The Real Hereward was a Sixth Doctor/Peri Brown short story in the 1985 Doctor Who Annual. It was a "pure historical", although it described a difference between the accepted, real world history and the Doctor Who universe. The central conceit of the piece — that Hereward the Wake and King Harold were the same person — was and is an entirely unlikely proposition.


The Sixth Doctor and Peri Brown are in the English Fenlands. They are captured by Saxon rebels and brought before a man calling himself Hereward the Wake. He decides to let them live, then returns to a discussion with his men about attacking London and retaking it from the Normans. He says he will be able to secure Danish assistance in this battle, whereupon the Doctor protests. If the Danish/Saxon raid on London is successful and they dislodge the Norman king, the Danes will never let a scruffy Saxon like Hereward take the English throne.

One of Hereward's men adds his opinion, but in the process calls Hereward "King Harold". The Doctor presses Hereward on this and discovers that Countess Gytha and Edith Swan-Neck had in fact mis-identified his body on the battlefields of Hastings. This has allowed Harold to re-invent himself as Hereward, a Saxon guerrilla who has struck fear into the hearts of the Normans.

Their discussion is interrupted by a band of passing Norman soldiers who have become interested in the hut in which Harold/Hereward is conducting his meeting. The Doctor silences Hereward and his men. He reaches into his pocket and withdraws a toy robot. He winds it up and sends it out of the hut. Equipped with a vocal track, the robot "speaks" to the Normans. Since they have no frame of reference for a mechanical toy such as this, they are frightened and leave in a hurry.

Harold is thankful for the Doctor's intervention, and is therefore more indulgent of the Doctor's opinion. The Doctor presses home his advantage. He insists that the proposed raid on London will not be as effective as remaining in the shadows here in the Fenlands. Harold can be of much greater, long-term use to his Saxon people, the Doctor insists, if he remains a thorn in the side of the Normans, than if he leads a failed attack on London. Harold consider this, then asks his men for their opinions. They agree with the Doctor.

The Doctor and Peri take their leave. Peri marvels at the odd things the Doctor keeps in his pockets.



  • References to a number of genuine historical truths are made, such as:
    • The fact that Hereward was based in the English Fenlands.
    • The fact that Edith Swan-Neck indeed identified her husband King Harold's body on the battlefield at Hastings on 14 October 1066.
    • The facts that Gytha was Harold's mother and the sister of King Cnut of Denmark. Gytha was definitely Harold's mother. She wasn't actually Cnut's sister. Nevertheless, it was factually accurate that Gytha was portrayed, variously, as the sister of Cnut and the great-granddaughter of Bluetooth, Cnut's grandfather. The basic notion that Harold could call upon the Danes for help, because of a familial relationship, is one that contemporary soldiers serving Harold would have believed.


  • Despite a number of historical accuracies in the details of the piece, the lynchpin of the plot — that Hereward was Harold — is completely unlikely. What records survive in no way suggest it possible that the two men could have been the same.
  • This story was read by Nicola Bryant in The Doctor Who Audio Annual.