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

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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Courtesy New York Academy of Medicine Library
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History
10 Treasures From the New York Academy of Medicine Library
A urine wheel from Fasciculus Medicinae
A urine wheel from Fasciculus Medicinae
Courtesy New York Academy of Medicine Library

Tucked away on a side street near Central Park, the New York Academy of Medicine Library is one of the most significant historical medical libraries in the world. Open to the public by appointment since the 19th century, its collection includes 550,000 volumes on subjects ranging from ancient brain surgery to women's medical colleges to George Washington's dentures. A few weeks ago, Mental Floss visited to check out some of their most fascinating items connected to the study of anatomy. Whether it was urine wheels or early anatomy pop-up books, we weren't disappointed.

1. FASCICULUS MEDICINAE (1509)

The Fasciculus Medicinae is a compilation of Greek and Arabic texts first printed in Venice in 1491. While it covers a variety of topics including anatomy and gynecology, the book begins with the discipline considered most important for diagnosing all medical issues at the time: uroscopy (the study of urine). The NYAM Library's curator, Anne Garner, showed us the book's urine wheel, which once had the various flasks of urine colored in to help aid physicians in their diagnosis. Each position of the wheel corresponded to one of the four humors, whether it was phlegmatic, choleric, sanguine, or melancholic. The image on the left, Garner explains, "shows the exciting moment where a servant boy brings his flasks to be analyzed by a professor." Other notable images in the book include one historians like to call "Zodiac Man," showing how the parts of the body were governed by the planets, and "Wound Man," who has been struck by every conceivable weapon, and is accompanied by a text showing how to treat each type of injury. Last but not least, the book includes what's believed to be the first printed image of a dissection.

2. ANDREAS VESALIUS, DE HUMANI CORPORIS FABRICA (1543)

Andreas Vesalius's Fabrica
Frontispiece of Andreas Vesalius's Fabrica
Courtesy New York Academy of Medicine Library

Andreas Vesalius, born 1514, was one of the most important anatomists who ever lived. Thanks to him, we moved past an understanding of the human body based primarily on the dissection of animals and toward training that involved the direct dissection of human corpses. The Fabrica was written by Vesalius and published when he was a 28-year-old professor at the University of Padua. Its detailed woodcuts, the most accurate anatomical illustrations up to that point, influenced the depiction of anatomy for centuries to come. "After this book, anatomy divided up into pre-Vesalian and post-Vesalian," Garner says. You can see Vesalius himself in the book's frontispiece (he's the one pointing to the corpse and looking at the viewer). "Vesalius is trying to make a point that he himself is doing the dissection, he believes that to understand the body you have to open it up and look at it," Garner explains.

3. THOMAS GEMINUS, COMPENDIOSA (1559)

Flap anatomy from Thomas Geminus's Compendiosa
Courtesy New York Academy of Medicine Library

There was no copyright in the 16th century, and Vesalius's works were re-used by a variety of people for centuries. The first was in Flemish printer and engraver Thomas Geminus’s Compendiosa, which borrowed from several of Vesalius's works. The first edition was published in London just two years after the Fabrica. Alongside a beautiful dedication page made for Elizabeth I and inlaid with real gemstones, the book also includes an example of a "flap anatomy" or a fugitive leaf, which was printed separately with parts that could be cut out and attached to show the various layers of the human body, all the way down to the intestines. As usual for the time, the female is depicted as pregnant, and she holds a mirror that says "know thyself" in Latin.

4. WILLIAM COWPER, THE ANATOMY OF HUMANE BODIES (1698)

Illustration from William Cowper's The Anatomy of Humane Bodies
Courtesy New York Academy of Medicine Library

After Vesalius, there was little new in anatomy texts until the Dutch anatomist Govard Bidloo published his Anatomia humani corporis in 1685. The work was expensive and not much of a financial success, so Bidloo sold excess plates to the English anatomist William Cowper, who published the plates with an English text without crediting Bidloo (a number of angry exchanges between the two men followed). The copperplate engravings were drawn by Gérard de Lairesse, who Garner notes was "incredibly talented." But while the engravings are beautiful, they're not always anatomically correct, perhaps because the relationship between de Lairesse and Bidloo was fraught (Bidloo was generally a bit difficult). The skeleton shown above is depicted holding an hourglass, by then a classic of death iconography.

