Celebrity Historicals

The Unquiet Dead has unofficially become known as a ‘celebrity historical’, a sub genre of story which features quite often in the modern series - although actually happened a fair few times in the classic series too.

We’ve had Charles Dickens followed by fellow writers, William Shakespeare and Agatha Christie. Kings and Queens such as Elizabeth I, Victoria and James I and historically significant figures such as Winston Churchill, Richard Nixon and Rosa Parks.

The classic series gave us George Stephenson, HG Wells, Nero and Marco Polo amongst others.

Which historical ‘celebrity’ encounters are your favourites and who do you want the Doctor to meet next?


I’m not sure where I stand on the “Celebraty Historical”. They’re fine, but none super stand out. I find that my favorites have been on audio with The Marian Conspiracy with Queen Mary I and The Settling with Oliver Cromwell as examples. Who would I like to see next? I’m not sure. Maybe Ibn Battuta for a non-white example, or maybe Amelia Earhart for a Doctor Who take on her disappearance (I don’t know if this has already been done).


Girl in the Fireplace and Haunting of Villa Diodati are both top 10 stories for me. I think I’ve mentioned before that GitF was the first episode that made me really love 10 after spending his first few episodes still really not liking him because I’d gone into the show blind and was very caught off guard by the regeneration. Haunting is just incredible in how well it combines comedy and horror and also has the sort of climactic moment of 13’s unmasking in S12. Also 13 consistently rejecting Lord Byron and just showing absolutely no interest in him in any way like 6 episodes after she was being just a little bit gay with his daughter is one of the funniest things this show has ever done I love it so much.

Do feel compelled to bring up some dishonorable mentions in the genre: The Shakespeare Code and Rosa. The Shakespeare Code has a lot of fun going for it but, among some other issues, the prominent celebration of J.K. Rowling has aged absolutely terribly and leaves an awful taste in my mouth and has basically ruined the episode for me. And Rosa omits so much context around Rosa Parks’ life, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and the Civil Rights Movement that it just kind of absolutely fails to be anything more than a barely-better-than-the-elementary-school-version telling of the story of Rosa Parks’ arrest that doesn’t manage to really break out of the watered down and mythologized version of the Civil Rights Movement or say anything particularly meaningful about racism.


While the Witchfinders was not a good episode, King James was great in it.

And, of course, the Satan Pit had a great celebrity encounter with Satan.

It’d be nice to see both of them again. (Maybe in the same episode?)


My favourite celebrity historical is The Daleks in Manhattan, because it has Andrew Garfield in it—you know, Peter Parker/Spider-Man!

Oh, you don’t mean that kind of celebrity historical…?

Most of the time, these seem like stories that act as excuses to have the Doctor meet a historical celebrity but lack substance and rarely make for genuinely good stories. Vincent and the Doctor is one exception to this. I’m also growing somewhat disinterested in them and long for a return to a more Classic Who-style, pure historical narrative. I mean, a historical episode can be interesting if it is set at an interesting point in time or if the story is built around an interesting event, but it doesn’t always need to include a celebrity.


May I interest you in perhaps the best episode of 13’s era

(It’s not technically a pure historical but I think it essentially is, as the Thijarians serve mostly a thematic purpose and don’t really have any impact on events)


Oh I love The Haunting of Villa Diodati, it is absolutely fantastic and so atmospheric :blush:

I think the thing about Rosa (and please correct me if I’m way off here) is that Rosa Parks has a very important role in American history. If not for TV shows I don’t think I would have ever heard of Rosa Parks here in Denmark.
I read a bit further about her life and actions after the episode which was really fascinating. To give a comprehensive telling of Rosa Park and the Civil Rights Movement while also telling a compelling story in the span of 50 minutes would be very difficult. So I think it did what it set out to do, to tell her story in an engaging Doctor Who-y way while leaving viewers wanting to know more.


Yes, she’s definitely an important figure in the civil rights movements in the US, and most Americans should have learned about her in school.

And, hey, Rosa is at least as accurate as the Romans was, right?

There’s a part of me that kinda wants the villain of the piece to show up in the future, trying to wreck other moments in history…

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Same, and could we then have Capaldi come back and punch him ala “Thin Ice”?


I’d love to have Capaldi back. Shame he isn’t interested in multi-doctor stories.


I definitely do get the sense that it’s an episode that lands better outside the US, although I’m pretty sure some amount of history on the Civil Rights Movement is still common curriculum in the UK but maybe someone can tell me otherwise. And I certainly wouldn’t expect it to do a deep dive into the entirety of the Civil Rights Movement or even all the intricacies surrounding the Montgomery Bus Boycott, but it leaves out even some really basic things that I think are key to properly understanding the history in favor of the more storybook version.

