Doctor Who’s encounters with the greatest minds of history

On their travels through time the Doctor has encountered a number of key historical figures who have shaped the world we know today - scientists, pionieers and inventors. While these figures are from different countries and time zones, the characteristics that they all share are their intelligence and questioning nature. This has made them valuable allies to the Doctor in defeating whatever danger threatened humanity at the time. Through these collaborations Doctor Who has introduced these figures to a whole new audience in fun and original ways. We take a look at some of these memorable encounters.

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Nikola Tesla 

Brilliant scientist and inventor but terrible businessman, Tesla might not be the household name that he deserves to be on his own planet. However in 'Nicolas Tesla’s Night of Terror' his talents do catch the attention of the dangerous Queen of the Skithra. Thankfully the Doctor is also huge fan of his work, so her appreciation of Tesla’s genius may help raise his profile, as well as saving the planet once again. In Tesla’s own words from the episode,

“I work for the future, and the future is mine.” 

Rosa Parks

Rosa Parks showed the world that one person really can make a difference in 1955 when she refused to give up her seat on an Alabama bus for a white passenger. This became a symbolic moment in the American civil rights movement, which inspired many people. 

Events in the episode Rosa conspired to give the Doctor and her companions an uncomfortable front row seat for this moment in history, a bold move which gave the audience real insights into how segregation affected Black Americans.  

Actor in costume as Rosa Parks, a smartly dressed young Black woman, sitting on a wooden bench

You can find out more about the Civil Rights movement and continuing struggles for equality at the International Slavery Museum, where Rosa Park’s bravery and determination is honoured on the Black Achievers Wall

Ada Lovelace and Noor Inayat Khan

Ada Lovelace is seen as the first computer programmer, as she created a program for Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine - a 19th century prototype of a digital computer. While her background was in mathematics, following in the footsteps of her mother rather than her father, the poet Lord Byron, Ada was also the first person to see the potential of computers beyond mere calculations. Her writings on the subject are now seen as visionary, making her a true prophet of the computer age. 

Ada appeared in the TV episode Spyfall alongside Noor Inayat Khan, Britain’s first female Muslim agent who served as part of the British Resistance in France during the Second World War. Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor instantly recognised both women as some of the great minds of history and enlisted their help against her old nemesis, the Master. 

Joseph Williamson 

Mystery surrounds the motivations of the ‘Mad Mole of Edge Hill’, who had a huge labyrinth of tunnels built under the streets of Liverpool between 1810 and 1840. After many years of speculation over the true purpose of Williamson’s tunnels, perhaps Doctor Who Flux has found the most heroic reason – to help save the universe from destruction! The eccentric tunneler is a local legend, although you could say he was an underground success until Flux made him an intergalactic star.   

Actor dressed as Joseph Williamson, with smart 19th century clothing, in a tunnel

Mary Seacole 

Nurse Mary Seacole rose to prominence during the Crimean War when she funded her own journey to Turkey and opened a hospital, after British authorities had refused her offers of help. She became a popular figure in Britain, receiving various awards for bravery. This determined and resourceful figure was a natural ally for the Doctor, who recruited Mary for a key reconnaisance mission, gathering vital information on the invading Sontaran army. 

Jodie Whittaker as the Doctor and actor dressed as nurse Mary Seacole

If you are visiting Liverpool for the Doctor Who Worlds of Wonder exhibition and would like to learn more about Mary you can find her on the Black Achievers Wall at the International Slavery Museum. 

All Doctor Who images © BBC