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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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Silver Archive 1a: Sapphire and Steel Assignments 1 and 2

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“Let’s waken the dead, shall we?”

 

A remote cottage, where Time threatens the lives of two children. The war dead return to haunt the living at an abandoned railway station. Sapphire & Steel burst on television screens in 1980 with two iconic slices of folk horror, setting a high standard for the fondly remembered but all too brief series which followed.

In analysing a series which raised far more questions than it answered, David and Lesley McIntee consider myth and folklore, liminal spaces and paranormal activities, investigate memes and fairy tales, and wonder just how much of Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey can be mapped onto the two agents, Sapphire and Steel.

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Silver Archive 1b: Sapphire and Steel Assignments 3 and 4

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“One foot up and the other foot down, which is the way to London town?”

A family from the future are hunted by the animal they have inadvertently brought back in time. A man with no face uses photographs to trap the unwary. Sapphire & Steel takes its first step into straight science-fiction, as the agents confront a young couple from 1500 years in the future, and their Changeling baby, before coming up against perhaps the most striking and well-remembered character in the series, the faceless Shape and his nursery rhyme chanting ‘children’.

Cody Schell asks just who (or what) Sapphire and Steel really are, just how many invasions from the future there were, and whether there is another popular genre creator in the modern day who has created a show just as distinctive as Sapphire & Steel…

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Silver Archive 1c: Sapphire and Steel Assignments 5 and 6

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“Time, when it’s been tampered with to this extent, tries to counteract things!”

 

A murder mystery in a stately home mocked up to look as it did 50 years ago. A deadly confrontation for Sapphire and Steel (and Silver) in a motorway services cafe. The only Sapphire & Steel story not written by Peter Hammond, an homage to the Golden Age detective novels of Agatha Christie, is followed by the series finale, a surreal tale which even now, almost forty years later, still divides viewers.

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The Black Archive 01: Rose

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Rose (2005), the first episode of 21st-century Doctor Who, re-imagined the show for a new generation.

Scriptwriter and show-runner Russell T Davies introduced his version of the Doctor through the eyes of Rose Tyler, a shop assistant unfulfilled in both her job and relationship. In under 45 minutes he fundamentally reinvented the roles of both Doctor and companion for modern television, putting the show back at the heart of the Saturday night TV schedule and grounding it in a world of council estates, celebrity gossip and soap operas; and sketched the beginnings of a fresh, exciting back-story for the series. Rose was not only a new vision for Doctor Who but pioneered a revival for the Saturday night adventure series.

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The Black Archive 02: The Massacre

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The Massacre (1966), a serial of disputed authorship, of which no video copy is known to survive, was one of the last of Doctor Who’s ‘past’ stories as originally defined. Produced during a fractious, transitional period in the series’ evolution, it nevertheless deals with the topic of religious civil strife in the Paris of 1572 with maturity and complexity, and from a variety of angles, many surprising for a tea-time adventure serial.

 

This Black Archive title looks at The Massacre both in terms of its place in Doctor Who’s ongoing production and public reception, and as a piece of historical fiction intimately concerned with Christianity which draws on a variety of primary and secondary sources, many of them never previously acknowledged in discussion of the serial.

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The Black Archive 03: The Ambassadors of Death

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The Ambassadors of Death is a story with no true villains. Instead it explores how our species might respond to the knowledge that we are not alone in the universe. Fear alone is enough to warp good intentions into horrifying situations, and the enemy is not the monster without, but within our own characters.

Among the many changes seen this year, the Doctor casts off his whimsical guise to become a much more straight action hero who acts as the catalyst to show that humanity is at its bravest, its best, when it offers trust, compassion, and kindness, even in the face of mortal peril.

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The Black Archive 04: Dark Water and Death in Heaven

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Dark Water and Death in Heaven (2014), the last two episodes of Peter Capaldi’s first season as Doctor Who’s 12th Doctor, took the programme further than ever before into the realms of the metaphysical.

