Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Doctor Who: The Writer’s Tale by Russell T. Davies and Benjamin Cook

Davies, Russell T. and Cook, Benjamin - Doctor Who The Writer's Tale From Goodreads.com:

A fascinating look at the creative life of the hit BBC series, Doctor Who: The Writer's Tale is executive producer Russell T. Davies' personal tour of the Doctor's universe. A unique collection of correspondence between Russell and writer Benjamin Cook, the book explores in detail Russell's work on Doctor Who Series 4, revealing how he plans the series and works with the show's writers. Fully illustrated with script pages, personal notes, and never-before-seen photos and artwork, The Writer's Tale is a love letter to television, and a fitting tribute to one of the most popular family dramas of all time.

This is another book I discovered thanks to the internet (there seem to be a lot of those, which is probably why my TBR pile is so out of control). This time it was discussed on one of the Doctor Who podcasts I listen to. I don’t 100% remember which one, but I think it was the DWO WhoCast. I listened, thought the podcasters’ comments were interesting and didn’t think much more about it. A few weeks later, we were in the library and my husband saw it on the new books stand and pointed it out to me. What the heck? I thought, grabbed it and brought it home with me.

When we got home, I opened it to have a look at what it was like and just kept on going until I was finished, some time the next day. I was surprised at how fascinated I found myself by the whole thing and I happily read my way though to the end and then found myself wanting to start watching season four of the new Doctor Who all over again.

This book is mostly the emails between Russell T. Davies (showrunner for the first four seasons of the modern Doctor Who) and writer Benjamin Cook. As I understand it, Cook suggested that Davies might like to email him about the writing of season 4 and what started off a little nervously soon became a no-holds barred look at the mind and personality of Davies as he worked.

While I have happily enjoyed watching Doctor Who over the last five years, I haven’t always been happy with some of the episodes Davies has written. I can easily enjoy them on a first watching, but when I think back on them, the story can be seriously lacking. After feeling exactly this way about David Tennant’s swan song, The End of Time, I finally figured out with the help of a friend that Davies is an emotional writer. It’s all about the emotion with him and how to pack the biggest emotional wallop into the story. So when you stop and think about it, the story can have next to no plot at all, or have a totally stupid plot, but it sure has the emotional moments. As someone who likes both, not all of Davies’ stories work for me. (Indeed, this is why I’m looking forward to seeing what Steven Moffat does with the show, as he seems to be much more plot based than Davies.)

Reading The Writer’s Tale only confirmed this for me. Davies seems to live his entire life by his emotions (and very exhausting it seems to be too). He seems to spend a lot of his time despairing that he will never write anything, or that what he has written is rubbish. He pushes every deadline to the limit and yet constantly pulls it off at the last moment. I certainly wouldn’t want to live with him (but that’s okay, because I’m sure he wouldn’t want to live with me either) but it certainly makes for interesting reading at a distance.

It was fascinating to see his ideas progress from the places each one began to the final product we eventually saw on screen. It was particularly fascinating to see him slowly creating a new character to be the companion in season 4, only have have Catherine Tate return to reprise her role as Donna and see the changes that made in the developing scripts.

I enjoyed reading this – it’s a great balance of information about the show and Davies himself, pretty photos from the show (I like pretty photos), large sections of scripts in progress and even cute cartoons penned by Davies. It also contained some interesting words of wisdom that I wanted to share.

On writing and creativity (p.77):

It is not a democracy. Creating something is not a democracy. The people have no say. The artist does. It doesn’t matter what the people witter on about; they and their response come after. They’re not there for the creations.

Right on, Russell! Say it again. I would always far rather a writer be true to their vision than be swayed by the fans. Fans don’t have a clue what they want and too many cooks are sure to spoil the broth. I can choose not to like the artist’s choices, but I’d rather they stuck to the truth of their creativity.

Oh dear. I had a couple of other quotes I wanted to share, but I can’t track down where I wrote the relevant page numbers. I’ve tried flipping through the book, but I still can’t find them, so I’m just going to stop the review here.

If you like Doctor Who, this is a very fascinating read. (If you’ve never seen the new Doctor Who, don’t even consider this one as you’ll be totally lost.) I enjoyed it far more than I expected to when I started and I’ve got my name on the hold list for the follow up volume that looks at writing the 2009 television specials.

And roll on Easter and the new season and new Doctor. I can’t wait.

Doctor Who: The Writer’s Tale
Russell T. Davies and Benjamin Cook
Read: 4-2-10 to 5-2-10

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