How Doctor Who can teach history

Three months into the year and the only news we have of Series 9 is this (apart from Peter Capaldi returning)-

If you want everything to be secret and don’t want to know any news, then scroll down to the second pair of eyebrows.


  • Episode One and Two, the Magician’s Apprentice and the Witch’s Familiar. Missy is returning
  • Episode Three and Four. A spooky episode written by the same writer of great scripts like the God Complex, School Reunion and A Town Called Mercy (an episode which I have wildly changed my views on)
  • A big cliffhanger in the finale
  • There may or may not be Ice Warriors returning



So, now let’s debate the main topic. Amongst all this is a very heavy rumour of a Jane Austen episode (no, not her writing, an episode with her appearing). This brought to mind a blog post I did a while back as to why I love historical stories. This time, I will analyse why I believe Doctor Who is great at teaching history to children, based on my experiences.

Let’s look at the characters from history that the show has introduced, as well as the episode (I am only including characters who appeared in their original time, so Nefertiti from Dinosaurs on a Spaceship doesn’t count).

Charles Dickens- The Unquiet Dead

Queen Victoria- Tooth and Claw

Madame de Pompadour- The Girl in the Fireplace (I didn’t even know she was a real person)

William Shakespeare- The Shakespeare Code

Lucius Caecilius Iucundus- The Fires of Pompeii (another guy I didn’t know existed)

Agatha Christie- The Unicorn and the Wasp

Winston Churchill- Victory of the Daleks

Vincent Van Gogh- Vincent and the Doctor

Richard Nixon- The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon

Henry Avery- The Curse of the Black Spot

Hitler- Let’s Kill Hitler (albeit very briefly)

Robin Hood (Does he count?)- Robot of Sherwood

Just looking at that range, it’s clear that the show takes the history very seriously. Queens, writers, artists, even dictators! I think these elements help keep the show’s original aim of teaching history, but also offer new takes on people.

Nixon is a very controversial figure, yet Doctor Who looks at his positives and negatives equally. It’s hard to take Hitler seriously now with the thought that he was punched in the face and locked in a cupboard by Rory! My own personal knowledge of Van Gogh before Doctor Who was that he was a mad artist, yet after the episode I know that he was a person who suffered mental illness and who was shunned from society, yet he is now considered one of the, if not the best, artist of all time. He was a Post-Impressionist artist. And as I said, I had no clue that Peter Capaldi’s character (wonder what he’s in now?) from the Fires of Pompeii was real, until research told me otherwise.

It doesn’t stop there. Now, my image of the moon landing is the Silence being defeated. I immediately looked up the Orient Express when it was revealed that an episode would be set there (turned out it was in space, but the same principles apply). I can’t look at a gas mask without thinking “Are you my mummy”. My thought of Roman Britain is spaceships flying around Stonehenge.

But that’s the point. By using famous people like Van Gogh or Queen Victoria and famous time periods like Victorian times, World War II, the Coronation, the Moon landing and Pompeii, the show can introduce people, especially kids, to parts of history or aspects they don’t know about, all while being entertained by the monsters. The episodes are now ingrained into those events, so anytime children get taught those events or visit the locations, they instantly have knowledge and they instantly have something to remember about the person or event. I would even argue that Doctor Who should be used in class to teach history. Want to show what impact Van Gogh had on people? Pop in the gallery scene. Want to show racial inequality in the early 20th century? Then show Human Nature’s scenes where Martha is mocked for her skin colour. Want some insight into the British person’s life during the Blitz? Voila, the Empty Child is here to teach (and terrify) children everywhere.

That’s why I will anticipate any historicals highly and why I believe it is a great way to teach history.


2 thoughts on “How Doctor Who can teach history

  1. I am not sure that it can teach history because that is not the focus of the programme. However, what it can do (and has done successfully for many years) is inspire you to look into the subject more deeply. In this respect, it is a bit like this topic. I had no idea who Henry Avery was until you mentioned him and this prompted me to look him up. I think that this is the way Doctor Who works.

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