 

Head Writer and Executive Producer Steven Moffat followed the continuity pyrotechnics of the previous year’s 50th anniversary celebrations with a quieter, yet still complex and multi-stranded, Doctor Who series finale exploring themes of death, bereavement, remembrance and the afterlife.

 

The two-part story gave the most radical twist yet to a much-reinvented villain, yet faithfully recreated a single iconic shot from a black-and-white 1960s episode. It functioned as a seasonal ‘special,’ drawing inspiration from its broadcast between Halloween and Remembrance Day. As a story featuring ‘Cybermen from cyberspace,’ it may also be TV Doctor Who’s closest approach to the science fiction subgenre of cyberpunk.

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The Black Archive 05: Image of the Fendahl

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

 

Image of the Fendahl (1977) is a fusion of the last great hurrah of the Gothic years of Doctor Who, before Graham Williams’ changes really began to bite, with the colder post-Gothic tradition drawn from Nigel Kneale and HP Lovecraft. A priory, a haunted wood, a village coven… a scientific investigation that reaches back 12 million years in time and hundreds of millions of miles away in space.

 

Writer Chris Boucher (also responsible for 'The Face of Evil' and 'The Robots of Death') builds on his successes with a story that functions as a human drama, a scientific puzzle, a horror story, and a masterpiece of unease. Building its audience by nearly three million from episode one to episode four, this story is one of the great classics of the series, and still works as an effective adventure drama for a modern audience.

 

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The Black Archive 06: Ghost Light

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One of the most densely complex stories in Doctor Who to this day, Ghost Light (1989) is a fast- paced production where every shot and every line has meaning, often more than one. As the last story produced in the original 26-year run, it is the true antecedent of the modern incarnation of the series, both in style and in its focus on the companion’s development.

 

Ghost Light is a bricolage of literary and cultural references that, in a story of alien experimentation hidden within the framework of a haunted house tale, explores issues of science, religion, class, race and more.

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The Black Archive 07: The Mind Robber

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

 

‘We obey our creator. That is all that can be expected of any character, unless the Master bids us otherwise.’

 

Season 6 of Doctor Who was a time of transition and experimentation, with a production team wanting to move from one formula – the base under siege that had defined the previous two seasons – and toward another – the more grounded stories of season 7.

 

No story in the season was more experimental, though, than its second, The Mind Robber. The debut of arguably the series’ most visually inventive director, David Maloney, the story was beset with production problems, including the last-minute addition of an extra episode and the sickness of a principal cast member; yet the creative solutions to these problems lifted the final story from a run- of-the-mill piece of whimsy into one of the series’ finest moments.

 

 

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The Black Archive 08: Black Orchid

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‘Why didn’t I leave after the cricket?’

 

Murder in a country house. Steam trains and vintage cars. Gentlemen playing cricket. Hidden passageways. What could be more familiar or safe to the 10 million viewers who watched this on its initial broadcast in 1982?

 

But this is Doctor Who, so nothing should be taken at face value.

 

With a tragic figure imprisoned in a secret part of the house, Black Orchid (1982) is clearly mining literary traditions. The portrayal of mental and physical injury invites the viewer to examine their own prejudices. Similarly ambiguous is the representation of the native South American outsider who guards the former great white explorer.

 

This Black Archive title explores the use of doubles and the role of identity, the series’ attitude to colonialism and what we think of when we talk of monsters. How does the story’s status as the first pure historical for 15 years, and the first two-part story for seven years, affect the way in which these issues can be presented?

 

Oh, and there may be the odd mention of cricket as well.

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The Black Archive 09: The God Complex

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

‘Why is it up to you to save us? That’s quite a God complex you have there.’

 

Drawing deftly on sources from the Theseus myth to Nineteen Eighty-Four and The Shining, The God Complex (2011) expands a one-line brief about a shifting, labyrinthine hotel into a tragic commentary on the Doctor’s fallibility and Amy’s misplaced faith. Unsettling, disorientating and frankly terrifying, Toby Whithouse’s story considers fear, belief and the series’ fundamental question: Who is the Doctor? Is he a hero, or simply ‘a madman in a box’?

 

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