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4 More 'Doctor Who' Stories Ripped From the History Books

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We barely scratched the surface of historical Doctor Who in our previous post. Today, we'll look at a few of the historical adventures transmitted in the 1960s.

1. The Aztec Empire

In History: The Aztecs were a group of Mesoamericans who dominated much of what is now Mexico when the Spanish Conquistadors arrived in the 16th century. Although the Conquistadors emphasized the brutality of their customs (particularly human sacrifice) in order to justify their conquest, they weren't mere butchers and had a complex society, advanced architecture, and a rich mythological structure. But the human sacrifice thing was very real. Unlike most ancient cultures, they didn't perform sacrifice to appease their gods; they felt the gods could not be controlled, but that sacrifice at the appropriate times would nourish the right gods at the right times to achieve particular effects, such as bringing the rain. The empire reached its zenith in 1519 -- shortly before Cortes arrived and ended it all.

On Doctor Who: The four-part serial "The Aztecs" aired in season one. The TARDIS materializes in the tomb of a legendary high priest named Yetaxa. Intrigued by the grave goods, Barbara puts on a bracelet -- and is promptly mistaken for a reincarnation of Yetaxa when some of the locals catch her in the tomb. She is immediately lavished with praise and honor, which she enjoys up until she discovers that the priests are planning a sacrifice to restore the rains. In accordance with Aztec custom, a Perfect Sacrifice has been groomed and will be killed in front of her. Although the young man in question is content with his fate, and even considers it a high honor, Barbara is horrified and resolves to use her new position to ban human sacrifice, believing that ending the practice might enable the Aztecs to survive the arrival of the Spaniards. The Doctor tries to warn her that she cannot be successful, but she has to try anyway.

2. The Emperor Nero

In History: Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus was born December 15, 37 AD. Though related to the Emperor, he was not considered a major contender for the throne until Claudius adopted him and made him his heir. At this time, he changed his name to Nero Claudius Caesar Drusus Germanicus, and in 54 AD, he became the Emperor Nero. He quickly worked to consolidate his power, using poison and other means to eliminate rivals, ultimately including even his mother. He was a very busy emperor, but of mixed popularity; on one hand, he was responsible for considerable tax reform, but he scandalized conservative Romans by bringing in Greek-inspired theater and even performing the lyre himself, which the more tradition-minded felt was an invitation to immorality.

But the event for which he is best known occurred on July 18, 64: the Great Fire of Rome. Though the cause of the fire is unknown, many ancient historians blamed Nero, saying that he had the city burned to clear the way for massive public works projects. This may not be true, since Nero contributed enormous personal time and money and even the use of his palaces to care for the survivors. As rumor started to paint Nero the villain, he used the ever-popular strategy of blaming an unpopular minority -- he blamed it on Christians, having them tortured and burned publicly to appease the public. His reign continued another four years, and then, facing a revolt, he committed suicide. His death ended the Julio-Claudian dynasty.

On Doctor Who: "The Romans" aired in January of 1965. The TARDIS delivers the Doctor, Barbara, Ian, and new companion Vicki to ancient Rome, 64 AD. It gets stuck at the bottom of a cliff, so the travelers move into an empty villa for the duration. Barbara and Ian are captured by slave traders, while the Doctor and Vicki find themselves mistaken for an accomplished lyre player and his companion. The Doctor accepts the mistaken identity, and is brought to the court of Emperor Nero. The serial favors the incompetent, vain, and arrogant depiction of Nero, and while the Doctor tries to deflect Nero's requests for a concert, Barbara and Ian have their own adventures in slavery, with Ian going the full "Ben Hur" route, from galley slave to gladiator. Nero eventually works out that the Doctor can't play the lyre to save his life, and becomes furious. He's about to order the Doctor thrown to the lions when the Doctor's glasses accidentally set a map of the city on fire. This gives Nero the inspiration to have the city burned deliberately so that he can rebuild it to his liking. Our heroes still have to escape their various perils, which they do with the help of a friendly Roman who turns out to be an early Christian, leaving one to wonder how things will go for him after our heroes have departed.

