Review: Doctor Who: Books: The Black Archive 5: Image of the Fendahl

fendahlcoverBy Simon Bucher-Jones

Obverse Books, out now

A re-examination of one of the most horrific Doctor Who stories ever.

That’s not my assertion, by the way – that’s one of the many arguments that Simon Bucher-Jones puts forward in the latest instalment of Obverse Books’ series of critical examinations of various Doctor Who stories. This one maintains the standard set by the initial four releases, and like James Cooray Smith’s book on The Massacre, it achieves what can sometimes seem impossible in Doctor Who scholarship – getting the reader to look at a story they know well in a new light.

Bucher-Jones has a conversational writing style (which extends to footnotes explaining when he’s making a joke!) which helps once he gets into the fascinating topic of the fifth planet, and the way in which it’s been treated both in real life – with references to the way in which planets’ orbits were predicted over the centuries – and in fiction. Of course there’s some discussion of his own novel (including an interview with the author) as well as some insight into the Kaldor City series of audios and its links to this story.

The book opens with a context-setting chapter, discussing what audiences might expect both from Doctor Who at the time and from Chris Boucher in particular, before delving into the thorny subject of Fendahl’s Gothic roots. Bucher-Jones takes issue with some of Alan Barnes’ arguments in DWM on this topic, and sets out his own stall for the story’s roots both in Gothic writing and elsewhere. He makes a good case for the influence of The Skull, the Amicus movie recently rereleased on Blu-ray – a movie well worth seeking out.

From there we get into paleoarchaeology and why he regards the connotations of this story as among the most horrific in the Doctor Who canon, setting that out alongside an examination of the way “evolution” works in the Whoniverse. That leads into the astronomical discussion referred to above, and the book proper concludes with an extended list of good and bad points about the story. After an appendix on the spin-offs comes what might be described as a prime example of overthinking something – although to be fair, Bucher-Jones does call it an “unsupported fan theory”. That I’ll leave you to discover for yourself…

Verdict: Another fascinating and thought-provoking look at a classic Doctor Who tale. 9/10

Paul Simpson

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