The Best DOCTOR WHO Historical Episodes: The Modern Era Edition


Doctor Who's TARDIS is a spaceship full of wonders. Not only is it much bigger inside and basically alive, but it can take you pretty much anywhere in space…and time. While it's always exciting to witness the Doctor and his companions heading to different worlds and days to come, the show often travels back in time to reimagine real-life events and bring historical characters into the fold. This look at the past for educational and entertainment reasons is a fundamental aspect Doctor Who. It continues in the modern era of the show and, from what we've seen, will continue with Ncuti Gatwa's Fifteenth Doctor. We believe Doctor Who tends to nail it with most historical episodes. But some stand out from the crowd. (If we listed ALL the good ones, this list would be too long.)


Here are some of the best Doctor Who historical episodes of the modern era and beyond.

The Unquiet Dead” (Season 1 (2005), Episode 3)

This episode is the first foray into the past for the short-lived duo of the Ninth Doctor and Rose Tyler, as well as for fans who were new to the franchise. It includes a lot of things that fans like Doctor Who: emotional weight, time traveling jokes, lots of execution, awkward special effects, clever ties with a bigger arc and use of the TARDIS wardrobe. In Victorian-era Cardiff in 1869, Rose and Nine encounter the gas-powered, body-snapping Gelth alongside Simon Callow's very delicious Charles Dickens. From the clairvoyant Gwyneth's statements about a “bad wolf” to her morally controversial sacrifice, viewers get a taste of the story and a greater understanding of how horrific traveling with the Doctor can be.

The Girl in the Hearth” (Season 2, Episode 4)

Again, Doctor Who introduces many fans to a real-life historical figure in his precise time period with a sci-fi twist. The Tenth Doctor, Rose Tyler and Mickey Smith are on a spaceship from the 51st century. Interestingly, the ship has windows of time to spy on Madame de Pompadour. Much of the appeal of this episode is the chemistry between David Tennant's capricious and flirtatious Doctor alongside Sophia Myles' curious, sassy and charming portrayal of King Louis XV's infamous real-life mistress. It's a fascinating love story and a mystery with an effective villain. The ending is one of many examples of how this mostly silly sci-fi series can destroy you emotionally.

“Human Nature/Blood Family” (Season 3, Episodes 8 and 9)

This is a problematic favorite for many Doctor Who ventilators There are the obvious problems of having a black companion stuck in that time period (and with Treatment of Martha Jones as a whole). Still, this two-part story as a whole is pretty good. Seeing the Doctor become as human as he'll ever be in 1913 as his frequent alter ego John Smith as Martha works to protect him and help him remember who he is adds to a touching, sometimes frustrating story , but constantly entertaining. Blood Family is truly creepy and Martha continues to prove that she is very capable on her own. There's a reason why these episodes are often ranked among fans as two of the best of the Tennant era.

“The Unicorn and the Wasp” (Season 4, Episode 7)

Reader, I have a confession. The fourth season of Doctor Who it's absolutely one of my favorites, so I couldn't pick just one historical episode. “The Unicorn and the Wasp” takes us to 1926 on the eve of the disappearance of mystery author Agatha Christie. The reimagining of his real-life mystery with an ongoing whodunit story that gives off serious Clue vibes. There are plenty of references to Christie's most famous works, a memorable cast of characters, a giant shape-shifting wasp, and one of the best TARDIS duos in the show's recent history. You have to love yourself.

“The Fires of Pompeii” (Season 4, Episode 2)

Like “The Unquiet Dead,” “The Fires of Pompeii” is a historical episode that also serves up a few sobering warnings to the companion, and by extension, the viewer. Some terrible things are meant to happen and there is nothing anyone, not even a god-like time traveler, can do to fix it. While traveling with the Doctor seems exciting and glamorous on the surface, it will involve death and heartbreak. Ten and Donna end up in Pompeii on the same day Vesuvius is about to erupt. The then-future Doctor Peter Capaldi's turn as the real-life historical figure Lucius Caecilius along with his family gives the viewer a more intimate look at what it meant to live during that time while staying in line with the fantasy elements of the show

Vincent and the Doctor” (Season 5, Episode 10)

You can't talk about it Doctor Who historical episodes without mentioning “Vincent and the Doctor”. Despite being a well-known artist, Vincent van Gogh often feels nebulous as a human being. This episode brings it to life (thanks to Tony Curran's impressive performance) in a wonderful way. It represents her mental health and self-image struggling with compassion and heart. It's a history lesson and a winding adventure all wrapped into one. I dare you to watch it and not feel all the feels at the end.

