10 Historicals That Show What Modern Doctor Who Is Missing

The kind of classic Doctor Who story that just isn't being made any more.

Doctor Who Marco Polo William Hartnell First Doctor
BBC Studios

While it may have been sci-fi spectacle and alien creatures that threw Doctor Who into popular consciousness back in 1963, it was the so-called "historical episodes" that were the backbone of early Who.

In modern Doctor Who, a historical episode can be any story set in a historical setting, like The Shakespeare Code or Rosa - the kind of episode that seems like the logical thing for a show about time travel to do. However, those stories are fundamentally different from the “pure” historicals of the First Doctor.

The pure historical is a type of story where the only sci-fi elements are the Doctor, the TARDIS, and the Doctor’s companions. This results in stories more focused on the Doctor getting entangled in historical events and meeting famous historical people, rather than dealing with monsters and aliens.

This type of story was most prominent during the First Doctor’s era, but was replaced by the type of historical we're more used to today during the Second Doctor's time.

That said, it would be great to see the pure historical make a comeback on television, as the following classics prove how engaging they can be when done in this way.

10. Marco Polo

Doctor Who Marco Polo William Hartnell First Doctor
BBC Studios

Sometimes, the format of classic Doctor Who is difficult for modern audiences to watch. The storytelling is slow and spread out over many episodes, and is not really designed for binge-watching.

But what makes Marco Polo especially difficult to revisit is the fact that it doesn’t even exist. All of the recorded episodes fell victim to the great BBC archive purge, so the only way to experience this story now (besides reading the novelization) is through a reconstruction, consisting of barely-animated stills and some audio.

The serial opens after the cliffhanger ending of the previous story, where the TARDIS has made an emergency landing in the Himalayas. As luck would have it, the TARDIS crew is found and rescued by Marco Polo, who is on his journey along the silk road to meet with Emperor Kublai Khan. The story that follows is one of intrigue and treachery, where one of Marco Polo’s travelling companions, Tegana, attempts to foil the expedition and assassinate the Khan.

On top of that, Marco Polo intends to give the TARDIS to Kublai Khan to gain his favor, locking the Doctor and his companions out and making it impossible for them to repair the TARDIS and leave.

The story is well-known for its excellent costuming and set design, making it all the greater a tragedy that the episodes are lost.

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