❉ Nick Mellish reviews the latest Black Archive release from Obverse Books.
On January 22nd 2017, something happened. In a televised interview, Kellyanne Conway described lies told on behalf of the President of the United States of America as “alternative facts”. Round about the same time, a quotation from the 1977 Doctor Who story The Face of Evil started to really gain traction online: “The very powerful and the very stupid have one thing in common. They don’t alter their views to fit the facts. They alter the facts to fit their views.”
In a world where ‘truth’ feels an increasingly shaky term, it felt like the perfect symbiosis: a fictional character laying down truths to be applied to real life. There was something marvellously metatextual about it all, and it started a debate about the fine lines that sometimes blur belief and truth.
I mention all this as the aforementioned quotation comes up a lot in the latest Black Archive release from Obverse Books, an essay on The Face of Evil written by psychologist and fan Thomas Rodebaugh. ‘Psychologist’ and ‘fan’ are very much in that order in this book, with much of the essay being a semi-serious attempt by Rodebaugh to properly look at the themes of mental illness and psychoanalysis present in Chris Boucher’s script.
The essay was at its most successful for me when looking at the symptoms of ‘madness’ displayed in the show (both here and in Doctor Who at large) and seeing how true to life this is. Rodebaugh is fair and even-handed with his assessment of how successful these portrayals are, critical where he feels it necessary but understanding of any disparity between fact and fiction and exploratory of why this may be. His frustrations are felt but you can see where they come from and he acknowledges why things panned out how they did.
Less successful for me is a look at implicit and explicit meanings that run through the script. From the start of this section, Rodebaugh is clear to stress that it’s never going to be an entirely successful venture, or rather it’s one where you shouldn’t take any results of analysis as being set in stone. This, however, feels at odds with some of the writing which is definitely taking things seriously, using weighty theories to make points. Certainly, there is an assertiveness at times that slightly contradicts the intent. I was especially interested to read one of the book’s appendixes, where Boucher himself stresses that some of the things Rodebaugh is claiming as fact or being grounded in reality is more an opinion than anything real.
This is especially notable as elsewhere points are made and asserted only to be followed up with words to the effect of “but this may well not be true” or “but I cannot prove this”. This lends a slightly circuitous air to proceedings and whilst I appreciate the transparency and attempt to be studious and scientific, it meant that at the end of it all I felt a little deflated and some of the essay comes off as occupying the middle ground, sitting on the fence instead of being firm in conviction.
Despite all this, there is some strong stuff here. A discussion on the notion of what it is to be ‘savage’ and possible unconscious inferences that may have made it to the script’s production is especially interesting and I found myself thinking on the points made here in relation to other films, books and television productions: always the sign of a successful point being made.
Not everything may have landed for me in this essay, but the parts that did are ripe for praise, and while facts may be anything but at times in this day and age, one thing’s for certain: that a children’s television serial from over 40 years ago can yield a convincing reading at this level of psychoanalysis is pretty impressive.
❉ ‘The Black Archive #27: The Face Of Evil’ by Thomas Rodebaugh was published in January 2019 by Obverse Books, RRP £3.99 – £7.99. CLICK HERE TO ORDER.
❉ Nick Mellish is a regular contributor to We Are Cult.