This is part of a series of re-posts of student blogs from Coastal Carolina University’s Intro to Public History course in Fall 2018. Please visit the class website, https://ccupublichistory18.wordpress.com, for more information.
By Kayla Griffin
For over 50 years, the Doctor has been gracing our television screens teaching us all about space and time travel, but what about history? You can always see the Doctor fighting aliens on another planet and even earth. But there are few episodes where he takes you back in time and gives you a proper history lesson.
When my father first told me to watch his favorite childhood show, I was skeptical because of how old it was. I’m pretty sure I watched it out of order because during the first episode I was very confused about what they were talking about and how they got into an ancient Mayan civilization. After rewatching the first ten minutes three times, I turned it off and forgot about Doctor Who for almost a year before one of my friends got me into the show again. The more episodes I watched the more historical references I saw. Whether it was dates, places, or even historical figures. Because how can you travel back in time and not talk about history. But, is the Doctor a public historian? Does he fit the criteria and make it onto the list?
One of the first episodes of Doctor Who that I watched and actually got into was when Winston Churchill was getting new weapons to fight the Nazi’s in World War II. The episode had the Doctor and one of his many companions, Amy Pond, help Winston Churchill and many military officials try to win the second World War. These new weapons were Daleks, aliens that have been trying for decades to kill the Doctor and eliminate the earth. Throughout the episode, I experienced what it was like to see what the war from the eyes of London generals.
My personal favorite episode that deals with aliens and history is when the Doctor and Amy travel to Amsterdam, Netherlands to visit Vincent Van Gogh. This episode shows Van Gogh painting Wheatfield with Crows and The Church at Auvers, we also get a glimpse of many of his other paintings as they are still drying. I saw how the townspeople treated Van Gogh and how they treated his marvelous paintings. An alien began killing the townspeople. They all immediately started pointing fingers at Van Gogh, because they actually believed he was a terrible person. The alien eating people obviously didn’t happen (but it could have) but it showed the hatred that these people had for Van Gogh.
To define a public historian: it is a person that is out on the field teaching history to people. Granted, the Doctor only has a few people with him at a time, the show’s audience is getting a first-hand tour. Yes, there are multiples movies that people can watch and get to experience but for the people that only watch sci-fi, this show definitely reaches an audience that most historical movies cannot reach. So, when the Doctor fights aliens and takes us on a journey to see history from a first-person point-of-view, not only is he saving the day, he’s being the perfect public historian.