5. 17TH-CENTURY IVORY MANIKINS

17th Century Ivory Manikin
Courtesy New York Academy of Medicine Library

These exquisite figures are a bit of a mystery: It was originally thought that they were used in doctors’ offices to educate pregnant women about what was happening to their bodies, but because of their lack of detail, scholars now think they were more likely expensive collector's items displayed in cabinets of curiosity by wealthy male physicians. The arms of the manikins (the term for anatomical figures like this) lift up, allowing the viewer to take apart their removable hearts, intestines, and stomachs; the female figure also has a little baby inside her uterus. There are only about 100 of these left in the world, mostly made in Germany, and NYAM has seven.

6. BERNHARD SIEGFRIED ALBINUS, TABULAE SCELETI (1747)

Illustration from Bernhard Siegfried Albinus's Tabulae Sceleti
Courtesy New York Academy of Medicine Library

One of the best-known anatomists of the 18th century, the Dutch anatomist Bernhard Siegfried Albinus went to medical school at age 12 and had a tenured position at the University of Leiden by the time he was 24. The Tabulae Sceleti was his signature work. The artist who worked on the text, Jan Wandelaar, had studied with Gérard de Lairesse, the artist who worked with Bidloo. Wandelaar and Albinus developed what Garner says was a bizarre method of suspending cadavers from the ceiling in the winter and comparing them to a (very cold and naked) living person lying on the floor in the same pose. Albinus also continued the dreamy, baroque funerary landscape of his predecessors, and his anatomy is "very, very accurate," according to Garner.

The atlas also features an appearance by Clara, a celebrity rhinoceros, who was posed with one of the skeletons. "When Albinus is asked why [he included a rhinoceros], he says, 'Oh, Clara is just another natural wonder of the world, she's this amazing creation,' but really we think Clara is there to sell more atlases because she was so popular," Garner says.

7. FERDINAND HEBRA, ATLAS DER HAUTKRANKHEITEN (1856–1876)

Circus performer Georg Constantin as depicted in Ferdinand Hebra's dermatological atlas
Courtesy New York Academy of Medicine Library

By the mid-19th century, dermatology had started to emerge as its own discipline, and the Vienna-based Ferdinand Hebra was a leading light in the field. He began publishing this dermatological atlas in 1856 (it appeared in 10 installments), featuring chromolithographs that showed different stages of skin diseases and other dermatological irregularities.

"While some of the images are very disturbing, they also tend to adhere to Victorian portrait conventions, with very ornate hair, and [subjects] looking off in the distance," Garner says. But one of the most famous images from the book has nothing to do with disease—it's a depiction of Georg Constantin, a well-known Albanian circus performer in his day, who was covered in 388 tattoos of animals, flowers, and other symbols. He travelled throughout Europe and North America, and was known as "Prince Constantine" during a spell with Barnum's Circus. (The image is also available from NYAM as a coloring sheet.)

8. KOICHI SHIBATA, OBSTETRICAL POCKET PHANTOM (1895)

19th century Obstetrical Pocket Phantom
Courtesy New York Academy of Medicine Library

Obstetrical phantoms, often made of cloth, wood, or leather, were used to teach medical students about childbirth. This "pocket phantom" was originally published in Germany, and Garner explains that because it was made out of paper, it was much cheaper for medical students. The accompanying text, translated in Philadelphia, tells how to arrange the phantom and describes the potential difficulties of various positions.

9. ROBERT L. DICKINSON AND ABRAM BELSKIE, BIRTH ATLAS (1940)

Image from Robert Dickinson's Birth Atlas
Courtesy New York Academy of Medicine Library

Robert Dickinson was a Brooklyn gynecologist, early birth control advocate, and active member of NYAM. His Birth Atlas is illustrated with incredibly lifelike terracotta models created by New Jersey sculptor Abram Belskie. The models were exhibited at the 1939 New York World's Fair, where they became incredibly popular, drawing around 700,000 people according to Garner. His depictions "are very beautiful and serene, and a totally different way of showing fetal development than anything that had come before," Garner notes.

10. RALPH H. SEGAL, THE BODYSCOPE (1948)

The Bodyscope
Courtesy New York Academy of Medicine Library

This midcentury cardboard anatomy guide contains male and female figures as well as rotating wheels, called volvelles, that can be turned to display details on different parts of the body as well as accompanying explanatory text. The Bodyscope is also decorated with images of notable medical men—and "wise" sayings about God's influence on the body.

