a few of these really, but they are all notable: Winston Churchill, Queen Elizabeth I, Queen Victoria, Charles Dickens, Agatha Christie, and William Shakespeare have all been featured, some more than once. These figures have all been treated almost reverentially, in a way celebrating the best of what it means to be British. Less well-regarded figures have also appeared, of course, such as Richard Nixon or Hitler.
None of them are particularly meaningful to me, in terms of their television portrayal. For a while, I was tossing up between Churchill and Dickens as the one that I thought was the best, but then I remembered someone else, and though I don’t hold his episode in as high regard as many do, I realized that he had to be my pick:
Vincent van Gogh from Vincent and the Doctor (and also The Pandorica Opens)
I don’t consider Vincent and the Doctor to be the episode a classic as many do–rather, I’d say it’s a pretty thin story. But still, it had decent character work and dealt with some touching themes: what value is there in being a positive presence in someone’s life if you can’t alter their eventual destiny? Tony Curran plays the famous painter, bringing a plausible mixture of pathos and joy to the character.
Often these historical episodes serve sort of as tributes to the characters, or what they represent. Of them all, the one for van Gogh is perhaps the most effective, thanks to the fact that the episode doesn’t shy away from the tragic elements of his life, and because it’s one of the only ones that doesn’t feel also like a tribute to the whole of the British people.
Agree? Disagree? Any die-hard fans of Queen Nefertiti out there? Let me know.
More next time!
Click here for a master list for this series.