Over the decades-long run of Doctor Who, the time-traveling alien has encountered many of history’s most illustrious personalities, and it only makes sense that an intellectually-gifted adventurer such as himself would choose to spend some time with some of history’s greatest figures.
In this article, we’ll discuss how the Doctor Who television series treats history’s greatest names while remaining true to the historical figure’s portrayal. We’ll also mention some of the prominent historical figures the fans would like to see in the series’ future. So, without further ado, let’s go back through time.
Which Famous Historical Figures Have Appeared on the Doctor Who TV Show?
Given his capacity for time travel, the Doctor has met a vast number of famous historical figures during his adventures, and the television show continues its historical tradition by adding its own unique sci-fi perspective to real-life events involving historical individuals.
This means that the Time Lord has met many great writers, like Charles Dickens or William Shakespeare, or other historically important figures, like Rosa Parks, Winston Churchill, and Vincent Van Gogh. In fact, the list is quite comprehensive, and below are just some of the historical figures our resident Time Lord has had interactions with:
- William Shakespeare
- Queen Elizabeth the First
- Rosa Parks
- King John
- Winston Churchill
- Charles Dickens
- King James the First
- Agatha Christie
- George Stephenson
- Madame de Pompadour
- H.G. Wells
- Robin Hood
- Vincent Van Gogh
Abilities of Historical Figures That Have Appeared in the Show
Interestingly enough, unlike some of the Doctor’s companions, like Jack Harkness or River Song, all historical figures that the Doctor had met were just regular humans. They didn’t have any extraterrestrial power or any peculiar abilities.
Actually, the only extraterrestrial and peculiar thing about them is the fact that they met the Doctor and most likely helped him defeat an episode’s baddie — which is, in most cases, also extraterrestrial. So, let’s meet these historical figures, shall we?
Episodes Featuring Historical Figures
As previously mentioned, The Doctor met a vast array of historical figures during the show’s 60-year-long run. Below is a list of some of the most watched episodes featuring real historical figures.
William Shakespeare — The Shakespeare Code — S3E2, New Who
The Tenth Doctor takes Martha on her first official trip to 16th-century England, where they meet William Shakespeare, who was writing the sequel to his famous play titled “Love’s Labour’s Lost” while having no idea that he was influenced by a band of Carronites. By the episode’s end, the Doctor defeated the Carronites, but Shakespeare’s sequel was lost in the process, which is why we never had the opportunity to read the (lost) play “Love’s Labors Won.”
Queen Elizabeth the First — The Day of the Doctor — 50th Anniversary Special
In The Day of the Doctor, the Tenth Doctor changed history by marrying Queen Elizabeth, also known as the Virgin Queen. However, she’s also seen in The Shakespeare Code demanding that the Doctor be put to death, annoyed that he had married her in 1562 and then departed to fight in the Time War.
Rosa Parks — Rosa — S11E3, New Who
Despite the Doctor’s intentions, the TARDIS transported the Thirteenth Doctor and her companions to Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955, where the seamstress Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a segregated bus to a white man, igniting the American civil rights movement. The Thirteenth Doctor and her companions meet Rosa before the crucial bus ride while confronting Krasko — a time-traveling mass murderer determined to derail history.
King John — The King’s Demons — S20Ser6, Old Who
Another Classic Doctor story follows the Doctor and his companions as they land in the 13th century and are greeted by King John, who wasn’t exactly King John, but a Kamelion posing as the King, under the direction of the Master — the Doctor’s archnemesis.
Winston Churchill — Victory of the Daleks — S5E3 New Who
Winston Churchill, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom during World War II and again from 1951 to 1955, was an ally of the Eleventh Doctor, who even had a direct phone line to the TARDIS. Early in Season 5, the Doctor pays Churchill a visit during the London Blitz, only to discover the Prime Minister inadvertently resurrected the Daleks, who are not seeking to destroy Earth but rather help the allies “win” the war The next time they met was in an alternate universe, where Churchill was the Holy Roman Emperor and engaged in social media conversations with Cleopatra.
Charles Dickens — The Unquiet Dead — S1E3 New Who
While taking Rose to Victorian London, the Ninth Doctor inadvertently transported her to Victorian Cardiff, where they met Charles Dickens, whose reading was cut short by a ghost’s appearance! This wasn’t an actual ghost but a Gelth, a member of an alien race with a decidedly eerie appearance. Dickens also appeared in the Wedding of River Song episode in 2011.
