Iain McLaughlin

Click here to edit subtitle

Graham Dilley Saves The World

in Doctor Who - Short Trips: Past Tense

his-tory n. : 1: a continuous, usu. chronological, record of important or public events. 2: the study of past events, esp. human affairs. 3: an eventful past.

‘History sometimes gives us a terrible shock, and that is because we don’t quite fully understand...’ - Doctor Who: The Massacre of St Bartholomew’s Eve by John Lucarotti and Donald Tosh

Doctor Who began in 1963 with a remit to teach its audience about the past. One of the regular characters was a history teacher -- and the intention was that the series would regularly explore bygone centuries, meet historical figures and interact with our ancestors.

Soon, the TARDIS was making visits to the Roman era, the time of the French Revolution and the pre-Cortez Aztec culture; the Doctor and his companions met cavemen, Marco Polo, Richard the Lionheart and Wyatt Earp.

But just as the Doctor is an alien visitor, so other interlopers from other worlds have found themselves in Earth’s past -- some with the intention of changing history.

Past Tense features seventeen tales set on Earth in days gone by. The Doctor finds himself and his fellow travellers in a variety of times and places: involved in international espionage with British and German spies, at the annexation of the Transvaal, watching an Ashes cricket match and mixing with the late-Sixteenth Century theatrical set.

Seeing history happen, learning about its nuances, trying to prevent its corruption, or simply enjoying its atmosphere, our heroes find themselves in exciting adventures wherever - or whenever - they go.

Throughout all his travels, the Doctor has had many adventures, both on Earth and in the past. His affection for this particular planet is clear -- as is his enjoyment of seeing history happen.

Past Tense features stories set exclusively in Earth’s past: from the heady atmosphere of Shakespearian London to the shadowy world of pre-war Istanbul; from the time of King Alfred to the turn of the Millennium.

Established writers of Doctor Who for television, print and audio are joined in this collection by fresh talent and new voices.



This was the first Doctor Who short story I wrote. It was one of the first things Claire and I wrote together, too. I had pitched for a couple of the earlier Short Trips anthologies but hadn't made the cut (boo! Hiss!). 

When Claire and I got to doing some thinking about history, we discussed a few different ideas. History is one of my interests and we looked at various eras the show hadn't delved into at that point. We also got to looking at what point you could really start looking at something and calling it the past. There were pivotal moments that had happened within the last few decades. We thought about the Berlin Wall and other important things but for some reason we got pulled to the riots in the UK in the early 80s. I was in my teens when they happened. Claire is about 7 years younger than me but still had a good memory of them. She thought they coincided with the wedding of Charles and Di... which I don't think Claire is old enough to really remember and which I avoided by going fishing. It was interesting, though. Riots and a royal wedding. What could incite things in 1981? There wasn't any football. But there was cricket. 

I had to wake Claire up after I said the word "cricket".

The 1981 Ashes are the stuff of legend, Take a tense match which in reality went from despair to joy through a genuine sporting miracle and turn it on its head so that despair turns to hope and then despair again as hope is snatched away... an out-of-place comment, a swinging fist and a small thing becomes a riot. What would the riot lead to? Riots across the country, unrest at the royal wedding, deaths, anarchy, how about an assassination of the royal family and the government at the wedding? Ooh, yes, everything spiraling out of control. But how could we show that and sort it by the end of about 6000 words? 

Easy - we start with the after-effects and work backwards. We were originally going to go with Tegan grouchily watching Australia lose and causing the distraction but we thought it might be more fun if she did that but other companions had to fix it.... it was getting a bit complicated but a lot of fun and it changed around then from a very serious piece to a bit of a romp which is how it turned out.

The Fifth Doctor, Peri, Erimem, Tegan, Turlough, Brian Johnson and the BBC's Test Match Special team all turned up in a story in which the Doctor spends most of his time in the commentary box drinking tea, eating cake and watching cricket while his companions sort out the problem caused by his previous companion.

Oh, and there's another Elvis gag in there.

Other Doctor Who short stories


Other Fifth Doctor, Peri and Erimem stories

Erimem novels