Not going to get into all problems I have with the episode or go too deep into the failings of most Civil Rights Movement curriculum here in the US (might save all that for a proper post at some point), but I think fundamentally the premise that if Rosa Parks did not keep her seat on the bus on that day it would disrupt the Civil Rights Movement is flawed. Plans for a bus boycott had been in place for quite some time and the NAACP and other activist groups were sort of actively looking for someone to be the face of the boycott. 9 months before Rosa Park’s arrest, a 15 year old girl named Claudette Colvin was arrested for the same reason, and it’s her legal case that actually made it to the Supreme Court and ended bus segregation, but she wasn’t deemed suitable to be the face of a boycott because she was 15, unmarried, and pregnant, and there were too many concerns about bad optics. The episode (and most tellings of the story even here in the US) forgoes all of that context and more in favor of portraying Parks’ arrest as a singular heroic moment that lead to change.

And of course I’m not trying to minimize the real importance of Rosa Parks in saying all of this, because absolutely her activism and her role in the boycott was incredibly important, I just think that telling the story of her arrest in this way minimizes the realities of the collective activism that made the Civil Rights Movement possible.


That’s really interesting, I haven’t heard of Claudette Colvin before.

I think for the purpose of this story it is vital to highlight Rosa Parks as a “symbol” so that if history is changed around her bad things happen. This kind of simplifying history to suit fictional stories is a common, if sometimes problematic, narrative theme.

I think the legacy of “Rosa” is that it encourages people to learn more about a significant change in American history and politics, as well as showing viewers the faults of a not too distant past. Sometimes it is just important to keep highlighting the simple fact that racism is wrong.

I would love to read a more in-depth post about this :+1:


Oh, I have, but I don’t think the Romans is accurate historically, either.

I tend to feel a lot of theoretically critical moments in history would just happen another way if a time traveller intervened, but that doesn’t make for as good of a story.


Is there a single “historical” story in the Whoniverse that doesn’t take liberties to allow for better storytelling? We are not making documentaries here after all :blush: The Romans is probably not historically accurate, but it is a lot of fun!

I also think these crucial, significant moments in time or fixed points or what you wish to call them make for better drama.


GitF is a damn near perfect episode of Dr Who

It’s got horror, comedy, charm, heart, sci-fi, future-y stuff, time travel both future and past. Basically sums up everything about Revival Who in a clean 45 minutes

So so good

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For a very long time it was my favorite episode of the show but then 12 and 13’s eras brought in some competition and it’s been bumped down a bit, but it holds a very special place in my heart as the episode that made 10 my favorite doctor for some time

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I’m with Bill (again - shut up at the back) about historicals and their adherence to strict fact. Rosa was 50 minutes long and, I think, did a good job of explaining some of the events surrounding Rosa Parkes. The fact it did show that she was part of a larger initiative and that Martin Luther King was involved was something, certainly in the UK, I’m not sure was widely known as part of the ‘bus seat’ narrative.

And also what is really important to remember is that Doctor Who is always being scripted with its family audience in mind. It isn’t a historical documentary and if it can slip in some facts about real history without telling any untruths, then that’s surely a good thing as it might make some people delve a bit deeper if their interest has been piqued. And if it isn’t, they have at least learnt something, however basic.

And I think one of Chibnall’s strengths was including female historical figures where before, they had been thin on the ground: Rosa Parkes, Noor Inayat Khan, Ada Lovelace, Mary Seacole, Mary Shelley.


I think one of the best historical celebrities in Doctor Who is the very first one. Marco Polo.
The way the story is told partly through his journal entries that he reads aloud is a really good narrative way of dropping large swathes of exposition and gaining insight to his thoughts about our mysterious travellers.

His relationship with Ian is built on mutual trust earned through hardship and occasional adversity between them. Who’s first proper “bromance” :+1:

I’ll save the rest of my many thoughts about “Marco Polo” until we get there for the TV Club :slightly_smiling_face:

And finally something we disagree on - I have huge problems with Marco Polo (although you are right about the journal entry bit. Apparently, it was originally going to be the regulars also narrating bits but they decided to restrict it to solely Marco).

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We might not disagree as much as you think.
There’s a reason I wrote historical celebrities and not celebrity historicals :wink:

There are issues with Marco Polo the serial for sure, but the way Mr. Marco is portrayed is really good. Because of his diary entries and the length of the story we get a real insight to the life of this particular Venetian explorer. Also just his final soliloquy after the TARDIS has dematerialised where we learn that he does in fact believe Ian about being a traveller in space and time - that’s stellar storytelling in my book :+1: