Doctor Who boss Chris Chibnall is open to bringing back “pure historical” stories

The BBC series hasn't produced an episode without sci-fi elements for almost 40 years

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Doctor Who showrunner Chris Chibnall has said he’d “happily” revive one of the show’s story formats – the ‘pure historical’.

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When it originally launched in the 1960s, Doctor Who would flit between science-fiction stories – space travel, aliens, et al – and historical episodes set in Earth’s past (where the only major fictitious element was the inclusion of the Doctor and their companions).

However, these ‘pure historicals’ were phased out of the show by the mid-1960s, though there was a one-off example – the Peter Davison story ‘Black Orchid’ – aired in 1982.

Speaking to RadioTimes.com, current Doctor Who boss Chibnall revealed he’d be keen to bring back the historical episodes, citing the acclaimed 2018 episode ‘Rosa‘ as a story with relatively few sci-fi components.

“I thought ‘Rosa’ was really really close to a pure historical – there’s just the one sci-fi guy with a vortex manipulator,” Chibnall said.

I was interested to see how that went down, because that felt like probably the purest historical – in terms of the priority component [being] historical – probably since the show came back, I would say.

I’d happily [revisit the format]. I mean we haven’t done it yet. But there’s no rule against it.”

Vinette Robinson as Rosa Parks in Doctor Who (BBC, HF)
Vinette Robinson as Rosa Parks in Doctor Who (BBC, HF)

Chibnall added that, as a Doctor Who fan himself, he “really love[s] the historicals”, suggesting that they can be “really resonant”, with events from the past illuminating our present.

“Maybe it’s because we’re living at such a time of flux that historicals seem to have an even greater resonance at the moment, in different and very surprising ways that you can’t really predict. 

“So, yeah, I’m very open for any writers to come along and go ‘Here’s your pure historical’.”

Doctor Who returns to BBC One at 6.55pm on New Year’s Day – and while there are no ‘pure historicals’ planned, we will see the return of the Cybermen, the Judoon and a “profound new challenge” for the Doctor (Jodie Whittaker).

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Interview by Huw Fullerton