Doctor Who: 5 American Presidents The Doctor Has Met
All of space and time at his disposal, and yet The Doctor always seems to end up somewhere on Earth. Man, it's almost like it's cheaper there or something.
All joking aside, Doctor Who started out as an educational children's program that was supposed to teach kids about science and history. These days it's wandered a little far from that premise (I would love a good, old-school historical outing with no monsters myself), but everyone likes it when the Tardis shows us some famous person or event that we've only read about in books.
Though he's keener on England and Europe, The Doctor does occasionally manage to find the time to meet up with some of the men who have served as president of the United States. Five in particular stand out.
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Thomas Jefferson (3rd POTUS): As one of our most iconic founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson is a towering historical figure in American history. He invented the dumbwaiter, made the Louisiana Purchase and also founded the University of Virginia. He was also a man as strange as The Doctor himself, speaking five languages and having a passionate interest in science, religion, and philosophy.
Perhaps Jefferson's most revered contribution to United States history was his authorship of the Declaration of Independence. If the Tenth Doctor is to be believed, though, Jefferson had a little help. In deleted scenes from "The Lazarus Experiment," The Doctor claimed to have aided Jefferson in the early drafts, saying he was the man behind the phrase "the pursuit of happiness." He keeps a first draft of the Declaration in his tuxedo pocket.
William McKinley (25th POTUS): Though he's rarely mentioned among the company of the great presidents, McKinley was an upstanding man who led America to victory in the Spanish American War, and may be one of the most imperial presidents in our country's history. What he tends to be most famous for, unfortunately, is being shot, leading to the rise of Theodore Roosevelt as a legendary president who soon eclipsed his old and much beloved boss in the public imagination.
In the Keith Topping novel Byzantium!, the First Doctor mentions he was inside the Temple of Music when anarchist Leon Czolgosz approached the president with his guns. It's possible with his advanced knowledge that The Doctor could have saved McKinley, as it was infection brought on by probing with bare fingers that caused McKinley's death rather than the actual bullet. Knowing the First Doctor's stance on changing history, it's unlikely he would have done so; however, he surely would have felt a kinship with the president who begged attackers to cease beating Czolgosz even as he lay wounded.
Harry Truman (33rd POTUS): When Franklin Roosevelt died in his unprecedented fourth term, it was Harry Truman who stepped up to take America through the final days of World War II. It was under his command that the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and it's not the kind of act that The Doctor would normally approve of. The Seventh Doctor claims to have had engaged Truman in "a lively debate about a place called Manhattan. Something about the ethics of using fission weaponry on civilian populations." Knowing how devious the Seventh Doctor was, it's sort of hard to guess how that debate would have gone.
The Doctor would encounter Truman again in his eighth incarnation, posing as Dr. John Smith while stranded on Earth. He pretended to be working with British intelligence on developing psychic warfare weapons while secretly trying to figure out if Truman was under the influence of insane time travelers who enjoyed messing with history. Their meeting is described in Terrance Dicks's novel Endgame, in which The Doctor takes an instant liking to the president because of his no-nonsense attitude. Eventually he rescues Truman from an attempt at mind-control that might have sparked World War III, and they part as friends when The Doctor finally regains the Tardis.
Abraham Lincoln (16th POTUS): Widely regarded as one of the greatest presidents in American history, Abraham Lincoln led us through the Civil War to a reunion between North and South, and brought about the end of the practice of slavery. His work as a peacemaker and a humanitarian earned him grave respect from The Doctor, and it was a secret map of enemy movements at Gettysburg given to Lincoln by the Third Doctor that helped General Grant win the battle and later the war. The Eighth Doctor later alluded that he warned Lincoln not to attend Ford's Theatre in this meeting.
Perhaps worried about possible repercussions from that warning, The Doctor was twice forced to make sure Lincoln would in fact be assassinated, ironically by thwarting other attempts on his life. The Fifth Doctor successfully prevented a premature shooting death by a rage-filled Confederate named Aaron Eddowes. Lincoln personally stepped in to keep an angry mob from killing Eddowes, earning the assassin's acclaim and forgiveness. The Doctor sadly listened to Lincoln's plans for the future, knowing that the date with death had only been postponed.
The Sixth Doctor and companion Evelyn Smythe arrive just a few days later in Lincoln's personal timeline and become embroiled in alien influences surrounding the assassination of the president. Like his predecessor, he ultimately found himself having to ensure the proper historical death of Lincoln in order to maintain a fixed point, albeit this time due to a crazed human who had somehow acquired a Type 70 Tardis.
Richard Nixon (37th POTUS): The only U.S. President ever to have had a major role in a Doctor Who television story is also the only U.S. President ever to resign the office, leaving in disgrace after being caught covering up a break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters. The scandal remains the defining aspect of his presidency in many people's eyes, but he also left the country in a much better place after opening relations with communist China and creating the EPA.
Unfortunately, Nixon's well-known paranoia about possible enemies is a direct result of his interactions with The Doctor. In "The Impossible Astronaut," the Eleventh Doctor comes to Nixon's aid to discover the origins of mysterious phone calls he receives from a child later revealed to be the weaponized River Song. Though The Doctor aids a grateful Nixon, the revelation that there are alien threats hidden in plain sight drives him a little mad, and leads him directly to his downfall. Still, Nixon ensured that taped recordings of his conversations with The Doctor would be left in the White House to alert future presidents to his existence.
BONUS - Benjamin Franklin: Though he is one of our most celebrated founding fathers, scientist and statesman Benjamin Franklin never became president. Never even really ran for the job. In many ways it seems odd that a man as important to America never held her highest office.
Or did he?
In several audio adventures, the Eighth Doctor and even companion Charley Pollard occasionally refer to a time in U.S. history when Franklin was indeed president. This is always presented matter of factly without any disagreement. It could be because of the slightly fractured nature of the Eighth Doctor's life that this could simply be indicative that such adventures take place in an alternate timeline, though the events of "The Night of the Doctor" seem to place the Big Finish audio plays as the proper life of Eight in the series.
The Tenth Doctor mentioned helping Franklin with his famous kite experiment to Martha Jones, though he does not refer to him as President Franklin, so it's difficult to guess whether or not in the world of Doctor Who Franklin was ever the chief executive. Whatever the answer, it's highly unlikely that The Doctor is done mucking about with our history.
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