Some of Doctor Who’s most memorable stories occur when the TARDIS takes a trip back into the past. We list 12 moments in history that would make exemplary episodes for our Twelfth Doctor.
Witnessing the colonization of Mars or driving hover cars with cat-people in New New York is all well and good, but we’ve always had a soft spot for meeting iconic figures and seeing how the Doctor has secretly affected human history as we know it. It’s been a couple of years since our last go at this, but as we usher in Peter Capaldi, there’s no better time to revisit the concept – here’s our brand-new top 12 pitches for a Twelve historical episode.
Ancient Greece (800 – 150 BC)
Let’s go way back to one of the greatest civilizations in human history – Ancient Greece. We’ve done Rome (well, Pompeii – hi, Caecilius) in the reboot era, but not Greece, and although the Doctor has mentioned various visits: attending the first Olympic Games, meeting Theseus and Alexander the Great – the TARDIS hasn’t actually touched down on-screen in Ancient Greece since “The Myth Makers,” a 1965 First Doctor story arc about the Trojan War.
The historical period of Ancient Greece lasted for around 700 years, so there’s a lot of opportunities to choose from: the birth of modern medicine with Hippocrates, philosophical chats with Socrates or Aristotle, helping Homer add the finer details to the Iliad, visiting Sappho’s island community, witnessing the first Marathon run, or discovering the origins of a famous myth, like Hercules, Medusa or the Oracle of Delphi.
One thing’s for sure – we’ll need to see Twelve angrily donning a toga.
Roanoke Island (1589)
In the late 1500s, the Doctor’s almost-wife Queen Elizabeth I granted her new beau, Walter Raleigh, a charter to colonize North America. One of the attempted settlements was on Roanoke Island, Virginia, where a man called John White led a group of 115 people to start a community in the Chesapeake Bay area. White was appointed governor, and in 1587 he sailed home to England for official duties.
When White returned to Roanoke in 1590, his entire colony had vanished, with no signs of struggle. The houses were carefully dismantled – they didn’t leave in a hurry – and only clue was the word CROATOAN carved into a tree. Many people assume this carving holds the answer – that the settlers integrated with the Native American tribes on the nearby Croatoan Island, but the mystery of this disappearance is still officially unsolved today.
We’d like to see the Doctor visit Roanoke in those three years of John White’s absence – he could have been a key part of the mystery. Maybe there was an alien invasion, maybe the island was sentient – but we’re sure the Doctor knows why those people left Roanoke.
Paul Revere’s Midnight Ride (1775)
We’re not too sure how this intrinsically British show would feel about covering the American Revolution, but a national hero on a mission is a national hero on a mission, and the Doctor has a notorious soft spot for people like that.
In 1775, Paul Revere rode furiously through the night to warn the rebel leaders Samuel Adams and John Hancock – as well as every patriot he met along the way – that the British military was preparing to mobilize against the rebellion. Because of this, Paul Revere is credited with rallying the local militia to defend themselves in the lead-up to the “shots heard ‘round the world” at the battles of Lexington and Concord. But here’s the twist. There were other riders doing the same job, sending the same warnings out via different routes, but – rightly or wrongly, due to history glorifying certain moments – those other riders go largely unremembered, and Paul Revere is the icon.
There’s a timey-wimey Doctor Who story in there somewhere – clones, aliens, time travel (of course), or an emergency that led to the Doctor and his companion filling in as the unknown riders on the famous midnight ride. They could even encounter Sybil Ludington, a Revolutionary heroine who pulled off a similar job, riding twice the distance of Revere’s journey when she was just 16 years old.
Victor Hugo in the June Rebellion (1832)
If you’ve read every piece of Doctor Who media ever written – comics, novels, the lot – you might have come across a few glib mentions of Victor Hugo and how an interaction with the Doctor caused him to change the plot of Les Miserables from a comedy, but it’s never been addressed on-screen, and a take on the real story could make for something a little bit more pithy.
In 1832, while walking home through Paris, Hugo encountered the barricades of the student uprisings and had to find shelter from the gunfire. Other incidents throughout his life would eventually colour the pages and characters of Les Mis, but it all started there – with groups of naive and untried insurgents attempting to make a difference in the wake of the French Revolution. There are a few ways a visit from the Doctor could play out here – he could meet Victor Hugo himself on that fateful date and save Hugo’s life, leaving him to go on to write one of history’s most influential stories, or the National Guard could be clockwork alien robots (France is still using those?)
To continue the Les Mis angle, perhaps the current companion, like Clara, could have an infatuation with the famous musical, and Twelve, impatient about her romantic delusions, decides to give her a first-hand look at the situation. Perhaps she could even befriend one of the real secret student societies while the Doctor’s off meeting Hugo himself – a Clara/Revolutionary romance could ensue – and we’d get one of those awful “we have to leave now and let them all die” moments due to fixed points in time. Sadface.