(Skip ahead about 30 seconds, where "The Romans" starts.)

3. The Third Crusade

In History: Lasting just three years, from 1189 to 1192, the Third Crusade attempted to retake the Holy Land from Saladin, who had conquered them in 1187 as part of an effort to reduce Christian influence in the region. In western Europe, King Henry II of England and King Philip II of France made a pact to end their long war and join together against Saladin, and obtained the full support of the Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick Barbarossa (and then his successor, Leopold V). Henry II died before he could go far, but Richard I "the Lionheart" enthusiastically took up the task. A combined English, French, and German/Austrian force drove the Saracens out of Acre, and both Philip II and the Emperor returned to Europe.

Richard I wasn't done, though. He took additional cities, remaining undefeated during his stay in the Holy Land. The Crusade was not fully successful, and Richard I signed a treaty with Saladin in 1192, leaving Jerusalem under Muslim control but allowing pilgrims and merchants access to the city while a Christian presence remained in Cyprus and Syria. Richard returned home in October of 1192.

On Doctor Who: Transmitted in 1965, this four-part serial is set in the middle of the Third Crusade. The TARDIS materializes in the middle of an ambush, and our heroes are thrown promptly into the thick of things. Barbara is captured by Saracens along with a friend of King Richard, and the First Doctor, Vicki, and Ian head for King Richard's court. Saladin's brother, Saphadin, believes Barbara and the Englishman to be King Richard and his sister Joanna, and is about to kill them when he realizes they aren't as valuable as he thought -- and then Saladin emerges and saves them, asking Barbara to become his Scheherazade. Meanwhile, King Richard is persuaded by our heroes to lend some assistance in retrieving Barbara and his friend, and grants Ian a knighthood, telling him to offer his sister's hand in marriage in exchange for the two hostages -- because that's what Saphadin had really been after all along. The real Joanna refuses this plan, and Ian has to go rescue Barbara the old fashioned way. By this time, some of the English nobles have begun to suspect the Doctor as a spy for Saladin; he, Ian, Barbara, and Vicki manage to return to the TARDIS and flee at the last moment.

This serial was destroyed during the archive purge, but episodes 1 and 3 have since been recovered, as has the complete soundtrack. A version of it, with linking narration by William Russell ("Ian") to explain the missing episodes, was released on VHS and DVD.

4. The Battle of Culloden

In History: In 1745, the Jacobites rebelled, seeking to overthrow the House of Hanover and restore the House of Stuart to the British throne. This uprising sought to place James III back on the thrones of England and Scotland, and was led primarily by Charles Edward Stuart (Bonnie Prince Charlie) with heavy support from Highland clans in Scotland, and also the backing of the French king, who probably preferred a Catholic on the English throne and the ending of hostilities between England and France. The process began well, but soon faltered, and in under a year was a disaster. The Jacobites staged their final land battle at Culloden Moor, a valiantly fought effort on bad ground where thousands died. The government troops pursued the Jacobites vigorously, hunting them down and committing many acts which today would be considered war crimes in their ardor. Charles managed to flee, wandering the Highlands for a while before escaping to France, and the English government began a brutal crackdown to retaliate, attempting to wipe Gaelic culture and the clan system off the map and prevent a recurrence. He spent most of the rest of his life in France and Rome (apart from a brief visit to London), in exile.

On Doctor Who: Transmitted between December of 1966 and January of 1967, "The Highlanders" was the last "pure historical" serial until the 1980s; that is, a story set entirely in period with no alien monsters or similarly fantastical problems to contend with. The TARDIS arrives near the field of Culloden, and the Second Doctor, Ben, and Polly are promptly taken prisoner by a group of escaping Jacobites belonging to the clan McLaren: a laird, his two adult children, and a piper named Jamie McCrimmon. Government troops catch up with them, kill one of the Jacobites, and take the rest prisoner, while the two girls manage to escape. The Doctor, Ben, and the Jacobites narrowly escape hanging, and wind up dragged off to Inverness in an illegal transportation scheme being worked for profit by one of the government men, the Royal Commissioner of Prisons, who intends to ship them off to the colonies to be sold into servitude. The Doctor escapes, reunites with Polly, and aids in a mutiny that enables the captured Highlanders to take a ship to head for France. Jamie McCrimmon stays behind to help our heroes find their way back, and ends up joining them in the TARDIS.

