On the Revolutionary Time Lord

Today was Inauguration Day. Barack Obama, whose second term as President began yesterday, was administered a ceremonial oath of office this afternoon for a public inauguration ceremony.

Obama’s inaugural speech was strongly progressive in its outlook, but some of the speech’s invocations of god irked me. I tweeted my irksomeness, and Stuart Ian Burns replied that when Obama said the word “god,” he heard the words “Time Lord.”

Naturally, this made me think. When Thomas Jefferson was working on the Declaration of Independence and wrote about rights endowed by the Creator (which strikes me as an odd phrase for a Deist), what if the Doctor were there?

The American Revolution! That seems like a very Doctor-ish thing. A people yearning for freedom, rebelling against a distant and callous imperial power. This is exactly the kind of conflict that draws the Doctor in, that would make him side with the plucky rebels. In the 1960s, when the TARDIS landed near momentous historical events every other month, the American Revolution seems like exactly the place the Doctor would have gone. Except that he didn’t. In the 1980s, when Eric Saward resurrected the pseudo-historical, colonial Philadelphia could have been menaced by an alien threat that endangered the Continental Congress, a threat that only the Doctor could stop to ensure American independence. Except that it wasn’t.

Oh, there have been references here and there. The TARDIS Data Core doesn’t have a lot to say on the subject. Ahistory (Third Edition) has slightly more:

The Doctor was at the Boston Tea Party in 1773. The Rani was present during the American War of Independece. The Canavitchi were involved in the same conflict. The Doctor met American founding fathers Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and Alexander Hamilton – two of them fancied him. The Doctor was once stuck at a tea party with Thomas Jefferson, who wouldn’t shut up about bees.

Benjamin Franklin became President of the United States.

The three bolded sentences are based on information from televised episodes, specifically in order The Unquiet Dead, The Mark of the Rani, and The Impossible Astronaut. The unbolded sentences are based on information from novels and audios, specifically The King of Terror, Survival of the Fittest, and Seasons of Fear.

Two things. First, Benjamin Franklin was never President. Not of the Continental Congress, and not of the United States as a whole after ratification of the Constitution. And second, I doubt very much that two of the three out of Jefferson, Adams, and Hamilton “fancied” the Doctor. I’ll chalk that up to the Doctor’s occasional emotional cluelessness; I swear, sometimes Sheldon on The Big Band Theory is better adjusted emotionally than the Doctor.

Back to the topic at hand, the Doctor and the American Revolution.

That list from Ahistory doesn’t suggest a lot, considering the momentousness of events.

So why hasn’t there been a substantial Doctor Who story set during the American Revolution?

The reason, I think, is basic. Doctor Who is a British program, made for a British audience, and an American Revolution story would cast Britons in the role of the story’s villains. I’m vastly oversimplifying here, I know. The point is, the Doctor’s interests in the American Revolution wouldn’t necessarily align with the Doctor Who audience’s interests.

Close to a decade ago, I thought about writing a Past Doctor Adventure and I did some brainstorming and a little bit of work on an outline until the realistic voice in the back of my head pointed out that (at the time) I’d barely published anything and I didn’t know anyone at BBC Books. The idea I had revolved around the spy games in British-occupied New York City (not specifically on the Culper Ring, though that was certainly part of the fabric) and, curiously, a fifty-something Jamie McCrimmon. The insight I had was this — a Doctor Who American Revolution story needs to have a strong Loyalist element and show that the British viewpoint on the colonial rebellion was not entirely incorrect, and to achieve that I needed a character who had a reason to be a Loyalist.

And this is where Jamie came in.

At the time, the only post-“War Games” Jamie story was Grant Morrison’s “The World Shapers,” which showed Jamie as a madman on the Moors. My idea was different. The Time Lords had wiped Jamie’s memory and dumped him in the aftermath of Culloden. Jamie’s best bet for his survival was to hop a ship for the colonies and put his Jacobite past behind him. In the American colonies he had made a new life. Perhaps he had joined a colonial militia and fought in the French and Indian War. By the 1770s, Jamie McCrimmon had become a merchant in Manhattan and a loyal subject of the Crown — and when the rebellion began he was naturally inclined to side with the Crown. Thus, the story would have a major character in whom the audience had an investment who believed that Britain was right — and he wasn’t wrong to believe this. And when he met the Doctor — who knew him but whom he did not remember — he would naturally believe that the Doctor’s support of the Revolution was wrong.

A few years later, when I was asked to pitch a story for the Short Trips anthology The Quality of Leadership, my first idea was to pitch a Nathan Hale story. I can’t tell you a lot about it because I don’t think I got any further than “Nathan Hale!” before I went to bed that night, and when I woke up the next morning I had a rough outline for Plato’s story and “The Spindle of Necessity” lodged in my head. I don’t know, then, how I would have handled (or if I would have handled) the obvious problem of audience bias in a Nathan Hale and the Doctor short story.

There is one author who solved the problem of the Doctor in the American Revolution, and that is John S. Drew. Though Ahistory doesn’t cover the Short Trips anthologies, there is (at least) one story in those volumes set during the American Revolution — Drew’s “The Revolutionaries” in Short Trips: The History of Christmas. In the story, the second Doctor and Jamie free George Washington from Hessian mercenaries in the employ of the British when he’s accidentally captured at Christmas 1776 due to interference from other time travelers. There are villains in the story, but they’re not Britons, thus avoiding the problem entirely. The American Revolution becomes the setting of the story, but it’s not what the story is about.

I’d still love to see Doctor Who tackle the American Revolution in a significant way. It’s unlikely to happen, I know, yet I’d be thrilled to see it.

I suppose that if Doctor Who Christmas specials can utterly miss the point of Christmas, then a Doctor Who American Revolution story doesn’t have to be particularly revolutionary. 🙂

Published by Allyn

A writer, editor, journalist, sometimes coder, occasional historian, and all-around scholar, Allyn Gibson is the writer for Diamond Comic Distributors' monthly PREVIEWS catalog, used by comic book shops and throughout the comics industry, and the editor for its monthly order forms. In his over ten years in the industry, Allyn has interviewed comics creators and pop culture celebrities, covered conventions, analyzed industry revenue trends, and written copy for comics, toys, and other pop culture merchandise. Allyn is also known for his short fiction (including the Star Trek story "Make-Believe,"the Doctor Who short story "The Spindle of Necessity," and the ReDeus story "The Ginger Kid"). Allyn has been blogging regularly with WordPress since 2004.

One thought on “On the Revolutionary Time Lord

  1. Re Benjamin Franklin as President in “Seasons of Fear,” I believe that “Neverland” covered this, stating that history had been changing as a result of the ongoing story arc and that the wrong man had been elected President of the United States.

    (I’m also pretty sure that it was in fact an error on Paul Cornell’s part, and that the line in “Neverland” wasn’t originally meant to correct it, but to refer to, um, a more recent President. [Citation needed.])

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