❉ Philip Bates has turned in one of the best releases the Black Archive range has given us.
The debut series of a new Doctor always brings with it a weight of expectation, and none more so in the modern era when this coincides with new showrunners. When the show came back to TV screens in 2005 on a (mostly) regular basis, Russell T Davies and Christopher Eccleston were under the spotlight. This was perhaps less the case when David Tennant was cast due to the overlap with Rose, a (or perhaps even the) focal point for the show for the audience, but then came Matt Smith and Steven Moffat. (In fact, I’d argue Moffat had every bit as much attention with Peter Capaldi later, so radical a departure was his casting perceived to be.)
The start of Series 5 and a broad overview of Moffat’s time as showrunner has already been covered in the truly superb Black Archive essay on The Eleventh Hour by Jon Arnold, and now the focus is on the series finale, The Pandorica Opens and The Big Bang in this essay by Philip Bates.
One of the most scrutinised finales, in one of the most scrutinised series, and Bates here has turned in one of the best releases the Black Archive range has given us. I know this may seem like hyperbole as far more often than not I find the essays in this range to be of a high quality, but rest assured I mean it when I sing the praises of this one: it’s superb.
Befitting for a finale dealing with paradoxes and the end of everything, this essay deals with the very nature of Space and Time itself. From a fascinating deep dive into black hole theory to an equally heavy but enlightening look at quantum theory, Bates does not skimp on knowledge or research. He takes the science and the implications and practical outcomes of theories seriously, and continually brings them back to the story in hand with deft ease and intelligence. Bates’s love for this finale shines through, as does his belief that, contrary to some fan and critical belief, it holds together and (perhaps most surprisingly of all) almost seems plausible, or as plausible as a scenario such as this can ever be.
That’s where the sense of fun really pulls through. Bates knows it’s perhaps a stretch and arguably silly to try and apply real, hard scientific fact to a children’s TV serial, but the fact he is able to do so in a way that is thoroughly convincing and watertight is what really won me over. It’s a fine rebuttal to the idea that intricate storytelling is a bad thing; that Moffat’s plots make no sense; and that science is ignored for the fantastical. The essay argues that reality is fantastical enough; that this plot at least holds, despite received wisdom; and that pushing storytelling and plotting you need to pay attention to is a rewarding and highly beneficial thing for children and wider audiences alike. And I couldn’t agree more.
I came away from this essay not only fired up to watch the episodes again but with a profound sense of having actually learnt something. The theories and ideas Bates covers are complex, but he writes with such a light touch that you can easily understand their principles and how they can be applied to other texts in the Who oeuvre, too. That is no easy task, but then again this is no middling essay.
I highly recommend this release. Kick back, dig out your Blu Rays, and remind yourself of fish fingers, quaint villages with duckless ponds, something borrowed and something blue, and an audacious reboot of the universe. Doctor Who has rarely been better; Black Archives essays likewise.