This is another one of the destroyed serials, but in this case, only the audio has been recovered, and released on CD with narration by Frazer Hines ("Jamie McCrimmon"). There have been a number of efforts to create reconstructions based on the audio and telesnaps recorded at the time.

Tune in next week for more!

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History
Civilian Researchers Discover Wreckage of the USS Indianapolis
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Wikipedia/Public Domain

On July 30, 1945, the cruiser USS Indianapolis sank in the Pacific Ocean after it was torpedoed by the Imperial Japanese Navy submarine I-58. More than 70 years after the historic naval tragedy— which claimed the lives of nearly 900 crew—The New York Times reports that the ship’s mysterious final resting place has been found.

The discovery came courtesy of a team of civilian researchers, led by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. His state-of-the-art research vessel, Petrel, located the wreck 18,000 feet below the Pacific’s surface, the team announced on Saturday, August 19.

"To be able to honor the brave men of the USS Indianapolis and their families through the discovery of a ship that played such a significant role in ending World War II is truly humbling,” Allen said in a statement. “As Americans, we all owe a debt of gratitude to the crew for their courage, persistence, and sacrifice in the face of horrendous circumstances."

Before it sank, the USS Indianapolis had just completed a top-secret mission to a naval base on the Northern Mariana island of Tinian. After delivering enriched uranium and components for Little Boy— the atomic bomb that the U.S. would drop on the Japanese city of Hiroshima about a week later—the cruiser forged ahead to Guam, and then to the Philippines. It was supposed to meet the battleship USS Idaho at Leyte Gulf in the Philippines to prepare to attack Japan.

The USS Indianapolis never made it to Leyte Gulf. Shortly after midnight on July 30, the Japanese submarine I-58 spotted the cruiser and fired six torpedoes. The USS Indianapolis—which was hit twice—sank within 12 minutes. Around 300 to 400 sailors and Marines were killed in the attack; the rest were stranded in the Pacific Ocean for several days.

Many of these survivors would ultimately lose their lives to sharks, a grisly scene that would be famously (albeit semi-accurately) recounted in the 1975 movie Jaws. Others died from drowning, heat stroke, thirst, burns and injuries, swallowing salt water or fuel oil, and suicide. More than 300 crew members were rescued after a bomber pilot accidently sighted the imperiled men while on a routine antisubmarine patrol.

The mass tragedy—which wouldn’t be announced to the public until August 15, 1945—sparked controversy: Charles B. McVay III, captain of the USS Indianapolis, was found guilty in a court martial of failing to steer the ship on a “zigzag” course to elude Japanese submarines. A Japanese submarine captain testified that this precautionary measure wouldn’t have thwarted the enemy, but McVay was charged nonetheless. The captain died by suicide in 1968, and wouldn’t be officially exonerated by the Navy until 2001.

For decades, the remains of the USS Indianapolis were lost to the ravages of time and nature. But in 2016, naval historian Richard Hulver found a historic ship log that mentioned a sighting of the USS Indianapolis. Allen’s search team used this information to locate the ship, which was west of where experts assumed it had gone down.

Allen’s crew took pictures of the wreckage, including a piece of its hull, and will search for more of the ship. They plan to keep the exact location of the USS Indianapolis a secret, however, to honor the sunken ship as a war grave.

"While our search for the rest of the wreckage will continue, I hope everyone connected to this historic ship will feel some measure of closure at this discovery so long in coming,” Allen said.

