Today marks the centenary of the end of the First World War. It is a time to pause and remember those who fell during the conflict. A war of global scale the like of which had never been seen before. Millions of people died, resulting in it becoming known as the Great War, such was the loss of life. As we move further and further away from the event, with the last survivors now sadly passed, remembrance will continue through the sharing of stories.
Storytelling maintains a remembrance of the past. The First World War has been depicted numerous times in film and television. Movies such as ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ and ‘War Horse’ are just two examples. On the small screen few could forget ‘Blackadder Goes Fourth’ and that hugely emotional finale. Doctor Who is also no stranger to telling stories of the Great War. Today BlogtorWho remembers those stories.
The War Games
The first depiction of the First World War came at the very end of the 1960’s. The Second Doctor, Jamie and Zoe find themselves in the midst of the conflict. In a desolate wasteland, with bombs falling and barbed wire, the TARDIS crew also encounter a military ambulance and finally the British forces in the trenches. However, a mystery develops when Roman soliders and a redcoat also appear. The First World War was in fact just one of a number of warzones overseen by the villainous War Chief and the War Lord. The War Games portrayed the First World War as a brutal conflict with the Doctor describing it as “one of the most terrible times on the planet Earth”. This portrayal would continue, accurately reflecting the grimness of the war.
Human Nature/The Family of Blood
This story originated from a novel set months before the outbreak of the First World War. The television version set the story in the previous year but the shadow of the impending war to end all wars still loomed large. Once again it is the trenches, so synonymous with the conflict, that were recreated by the production team. However, it is the poignancy of seeing the Tenth Doctor and Martha, both wearing poppies, at a service of remembrance which brings a tear to the eye.
Twice Upon a Time
In a scene reminiscent of ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’, Captain Archibald Hamish Lethbridge-Stewart enters into a standoff with a German soldier. Yet again trenches were created by the production team, demonstrating the grim reality of trench warfare. After some sci-fi problems with time, Archibald is returned to the stalemate. However, the Twelfth Doctor adjusts the time periods for the two soldiers, bringing them forward by a couple of hours. As a result, their standoff ended when the Christmas truce. This particular event in the first year of the First World War has been visited a number of times in different Doctor Who media.
The Christmas Truce of 1914
Twice Upon a Time is not the only story to portray the Christmas Truce of 1914. It was an event also observed by the First Doctor, Steven and Sara Kingdom in The Little Drummer Boy but also by the Fifth Doctor and Peri in Never Seen Cairo. According to IDW Comic’s The Forgotten the Ninth Doctor actually refereed the football match.
Away from the television screens Big Finish productions are a leading force in telling Doctor Who stories. The most obvious title is No Man’s Land a Seventh Doctor, Ace and Hex story with an impressive cover art. It combined soldiers and barbed wire, rooting it in the period of the First World War. As with Project Twilight, also set during the period of the First World War, mysterious agents of The Forge ran experiments for the war effort. Firstly they attempted to create vampire soldiers in 1915 (Project: Twilight) and then in 1917 tried to brainwash soldiers into being more aggressive (No Man’s Land).
Another Big Finish tale to be set during the First World War was the opening of the Dark Eyes boxset. Starring the Eighth Doctor, the opening story The Great War saw the Time Lord meeting nurse Molly O’Sullivan who nurses him back to health after being caught up in a mustard gas attack. Once again the cover art was very emotive with Daleks and the TARDIS amongst the barbed wire of the trenches. The story would win the BBC Audio Drama award for Best Online or Non-Broadcast Drama in January 2014. Daleks in the battlefields of the First World War would also continue in the following episode of the boxset; Fugitives.
Other Tales and Referenes
Away from Doctor Who, Torchwood also featured a soldier of the First World War in the story To the Last Man. Tommy Brockless was shellshocked and sadly when returned to his correct time would be shot down by a firing squad for displaying cowardice. Titan Comics also produced a story titled The Weeping Angels of Mons featuring the Tenth Doctor and Gabby. This was the first appearance of the Weeping Angels in comics with the Western Front providing an opportunity to send human beings back in time.
Such was the impact of the First World War, references are made to it in a number of other stories. For example, Solomon and Diagoras recalled being part of the American army in Evolution of the Daleks/Daleks in Manhattan. Capt. Jack Harkness also claims to have fought for the British Army during the war in Utopia. Similarly, Edwin Bracewell had memories of the war in Victory of the Daleks. The Nemesis comet was also said to have approached the Earth on the eve of the First World War according to the Seventh Doctor in Silver Nemesis.