Billy’s Lyre: ‘The Black Archive 32: The Romans’

❉ What has ‘The Romans’ ever done for us?

The Romans is an interesting one.  Doctor Who‘s first foray into comedy is confident, loud and unashamedly different.  If Inside The Spaceship earlier in the series’ history tried to push the envelope, this is the story that teared the envelope into little pieces. It rewrites the notions of what the show could (or, even, should) be and refuses to apologise for doing so.

There is a sliding scale of appreciation for the story.  Audience feedback at the time was faintly damning, and places them firmly at one end.  I’m somewhere in the middle. (To my mind, when it hits and when it misses, it does so boldly for better and worse.) And then you’ve Jacob Edwards, the author of this new essay on the story for Obverse Books’ Black Archive range.

Edwards likes The Romans a lot.  That’s clear from the outset and definitely clear in the commentary that forms the final part of his essay (more on that in a bit).  It’s almost a necessity as I’m not sure an essay on The Romans or any of Doctor Who‘s more comedic ventures would work if the author wasn’t keen on the subject matter.

What it does mean though is that if you’re not on board, some of the more opinionated portions of the essay aren’t going to land for you.  This is most apparent in the final part of the essay, an analysis of the episodes themselves which heaps on praise; praise which is either going to seem fair game or unwarranted.  To my mind, it strays too far into fan adoration at this point and shifts too far from genuine analysis, but mileage will vary.

Edwards really scores hits in the rest of the essay, which is a breeze to read.  You get contextual looks at the story both within the history of Doctor Who itself (its past and its future) and society in Britain in the 1960s; a focus on representation of women and sexuality; a look at the story’s historical fidelity (or lack thereof, but not as much as you’d possibly expect); and much more besides.  This is nothing less than extremely insightful and well written stuff.

I was especially pleased to see Edwards not restrict himself to just the televised iteration of The Romans.  He also takes in the narrated CD soundtrack release, the DVD and VHS releases, and Donald Cotton’s epistolary novelisation.  As Edwards points out, it is not so much a novelisation as a full-blown rewrite.  It’s a rather wonderful one though and a highlight of the Target range, so I’m glad to see it getting the attention it deserves here.

There’s something rather lovely about Obverse Books following up their essay on Warriors’ Gate with one on The Romans.  Two stories more dissimilar it is hard to really imagine, but the love and care taken in analysing them both is equal in measure if not approach.  Make no mistake, it’s this that makes The Black Archive the continual success it is.

‘The Black Archive 32: The Romans’ 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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