Four Black Archives, each mired in the past – what fans of Doctor Who refer to as pure historicals, in which pretty much the only science-ficitonal element is the Doctor and his TARDIS.
The Massacre (1966), a serial of disputed authorship, of which no video copy is known to survive, was one of the last of Doctor Who’s ‘past’ stories as originally defined. Produced during a fractious, transitional period in the series’ evolution, it nevertheless deals with the topic of religious civil strife in the Paris of 1572 with maturity and complexity, and from a variety of angles, many surprising for a tea-time adventure serial.
This Black Archive title looks at The Massacre both in terms of its place in Doctor Who’s ongoing production and public reception, and as a piece of historical fiction intimately concerned with Christianity which draws on a variety of primary and secondary sources, many of them never previously acknowledged in discussion of the serial.
‘Why didn’t I leave after the cricket?’
Murder in a country house. Steam trains and vintage cars. Gentlemen playing cricket. Hidden passageways. What could be more familiar or safe to the 10 million viewers who watched this on its initial broadcast in 1982?
But this is Doctor Who, so nothing should be taken at face value. With a tragic figure imprisoned in a secret part of the house, Black Orchid (1982) is clearly mining literary traditions. The portrayal of mental and physical injury invites the viewer to examine their own prejudices. Similarly ambiguous is the representation of the native South American outsider who guards the former great white explorer.
‘This is the Plain of Pamir, known to those who travel to Cathay as the Roof of the World.’
Marco Polo (1964) reflects a cultural change reshaping TV’s role as historian, placing the interpretation of history in the viewers’ hands by recruiting them as travellers in Polo’s caravan. Examining camera treatments and mobility, adaptive and remedial interventions, public and book history, cultural assumptions and memories, this book celebrates the work of collaborators, copyists, studio personnel and fans in reconstructing this most famous and earliest of missing Doctor Who stories.
‘Oh, something else I forgot to tell you: I think I’ve poisoned Nero.’
Following 53 episodes of unbroken action adventure, The Romans (1965) was Doctor Who’s first ever comedy. Beyond this seminal place in history – beyond the serial’s clever script, vigorous direction, fine acting and all the humour – it remains notable as an expression of 1960s culture, counterculture, and a burgeoning spirit of reinvention. The Romans afforded us the gift of laughter and allowed Doctor Who the freedom to shed its skin.