❉ Obverse Books’ latest Black Archive is one of its most detailed accounts of a Doctor Who story’s production journey, writes Don Klees.
“Like many Black Archive books, this volume benefits from the original writer’s willingness to discuss their work for Doctor Who. Collins corresponded with Kinda’s writer, Christopher Bailey, about both the substance of the script and the circumstances that shaped it. This is valuable on two fronts. First, it sheds light on Kinda’s oft-discussed Buddhist elements… In addition, it clearly places the story’s genesis in one of the show’s more unsettled behind-the-scenes periods…”
In keeping with tradition, Obverse Books’ latest Black Archive release once again demonstrates that the range is at its most fascinating when discussing Doctor Who stories with conflicted reputations. From the 2016 volume about Ghost Light to last year’s books on The Sun Makers and Paradise Towers, instalments whose virtues are matters of debate rather than objects of fan orthodoxy tend to inspire robust and entertaining examinations. For the range’s sixty-second release, the subject is Kinda, the 1982 serial variously viewed as a highly original take on Doctor Who or a highly-flawed production. Rather than embracing or refuting either of those assessments, the book’s writer, Frank Collins, makes the case that both are accurate.
Having previously written the Black Archive’s volume about 1981’s Warrior’s Gate, Collins is an ideal person to examine Kinda. Both serials stood out in their respective seasons for pushing Doctor Who’s thematic boundaries as well as highlighting the role the production team’s abilities (and understanding) play in how effectively those ideas come across on screen. The two stories likewise pushed the boundaries of how much authorship a series like Doctor Who – fueled by the creative dynamic between individual writers and the narrative conventions that made it so successful – can support.
Kinda has been a nexus point for such discussions, ever since its production was spotlighted in the 1983 book Doctor Who: The Unfolding Text. Though well-intentioned in its effort to show Doctor Who’s capacity to address serious subjects, the analysis by authors John Tulloch and Manuel Alvarado was somewhat one-sided. For all their focus on the notion of Kinda as an authorial square-peg forced into the round hole of the show’s format, their inquiry into what made this the case was limited. In contrast, Frank Collins takes a more holistic and detailed look at the serial’s development and production.
Like many Black Archive books, this volume benefits from the original writer’s willingness to discuss their work for Doctor Who. Collins corresponded with Kinda’s writer, Christopher Bailey, about both the substance of the script and the circumstances that shaped it. This is valuable on two fronts. First, it sheds light on Kinda’s oft-discussed Buddhist elements – which Bailey described as “only ever one ingredient in the stew” and expressed some retrospective discomfort about cultural appropriation on his part. In addition, it clearly places the story’s genesis in one of the show’s more unsettled behind-the-scenes periods, a situation exemplified by Bailey working with no less than three different script editors before shooting.
Under different circumstances, Eric Saward – the last of those three script editors, who admitted to finding Bailey’s scripts “slow, plodding, over long” – might have delayed production to allow more time to revise the scripts to everyone’s satisfaction. However, the decision to shoot Kinda ahead of Peter Davison’s debut as the Doctor, left him and producer John Nathan-Turner no choice but to proceed with Kinda, with Saward making hurried rewrites in an effort to clarify the story. Bailey, who understandably felt “very much invested” in the story, viewed many of Saward’s changes as “Doctor Who boilerplate at its clunkiest” and implored the script editor to let him make his own last-minute revisions. From there, the story went into production, a process that proved contentious in its own ways.
Much of the book focuses on the changes made throughout the scripts’ development and how the final versions were eventually translated onscreen (sometimes to their writers’ displeasure), with each of the last four chapters examining how various versions of each episode differ from each other. This is among The Black Archive’s most detailed accounts of the journey a Doctor Who story took from paper to production, which might make the book too esoteric for some fans. That said, it provides genuine insight into a period in Doctor Who’s behind-the-scenes history that, if not overtly dramatic in its own right, displayed many of the same tensions that erupted very vocally just a few years later.
While acknowledging that the production team, not just Saward and John Nathan-Turner but also director Peter Grimwade to some extent, struggled with Bailey’s decidedly cerebral approach, Collins doesn’t let Bailey off the hook for his decided lack of familiarity with Doctor Who’s format. The sections of the book discussing Bailey’s other work for theatre and television also point to the writer having had unrealistic expectations about the extent to which a mainstream drama series – as opposed to the showcases for one-off dramas he’d previously contributed to – would allow for a collaborative process in the studio. At the same time, he allows Bailey to make his case that a deviation from the norm was explicitly what he was commissioned to provide.
The behind-the-scenes story of Doctor Who in the 1980s is often viewed in terms of conflict, with figures like Eric Saward, Christopher H. Bidmead and John Nathan-Turner cast in the roles of heroes, villains and/or charlatans, generally depending on one’s view of the stories made (or sometimes not) during the period. This edition of The Black Archive serves as a reminder that the people making Doctor Who were not intrinsically good guys or bad guys but rather complicated people with conflicting ideas. Like the story whose creation the book recounts, it likewise reminds readers that ambiguity is often uncomfortable but extremely valuable nonetheless.
❉ ‘’Black Archive #62: Kinda’ written by Frank Collins is available now in paperback and electronic formats, direct from Obverse Books, RRP £3.99 – £8.99.
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❉ Don Klees has spent many years in the video business. This continues to enrich his life in many ways, chief among them being able to tell people he watches television for a living. An avid consumer of pop – and sometimes not-so-popular – culture, Don is a regular contributor to We Are Cult.