Sunday 11 June 2017

Delving into the Black Archive (The Massacre)

I have something of a soft spot for Doctor Who criticism. I love Philip Sandifer's TARDIS Eruditorum, Robert Shearman and Toby Hadoke's Running Through Corridors, Will Brooks' 50 Year Diary and so on. A lingering effect of the show's sixteen year hiatus is that the fandom had a long time to go back and analyse and discuss and research the series' past.

The Black Archive is a series that started just over a year ago: novella length discussions of single Doctor Who stories from the full length and breadth of the TV series. Potentially overkill on the word count front but I thought I'd give the series a go. Looking at the titles available I went for James Cooray Smith's analysis of The Massacre which the back cover describes as “a serial of disputed authorship […] produced during a fractious transitional period” which is one of the biggest undersells you will ever read.

Now, one of the things I look for in these things is evidence that real, original thought is going into the analysis. Doctor Who being Doctor Who just about any story has a set of standard talking points. Smith takes two of the most usual talking points, the debate over the story's title and whether the Anne/Dodo ancestry thing makes any sense, and not only exiles them to the appendices but finds new and interesting things to say about them.

The main thrust of the book concerns what is actually happening on screen and what the various authors who contributed to the story intended to be happening. The entire footage of the story is missing, the photographic record is limited, the audio doesn't match the camera script, the script was significantly rewritten and the novelisation was written twenty years later by the original scriptwriter who admits to doing new research to write a revised version debatably based on his original script.

Its actually a pretty fascinating archaeology of who wrote what and how the different versions pile on top of each other to form a story that makes very little internal sense but is still usually considered a classic of the era.

There's also an extended discussion of the historical events the story is based on: the days leading up to the mass killing of the Parisian Protestant Huguenot population in August 1572. I've got some serious grudges about how history is taught in this country and a glowing example comes from the fact I learnt more about the French Wars Of Religion from a book analysing a 1960s Doctor Who story than I did from twenty years of formal education.

James Cooray Smith has certainly done a lot of research, not just in the BBC archives and legitimate history books but into the other film and literature that has dealt with the Bartholomew Massacre. Its interesting to see the variety of influences Smith either flat out discovers contributed to this story or claims as probable influences.

I certainly see myself prioritising any of these books about the historicals in future as well as Smith's return to the range for The Ultimate Foe this coming November. I mean, if there's any story that needs a deep dive into the archives to work out the hell is going on in it then its The Ultimate Foe. On that subject, I'm also looking forward to the next release in the series which will have Kate Orman, one of the greatest Doctor Who novelists of all time, writing about Pyramids of Mars.

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