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23 Funny Historical Letters to Santa
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At the end of the 19th century, illustrator Thomas Nast popularized our current version of Santa Claus: a fat, jolly man with a white beard and a red suit who lives at the North Pole. Nast’s cartoons in publications like Harper’s Weekly also helped spread the idea of sending St. Nick mail. By the late 1870s, American children had begun mailing their Christmas wish lists to Santa, but the Post Office considered these letters undeliverable. Around this time, newspapers began prompting children to send wish lists to them, which would then be published so that Santa (and parents) could read the letters all in one place. We’ve collected 23 funny historical letters from children to Santa Claus, as printed in newspapers across the U.S.

1. CONRAD FROM NEBRASKA (1896)

The Courier, Dec. 19, 1896

Conrad tries to mask his violent tendencies by interspersing the weapons between non-threatening gifts, but he shows his hand with that threat at the end.

2. CLIFFORD FROM NEBRASKA (1896)

The Courier, Dec. 19, 1896

Clifford sounds ... intense.

3. MARIE FROM NEBRASKA (1896)

The Courier, Dec. 19, 1896

“As I can not have it I will not ask for it" ... but I will mention it, just in case.

4. LYNWOOD FROM VIRGINIA (1903)

“I smashed everything you sent me last year." I won’t tell you what I want this year, but you better not mess up.

5. PAUL FROM VIRGINIA (1903)

This 4-year-old is very concerned about his infant brother’s lack of teeth. Since the local doctor has proved useless to rectify the situation, Paul hopes Santa might be able to lend a hand. He is magical, after all.

6. HARRY FROM MONTANA (1903)

Fergus County Argus, Dec. 16, 1903

Who knew keeping your feet dry was such an important part of staying off the Naughty list?

7. RAYMOND FROM WEST VIRGINIA (1907)

Clarence doesn’t sound very nice.

8. PERCY FROM WEST VIRGINIA (1907)

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Poor Opal and Mildred. They’re just girls. Do girls even have preferences?

9. VIRGINIA FROM MISSOURI (1907)

Virginia understands that sometimes Santa needs to delegate.

10. ROBERT FROM TENNESSEE (1913)

The Commercial, Dec. 19, 1913

Old people get lonely.

11. WILLIE FROM FLORIDA (1915)

Sure, an axe sounds like an age-appropriate gift for a five-year-old.

12. ELEANOR FROM FLORIDA (1915)

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“Bring both if possible.”

13. UNSIGNED LETTER FROM FLORIDA (1913)

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This transplant from Maine would really like a basketball, but he doesn’t quite believe that a Santa Claus can exist in Florida, where there isn’t even any snow.

14. WALTER FROM FLORIDA (1915)

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The Daytona Daily News, Dec. 17, 1915

Good choice not to act a pig, Walter.

15. MERLA FROM FLORIDA (1915)

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The Pensacola Journal, Dec. 24, 1915

Merla will not be ignored!

16. ROY FROM FLORIDA (1915)

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The Pensacola Journal, Dec. 24, 1915

A doll dressed in a cowboy suit could not be called Raymond. A lack of sailor suit is a dealbreaker.

17. MAXWELL FROM FLORIDA

The Pensacola Journal, Dec. 24, 1915

Ways to improve your chances of getting a pony from Santa, according to Maxwell Hudson: 1. Admit right off it’s expensive. 2. Say you will use it to take your sisters to school. 3. Promise to be grateful for anything Santa brings, so as not to seem greedy. 4. Make yourself seem extra kindhearted (and thus deserving of a pony) by showing concern for your fatherless neighbors. Did it work? We will never know.

18. MOXIE FROM TENNESSEE (1916)

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Perhaps a kid known for being mean shouldn’t be given a firearm.

19. DICK FROM SOUTH CAROLINA (1916)

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The County Record, Dec. 21, 1916

No, Santa certainly wouldn’t want to get “fastened in” the chimney.

20. JOHN FROM NEW MEXICO (1918)

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World War I devastated Western Europe, decimating a generation of young men—and apparently killing the French Santa Claus.

21. MARY FROM NEW MEXICO (1922)

Screen Shot 2016-12-09 at 3.13.18 PM.png

The Carlsbad Current, Dec. 15, 1922

Come on, Mary, Santa’s not a mind reader.

22. JEWEL FROM NEW MEXICO (1922)

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The Carlsbad Current, Dec. 15, 1922

No apology for the door-slamming incident. That might have helped your cause, Jewel.

23. R.B. FROM NEW MEXICO (1922)

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The Carlsbad Current, Dec. 15, 1922

R.B. is very thoughtful to provide such specific instructions; otherwise, Santa might get confused.

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