The bubonic plague — commonly called the Black Death and clinically Yersinia pestis (COMIC: Black Death White Life) — was a devastating disease which originated in the Middle Ages. It was spread by rats and fleas due to the poor sanitation of that age. (TV: The Visitation)
According to the First Doctor, a large epidemic of bubonic plague originated in 1346 when Mongols in Janibeg Khan's army besieged Kaffa. The commander of Kaffa's defenders ordered diseased corpses to be catapulted beyond the city walls. The illness spread to the Mongols, killing many of them. Regarded as the first instance of biological warfare, Dodo Chaplet feared the idea was possibly influenced by a similar strategy previously employed against the Mongols at Kiev in the 13th century. After the siege of Kaffa, Genoese merchants travelled across the Mediterranean, spreading the plague to ports in southern Europe, where it moved into Spain, France and Germany. (PROSE: Bunker Soldiers)
A group of aliens stranded in England in 1346, masquerading as humans, were aware of the disease spreading from the east and knew that it would reach England in 1348, threatening to destroy their host bodies. With their knowledge of the period, they sent one of their own back through time to 1278 to influence Roger Bacon to develop the Elixir of Life. However, their pawn, Brother Thomas, was exposed by the Fourth Doctor and freed from extraterrestrial influence by Nyssa. By 1346, Thomas, in his old age, retained scattered pieces of information of the impending disaster and wandered Oxford trying to warn people but he was dismissed as a senile madman. The plague came to England two years later, its transmission aided by rats. (PROSE: Asylum)
Ashildr fell victim to the Black Death in 1348. Her immune system coped and she got better, having been rendered effectively immortal since the 9th century due to an implanted Mire repair kit, but her children, Essie, Johann, and Rue died. (PROSE: The Triple Knife, TV: The Woman Who Lived)
The plague further spread to Scandinavia and Greenland. (PROSE: Bunker Soldiers) One third of the European population died as a result of the plague. (PROSE: Bunker Soldiers, Asylum) According to Owen Harper, this was about twenty-five million people. (PROSE: Slow Decay) It was the largest and deadliest outbreak of the plague. Further outbreaks would occur, with less people dying each time. (PROSE: Asylum)
In 1479, Duroc, also known as Death, appeared during a bubonic plague outbreak in Cardiff until Faith stopped it before it could claim its thirteenth victim and enter the universe permanently. (TV: Dead Man Walking)
The Great Plague began in 1665, killing around one hundred thousand people in eighteen months. (AUDIO: The Tactics of Defeat) In 1666, escaped Terileptil convicts created a deliberately more virulent variant on the plague in order to infect rats with it so as to spread it to humans. The Fifth Doctor defeated them, allowing the elimination of the source of the plague in the Great Fire of London, which was unintentionally set whilst fighting the Terileptils. (TV: The Visitation) Historians noted that the fire destroyed much of the slums in which rats and fleas lived, potentially preventing further spread of the plague. (PROSE: A History of Humankind)
Memories of the plague persisted as far as the 19th century and any unexplained death was attributed to the plague or, in more bizarre cases, the legendary Plague Warriors. (PROSE: Plague of the Cybermen)
In 1933, in the Zhong Ma Fortress in occupied Manchuria, the Japanese military scientist Ishii Shiro led experimentation into biological weapons development. They infected their Chinese prisoners with bubonic plague to study its effects on the human body in order to weaponise the germs. In one case, the plague spread to the victim's lungs and evolved into the highly contagious and, without treatment, 100% fatal pneumonic plague. The research was used to kill hundreds of thousands during the Second Sino-Japanese War before Japan surrendered to the United States in 1945 at the end of the Pacific War in World War II. To prevent the Russians finding out about the research, and for their own medical purposes, the Americans did not persecute the Japanese perpetrators, and even used it themselves in the Korean War. (PROSE: Log 384)
When the Cardiff Space-Time Rift became more active after it was opened by the Rift Manipulator, at least one female victim of the bubonic plague came through into a hospital in the 21st century, by which point medical professionals had no understanding of the disease. She died shortly after, in isolation, but not before her presence at the hospital caused an outbreak of the plague. (TV: End of Days)
Behind the scenes
- While bubonic plague refers to the disease itself, Black Death more specifically refers to the pandemic of 1346 to 1353, although given the scale of the event, the names are sometimes used interchangeably in the Doctor Who universe.
- One possible "game over" for the video game Don't Blink has the player being sent back in time by a Weeping Angel to the year 1348 to die of the Black Death.
- While End of Days suggests that in the DWU the bubonic plague has been totally wiped out so modern doctors would be unable to identify or treat it, the reverse is true in real life - the disease still exists but is relatively trivial to treat and far more easily survivable today than its historical reputation.