BooksDoctor Who

Rose (The Black Archive) by Jon Arnold (book review).

‘Rose’ the opening episode of the 2005 relaunch of ‘Doctor Who’ is a remarkable piece of television. That it even exists is a testament to the hard work, dedication and downright faith that a once-dead TV show could be brought back to life successfully. It is in examining the ‘what’ and ‘why’ of ‘Rose’ that makes Jon Arnold’s new book a satisfying read.


First, a note on ‘The Black Archive’. This is a series that looks at individual ‘Doctor Who’ stories, applying critical analysis as to what makes the story work both as a piece of drama, but also a cultural artefact. This is not a series necessarily about the ‘making-of’ stories as much as it is about our ‘understanding-of’. Each book is therefore closer to a long-form essay than perhaps a full-length book, however this makes it perfect for concentrating on one episode or set of episodes and is also perfect for digital devices. I read ‘Rose’ via my Kindle app on my iPad. I digested it over the course of an afternoon and didn’t feel anything was lacking.

I can remember the sense of anticipation around ‘Rose’. It was unlike anything else I’d ever experienced and wouldn’t again until the announcement of ‘The Force Awakens’. A new Doctor, a new companion, thirteen new episodes on Saturday nights with Russell T Davies at the helm. It had to be just right, it had to succeed.

Arnold does a great job of conveying this sense of excitement. After the television movie of 1996, fans knew what a gamble this was. He reminds us that ‘Rose’ learned its lessons from both the Paul McGann story, but also what had worked back in 1963 with ‘An Unearthly Child’. More importantly though, the production team understood what a drama series needed to work in the twenty-first century, the post-Buffy era of genre TV. These conclusions have been made before, but what Arnold does is also to acknowledge that there were other influences on what made ‘Rose’ a success, especially the importance of Reality TV, so crucial, it becomes a plot point in series one itself.

His reading of the episode is also excellent. We might think that ‘Rose’ accomplishes a lot in forty-five minutes with some quite broad strokes, but actually the attention to detail that Davies bestowed on his characters really makes the episode shine. This is Rose’s story and it is gateway to understanding a man who is clearly suffering from guilt and some sort of post-traumatic stress, but is also the most amazing thing that’s ever happened to her.

That’s a tough ask for any Saturday night TV audience, especially those who might remember ‘The Twin Dilemma’ as well. Arnold, though, is able to construct a compelling argument as to why ‘Rose’ worked and why, over ten years on, it remains one of the most remarkable pieces of television ever, as well as a landmark ‘Doctor Who’ story.

If Arnold’s text compels you to revisit ‘Rose’, then it has done a good job. I personally recommend you read this and then do so. Remind yourself how something so unlikely got made in the first place and allow Arnold’s superb critique to inform your new viewing.

John Rivers

May 2016

(pub: Obverse Books. 111 page paperback. Price: £ 3.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-90903-137-1)

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