King James the First — The Witchfinders — S11E3 New Who
The Doctor usually gets along with all of history’s prominent figures she meets, but there was a major personality clash when she met King James, who thought she couldn’t be the Witchfinder General because she was a woman, assuming Graham was in charge! They didn’t part on good terms…
Agatha Christie — The Unicorn and the Wasp — S4E7 New Who
Both Donna and the Tenth Doctor meet the famous Agatha Christie in an homage episode to the famous novelist. The episode itself revolves around a murder mystery akin to those in her novels but with a sci-fi twist typical of Doctor Who.
George Stephenson — The Mark of the Rani — S22Ser3 Old Who
The Father of the Railways, as he was known, is yet another historical figure with whom the Doctor had crossed paths during his adventures, as they were caught up in the sinister plans of not one but two evil Time Lords. The Master intended to bring forth the industrial revolution, and a newcomer, The Rani, intended to conduct experiments on humans.
Madame de Pompadour — The Girl in the Fireplace — S2E4 New Who
Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson, also known as Reinette and/or Madame de Pompadour, was the mistress of King of France. The Tenth Doctor first met Reinette in the 18th century when she was seven years old, and he destroyed a Clockwork Droid hiding under her bed.
H.G. Wells — Timelash — S22Ser5 Old Who
The Sixth Doctor and Peri, along with a young man named Herbert— later revealed to be H.G. Wells — become entangled in the machinations of the despotic Borad on the planet Karfel and in 1885 Scotland.
Robin Hood — Robot of Sherwood — S8E3 New Who
The Doctor offers Clara the choice of their next destination, and the faithful companion chooses to meet the English folk hero, Robin Hood, only to find out that the cruel Sheriff of Nottingham employs robot knights to do his bidding and enact his malevolent plan that would change the course of history.
Vincent Van Gogh — Vincent and the Doctor — S5E10 New Who
After spotting a strange creature in van Gogh’s “The Church at Auvers”, Doctor and Amy Pond travel to 1890 to speak to Vincent van Gogh about the painting and the creature in it. Vincent and the Doctor have been regarded as one of the best episodes of the Doctor Who television show for its tribute to Vincent van Gogh and his art.
The Doctor and the Historical Figures Connection
It’s important to remember that the Doctor Who television show was initially conceptualized as a family-friendly children’s educational show. It always implied time travel as a narrative element that would allow the protagonist to explore the future and teach kids about science, and explore the historical events offering scientific commentary.
Admittedly, the show took a turn towards adventure sci-fi, but it retained some of its historical, educational elements, which made it fitting for the Doctor to meet, hang out, and even influence the lives of some of history’s most prominent figures.
Of course, some liberties were taken, but that shouldn’t be as surprising from a series centered around a time- and inter-dimensional Time Lord from another planet. And numerous fins find it absolutely amazing that the show tackled some of the issues in its own way, like the fact that Shakespeare’s work was lost due to an alien attack.
How are Various Historical Figures Depicted in the Doctor Who Television Series?
As stated before, the historical figures of the Doctor Who television series weren’t depicted as extraterrestrial or mythical creatures posing as typical humans for whatever reason. It was actually quite the opposite; they were depicted as they were. Vincent van Gogh was portrayed as a depressed man, which was historically factual, and Shakespeare was considered the “most human human there’s ever been,” by the Doctor.
Apart from their talents or levels of intellect, all historical figures from Earth’s history were depicted as solely human, where some of their most profound achievements could be credited to their brief and mostly friendly interactions with the Doctor. Of course, there were those who, like King James the First, weren’t so excited about the Time Lord.
What Other Historical Figures Would Fans Like to See in the Show?
It’s safe to say that Doctor Who television show doesn’t lack historical figures, but there are some prominent personalities from the past who haven’t been featured — at least not yet. Edgar Allan Poe would be the perfect example of this. He most certainly wouldn’t be the first writer the Doctor had come across, but considering the overall atmosphere of his literary art, featuring Poe would result in a memorable horror episode.
Fans of the show also wanted to see the Doctor and Leonardo da Vinci on-screen. The brilliant artist and innovator has already made a few appearances in the Doctor Who universe, though mostly in novels, comics, and audio plays. Oh, and we saved the best for last — the Doctor could meet with one of the biggest names in British literature, J. R. R. Tolkien. Perhaps the two would embark on an adventure that would inspire Tolkien to write some of his biggest works.