8 Historical Mysteries That Would Make Great 'Doctor Who' Episodes
Looking at some of the strange instances of history that might be explained away through the writing of the long-running sci-fi TV show.
Already, the long-running sci-fi show of Doctor Who has co-opted a number of historical figures and events, putting the Time Lord in position to explain some of the world’s biggest mysteries. We’ve had Agatha Christie’s disappearance, Shakespeare’s missing play, and the Mary Celeste’s missing crew. Here are some unexplained events throughout history that would be prime times for the Doctor to swoop in and save the world from aliens.
The Time-Traveling Charlie Chaplin Fan
It seems right to start off with a supposed time-traveler. In 2009, Charlie Chaplin fan and George Clark was watching a DVD from his box set when he noticed something strange. On her way to the premiere of Chaplins The Circus in 1928, a woman walks by the camera, talking to someone on what appears to be a cellphone. The first cellphone call wasn’t made until 1973 by Martin Cooper, so what was this woman actually doing? Some believe she was talking to someone off-screen while adjusting her hearing aid, but hey, maybe she was a companion of the Doctor’s that had their phone supped up with a little “jiggery pokery.” Christopher Eccleston’s Doctor did just that for Rose in the episode “The End of the World.”
Near the Podkamennaya Tunguska River of Siberia on June 30th, 1908, one witness describes the ground-shaking event:
Suddenly in the north sky… the sky was split in two, and high above the forest the whole northern part of the sky appeared covered with fire… At that moment there was a bang in the sky and a mighty crash… The crash was followed by a noise like stones falling from the sky, or of guns firing. The earth trembled.
He was describing what is now known as the Tunguska Event, in wihch something crashed into the ground so hard that people 40 miles away felt the tremors, and the air became so hot that some people thought their clothes were on fire. It wasn’t until nine years later that anyone ventured over to the uninhabited area and saw the destruction caused by this mysterious something. Trees lost their limbs and branches were bent back so far they were almost knocked over. What was strange, though, was the lack of a crater and the absence of any leftover residue from whatever crashed. No one is absolutely positive what hit the Earth, but I’m sure the writers could make it even more extraterrestrial than what scientists were already thinking.
Nikola Tesla’s Death Ray
Known for inventing the Tesla Coils, Nikola was an idealistic inventor and a figure who would be a great addition to the show, especially given his thoughts on making a death ray. While this may not seem like a prime candidate for someone the Doctor would want to be around, Tesla was actually trying to accomplish some good; he believed that if he had a weapon powerful enough, it would be able to end national conflict forever. He was determined to make it – and I’m sure the Doctor would be determined to stop it.
In a 1934 article by The New York Times, Tesla is said to have “perfected a method and apparatus” for the defensive death-beam, and that it would be capable of 50,000,000 volts with a 250 mile range. Tesla even claimed that the device would be able to strike down 10,000 airplanes in one strike.
He kept his detailed plans a secret so as to avoid theft, which was actually quite common at the time. Unfortunately, many of Tesla’s papers went missing after his death, and those plan are now lost to history.
Alternately called the Parthian Battery and the Baghdad Battery, this artifact can generate up to two volts of electricity. That’s a lot more impressive when you consider that the artifact predates mankind’s interaction with modern electricity by 2000 years. It’s widely thought of as an ancient storage place storage for scrolls, but some are skeptical that the Parthians accidentally created a way to generate electricity with the copper and iron rods inside of the ceramic jar.
In a Doctor Who episode, it could have been aliens inspired the pot. Some kind of species, as usual, wants to take the Earth as its own, and the Doctor needs to stop them with just the materials around him. He improvises and creates the Baghdad Battery, but because he’s not one for sticking around for clean-up, he forgot to take it out of Parthia on his way out.
Throughout history there have been instances of strange objects and animals falling from the sky. Coins rained down in Russia in 1940, jellyfish pummeled in England in 1894, and sugar crystal fell from the California sky in 1857. The explanation is generally a simple one — strong winds — but maybe it’s far weirder than that.
