Reviewed: The Black Archive #1 – Rose

There’s something immensely exciting about cracking open a new book, and it’s even more of a thrill when you know the end of a series of books is nowhere in sight. But it’s a rare feeling because few publishers have the guts to embark on such a project.

That’s where Obverse Books comes in.

The Black Archive is an ongoing collection of books covering every single televised Doctor Who story, so as you can imagine, a lot rests on this first release. Written by Jon Arnold (Hating to Love; The Twelve Doctors of Christmas), this debut Black Archive picks the perfect tale to begin with: Rose, the 2005 episode that reintroduced the Doctor and his universe to an excited – and admittedly nervous – audience. For many, myself included, this was the story that began an obsession; an ideal entry point.

A lot has already been said about the successes of Rose, but if continued assessments of serials more than 50 years old has taught us anything, it’s that there’s always plenty more to uncover. There are always new angles to look at, facts to discover, and parallels to draw. A lot hangs on this first Black Archive title then: it would have to re-tread old ground, for those who unfamiliar with critical examinations, and offer new insights, to cater for those well-versed in peeling back the layers of a serial.

Fortunately, this largely pulls it off wonderfully.

It’s really refreshing to read such an unashamedly celebratory book about Doctor Who: critical assessments often mean just that – being overly critical, and sometimes taking the joy out of the story. Arnold, however, doesn’t hide how enjoyable Rose is: in fact, he utterly revels in how popular it proved to be. He applauds Russell T. Davies’ vision, Christopher Eccleston’s Doctor, Billie Piper’s Rose Tyler, and the episode’s modern-day tone, and the reader, in turn, has to applaud this Black Archive.

Dare I say, this comes at the cost of criticising Classic Who? Comparisons are obviously made with An Unearthly Child and Doctor Who: The TV Movie, and it’s definitely the latter that comes off worse for it. Arnold’s assertions about the 1996 production are pretty scathing, but, you have to admit, often fair. Still, it can be uncomfortable to be confronted with. Further Classic stories are judged harshly, especially when contrasting Rose’s character with that of previous companions.

(Similarly, it’s not solely Arnold’s point-of-view: while we generally enjoy Ace’s development in tales like The Curse of Fenric and Survival, in a DWM interview, Russell called them “slight, ephemeral notions of characterisations.” That Arnold is somewhat reflecting Davies’ viewpoint feels just, although I suspect the showrunner’s comments weren’t meant as a dig at the show, but merely trying to distinguish what his vision was. We’ve all had moments where we’re overly critical of Doctor Who, right?)

The positive thing is that The Black Archive: Rose really puts the story in context with Doctor Who as a whole. The episode itself feels like a clean break (the Autons, for instance, are never named as such, and no previous knowledge is needed to enjoy it), but Jon Arnold demonstrates that it’s a culmination of its past – throwing off the elements that wouldn’t fit in the 2005-present show, but retaining its more successful, and important, strands.

What’s more, Arnold proves that Russell’s show is perfectly suited to a Saturday night because that’s one thing Davies enjoys and specialises in. He even draws parallels between Rose’s “journey” and that of a reality TV star. No, I wasn’t convinced when the initial assertion was made, but by its conclusion, I was sold!

The whole piece makes you re-evaluate Rose, encouraging you to watch it again and realise what a remarkable achievement it is.

As with Rose, this Black Archive release is a solid foundation for the future, and based solely on this tome, Obverse Books has a hit on its hands.

The Black Archive #1: Rose is out now.