Could the forthcoming ninth series of Doctor Who be about to reintroduce a literal ''blast from the past''? Mark Gatiss, writer of Robot Of Sherwood, has expressed ''a preference for historical stories...''
And while both New & later Classic Who have explored the idea of the pseudo-historical- often implying alien influence over key periods in Earth's history- could it be time for its ''pure'' cousin to return for the first time since the Doctor was a younger man, witnessing humanity itself in its Stone Age infancy?
From there he would progress to Cathay alongside Marco Polo, the Aztec Empire at the peak of its powers, the French Revolution, the reign of the Roman Emperor Nero, the Third Crusade in the Holy Land, the Trojan Wars, Catholic persecution of Huguenots in fifteenth century France, the Wild West & seventeenth-century piracy on the Cornish coast. Not forgetting the Battle of Culloden shortly after his first regeneration!
These stories, during which the TARDIS, or any devices which he might knock up himself, served as the only pieces of alien technology to which the Doctor would have access, were a mainstay of the early years of Who- as original production documents suggest that creator Sidney Newman had decreed that ''the four travellers in the TARDIS could not make history but only observe it''. Until, that is, The Time Meddler which served as the first pseudo-historical narrative, the Monk serving as a harbinger of change & paving the way for the likes of Black Orchid & The Visitation among others to introduce similarly alien forces & blur the line of the recognised past!
And surely the ultimate test of his often conflicted morality, brought to the fore with his Twelfth & latest incarnation's questioning whether he is ''a good man'' might be whether he can bring himself to stick to his earlier pronouncement & simply allow history to proceed as recorded or dare to intervene as an agent of change on however big or small a level, whether on his own initiative/prerogative or at the coercion of his companions? After all, is one man's mind not forever changed on the issue of human sacrifice in The Aztecs?
BARBARA: We failed.And one family is spared death at Pompeii ten selves later for the Doctor:
DOCTOR: Yes, we did. We had to.
BARBARA: What's the point of travelling through time and space if we can't change anything? Nothing. Tlotoxl had to win.
BARBARA: And the one man I had respect for, I deceived. Poor Autloc. I gave him false hope and in the end he lost his faith.
DOCTOR: He found another faith, a better one, and that's the good you've done. You failed to save a civilisation, but at least you helped one man.
THE DOCTOR: That's just it. Don't you see, Donna? Can't you understand? If I could go back and save them then I would, but I can't. I can never go back, I can't. I just can't, I can't.And he did...
DONNA: Just someone. Please. Not the whole town. Just save someone.
The format has even been the subject of academic discourse/discussion- take a look at this snippet of an essay by Tony Keen of the Classical Studies department of the Open University.
"When first conceived, Doctor Who was meant to have two types of stories – science fiction adventures in the future or on alien worlds, and stories that placed the Doctor and his companions in the past. The show never quite alternated from one to the other, as originally intended. Nevertheless, in the era of the first Doctor, William Hartnell (1963-1966) just over a third of the broadcast stories (ten out of twenty-nine) were ‘historicals’, time-travel stories in which the Doctor encountered famous people or visited famous periods from history.
A change in the style of the historicals came at the beginning of the second season, in 1964. Previously, these stories had engaged with history, and historical accounts of the period had been the main sources in shaping what appeared on screen. Beginning with The Romans, genre and story would become the prime motivators. Historical sources would still be consulted, but at the core of these episodes were stories of the period that had already been told. The Romans was a fairly close parody of the Hollywood epic Quo Vadis, to the point of lifting a couple of scenes; The Myth Makers (1965) took the viewers into the world of Homer’s Iliad.Does he see a route back into pure history in the future?
The other change in these historicals concerns the involvement of the Doctor. In the early stories he tried to be a dispassionate and uninvolved observer – in The Aztecs he famously told his companion Barbara (who was a history teacher) that ‘You can’t rewrite history! Not one line!’ By The Gunfighters (1966), he was an active participant, trying to avert the 1881 Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.
A problem with these stories is that often the bad guys won – no matter what he tried, the Doctor could not, for instance, stop the Greeks massacring the people of Troy. The more the Doctor got involved, the more obvious this was. So these stories were replaced after Patrick Troughton’s The Highlanders (1966). In their place came the ‘pseudo-historical’, first tried out with The Time Meddler (1965). In these stories the Doctor travelled back into human history to prevent some alien force destroying earth in the past."
"When the show returned in 2005, new producer Russell T. Davies deliberately wanted to set all the stories on Earth, so it was inevitable that human history would be visited regularly.Or will it? And if pure history does return to Who, whereabouts in the several billion years of our fair Earth's existence/the human past might we visit?
Doctor Who is very much aware that it is at heart a science fiction series, and so an alien threat is always the order of the day. That will no doubt continue as the show moves forward."
The English Civil War?
Or 17th Century Paris, perhaps?
Where would you like to see the Doctor pitch up?
Cue historical society-ish debate.......