‘The Black Archive #24: The Time Warrior’ reviewed

The Black Archive’s twenty-fourth release makes for a thorough and far-reaching thesis that cannot fail to impress.

When I turned 24, I was finishing a postgraduate course in childcare and serving pizza for a living: nothing very exciting, to put it politely.  Black Archive, on the other hand, has hit its twenty-fourth release with far more glamour, in the guise of an essay on The Time Warrior by Matthew Kilburn.

The first thing of note is that it’s only 13 pages shy of being 200 pages long, and a great wodge of those are dedicated to the bibliography.  The wide range of sources used in this book shows a real commitment to its messages and it makes for a thorough and far-reaching thesis that cannot fail to impress.

The second thing of note is the rather wonderful opening.  It uses two quotations from reviews of The Time Warrior which are in blissful contradiction of one another: is it great or is it awful? It sums up Doctor Who and its critical reception better than many have.

Coming at a time of transition, The Time Warrior has a lot to prove.  It needs to show that the series can continue in a post-anniversary world where the show’s history has gained an in-universe importance it has never had up to this point before.  It needs to introduce a new companion into the fold after the success of Jo Grant and remind viewers that life carries on after one of the main players has departed (something that in many ways echoes the end of the season itself).  On top of all this, as a season opener it needs to hit the ground running for what proved to be the final season for Jon Pertwee, Terrance Dicks and Barry Letts.

Kilburn’s essay touches on all of these elements, largely doing so by contextualising the script with contemporary British history and with Gothic literature/tropes.  I personally felt the essay to be at its most successful when focusing on the latter element.  Some of the texts cited may well have been secondary influences on Robert Holmes’s script (or rather, echoes that resonated through texts of that time in general) but the evolution from Gothic heroines to Sarah Jane Smith via contemporary Feminist thought is tangible.

Less watertight for me were some of the ties between Imperial- and Colonial history and the script.  There are undoubtedly echoes and parallels–pastiche and parody even– with the Sontarans but installing such huge weight and non-fictional resonance to what is a knockabout comedy villain/antagonistic species of the week lacked the conviction shown elsewhere for me and felt a stretch at times.  A well-argued and -researched argument for sure, but not one that had me convinced by the end of the thesis.

Because this essay lacks the brevity of some in the Black Archive range, and more crucially for me as a reader the persuasion, it did mean that at times this release felt a heavier read than some have.  That is not to say it was uninteresting, merely that for me this one didn’t land as others have.

But that is a rather telling point.  Just because it failed to convince me doesn’t mean it will do so for everyone.  Such is the joy of academic argument: it inspires debate, counter-thought and conversation.  Kilburn’s essay does all of these so by that measure it is surely a qualified success, no?

The next essay due out (by Gallifrey author Paul Driscoll) is on Doctor Who, the 1996 TV Movie, another story with huge import upon the series as a whole and another that received a mixed reception then and now.  I hope (indeed, I am sure) that it will be as certain in its convictions and as good a springboard for discussion as this essay was.

‘The Black Archive #24: The Time Warrior’ by Matthew Kilburn is out now from Obverse Books, RRP £3.99 – £7.99.

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