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Black Archive, The

The Black Archive, a series of book-length looks at single Doctor Who stories from 1963 to the present day.

 

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The Black Archive 12: Pyramids of Mars

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The Black Archive, a series of book-length looks at single Doctor Who stories from 1963 to the present day.

The Black Archive: Pyramids of Mars is written by by Kate Orman

 

‘Your evil is my good. I am Sutekh the Destroyer. Where I tread I leave nothing but dust and darkness. I find that good.’

 

Pyramids of Mars (1975) is the inheritor of not just the colourful and complex mythology of Ancient Egypt, but a long tradition of Gothic fiction which emerged during the grip of ‘Egyptomania’ on the Victorian imagination. The alluring beauty and spectacle of Ancient Egypt, the late 19th-century flowering of occultism, guilt and anxiety over the Empire and the British rule of Egypt, and the ancient emphasis on the afterlife — including the elaborate preservation of the corpse in the form of the mummy — combined to create stories of the ‘reverse colonisation’ of Britain and British bodies, minds, and souls.

 

This heady mixture was reincarnated in the classic Universal movies beginning in 1932, and reincarnated again by Hammer Horror, whose 1959 remake of The Mummy directly inspired Pyramids of Mars.

 

An exemplar of the Doctor Who created by producer Philip Hinchcliffe and script editor Robert Holmes, the story pits the Doctor’s science against a god who’s really an alien, served by mummies who are really robots, in a struggle for the future of Earth against one of the series’ most powerful and frightening adversaries, the enemy of all life: Sutekh the Destroyer.

 

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The Black Archive 13: Human Nature/Family of Blood

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Even in one of 21st-century Doctor Who’s more complex seasons, Human Nature / The Family of Blood (2007) is a standout story: a narrative with mythic ambitions, which illuminates the true nature and character of the Doctor through the courage and failings of his unknowing human alter ego, John Smith.

 

Uniquely, the story is also an adaptation of an original Doctor Who novel, scriptwriter Paul Cornell’s Human Nature (1996). Though no specific incidents, and few characters, remain the same, the adaptation is remarkably faithful given the given the differing demands of context, era and medium. Both versions deal with war and trauma, humanity and the alien, school and family, though sometimes with differing emphases. In particular, the treatment of pacifism and the claims of World War I to be a ‘just war’ changes significantly.

 

As the story of a ‘god’ who becomes human and must sacrifice his life to save the world, the two-parter also opens up questions of theology unusual in Doctor Who, which add an extra dimension to the overall season arc, and to the development of the character of David Tennant’s Doctor.

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The Black Archive 14: The Ultimate Foe

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After almost 18 months off-air Doctor Who returned to television in September 1986 with the 14-episode The Trial of a Time Lord, an epic serial intended by its production team as a grand statement about both the programme and its lead character.

 

Its final two episodes, ‘The Ultimate Foe’, would prove to be the climax, if not the resolution, to the longest ever Doctor Who serial and to behind-the-scenes issues, both inside and outside the programme’s own production office, that had dogged the series for over a year.

 

Suffering from unprecedented scripting issues, including the death of its original writer and the withdrawal of his successor’s replacement script for the final episode after it had been issued to the cast and crew, this serial, while not intended as such, also came to serve as the finale for Colin Baker’s interpretation of the Doctor on television.

 

This Black Archive examines multiple drafts of both episodes’ scripts to look at creative conflicts behind the conclusion to this epic adventure, and the clash of intentions and interpretations that resulted in what was seen in the final transmitted programmes.

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The Black Archive 15: Full Circle

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The Black Archive – a series of book-length looks at single Doctor Who stories from 1963 to the present day.

 

‘Well, evolution goes in quantum leaps, but it doesn’t go that fast.’

 

1980 was a time of profound change for Doctor Who, with a new producer and script editor both

keen to overhaul the series at all levels. During the course of its 18th season the series would also undergo a complete change of its leading cast.

 

Positioned in the middle of this pivotal season, Full Circle (1980) exemplifies the new production team’s vision, one that rejected the fantasy overtones of previous years and put a more science-driven ethos at the heart of the series. It attempts to present the concept of evolution to a tea-time family audience in an entertaining way, dramatising it by depicting the inhabitants of a spaceship and a primordial swamp in conflict with each other.

