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Doctor Who: The Writer's Tale: The Final…

Doctor Who: The Writer's Tale: The Final Chapter

by Russell T. Davies, Benjamin Cook (Author)

Series: Doctor Who

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On his Who's Round podcast (in which he interviews various people who've been involved in Doctor Who over the years), Toby Hadoke got very annoyed with those listeners who only downloaded the episodes in which he interviewed Russell T Davies.

I do feel for Hadoke but I understand why listeners reacted in that way: it's not just that Davies was far more notable a contributor than Geoffrey J. Cravat and most of the others Hadoke has interviewed (as showrunner from 2005 to 2010, he oversaw the series' revival and arguably most popular period), it's that he is also one of the. best. interviewees. out there.

So The Writer's Tale, a record of the emails sent between Davies and journalist Benjamin Cook, over the latter years of Davies's time showrunning Doctor Who is a real treat.

If you're a fan of the show there's all the behind the scenes gossip and factoids you could hope for (Dennis Hopper's abortive role in the 2007 Christmas special; Davies's original low-budget plan for David Tennant's finale; Penny Carter, the companion who wasn't) but the real joy of the book is getting 700 pages of Davies's thoughts on narrative, representation, the TV industry, and everything in between.

Deliberately neither a behind the scenes guide nor an instruction manual on writing, it is a record of the process of writing as told from Davies's perspective. You don't have to agree with him, you don't have to emulate him, you don't even have to like him, but when you disagree, dissimulate or dislike it'll likely be in the understanding that it is Davies himself who has given you half the tools to argue against him. You may despair at his endless last-minute rushes to write his scripts, but it's because of him that you'll understand why that complicates matters and makes other people's lives more difficult. He's not short on self awareness.

He's also very, very funny, which helps.

Special shoutout also to interviewer and editor Benjamin Cook, who's the co-author of this book but too easily overlooked. He has an almost tabloid sensibility – but in this context that's actually a very, very good thing. So often in this correspondence he picks Davies up on points or off-hand comments that many would automatically shy away from out of politeness or fear of confrontation; Davies's reflection on his own grief at his mother's death is one of the most moving things I've read in a long time, and it's prompted by Cook asking him flat out why he's not come to terms with it.

Writing, Davies says, is about hammering away at your brain until you find some form of words that feels true to life as you have lived it. This book, as much as his TV scripts, is an exercise in that. God I wish he would write a novel; it'd probably kill me.

If you're a Doctor Who fan, this book is a no-brainer. If you've never even heard of a Dalek, but are interested in storytelling, put it at the top of your TBR pile. And always make time for a Russell T Davies interview.

Marvellous. ( )
1 vote m_k_m | Apr 3, 2017 |
Oh, this is just brilliant! Welcome into the head of Russell T. Davies - a virtual trip to wonderland for any Whovian. Although this is mainly about writing the fourth series of the new Doctor Who and the following specials, the book covers everything from the financial issues of TV production, to public relations, to fandom, to rewriting other people's scripts, to Davies' own issues with crowds, and then a barrage of doctor-related gems in between. Obviously a must-read for Whovians, but this could still be read by anyone interested in TV writing or TV production. Also, since it's an email exchange between two close friends, we get access to some very personal information and the discussion sometimes gets excessively candid, but in a very, very good way. ( )
  -Eva- | Dec 7, 2010 |

Davies and Cook exchanged emails and texts for the last two years of Davies' tenure as show-runner of Doctor Who (ie 2007-2009), so the narrative is spontaneous, spur of the moment, and feels very genuine (though of course the reader cannot know what has been edited out in the process). I had already read the first half, and Cook and Davies spend some time in the second half discussing the reception of the original version. Davies is perpetually struggling with deadlines, with his other responsibilities as showrunner, with his role as a public figure and spokesman not only for his own show but for his industry.

The book offers insights into the process of writing, crafting and drafting, trying to get it right, over the period of weeks and months of producing Doctor Who. Occasionally one can trace particular elements to the outside world: Ben Cook, normally a passionate but detached observer, persuades Davies not to end Journey's End with a Cyberman teaser for The Next Doctor. But more often the writers are drawing on their own emotional resources and imagination, trying as it were to find the story that is trying to get out - there is a nice moment when Davies, emailing Cook, suddenly realises that Wilf Mott should be the instrument of the Tenth Doctor's demise.

