Six Smart Women Discussing Doctor Who

VerityEpisode37-300This week we dip into the past to talk about some baddies from the old days. Join Deb, Erika, Katrina, and Tansy as we set out to discuss the historical villains of Doctor Who. Along the way we discover it’s much more complicated than it seems. Historical (and pseudo-historical) stories are really different beasts from other types of Who. It’s a fascinating discussion! We hope you find it so too.


Also covered:

Bonus links:
Cranky Ladies Of History crowdfunding campaign on Pozible
Cranky Ladies Of History Blog Tour
Cranky Ladies Of History on Pinterest
The Settling

Download or listen now (runtime 1:12:18) 

Comments on: "Verity! Episode 37 – These Villains Are History" (20)

  1. AdamsI said:

    I enjoyed your discussion of historical villains and noted that you addressed both 1) the extent to which the Doctor has interacted with historical figures in the novels and audios and 2) the Doctor’s interactions with Hitler in “Let’s Kill Hitler.”

    I found it fascinating how it was mentioned that the Doctor tends to be friends with everybody and it was a relief that they just shoved Hitler in the closet rather than touch on that. This entire discussion had me remembering “Timewyrm: Exodus” by Terrance Dicks and I would be curious to hear your thoughts on the Doctor’s relationship with Hitler there.

    In “Timewyrm: Exodus” the seventh Doctor does, in fact, become “friends” with Hitler. He and Ace travel to the early days of the Nazi party and save Hitler from some attackers. They speak with Hitler and he thanks them adamantly for the help, noting that he will never forget the Doctor. Later, the Doctor and Ace have traveled further along the timeline to when Hitler is in power over Germany. The Doctor presents himself as a close friend of the Fuhrer and is initially challenged but manages to get into Hitler’s inner circle and gain his trust, relying on their earlier interaction.

    I think there are definitely problems in Dicks’ portrayal of Hitler in this book, primarily that he has Hitler possessed by the Timewyrm and so implicitly ascribes some of Hitler’s atrocities to possession. The relationship with the Doctor doesn’t seem to be as problematic to me. The Doctor recognizes his evil but also recognizes his importance and, given the manipulative nature of the seventh Doctor (especially in the novels) he recognizes the importance of being able to work within Hitler’s inner circle to achieve his purposes.

    This was before “fixed points in time” but the structure of the novel emphasizes that the Doctor is trying to repair damage done by the Timewyrm and restore the “correct” time line, explaining why he doesn’t stop Hitler. He is there to make sure the damage is exactly as bad as the true history should have made it, and no worse.

    This isn’t the greatest summary, but it gives the idea. Thoughts?

  2. Too many eps without Liz is making me cranky. Please tell me she’ll be in the next one.

    (No offense to the other hosts, you’re all great.)

  3. In regards to writers and how they portray history: in the Eight Doctor audio Storm Warning the Doctor arrives on the airship R101, which crashed on its maiden voyage in 1930. The writer Alan Barnes chose to not use the real crew in the story as he wanted to capture the romance, excitement and horror surrounding the event without betraying the memory of those involved. Also it has aliens so it isn’t a proper historical.

    I would like to see Oscar Wilde in Doctor Who.

  4. One thing I really enjoy about the historicals, especially watching them as an adult, is that I’m often inspired to go back and re-read about that character or part of history just to remind myself which parts were accurate in Doctor Who, and which had artistic liberties taken. Not that I’m writing a thesis or gaining any really impressive in-depth knowledge, but a bit of a memory jog sometimes is good. I was fortunate to have some truly excellent history teachers in school, but of course it doesn’t all stick forever when you don’t work in that field.
    I wonder how different it will be for my own kids, who are exposed to these historical figures in Doctor Who prior to actually learning about them in school. At the very least, the potential for some amusing classroom discussions.

    I’d like to see Italian artist/architect Gian Lorenzo Bernini.

  5. Getting Harriet Jones prematurely sacked and changing history (remember she was supposed to be a long running great leader) was ALSO a “bite the Doctor in the ass” since it gave an opening to The Master to swoop in.

  6. Cameron said:

    The Doctor has sort of met some of the Mitford sisters in the audios, although they were called the Pollards at the time…

  7. As regards Cranky Women of History as well as eras of the Roman Empire, how’s about the excellent and morally complex Big Finish Fourth Doctor story “The Wrath of the Iceni”? John Dorney’s script and Ella Kenion’s portrayal of Boudica offer a fascinating exploration of a well-known but often misunderstood figure and period of British history.

  8. Great topic and fun discussion.

    This issue has always caught my interest for two reasons: (1) The overwhelmingly Anglo-centric historical on the TV episodes. (2) The question of whether monsters/fantasy or soft scifi elements are necessary to tell a good Doctor Who story?

    (1): Yes, admittedly, Dr. Who is a UK production so it may primarily reflect UK historical perspectives. Although the TV show has gone to Rome, France, visited Aztec Civilization, Greece, etc… the majority of “historicals” are recent UK (1000CE-present) history. Even many of the other cultures are either represented through a British (colonialist or imperialist lens) (e.g., China in Marco Polo) or historical ties (e.g., Egypt – museum based looting!) I would argue that there have been more than enough visits to England in the Victorian era for a good while. My argument is that if (A) the show takes a humanist or progressive stance in general and (B) there is still value in using the show to educate then:

    * (Especially related to point B & agreeing with Erika’s point) Lesser known or generally unknown historical events and figures would be ideal for some stories.