“We Kill Hitler” (Season 6, Episode 8)

This title is definitely what grabs your attention. The Eleventh Doctor, Amy and Rory end up in Berlin in 1938 where they accidentally save Hitler from torture at the hands of a time traveling justice organization. (To be fair, it makes sense that this kind of organization would go after him.) It's quite a gamble to include such a horrible person in a fairly comical story. But thanks to great performances by Albert Welling and Alex Kingston as Hitler and River Song, respectively, it becomes a high-energy dive into the past.

“The Doctor, the Witch and the Wardrobe” – (Christmas Special 2011)

Okay, maybe this one isn't as directly “historical” as some of the other episodes on this list. But, the Doctor meeting a family with the Second World War as a backdrop is a delicious Christmas feast, so it's all good. The obvious ode to the episode The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and seeing a tamer aspect of the Doctor is a special treat.

“The Day of the Doctor” – (50th Anniversary Special)

Two doctors in England in 1562? Sign me up. This birthday special is a bombastic adventure featuring none other than Queen Elizabeth I, the Tenth Doctor riding a horse (again) and kissing the Queen, and moments that feel like a big hug for WHO ventilators

“Robot of Sherwood” – (Season 8, Episode 3)

It is almost a given that a legendary figure like Robin Hood appears Doctor Who. The infamous outlaw who steals from the rich and gives to the poor certainly displays the kind of rogue behavior the Doctor appreciates. “Robot of Sherwood” pits the Twelfth Doctor against Robin Hood for a fun battle before battling the gold-digging Sheriff Nottingham and his band of robot knights. A spaceship disguised as a castle, Twelve's doubts about whether Robin Hood is real, and sweet costume designs bring this legendary story to life in a way that only Doctor Who tin.

“Thin Ice” – (Season 10, Episode 3)

One of the best parts of watching a Doctor Who The historic episode is delving into Britain's past. “Thin Ice” takes us to an ice fair on the River Thames. These were real-life events that began as early as the 7th century. People would enjoy food, music, ice skating on the frozen river and more. In the episode, Bill couldn't wait to experience this with Twelve in 1814. Of course, their fun day is interrupted by the very plausible existence of a racist alongside the less plausible sea creature hiding under the ice (Well, less plausible to the average person.) This is a very fun, character-driven story that forces Bill to see and embrace the entirety of the Doctor.

“Rose” – (Season 11, Episode 3)

When it comes to modern-era Doctors, Thirteen has it some of the best historical episodes. One of them is “Rosa”, which takes the crew to the United States in 1955. It provides a serious examination of racism and sexism through Ryan and Yaz. The duo's conversation about their unique and shared experiences is a shining gem in a brilliant episode. Ryan specifically knows great black figures like Martin Luther King, Jr. and, of course, Rosa Parks. The latter is on the cusp of her historic moment when she refuses to give up her seat to a white bus driver, sparking the Montgomery bus boycott. There's a time-traveling (and deeply racist) criminal out to stop this fixed event from happening, and the TARDIS team figures out a way to thwart him.

“Demons of the Punjab” – (Season 11, Episode 6)

Yaz's family history is seamlessly woven into the events surrounding the partition of India, giving us a specific family to focus this historical moment on. “Demons of the Punjab” really takes the series back to its original educational premise. It introduces many viewers to a seminal event that they may not have learned about or fully explored in school. The episode also resonates with many of us who wish we could go back in time and meet our elders and ancestors to peel back the layers of their lives. Also, Thirteen's speech about love is one of the Doctor's best monologues.

“Nikola Tesla's Night of Terror” – (Season 12, Episode 4)

Another season of Thirteen and the fam, another great historical episode. As the title suggests, we meet the now famous inventor in 1903 as he tries to rest. Undercover figures, demanding aliens, and Tesla's infamous real life rivalry with Thomas Edison ( which was always causing a mess) put together this fun episode that deserves more praise.

“The Haunting of Villa Diodati” – (Season 12, Episode 8)

As a fan of Frankenstein author Mary Shelley, stories of haunted houses, and the Doctor putting fellow rogues in their rightful place, “The Haunting of Villa Diodati” is my favorite Thirteenth Doctor story. I'd dare say it's one of my favorites Doctor Who episodes never It's a good ghost story full of literary references and sharp dialogue. The story that describes the weekend in which Shelley, Lord Byron, Claire Clairmont and other real-life characters spent three days together at the Villa Diodati mansion telling each other stories. This is when Frankenstein she was born! Doctor Who puts a twist on it by using a lonely, half-converted Cyberman to inspire the author. Written by Maxine Alderton and directed by Emma Sullivan, it's an absolutely stunning episode.

Tai Gooden is a horror and sci-fi fanatic with a serious love for Doctor Who and Martha Jones. He's been a fan of the show for over 10 years, often writing about it for various outlets and attending Gallifrey One with his Who crew.


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