Apr 10 2013 1:00pm

Where to Find the Doctor in All of My Historical Fantasy Novels

Doctor Who Mary Robinette Kowal

I have had a long standing love for Doctor Who, dating back to middle school when I was watching Tom Baker episodes. The nice thing about a time traveler is that he can turn up anywhere so... in each of my historical fantasy novels—Shades of Milk and Honey, Glamour in Glass, and Without a SummerI’ve inserted an unspoken cameo from the Doctor.

My rule is that I can slide these private jokes in only if they don’t interrupt the story.

Shades of Milk and Honey Mary Robinette Kowal

For instance, in Shades of Milk and Honey:

It seemed forever before the surgeon arrived. When he did, Dr. Smythe strode straight into the room, without so much as taking off his greatcoat.

The good doctor often uses the pseudonym Dr. John Smith. In my head, this was the Third Doctor, living in the Regency for a time. I thought that Lady FitzCameron would find the name “Smith” too common and insist on spelling it Smythe. It’s sheer silliness, of course but the Doctor has hopped universes before, so what’s to say that he couldn’t wind up in my version of the Regency? It’s subtle and mostly in my head.

Glamour in Glass Mary Robinette Kowal

However… when it came time to write the sequel, Glamour in Glass, I was a little bolder and inserted the Tenth Doctor into the novel.

Before Jane could decide on the merits of this argument, voices and footsteps in the hall announced the arrival of the doctor, a tall, slender fellow, with a shock of dark hair. He was younger than she expected a doctor to be, but exuded such an air of confidence that Jane could not help but trust him. Settling himself on a chair at her bedside, he produced a pair of horn spectacles and slipped them over his ears.

Yes. I am a complete geek.

Doctor Who Tenth Doctor Mary Robinette Kowal

In Without a Summer, the Second Doctor makes an appearance as, “a man in his middle years with ruffled black hair” and uses one of his other pseudonyms, Dr. McCrimmon. Now, I’m normally a stickler for attempting to use language that is period correct. When I showed this scene to my editor, she flagged a word as being an anachronism by a hundred years or so. That’s because I had decided to allow the doctor to use language from the future.

Without a Summer Mary Robinette Kowal

That’s not as much of a giveaway as this next bit:

The doctor stood and cleared his throat. “I have some things to attend to in the back, if you will pardon me.” No one paid him any mind as he slipped behind the curtain leading to the back of the shop, which appeared to be bigger on the inside than Jane would have suspected.

I don’t expect anyone to notice these, unless I point them out. In fact, if you do, then I’ve done it wrong. But still... how can you not want a little bit of Doctor Who in your Regency fantasy? I mean, as an author I’m given license to create a universe as I see fit. It’s not complete without a Time Lord.

Is there a Doctor planned for the fourth book? Yes, and Lord Byron is his companion.

Mary Robinette Kowal is the author of Shades of Milk and Honey, Glamour in Glass, Without a Summer, and the 2011 Hugo Award-winning short story “For Want of a Nail.” Her short fiction appears in Clarkesworld, Cosmos and Asimov’s. Mary, a professional puppeteer, lives in Portland, OR.

1. ravelunatick
I love this kind of thing. I've often wondered how acceptible it is to do...I've been wanting to slip sci-fi and video gaming references into my fiction, but held back a bit.
Chris Nelly
2. Aeryl
I saw an article on The MarySue about a possible movie-adaptation of C.J. Cherryh's Morgaine series. Which is about a woman that sounds suspiciously like a Time Lord.

From the article

heroine time cop from a line of now extinct time cops and her faithful
vassal traveling through time and space to keep time travel out of
dangerous hands.

I'll admit though, I first read "vassal" as "vessel", which probably didn't help.
4. Vanye
*boggle* I wouldn't have thought of Morgaine and her companion nhi Vanye i Chya time cops. Not even Morgaine's original companions, either. I suppose if "making sure the complete scrambling of time and space can't happen again by shutting down all the Gates in a one way trip to the end of time" counts as being a time cop....
William Carter
5. wcarter
Is there a doctor in the house? ::ducks thrown produce::
6. Joan B.
I haven't read any of Kowal's books, but on a related topic, I was quite amused at points when I read Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita. It features a mysterious stranger (who boasts of talking to dead historical figures and witnessing long past historical events) arriving in Moscow with a few odd companions and living in an apartment that's bigger on the inside. Plus there's the issue of the somewhat insane protagonist referred to only as "the Master". And all from a Russian novel written in the 1930s as a satire of Stalinist oppression. Now I wish Doctor Who would make some sort of reference to it.
Paul Weimer
7. PrinceJvstin
I think you mentioned this before,Mary. Perhaps at 4th Street or a booksigning. I love this subtle bit of tuckerization. After all, why *not*? :)
8. copperbird
One of the Dr Who novels features a story where Byron is a companion :) (It's Managra)
9. Sharon Browning
Oh, la! I didn't notice any of them, even though I've lived with Doctor Who fanatics for quite some time now (and consider myself fairly well versed on the good doctor). How fun! I'll have to make sure to mention this as we all gather around the dinner table this evening.
Lisamarie LiGreci-Newton
10. Lisamarie
I don't really follow Doctor Who, and I haven't read these books, but it amuses me to no end :) I love in-jokey shout outs like that (my favorite I think being Maester Rigney's theories on time in the Game of Thrones series, haha)
Pamela Adams
12. PamAdams
On a related note, I just finished the non-fiction Without A Summer, and am looking forward to see what you did with it. (It's on my shelf being gloated over until the weekend)
13. Steven Poore
One of the perks of being a writer! I wish I could be that daring, but I'll settle for working song lyrics into my dialogue for now.
Teresa Jusino
16. TeresaJusino
I've been wanting to read your work for quite some time as I've heard nothing but good it wrong that mention of this is the thing that's actually going to make me get off my butt and buy a book? :)
Ron Hogan
17. RonHogan
Man, I never noticed these, which means they worked!

You could also have Jane and Vincent pay a visit to Professor Chronotis at Oxford, which would make the connection to Whovian continutity even tighter!
T S Davis
18. tee+D
I have JUST gotten this book TODAY and will read eagerly for these passages while I ignore everyone through dinner!!

This is so fun.
Mary Robinette Kowal
19. MaryRobinette
@TeresaJusino: Nothing wrong with that at all! I hope you enjoy his brief jaunts through the novels.

@RonHogan: oooo.... Professor Chronotis. Hm, and Lord Byron was a Cambridge man.
20. onogaro
I did not realize this, and I'm glad to have learned about it. I just started reading Without a Summer last night, so I will look for the passage.
21. Jill B
What fun! I've not thought to look for The Doctor in any of the novels I read. I do, however, enjoy "seeing" the Doctor (potentially) at work in •*real-life* news stories. One of my favorites was when the Super-Collider (that was controversial because no one knew what would happen once it was operational!) broke down and couldn't run on its planned first day. Hmmm... What (or WHO?!) could possibly have gone wrong? ~~ It really makes reading science, history and archeology stories extra fun to think our favorite Time Lord has a hand in some of it. :-)

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