The latest episode of Doctor Who, titled "The Haunting of Villa Diodati," depicts the dark and stormy night when Mary Shelley, her husband Percy, and Lord Byron told scary stories to one another, inspiring her to write Frankenstein. While this may be the novelist's first TV appearance on Doctor Who, Mary is among the lucky few humans to have accompanied the Doctor on their travels in the audio adventures.
When Doctor Who started in 1963, it was intended to be an educational history show with occasional alien-centric episodes. This balance changed after the space travel episodes proved more successful, but these historical stories still remain a vital part of Doctor Who canon, whether it's saving William Shakespeare from alien witches or inspiring Vincent Van Gogh with sunflowers.
This balance extends out into the audio adventures as well: Through these, the Doctor has met King James II, Edgar Allan Poe, and Mary and Percy Shelley. The later encounter occurred when the Eighth Doctor aged himself, knocked on Villa Diodati's door and introduced himself as Dr. Frankenstein. He then appeared to die, giving Mary, Percy, and Byron the idea of using the lightning storm to revive him, thus inspiring the Frankenstein story. A younger version of the Doctor arrives to nurse his elder form back to health, then invites Mary on his travels.
Within the audio adventure canon, Shelley traveled with the Doctor for years, visiting the 1066 Battle of Hastings, battling an alien in disguise as a superfan in 2011, and traversing the far-off planet Draxine. The first of these adventures, where Mary and the Doctor face off against the Cybermen in 1873 Vienna, may hold a clue to Mary's television appearance.
In Season 12 episode 5, Captain Jack Harkness returns after many years to offer the Doctor a warning: "beware the lone Cyberman." The Cybermen, as electronic powered superbeings, provide an obvious connection to Shelley's fiction. When pressed for information on the villain of the episode by Radio Times, showrunner Chris Chibnall would only say "there is a ghost story." Knowing Doctor Who's history in mining the inspiration behind Frankenstein, it's a safe bet to guess there will be a reanimation of some sort, be it cyber or human.
The episode also stands to be extremely historically accurate, as Chibnall points out writer Maxine Alderton is an "expert" on the Shelleys, as is demonstrated through the casting of young actors in these roles. (Many forget Mary Shelley was a mere 18 years old when she came up with the idea for her classic novel.)
Given that the Doctor has already visited Villa Diodati, this episode may prove confusing, but the beauty of Doctor Who is many of these factors may be explained away through the nature of time travel, while keeping the core of Mary's character intact. After all, what better way to honor the British mother of science fiction than an homage from a British sci-fi mainstay?
"The Haunting of Villa Diodati" airs Sunday, February 16 on BBC America.