Doctor Who and August 24Posted: 24 August 2010
I guess Wikipedia is actually good for something: yesterday, I read about the eruption of Mount Vesuvius happening on this day in 79 CE, so I went back and listened to the Big Finish audio The Fires of Vulcan (synopsis). Featuring the 7th Doctor and Melanie, it’s similar to the 10th Doctor story “The Fires of Pompeii” in that the Doctor and Mel get tangled with the locals, trying to retrieve the TARDIS before Vesuvius erupts.
I then returned to Wikipedia today, and found out that on this day in 1572, the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre occurred, during which French Protestants (Huguenots) were targeted and murdered, starting in Paris and eventually fanning out all over France. Doctor Who made a story from this (synopsis), culminating in the first night of the massacre. As with The Fires of Vulcan, I dusted off the CD to listen to this classic story, as it only exists in audio form. Originally aired way back in 1966, it features William Hartnell playing the 1st Doctor, as well as the Abbot of Amboise in a rare double act. Indeed, the plot of The Massacre of St Bartholomew’s Eve is darker in tone relative to contemporary Doctor Who serials generally, and as an historical story in particular.
I find it interesting that both of these events (and the Doctor Who stories that arose from them) happened on the same day. As a student of history viewing black-and-white Doctor Who for the first time in the late 1990s, I appreciated Sydney Newman’s original remit of the show to entertain and educate. I’m quite keen on stories set in Earth’s history, and some of them (The Aztecs for example) can rival among more traditional sci-fi stories as among my favourites.
Although some stories in the Doctor Who revival are set in the past (and many of those, like “The Empty Child”/”The Doctor Dances”, are quite good), I’m slightly disappointed that none of them is a pure historical. I might have mentioned it before, but maybe it’s time for the production team to return to this format, if only as an “experiment.” What would make this experiment more bold is to move away from the more obvious time periods (WWII for instance) and choose a period of history not yet covered in the Doctor Who canon. It just might prove to be a lesson for the cast and crew, as well as the audience!