Structured as a dialogue between two writers, with lots of pretty pictures and extra amaterial, it is also about a success: whether or not one is a fan of Who or of Davies' treatment of it, the fact is that he revived a faded franchise and made it a hit, and that in itself is a good story even if we are only getting the final years. I commented about the first edition that there were a lot of deaths in it; there is only one in the second half, but it is significant - the mother of the Executive Producer, Julie Gardner, of the same illness which Davies' own mother had succumbed to a few years earlier. While of course all authors draw on many life experiences, it's not too fanciful, I think, to see a direct link between this and the creation of the Claire Bloom character in The End of Time, who in Davies' mind is very explicitly the Doctor's own mother.

The Writer's Tale, however, is probably the best book about Doctor Who that will ever be written, and of immense interest to anyone who cares about television, sf, or indeed the creative process. ( )
  nwhyte | Nov 28, 2010 |
This book is a series of e-mails between Russell T Davies, former executive producer and head writer for Doctor Who, and Benjamin Cook, journalist for Doctor Who Magazine, covering Davies's work on the series from February 2007 to July 2009, the time when the fourth series and the specials were produced. It's an expansion of an earlier work which I also enjoyed, and I think this is because it turns the production of the series itself into a story. I'm reading things I already know-- will they get Catherine Tate to play Donna? who will play Astrid? will the November special be canceled due to lack of funds?-- and yet I'm absolutely riveted, swept along by the story here. It's a neat trick, and a tribute to Davies's writing and Cook's e-mail selection. There a few things that stick out at me that are worth commenting on:

1. Madness. The most important thing one learns about Davies as a writer is that he grasps the fundamental madness of Doctor Who as a concept in a way few others have. Reading the early volumes of About Time, one is struck by the fact that everyone seems to think they're working on just another television series. Sure, its formula is a bit strange, but it's still just a TV show. The madness seems to almost emerge by accident rather than design. Davies understands how mad the show is, and builds it into every aspect of his design. I think the only other person to really grasp this was Robert Holmes. Time has yet to tell if Steven Moffat gets it, but I don't think you could write "The Girl in the Fireplace" if you didn't.

2. The Specials That Never Were. Davies's plans for the specials underwent endless permutations, and though I like some of what we got ("The Waters of Mars" was fantastic), you can't help wondering about that other world where an entirely different set of specials were made. I wish they'd done that Star Trek pastiche; it would've been fun. And that other finale for the tenth Doctor, featuring him by himself with a small alien family on a spaceship with a radiation leak, sounds fantastic. The man who gave us "Midnight" could have done that perfectly. As it is, "The End of Time" is a weird merger between that and the bombastic, and though Davies is generally quite good at that sort of thing, he didn't quite pull it off here. But why didn't he do it? That leads me to:

3. Visible Ben. In the first half of the book, Benjamin Cook vows to be "Invisible Ben," merely reading Davies's ideas, never judging or influencing them. Yet halfway through, he makes a (good) suggestion about the ending of "Journey's End," and he never returns to his invisibility. Except... I don't always like his ideas. He encourages Davies to bring back the Time Lords, amongst other things... Part of me wonders if he shouldn't have stayed invisible, and how that would have affected things.

4. Hooting. Davies seems to do this a lot when amused. I don't think I've ever seen the word used so much in a book that wasn't about owls.
  Stevil2001 | Jun 2, 2010 |
Detailed and revealing insight into the mind of the Doctor Who showrunner for series 3 and 4. Equal parts inspiring and heartbreaking, this is a tale of a writer struggling with dealines and a producer struggling with budgets and other considerations, all told in a series of emails. ( )
  pauliharman | May 21, 2010 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 184607861X, Paperback)

When The Writer's Tale was published in autumn 2008, it was immediately embraced as a classic. For this extensively revised and updated paperback edition, Russell T Davies and Benjamin Cook continue their candid and in-depth correspondence to take in work on the last of Russell's 2009 specials - and the end of David Tennant's era as The Doctor - while also looking back to the achievements of the first three seasons. With over 300 pages of all-new material, including new photos and original artwork, The Writer's Tale is a fitting tribute to Russell T Davies' phenomenal achievement in bringing Doctor Who back for a new generation of fans.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:21:47 -0400)

Presents correspondence discussing the creative life of "Doctor Who," including Davies's final year as head writer and executive producer.

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