Adventures in Whostory
Introducing Doctor Who and History
Continuing from the previous post …
In December 1963 Donald Baverstock, BBC’s chief of programs, author- ized the making of an additional ten episodes of Doctor Who, meaning that there would be 36 in total in the first series. He used this as an opportunity both to request an outline of the future stories and to criticize what he had already seen, asking Sydney Newman to “brighten up the logic and inventiveness of the scripts.” In particular, he concluded, “I suggest that you should make efforts in future episodes to reduce the amount of slow prosaic dialogue and to centre the dramatic movement much more on historical and scientific hokum” (WAC T5/647/1). Yet after “The Romans,” Doctor Who would screen only seven more “pure” historicals: four of them during William Hartnell’s era, two in Patrick Troughton’s, and the last during Peter Davison’s tenure, 1982’s two-part “Black Orchid,” touted as the first “pure historical” since “The Highlanders” in 1966. Pseudo-historicals became, and have remained, the norm—the travelers land in the midst of a well-known historical era where they might interfere (or not) in the course of events as the storyline requires it. In addition, they might meet up with someone famous (as seen far more in the revival of the series)—Tom Baker’s Doctor was almost ever meeting Leonardo (“Masque of Mandragora,” 1976 and “City of Death,” 1979); Colin Baker, who had H.G. Wells as a stowaway in the TARDIS in 1985’s “Timelash,” got to work side-by-side with George Stephenson in “The Mark of the Rani” (1985). Historical settings become sometimes merely the backdrop for the story so that a sinister plan of alien meddling in human history might be revealed; sometimes, however, the plot hinges on disruption of the timeline, and the Doctor and his companions must heroically and responsibly set straight history as it is known at the time of transmission (despite the Time Lord code of non-intervention), otherwise chaos will ensure: hence the Fourth Doctor shows Sarah Jane the apocalyptic wasteland of her home-era 1970s Earth if the evil Sutekh is left to run amok in 1911 in “The Pyramids of Mars” (1975); the Fifth Doctor must sort out the Master’s plan to prevent the Magna Carta from ever being sealed (even as he admits it’s a rather petty and small-minded bit of terrestrial interference on the part of the Master) in 1983’s “The Kings Demons.” The first real instance of the Doctor dealing with a meddler in history comes, however, during the First Doctor’s tenure in 1965’s “The Meddling Monk,” when a rogue member of the Doctor’s people (we don’t learn they’re called Time Lords until 1969’s “The War Games”) amuses himself simply by messing about in 11th-century England: his grand scheme is to equip Harold II’s army with modern weapons so that they can not only easily defeat the Vikings at Stamford Bridge in September 1066, but then wipe out William of Normandy’s invading force at Hastings two weeks later—for no other reason it seems than to behave as a naughty schoolboy. His light-hearted twist to time travel intrigued and delighted viewers (BBC Audience Research quoted in Howe and Walker 1998, 63) and, like the Daleks, he makes a quick return to the program (in “The Daleks’ Master Plan,” 1965– 1966). The Monk’s approach to history is in contrast to the arguably dull and worthy one put forward by the Doctor in “The Aztecs” (1964) when he tells Barbara that they must not interfere in the progress of history. Later on in
the program’s own history, this sideline career as the protector of Earth’s past is circumnavigated by the argument that certain elements are fixed in time and cannot be disrupted or interfered with. Which ones? The ones most con- venient to the plot. Poor Adric.2
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ABOUT DOCTOR WHO AND HISTORY
When Sydney Newman conceived the idea for Doctor Who in 1963, he envisioned a show that would entertain as well as educate. Historical adventures were part of his vision-the Doctor and his companions would visit and observe, but not interfere with, events in history. That plan was dropped early on. Not only has the Doctor happily meddled with historical events for decades, his adventures-on television, in films, novels, comics, books and games-reflect how we regard our own place in history. This collection of new essays examines how the Doctor engages with history and inspires reflections upon it history. Topics includes reconstruction of lost historical serials, reflections on Britain’s colonial past, the subversion of nostalgia for village life, the depiction of Norse myths, alternate history, and the impact of historical decisions on the present.
|Number of Pages||193|
|Author||Fleiner, Carey, October, Dene|
|Publisher||McFarland & Company, Incorporated Publishers|
|Publication Date||August, 2017|