“Doctor Who” is and always will be my FAVORITE show of all time. And after spending an entire snowy weekend rewatching all the seasons, I realized something. Many of the episodes (or serials in the earlier seasons) were actually based on or inspired by novels. Some of them were incredibly obvious like the “The Shakespeare Code” which appears in season 3 of the revived series. Also “The Myth Makers” serial from season 3 in 1963. That whole serial is based on the Illiad. Not to mention “The Unicorn and the Wasp” in 2008 is based on novels by Agatha Christie
However, those are just to obvious. (and there were over 20 in my original list till I cut it down to 9). So here are 10 episodes of “Doctor Who” that you might not have known were inspired by novels. Allons-y!
The Android Invasion
This is the fourth serial of the 13th season and was first broadcast in four weekly parts from 22 November to 13 December 1975. It featured perennial favorite Doctor, Tom Baker and Sarah Jane Smith as the companion.
To most this seems a simple Auton or android storyline that appears in much of science fiction. And they would be right, partly atleast. This serial was originally influenced by the film and novel Invasion of the Body Snatchers. It would be the last Terry Nation script for Doctor Who for four years.
Some people will notice the similarities which is why it is number 10 on the list (and not number 1).
Image of the Fendahl
This is the third serial of the 15th season and was first broadcast in four weekly parts from 29 October to 19 November 1977. It featured once again, Tom Baker as the fourth Doctor, and Leela as the companion.
This is one of my favorite references and inspirations for an episode ever. Not only is it my favorite show, but this episode is inspired by my favorite little known Kurt Vonnegut Jr. novel, The Sirens of Titan.
The major plot device of this episode, that alien life has influenced and pushed along the evolution of mankind and brought contemporary humanity to where it is today, is highly influenced by the plot of the 1959 Vonnegut novel.
This is the fifth serial of the 15th season and was first broadcast in four weekly parts from 7 January – 28 January 1978. It featured once again, Tom Baker as the fourth Doctor, and Leela as the companion (along with K-9!)
I think this is one of the most blantant episodes inspired by written work. The reason it is on the list is because I love the way it references the work that inspired it. Jason and the Argonauts (And I am not entirely faithful that the population has read that particular myth anyway.)
The references are MANY in this episode. We have the “Minyan” race which are related to the Minoans, the search for “P7E” references Persephone, and character names such as Jackson “Jason”, Orfe “Orpheus”, Herrick “Heracles”, Tala “Talaus”, Idmon and Idas. The connection is highlighted at the end of the episode, with the Doctor likening Jackson and his journey to Jason and his quest for the Golden Fleece.
This one is obvious, but I love the parallels it draws while retelling the story in a new setting.
Revelation of the Daleks
This is the sixth serial of the 22nd season and was first broadcast in two weekly parts on 23 March and 30 March 1985. It features the sixth Doctor portrayed by Colin Baker and the companion Peri Brown.
This particular episode was loosely based on the book The Loved One written by British novelist Evelyn Waugh. It is also in part, influenced by the film and novel Soylent Green (novel Make Room! Make Room!). It features the eating of people as a food source which is promptly stopped by the Doctor in favor of something similar to the soybean.
This is the second serial from the 24th season and was first broadcast in four weekly parts from 5 October to 26 October 1987. It features Sylvester McCoy as the seventh doctor and has Mel as a companion.
“Paradise Towers” is storyline that follows a luxurious 22nd century high rise apartment building now fallen into disrepair and chaos. It has gangs that are always fighting and yes there are robots. This seems like a pretty standard set up for an episode but it is actually based in part on the J. G. Ballard novel High Rise, which depicts a luxury apartment building which descends into savagery.
And yes, this episode aided in one of my fears of swimming as a young child.
The God Complex
The first on this list from the revived seasons of “Doctor Who.” It is the eleventh episode of the 6th season (renumbered beginning when it was revived in 2005) and first broadcast on BBC One, BBC America and Space on 17 September 2011. It featured Matt Smith as the eleventh doctor and Amy Pond and Rory Williams as the companions.
