James Cooray Smith is once again contributing to The Black Archives series of extended essays on Doctor Who, published bimonthly by Obverse Books. Smith has previously written Archives on The Massacre and The Underwater Menace, so another tome from him is certainly exciting. He is in good company, with other entries penned by Una McCormack, L.M. Myles, and The Doctor Who Companion’s very own Philip Bates.
As you might expect from this range, the book is crammed with thoughtful deep observations and critical analysis of The Night of the Doctor, Paul McGann’s triumphant return in 2013 as the Eighth Doctor.
I was surprised when I heard there was an entire Black Archive book about The Night of the Doctor. Surely there isn’t enough to talk about in the seven minute online video to justify an entire book? It means a lot to fans, but there can’t be that much to mine for. I was wrong. While it is a short book, much like The Night of the Doctor it packs a lot into a short space.
Near the beginning, the author states that they will be covering The Night of the Doctor broadly chronologically. I thought this would mean they would be going line by line discussing the scenes and critiquing various elements. This is not the case. It spends surprisingly little time discussing Paul McGann’s performance, for instance, instead using the piece to talk about broader elements of Doctor Who that pertain to Night of the Doctor.
One discussion I found particularly interesting was around whether the story was actually Doctor Who. If you define Doctor Who as a television show, then a short online video does not fit in. If it does count, do you also say that Tom Baker’s in-character computer ads were canon? Most people would probably say no, but it still throws a spanner in the works of the show’s already dodgy relationship with canon. Where does it end? What about the dodgy ads featuring Daleks? That Call the Midwife crossover? Even David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor in Extras?!
The book’s deep dive continues with discussions about the complex behind the scenes creation of the short piece. It is very well documented at this point that Steven Moffat originally planned the 50th anniversary special Day of the Doctor to include Christopher Eccleston’s Ninth Doctor (though Day is the topic for the next Black Archive, appropriately its 50th). Cooray Smith discusses how that would have changed The Night of the Doctor. And he makes some very interesting points about what this means for Doctor Who in general.
The author’s analysis of the show is very engaging. The thoroughly researched piece includes many footnotes at the bottom of the page to dig into: some give references (expanded on in the bibliography at the back), but others add even more information to the discussion.
Going into the book, I was sceptical that there would be enough to talk about, but I am glad I was proved wrong. The volume can stand proudly alongside the other Black Archives books, for being deeply informative and richly thought out. Cooray Smith comes at the pieces from angles I would never had thought of, making this an engaging addition to my bookshelf.
Very much recommended.
The Black Archive #49: The Night of the Doctor is available now from Obverse Books.