‘The Black Archive 31: Warriors’ Gate’ reviewed

This book goes deep into the story’s genesis, and the infamous production difficulties which plagued it. 

Rorvik ignores the Doctor’s warnings and takes a desperate gamble © BBC

There has never been a Doctor Who story transmitted on TV quite like Warriors’ Gate after Warriors’ GateGhost Light comes close with its at times purposely obfusticated plot points but it doesn’t bring with it the equally standalone visual styling which Gate gives us.

The opening episode alone throws in our pathway lengthy tracking shots, pixelated zooms on coins, shots obscured by scenery, juddering lions and a void given additional eeriness by the occasional blur of CSO fringing.  All this, and a musical score of ripped synthesizers contributing perfectly towards the overall ambience.  This is a story taking itself very seriously, and a realisation doing likewise.  God only knows what a casual audience would have made of it all.

Perhaps appropriately for such a tale, for this Black Archive essay Frank Collins leans towards the heavier, academic side of things.  One thing I’ve noted before about this range is how I love that it veers in style from essay to essay, which means there is something for everyone.  This essay, for example, feels at times geared towards Film Studies students with its use of technical language and unapologetically academic analysis of the story.

That said, it also merits attention from Doctor Who fans interested in the development of a script by going deep into the story’s genesis and shifts in tone, and the infamous production difficulties which plagued it.  The glimpses of Steve Gallagher’s original scripts are fascinating, as are the changes made to them by seemingly everyone from directors to producers to cast members.  This isn’t a deep comparative analysis a la the Black Archive essay on The Ultimate Foe but all the same it leaves you hungry for more.

I will confess that I found the more studious reading of Gate later on in the essay harder to read, my head having to shift back into the mode of a graduate student at times (the essay reads like several I read back when I did Film Studies units at university) but much like the story it’s writing about, this essay has something to say and it does it in its own way.  Somewhat oddly, the essay seems to not so much finish as just end, which is a little jarring, but having gone from production to reflection to analysis, I am not sure what else there would have been to be said.

That’s a dangerous challenge to raise this range of essays though, and 31 books in I am still fascinated by them all and their differing readings and approaches taken.  It’s rather like Doctor Who itself in that respect, I guess.  More power to it for that.

Warriors’ Gate demands your attention and respect and begs you to take it seriously, and some of that rubs off on this essay, too.  I’m not sure I’d want it any other way.

‘The Black Archive 31: Warriors’ Gate’ is out now from Obverse Books, RRP £3.99 – £8.99. Click here to order.

 Nick Mellish is a regular contributor to We Are Cult.

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