This isn’t the first of the revived series to base on literature but it was the first that was obvious but needed to be said. And no not because of the minotaur. I mean yes that is based on mythology but that is not the point that needs to be made. This episode was highly influenced by Stanley Kubrick’s film The Shining which as most know is based on the novel of the same name. The overall look of the hotel it takes place in as well as the use of long corridor shots are very reminiscent of The Shining.
However there is another influence that many might not catch. George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four inspired much of this episode as well. From the concept of rooms containing each person’s deepest fear, which is a major plot point toward the end of the novel. But also in the quoting of the english nursey rhyme “Oranges and Lemons” is also in the novel.
Remember: “Here comes a candle to light you to bed, here comes a chopper to chop off your head!.”
Planet of the Dead
This is actually a special that aired in between seasons while David Tennant was off being Hamlet for a year. It was the first of the four specials aired between the fourth and fifth season. It aired in April 2009 and featured David Tennant as the doctor and a one time companion of Lady Christina de Souza.
This one isn’t an adaptation as such but a direct influence. The writers used the novel The Highest Science as a jumping off point for this episode. The novel featured a train stuck on a desert planet but the writers substituted the train for a bus and went from there.
The Eleventh Hour
This is the first episode of the fifth season and also the first episode to feature eleventh doctor Matt Smith. It also featured companion Amy Pond for the first time. (Also pretty awesomely it feature amateur astronomer and The Sky at Night presenter Patrick Moore in a guest appearance as himself!)
While the main influence of this episode came from a crack in the writers’ sons bedroom wall, he also drew inspiration from A.A. Milne’s The House at Pooh Corner. This is noticeable in the scenes where the new doctor claims to like everything but then proceeds to reject everything offered to him. Finally Amy (or Amelia) figures it out and he is able to eat something to fuel his regeneration. Definitely one of the silliest influences but nonetheless it is one derived from a children’s book.
The Girl in the Fireplace and MANY many others.
This one is kind of a doozy so I put it in the end. There are two characters who are influenced by one novel. It is not necessarily that their story lines in each episode were inspired by novels but more of the core of their person and their relationship with the Doctor.
The novel? One of my favorite, The Time Travelers Wife written by Audrey Niffenegger.
When knowing someone who can time travel, you have to assume you may or may not have met them prior when they were, well, time traveling. What makes these two characters so similar to the novel is that they are both women, who meet the doctor as children when he is an adult, and both have romantic escapades with him.
The first character only appears in one episode, “The Girl in the Fireplace” which is the fourth episode of the second season featuring David Tennant as the Doctor and the companion Rose and Mickey. The woman is Madame de Pompadour (the mistress of King Louis XV). The Doctor greatly admires her and through the course of the episode falls for her (and she falls for him apparently since she was a child….?) He falls into her world at different time periods through her life, promising to return for her (and making out with her) while the episode is structurally different from the novel it features a similar understated connection.
The second character is a biggie. Not just for this article but for the Doctor, for the fans, and for the over all mystery of the question “Doctor Who?”. River Song. She rests as one of the most enigmatic characters in the series at the beginning because of her familiarity with the Doctor, the fact she knows his name, his REAL name, and also that she seems to know many different versions of him. The character creation and conception of River was directly influenced from the name novel. (Steven Moffat must have loved that novel as much as I did). Much like River and The Doctor, Niffenegger’s lovers in the novel experience an asynchronous and tragic love story. Also River, when he first meets her, she has known him her entire life (much like Clare and Henry in the novel) and she informs him that she is his WIFE. She is literally a Time Travelers Wife. This ends up occurring at the end of the season 6 when the two actually wed.
So bam. 9 Doctor Who Episodes you probably didn’t realize were based on literature, and if you did, then bravo because that means you probably like the show just as much as I do.