Doctor Who A to Z: T is for Time

Inspired by a series of Facebook posts that I saw, we are going to run through an alphabetical series of Doctor Who-related themes. Today we continue this with the letter T…

(Daily Doctor Who #312)


Specifically, going back in time, and even more specifically, going back in time in earth’s history. What’s my favorite time that the Doctor has done this?

There are a couple of different categories of “going back into earth’s history” type stories, especially from the classic era.

First, there’s the pure historical story, which is not really a thing now but was a big part of Doctor Who‘s format in its earliest days. These are stories in which the Doctor interacts with famous people or events in earth’s history, which generally didn’t feature any science fiction elements at all, aside from the TARDIS and its crew.

For this category, I’m picking…

The Azteks

This four part tale by John Lucarotti is from Doctor Who‘s first season, and is one of the few pure historical stories which completely exists. It’s an interesting drama that makes good use of the show’s cast. In this one, history teacher Barbara Wright becomes motivated to try to change the Azteks’ fate by altering their culture–something which just might be possible when she is mistaken for a reincarnated god.

The story has some flaws (what story doesn’t?) but overall is highly enjoyable.

Starting at the end of the series’ second season, Doctor Who began to feature another type of historical adventure quite regularly…what we could call the pseudo-historical story. These stories take the Doctor and company back in time in earth’s history, but also involve aliens, or mad scientists, or whatever science fiction threat that is menacing the world this time around.

These quickly found favor where the pure historicals lost it, and so there are lots of examples, including some classics like Pyramids of Mars

and Talons of Weng-Chiang.

I love both those stories but as I thought about it I decided to focus on another example…

The Visitation

I’m not saying this Fifth Doctor serial by Eric Saward is better than the other two, but it stands out to me as one of the most purely entertaining adventures I’ve watched…an easy Doctor Who comfort food for me.

In The Visitation, the Doctor, Adric, Tegan and Nyssa find themselves in London in 1666 where they must contend with the threat of some alien criminals (a race called the Terileptils) who had escaped to earth and were intending on seizing control of the planet. It’s a small-scale adventure in some ways but still with the requisite high-stakes, and a good use of the historical setting.

In modern Doctor Who, there haven’t been any pure historical stories, but plenty of the pseudo-variety. Human Nature / Family of Blood is one of the best, and one I recently ranked higher than my actual pick for this part of the post…

The Empty Child / The Doctor Dances

The Ninth Doctor and Rose come to World War II-era London where a bizarre plague is gripping the city. This story is Steven Moffat’s first adventure for proper Doctor Who on television, and is simply one of the best things the show ever produced. The story is scary, funny, and layered, and does a great job exploring its characters and setting, and tying its themes into the larger adventure. It’s also quite inspirational as it talks about the resilience of the British in the face of the threat of Hitler’s Germany.

Now, I’ve said there haven’t been any pure historical stories for a long time, but that’s only true on television. Occasionally, others have slipped in via novels, comics and audios. One of my favorites is a Fourth Doctor audio from Big Finish…

The Wrath of the Iceni

John Dorney’s story from 2012 brings the Doctor and Leela to first century Britain and is just as gripping and thrilling as any science fiction thriller that the franchise has produced. It’s highly recommended, and features an outstanding Louise Jameson as Leela.

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