Going into this book, I wasn’t sure what I was going to get – I knew it was some sort of write up about one of my favourite Doctor Who episodes, but that was it. As it turns out, this series is a collection of academic-type analyses of a selection of Doctor Who episodes & reading such an in-depth exploration about Clara Oswald’s life & death was such a brilliant experience for me. I want every book in the series immediately!!
I was sent an digital copy of this book in return for an honest review.
⚠️ This book includes spoilers for the Doctor Who episode Face the Raven,
as well as episodes shown before & after ⚠️
This Black Archive draws on the history of London and its presentation in fantasy, on queer and feminist theory and on the mythic and folkloric symbolism of ravens to examine this haunting story. It is the first of three books dealing with the final episodes of the 2015 season of Doctor Who.
Clara Oswald was born to save the Doctor; she has been woven through several of the Doctor’s lives & she is the character I believe I’m most like – nevertheless, this book highlighted things that I had previously never considered, showing how much effort & research Sarah put in to writing this book. This was a fantastic lesson in how Clara was created & written, not just for the Doctor, but also for other characters like Ashildr, & how characters like Rigsy were written for her. I also adored learning more about Moffat’s thinking when writing episodes or choosing locations, & I have so many questions for Moffat & the rest of the writing team about whether several things spoken about in the book were coincidental or deliberate.
I found the analysis of Clara, her behaviour & the purpose of her previous selves, really exciting & engaging, & I can’t wait to read more analyses like this one about other recurring characters. I haven’t yet watched Classic Who but Sarah picks out many connections between Clara & companions from the original show, which will give me a lot to think about when I am eventually able to watch the first 26 seasons. Sarah doesn’t just explore connections with the original show though; she also highlights the connections between Donna & Clara, including how parts of their stories mirror the other, as well as the clues that demonstrate that Ashildr was probably written for Clara, more than she was for the Doctor. Sarah gave me the ability to see details from the show in different & more complex ways – leaving me wanting to rewatch all of Clara’s episodes with this brand new perspective.
One of the biggest things I took away from this was how Clara’s death could actually be blamed on the Doctor; I idolise Twelve so the thought of his actions being responsible for the death of my favourite companion makes me a little uneasy, & so Sarah’s writing opened my eyes to things I didn’t necessarily want to acknowledge. The truth is, Ashildr would never have been on Trap Street if the Doctor had not made her immortal, but Ashildr also blames the Doctor for there being a need for Trap Street in the first place due to the fallout of his actions on Earth over the years. The Doctor also allowed Clara to become more & more reckless after Danny’s death, leading her to think she could never come to any harm, even when taking on Rigsy’s death sentence. Towards the end of her time, Clara started to behave more & more like the Doctor, even taking on his “role” when he was trapped inside the shrunken TARDIS, & that is ultimately why she died. Clara is human, the Doctor is not, but Clara seems to have forgotten that along the way.
As with any academic/analytic writing, there are always bits I don’t understand because it’s too wordy for my dyslexia to unravel, but that didn’t stop me from learning a lot from Sarah & when I get my hands on a print copy of Face the Raven I know I’ll be scribbling all over it, as well as highlighting things & tabbing certain sections. I became completely obsessed with how Clara, the Doctor, Ashildr, Rigsy, Trap Street, & even the use of a raven, were all pulled apart & put back together again, & I desperately want every book from The Black Archive Collection – academic writing about Doctor Who? Gimme it ALL!
I am so, so grateful to Stuart Douglas from Obverse Books for sending me a free copy of the book, & I hope that my review has peaked your curiosity about the rest of The Black Archive, which you can find here. I can’t wait to read more books like this one!
P.s. I couldn’t work out how to weave these two bits into the rest of my review but I want to quickly mention that I love that Missy & Clara were referred to as a double act, & I love that Clara’s relationship with Jane Austen, including “the overtness of Clara’s bisexuality”, was mentioned more than once by Sarah.
Find the emoji-key here.