With over fifty years of history, and as many bumps in the road as there have been changes in style, Doctor Who is a fascinating series to analyse – and certain stories are more intriguing than others. It’s with this in mind that Obverse Books have begun their series The Black Archive, in which each publication will spend twenty to forty thousand words picking apart a single televised story. And what better story to start on than that which brought Doctor Who back to TV screens, after a sixteen-year hiatus, and set the groundwork for the popular phenomenon it would soon become?
This hundred-page volume from Jon Arnold comprises of four essays analysing Russell T Davies’ 2005 series opener Rose and its place within Who history. First, Arnold explores Rose as a starting point for new viewers, comparing it to the successful simplicity of An Unearthly Child and the not-so-successful 1996 TV movie; he also makes some very insightful points about the character of Clive as a gently mocking representation of classic Who fans. Next, he analyses Davies’ take on the character of the Doctor, and the decision to give him some proper character development, perhaps inevitable given the changes in genre TV since 1989. Third, Arnold talks about the character of Rose Tyler and Davies’ success in making the companion an equal to the Doctor in terms of dramatic possibilities. And in the final chapter, he discusses Davies himself, and how the writer’s crossing of populist sensibilities and artistic ambition crafted Doctor Who into the massive success it became.
Though it’s not a long book, and can be read in one easy afternoon, the first Black Archives instalment has a lot of interesting things to say about its episode of choice. Arnold has a tendency to go off on tangents about other areas of Doctor Who history, but everything ties back into the episode in question, showing a thoroughly contextualized understanding of its success. He also brings in expert knowledge of what else was going on in TV and pop culture, and how this affected the revived Who – though an analysis of Rose’s character arc throughout series one in comparison to the narrative arc of an X-Factor contestant does seem to stretch the point!
Whovians wanting to learn a bit more about what made Rose so successful, will take a lot out of this book. For those not so keen on Eccleston’s Doctor, Obverse are releasing three other titles this month, covering The Massacre, The Ambassadors of Death, and Dark Water/Death in Heaven – all the way from Hartnell to Capaldi! There are so many more Who stories worthy of this kind of quality criticism, so we’ll be looking out for what’s next.
THE BLACK ARCHIVE #1 – ROSE (DOCTOR WHO) / AUTHOR: JON ARNOLD / PUBLISHER: OBVERSE BOOKS / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW