Listen to the RadioTimes.com Doctor Who podcast: The future of historical episodes

What makes a good trip to the past in Doctor Who, and could the series ever return to the "pure historical" format?

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The history of Doctor Who is littered with, well, history, with a whole host of episodes delving into humanity’s past to offer educational stories starring big-name figures from times gone by.

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Such visionaries have included Marco Polo, Vincent van Gogh, Mary Shelley, Queen Victoria, William Shakespeare and many more, alongside non-celebrity historicals that have used the past to hold up a mirror to issues of the present day.

But what makes a good historical Doctor Who episode? Which eminent people should the Doctor meet next, and how far can we stretch the definition to include different episodes?

Well, in this week’s RadioTimes.com Doctor Who podcast we do our best to find out, while also delving into the loss of the “pure historical” story – aka one without any sci-fi or alien elements beyond the Doctor’s own presence – and whether such history-centric stories could return.

Current showrunner Chris Chibnall is certainly open to it. “I thought Rosa was really really close to a pure historical – there’s just the one sci-fi guy with a vortex manipulator,” he told us in 2019.

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.”

He added: “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’.”

And of course we haven’t seen the last of historical episodes in general, with rumours suggesting that an episode in the upcoming series 13 could feature Crimean war nurse Mary Seacole – and as we lay out what we know about this particular story, our podcast hosts lay out their own pitches for future trips back in time.

Want more Doctor Who chat? Check out last week’s podcast about a possible surprise regeneration, or visit our dedicated Sci-Fi page.

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For more recommendations, check out our full TV Guide.