❉ We review the latest in Obverse Books’ Black Archive series, putting individual Doctor Who stories under the microscope.
My engagement with the Black Archive series has shown me that – at least so far – there are three distinct turns a volume can take: a study of the story from the ground up as a piece of television, a study of how many aspects of Doctor Who at large manifest in the story, or a single pinpointed lecture on one long-running theme as exemplified in the story. All volumes will contain a little of each if they’re going to be complete, but each ends up as one of the three.
Paul Driscoll’s volume on ‘The God Complex,’ Toby Whithouse’s return to the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur by way of a creepy hotel, at first appears to be a build-up to the second. But eventually it settles into the third, taking the title of the episode quite literally and beaming it through every era of the series. The story’s ‘god complex’ belongs to the Doctor, and Driscoll presents the episode proper as a turning point both for the 21st century series and for the show as a whole.
In all volumes, there is some education to be had; we can’t (sadly) all be experts on everything. In The God Complex, Driscoll coaches us on faith, already a touchy subject in the Whoniverse and one that’s danced neatly around even in the episodes proper. But while there are, by necessity, some discussions on modern institutionalized religion, this is primarily a study of faith from a psychological standpoint. And once that’s laid out, he can go forward into the meat of his topic: the infallibility of the Doctor.
You know, only one of the things fans are already ready to scrap about. Is he infallible? Should he be? Should we trust him? What happens if we can’t? And that’s not just in terms of show characters: what happens when we, the audience, buy into the Doctor’s faith in himself? While not brought up specifically in the pages of the book, it is a timely topic. Our incumbent Doctor’s initial marketing was focused on him being ‘darker’ and ‘less trustworthy,’ and fans camped out on both sides on the line when it came to whether that was a good idea.
Driscoll’s book – especially the latter half – brings us to some solid ground on this point. On whether the Doctor has ever been trustworthy. On whether that’s safe for his companions, for himself, or even for the viewers. As with any truly thought out Black Archive, there is a great deal of opinion to be had here. But it’s backed up with enough study and footnoting to show that he has some pretty good footing for those opinions.
Too, it does touch notes of that first style of installment I mentioned in its earlier chapters, citing writer interviews and inspirations. The inspirations are plumbed quite deeply, too – it would be easy enough to say, ‘Of course, creepy hotel, Shining.’ But this is genuinely one of the more thorough, more exhaustive (with a positive connotation) studies I’ve read thus far.
It’s also longer and footnotier – not a knock against it, but a thing to bear in mind. But there are some stories that are more packed with content (be it on the surface or under) than others, and some writers who are willing to pull every last bit of meaning out that they can.
The God Complex is one of the longer reads in the collection, but no words are wasted and nothing is padding. Even the fishbowl gets due consideration when it comes to analysis. It’s exciting to see such a depth of analysis come out of these volumes consistently, and it gives me (and likely others) hope that increasing the frequency of output will not drain the source unduly quickly.
❉ ‘The Black Archive #9: The God Complex’ by Paul Driscoll is available from Obverse Books, RRP £3.99-£7.99