 

But stranger elements lurk beneath the surface, forgotten and waiting to re-emerge. This book puts Full Circle under the microscope and discovers a mixed heritage of discredited science, pseudoscience and mysticism. It also considers the effect this story, the first to be written by someone who grew up as a fan of Doctor Who, had on the evolution of the series itself.

 

Pages: 106

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The Black Archive 16: Carnival of Monsters

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‘Our purpose is to amuse… simply to amuse. Nothing serious, nothing political…’

 

Carnival of Monsters (1973) is a story of two halves. Two apparently unlinked stories unfold in a pair of quite different worlds. The crew of a steamship en route to Bombay in 1926 are menaced by a terror from the deep that should be extinct, while on an intensely socially stratified world, nervous officials prepare to make first contact with alien beings after thousands of years in isolation. Somehow, the Doctor and Jo Grant will find themselves stepping between these worlds in one of the most bizarre Doctor Who stories of its era.

 

Simultaneously a light comedy with satirical undercurrents and a thrilling children’s adventure featuring ferocious alien beasts, Carnival of Monsters brings together a producer-director keen to push the boundaries of the electronic studio and a writer who delights in conjuring worlds from tiny off-stage details. The result is a remarkable piece of television with its own unique flavour that works on a number of levels for a variety of audiences.

 

Written with access to surviving scripts, storylines and production files this Black Archive volume explores the roots of Carnival of Monsters as a story, its thematic resonances and linguistic quirks and its occasionally troubled production. Roll up and see the monster show, and take a peek behind the curtain.

 

Ian Potter has written documentaries, comedy and drama for BBC radio, audio dramas for Big Finish Productions, and plays performed at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield, Contact Theatre, Manchester, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds and Theatre at the Mill, Bradford. He’s worked as a sound designer, archive researcher in television and been a curator at the National Museum of Photography, Film & Television. His previous factual writing includes The Rise and Rise of the Independents, a history of UK television’s indie production sector. He’s not terribly interesting, but he means well.

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The Black Archive 17: Impossible Planet/Satan Pit

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The Black Archive – a series of book-length looks at single Doctor Who stories from 1963 to the present day.

 

‘The Beast and his armies shall rise from the pit to make war against God.’

 

The Impossible Planet and The Satan Pit (2006) are an ambitious attempt to depict two cinematic impossibilities on the budget of a BBC television production: a black hole – the impossible singularity where the laws of physics break down – and Satan, the adversary, and destroyer of the laws of God.

 

While black holes have had a long history in Doctor Who, from The Three Doctors (1972-73) onwards, before this story the show had always been careful to reduce the satanic to the activities of aliens such as The Dæmons (1971). This story collides the magisteria of science and religion to create a threat that casts doubt on some of the Doctor’s cherished beliefs about the universe, and faces him with a horrifying prospect as to his personal future.

 

Only the second story in 21st-century TV Doctor Who to travel to a ‘planet’ other than Earth, and the first to visit one not identical to Earth in every important astronomical respect, The Impossible Planet / The Satan Pit is a vital step in extending the range and scope of the programme’s settings.

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The Black Archive 18: Marco Polo

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The Black Archive – a series of book-length looks at single Doctor Who stories from 1963 to the present day.

 

‘This is the Plain of Pamir, known to those who travel to Cathay as the Roof of the World.’

 

Marco Polo (1964) reflects a cultural change reshaping TV’s role as historian, placing the interpretation of history in the viewers’ hands by recruiting them as travellers in Polo’s caravan.

 

Examining camera treatments and mobility, adaptive and remedial interventions, public and book history, cultural assumptions and memories, this book celebrates the work of collaborators, copyists, studio personnel and fans in reconstructing this most famous and earliest of missing Doctor Who stories.

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The Black Archive 19: The Eleventh Hour

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The Eleventh Hour (2010) is the 21st century’s second major reinvention of Doctor Who. Jon Arnold looks at how new showrunner Steven Moffat brings long-form storytelling and the influence of fairytale and children’s literature to the Doctor, his companions and their relationships

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