    * Representing the history of marginalized or minority (politically, or with regards to soft power, etc) populations would be a good idea. As examples: why not tell the story of Truganini and the Black War, or King Sejong of Korea and the scientific advances made, or one of the many female historical indigenous figures of North or South America (beyond Pocahontas and Sacajewea), Babylon (and the writing of the Epic of Gilgamesh – a reasonable excuse to include a monster), Myanmar, etc. …the rich history of the entire content of Africa has been largely ignored. I personally, know much much too little world history/culture and Doctor Who is a great tool for teaching, or at least introducing.

    * If more commonly known history is presented, why not show more challenging perspectives? For example, why not show some of Churchill’s more controversial views? (As the wise hosts of Verity! commented, Big Finish often does this fairly well.)

    As for question (2), I don’t think that monsters are a necessity and their occasional absence could provide a breath of fresh air. Historical episodes that have shoehorned in sci-fi or fantasy elements don’t work for me very often. The monster in the Van Gogh episode and the Unicorn and the Wasp hurt my enjoyment of the story and, frankly, make it hard for me to show those episodes to non-Who watchers as the blend is so awkward. Black Orchid is a treat, although it is flawed and a bit strangely paced, I loved it as a kid and still like it as an adult. The Aztecs, is also great…

    I welcome comments, discussions, criticism, slings, barbs, and gumbo.

    Thanks as always for the podcast

  9. Elinor said:

    I think Big Finish has been generally very good at portraying historical people as…. well… people. I’m of the belief that there is no such thing as a purely good or purely evil person and think that BF have done a really great job at ‘showing’ that in alot of their historical characters.

    I was particularly impressed with Son of the Dragon, which is a pure historical that explores an historical person and events which could so easily be used for a pseudo-historical. I like that they didn’t do that and found the portrayal of Prince Vlad III (aka Dracula) absolutely fascinating.

    • Absolutely, with the bonus detail that he was played by James Purefoy who also sizzled as the Black Prince in A Knight’s Tale and (more importantly) the ultimate Marc Antony in HBO’s Rome.

      The handling of Richard III and the princes in the tower in The Kingmaking was another brilliant one.

  10. Rodney said:

    I, for one, have always despaired that Doctor Who has never visited a great composer. Granted, not a lot of them were particularly fascinating in Who-like way but they still had some characters amongst them. I’d like to offer two-

    Richard Wagner- One of the giants. He was a political revolutionary and was banished from Germany for many years. By all accounts, he was a horrible person who frequently mooched off his friends. I think there could be a good story in his timeline somewhere.

    Gustav Mahler- The composer was more famous as a conductor in his lifetime and his compositions were routinely rubbished until his Eighth Symphony (called the Symphony of a Thousand). He had nine months to live when he premiered the work to great acclaim. Imagine a story about a self-doubting artist being cheered on by the Doctor for his greatest triumph. (Oh wait, there’s already been the Van Gough thing)…

    You could also look at a composer like Shostakovich struggling to write music in an oppressive environment in Russia. Not quite sure how that could be worked into a Who story though.

    The point is, we’ve had painters, poets, playwrights and authors but no composers. This should be addressed!

    PS- I agree with Rory- we need Liz back soon!!!

  11. Mandy said:

    I should preface these comments by saying that I haven’t read many of the books or comics and I haven’t listened to all of the audios so I don’t know if the Doctor has met any of these people already (but please let me know if he has).

    Deb mentioned Byron but I think that his daughter Ada Lovelace (mathematician, algorithmist, letter writer extraordinaire) would keep the Doctor on his toes. So too Hypatia (mathematician, philosopher, astronomer) and there would be a good emotional kick to the story with the Doctor unable to save her from her sticky end.

    I’d love to see the Doctor meeting Lola Montez (actress, adventuress, mistress of Ludwig I), though I’m fairly sure that she’s actually River Song. If not, the Eleventh Doctor would still love her; she’s just his sort of lady.

    I’m surprised that the Doctor hasn’t spent more time in the Age Of Sail; the Doctor on the deck of the Victory at Trafalgar or with Nelson (commander of men, naval strategist, sufferer of seasickness) before that at the Battle Of The Nile. It must have been the Sixth Doctor who taught him the famous maxim, “Never mind about manoeuvres, go straight at them” (sometimes quoted with a more, er, pithy wording).

  12. I was quite surprised that The Aztecs was left out of the discussion. Autloc is one of the most complex “baddies” in the show’s history. On the surface he might appear unapologetically evil in his scheming ways but was he? In the context of the story, he might be considered a hero trying to protect his people from the false gods (he, being the only one to really understand what was going on).

  13. I think the main problem with the historicals was that they started out with the intention to educate, and maybe that’s where the notion of not being able to alter events came from? it would get awfully confusing for the viewers if they were being educated about history as they were watching it being changed!

    I also think there’s a reluctance to tamper with the “facts” as they relate to known historical figures, but writers feel more freedom and can have more fun when dealing with fictional characters in a historical setting, as in The Aztecs and The Time Warrior. Those shows tend to be more fun (in my humble opinion) because they feel less like dry history lessons and more like historical drama. It’s also easier to paint a fictional character as an out and out villlain because there’s no responsibility to “get it right”.

  14. Laurissy said:

    My favourite historical is the aztecs. Tltoxol being one of my favourite villians. God he’s brilliant probaly not very aztec but I love the aztecs so that does not matter. In regards to changing history, I suppose another reason is we always want the Doctor’s world to connect to ours and if you change certain events. It stops being our world and becomes a fantasy. This is the same reason why bo obe rembers the world being invade the doctor who earth has got to stay close to ours to feel connected to it,

  15. Sally Jordan-Peck said:

    I would like to do a historical episode set in Australia; specifically 1850’s Ballarat during the Eureka rebellion

  16. Paul B. =:o} said:

    Wow! Relistening to this podcast in February 2020, it seems you guys basically set the template for Series 12, right here! =:oO

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