Monday 4 April 2016

REVIEW: The Black Archive 1 - Rose

There's no shortage of programme guides and companion pieces to Doctor Who - I own a fair few of them - but occasionally a volume or series comes along which adds something special to the arena. The Black Archive is a new series of analytic books intended to take individual Doctor Who stories and engage with them in greater depth than has usually been attempted, with a number of notable fan authors taking an academic approach to the subject. The first four volumes take on Rose, The Massacre, The Ambassadors of Death and Death in Heaven, covering the breadth of Doctor Who history from Hartnell to Capaldi.

The task of launching the series goes to Jon Arnold, who previously co-edited the well-received Shooty Dog Thing: 2th and Claw, as well as contributing to numerous books and fanzines, both with fiction and non-fiction. The obvious choice of story might be An Unearthly Child, but Arnold instead takes on the episode that relaunched the series, describing it as "the most radical episode ever broadcast under the title Doctor Who." He makes a compelling argument for this throughout the book, but accepts that Russell T. Davies built on what came before. Arnold makes some fascinating comparisons between An Unearthly Child, Rose and the 1996 Doctor Who telemovie - a launch, a relaunch and a failed relaunch - and looking at how each approached the task. The book explores Rose in the context of Doctor Who as a long-running series, and in the context of the TV and cutural landscape of 2005 - already a strangely different world to today. While mostly looking from the perspective of storytelling and television, Arnold does take the occasional look at the mythology of the series; there's a fascinating footnote where he describes the ninth Doctor as "a kind of sacrifice to the Doctor's conscience" in light of the events of the Time War and The Day of the Doctor.

This is a book, and a series, aimed at those already steeped in Doctor Who, and as such, the initial passages, which summarise the plot of Rose and its development, seem rather unnecessary. Once it gets to the meat of it, though, this is an excellent exploration of a groundbreaking episode, and a fine start to what promises to be a remarkable series of books.

You can buy The Black Archive books from Obverse Booksin electronic or physical formats.

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