From Chronicles of Prodigies in 1557, writer Conrad Lycosthene describes stones raining down and killing human and livestock. In 1698, stones fell from the sky in New Hampshire. And then in October of 1901, the town of Harrisonville, Ohio had dozens of stones fall through the clear sky to break many a window – so many that the citizens of town gathered up all of the boys and men to make sure none of them were responsible for throwing them and causing mischief. Stone still continued to fall when everyone was accounted for. And then, after a couple of days, they just suddenly stopped.
More instances popped up around the world from then all the way until 1990, so we should probably be due for another one soon — and an opportunity for the Doctor to discover why exactly this has been happening for years.
Edgar Allan Poe’s Disappearance
In season 4 of the New Who, the Doctor and Donna go back to 1920s where they meet Agatha Christie, leading up to the event that causes her mysterious 11-day disappearance in 1926. So Doctor Who has dabbled in historical missing-persons before, so a similar instance in which Poe mysteriously went missing and then reappears days later would make for a very fine plot.
In 1849, Poe was supposed to catch a boat from Richmond to Baltimore and then take a train from Maryland to Philadelphia, where he was to meet his mother-in-law. While he made it to Baltimore, he never showed up in Philadelphia. From September 28th to October 3rd, no one had any idea where he was, but in the end, he showed up in a tavern, incoherent and mumbling about someone named “Reynolds” with another man’s clothing on and his luggage checked into a hotel in Baltimore, where he was only supposed to stay for a few hours. He died shortly after on October 7th at the age of 40. While this story is morbid and grim – very similar to his stories – maybe the Doctor could liven up his short life with a little adventure. Edgar Allan Poe would definitely be an entertaining (and most likely drunk) companion that I’m sure the Doctor will rave about.
The Dancing Plague of 1518
This one sounds absolutely silly, but who doesn’t love a medieval flash mob? Frau Troffea was the first to break it down during the year of 1518 in Strasbourg, France and it quickly escalated from there. By the end of the week, there were 30 reports of people constantly dancing and by the end of the month, there were 400. But then just as suddenly, the dancers finally stopped. Unfortunately, not everyone through the ordeal. Due to finding no other cure, people then believed that the victims of this strange craze just needed to dance so much that it waltzed right out of their system. Stages were set up, musicians played all day and night, and professional dancers helped those forced to dance to continue. Many didn’t make it and died from heart attack, exhaustion, or stroke.
Medical professionals at the time were stumped and ones now still aren’t sure what caused the incident. Ideas range from mass hysteria to moldy rye, so considering the cause is unknown, it would be interesting to see what kind of extraterrestrial explanation the writers of Doctor Who could come up with.
As with plenty of ghost stories, a Ouija board is involved. For most, it’s a fun little diversion when the electricity goes out; for Patience Worth, it was the only way she communicated for 24 years. Starting in 1913, Pearl Curran sat with her friend as they attempted to call out to the spirits of the afterlife with the infamous board game. They were on the verge of quitting after getting nothing but random letters, when a ghost finally answered:
Many moons ago I lived. Again I come – Patience Worth my name. Wait! I would speak with thee! If thou shalt live, then so shall I. I make my bread by thy hearth. Good friends, let us be merrie. The time for work is past.
From there, Pearl Curran glued her hand to that pointer until her death in 1937 and helped Patience to transcribe almost four million words, all of which were put into seven books, hundreds of poems, plays, short stories, and a multitude of conversations with visitors that would come by to speak with her.
It’s a wild story, not the least because Curran dropped out of school at 14 and didn’t have much of a vocabulary, especially not one of a 17th century language, to commit such a lengthy hoax. A sci-fi spin would escalate this bizarre incident even further. Patience could be an alien using the Ouija board as a conduit, or Patience remains unexplained, but warns the Doctor of the aliens to come.
And whether any of these events actually end up in Doctor Who episodes, there are plenty more unexplained mysteries and legends throughout history that the writers can use as fodder for their next episode. If they’re determined enough, they can make anything about aliens.