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

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.

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.


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