[h/t The New York Times]

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The Time That Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis Opened Competing Restaurants on the Sunset Strip
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From 1946 to 1956, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis were show business supernovas. With an act that combined singing, slapstick, and spontaneous hijinks, the duo sold out nightclubs coast to coast, then went on to conquer radio, television, and film. Long before Elvis and The Beatles came along, Dean and Jerry  were rock stars of comedy.

Offstage, there was a cordial but cool friendship between the laidback Martin and the more neurotic Lewis. But as the pressures of their success increased, so did the tensions between them. Martin grew tired of playing the bland romantic straight man to Lewis’s manic monkey boy. And when Lewis started to grab more headlines and write himself bigger parts in their movies, Martin decided to quit the act. In an angry moment, he told Lewis that he was “nothing to me but a f**king dollar sign.”

After the split, both men went on with their individual careers, though it took Martin a few years before he regained his footing. One of his ventures during that transitional period was a Hollywood eatery called Dino’s Lodge.

DINO'S LODGE

In the summer of 1958, Martin and his business partner, Maury Samuels, bought a controlling interest in a restaurant called The Alpine Lodge, at 8524 Sunset Boulevard. They hired Dean’s brother Bill to manage the place, and renamed it Dino’s Lodge.

Outside they put up a large neon sign, a likeness of Dean’s face. The sign turned into a national symbol of hip and cool, thanks to appearances on TV shows like Dragnet, The Andy Griffith Show, and most prominently, in the opening credits of 77 Sunset Strip.

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Dino’s Lodge was popular from the get-go, serving home-style Italian food and steaks in an intimate, candlelit, wood-paneled room meant to replicate Martin’s own den. In the first year, Dean himself frequented the place, signing autographs and posing for photos with starstruck diners. He also occasionally brought along famous friends like Frank Sinatra and Shirley MacLaine. To promote the idea of the swingin’ lifestyle that Martin often sang about, Dino’s served “an early morning breakfast from 1 to 5 a.m.” The restaurant also had a lounge that featured singers, though only females. Dean apparently didn’t want any male vocalists encroaching on his turf.

But as with many a celebrity venture into the food business, this one soon turned sour. And most of that was due to the jealousy of Jerry Lewis.

JERRY'S

In late 1961, Lewis wooed Martin’s business partner Maury Samuels away, ponied up some $350,000, and opened his own copycat restaurant three blocks down Sunset. It was called Jerry’s. To make it clear he was out for top billing, Lewis had his own likeness rendered in neon, then mounted it on a revolving pole 100 feet above his restaurant. In contrast to Dino’s Italian-based menu, Jerry’s would serve “American and Hebrew viands.” Lewis didn’t stop there. Within a few months, he’d hired away Dino’s top two chefs, his maître d', and half his waitstaff.

Wire Photo, eBay, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

When Lewis was in Los Angeles, he made of point of table-hopping and schmoozing with his guests at his restaurant, and he occasionally brought in a few of his celebrity friends, like Peggy Lee and Steve McQueen.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

By the following year, a disgusted Dean Martin was fed up with the restaurant business and cut ties with Dino’s Lodge. Much to his aggravation, he lost a motion in court to have his likeness and name removed from the sign. So the new owners carried on as Dino’s Lodge, with the big neon head staring down on Sunset for another decade before the place finally went bust.

Jerry’s lost steam long before that, folding in the mid-1960s.

For the rest of the 1960s and the early 1970s, Martin and Lewis avoided each other. “Jerry’s trying hard to be a director,” Dean once told a reporter. “He couldn’t even direct traffic.”

In 1976, Frank Sinatra famously engineered an onstage reunion of the pair during The Jerry Lewis Telethon. While the audience roared their approval, Sinatra said, “I think it’s about time, don’t you?” And to Sinatra, Lewis said under his breath, “You son of a bitch.”

What followed was an awkward few moments of shtick between the former partners. Reportedly, Martin was drunk and Lewis was doped up on painkillers. There was a quick embrace, Martin sang with Sinatra, then blew Lewis a kiss and disappeared from his life for good. Martin died in 1995. Lewis passed away today, at the age of 91.

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