In emails galore Russell T. Davies describes to friend Benjamin Cook the agony and the ecstasy of a momentous fourteen months.
"There's no such thing as a typical day." Masterminding the fourth series of the revitalized "Doctor Who" is daunting enough -attempting to surpass the previous seasons' quality and excitements. There are episodes to write, including an ambitious Christmas Special, plus the overseeing of spin-offs "Torchwood" and "The Sarah Jane Adventures". Problems abound. Scripts forever need cutting down to size, budgets heeded, deadlines met - not to mention coping with devastating press leaks, a heavy cold, chicken pox and innumerable other crises. No wonder Russell T. Davies so often writes well into the night and sometimes through it. THE wonder is that he still finds time to email (sometimes at great length) his thoughts and frustrations - not to mention the elation when everything clicks neatly into place. These emails are chatty and truly fascinate, we amongst other things following the evolution of episodes we later watched and enjoyed so much.
Here is a book not just for "Doctor Who" fans but for all interested in the writer's craft. (Note Russell's pet hates - examples of the lazy writing so much in evidence each day on our screens.)
Awesome, exhilarating, provoking much food for thought. There is lavish praise for colleagues (especially Catherine Tate - a Doctor's companion in a class of her own) and genuine delight Steven Moffat should agree to take over the baton. In passing, Russell pays tribute to a young actor's skills shown in one episode - this was Colin Morgan, destined to become a magical Merlin. Elsewhere there is sadness at the terminal illness of Howard Attfield who played Donna's dad. Rewriting led to the creation of a grandfather - he portrayed so memorably by Bernard Cribbins.
Lavishly illustrated, Russell's own cartoons included. Prepare to be overwhelmed by the talent, enthusiasm and stamina. If only the emails WE receive could be a fraction as entertaining!
on 13 December 2008
First thing: If you're looking to buy a book for a younger Doctor Who fan, and you're thinking this looks like a nice glossy coffee table book for them to flick through - don't get this. It's really intended for older readers: there's a lot of prose here to wade through, the language and innuendo is quite adult, and it's really all about the nuts and bolts of the writing which may be a bit dull for anybody younger than, say, 14 or 15.
But for those who are interested in writing, and writing for television in particular, it's unputdownable. I wouldn't be surprised if in 10-15 years time there are young script writers who cite this book as a major influence in their career decision. Russell T Davies, whatever you think of him (and I finished the book thinking of him really quite fondly) really doesn't hold back in telling his co-author how he works - and indeed, a lot of the time how he doesn't work. He is nothing if not honest about himself and others, and he's frequently very funny.
Although RTD does take centre stage, credit is due to his co-author Ben Cook for his side of the correspondence, which keeps asking most of the questions you want to hear the answers too. I suspected on occasion he was actually not quite in full agreement with RTD, but he hid it well (did I detect a lack of enthusiasm about Catherine Tate?).
Credit also due to the book's designer(s), who have produced a book that is impeccably laid out and beautifully illustrated, not least with the cartoons by RTD which are deservedly praised in other reviews here.
I really can't remember when I've enjoyed a book more. If you're at all interested in writing for TV - get it.
One final thing: some of RTD's comments about online reviewers and the effect they can have on writers really gave me pause (around page 74-75, I think.) Particularly since one of the writers he mentions I've met, and who was personally very helpful to my own writing. I felt rather guilty about some of the cavalier negative comments about books and films that I've littered around cyberspace. I'll be more careful from now on. But for this book at least I can enjoy giving it a near-unconditional thumbs up.
on 3 July 2015
I found this book fascinating, but also rather disappointing.
It was fascinating to see how some of the ideas came about and also to see how things that never quite made it into the shows in question were re-cycled and later re-appeared elsewhere (e.g. in Torchwood). There are also plenty of "so that's what it means' moments, such as the explanations about the Doctor's mother lending him a helping hand in time that only the greatest of Who addicts would have followed at the time that the show was broadcast. Certainly, it helps to understand the workings of Russell T. Davies's mind.
It is also a somewhat disconcerting book in many ways. A feature of the book is the chronicle of missed deadlines and doing things in a rush at the last minute (and often well after), but you have hundreds of pages of e-mails, many quite trivial, that must have taken hundreds of hours to write, often late at night, when you would have thought that the time would be better devoted to actually getting those scripts finished! In fact, a large part of the book seems to be devoted to finding ways to explain why he has not been doing what he should be doing. It is very much a demonstration of Parkinson's Law!
Anyone who writes seriously will know the feeling of writer's block, or the paralysis that can (and often does) accompany big writing projects, which means that you will move heaven and earth to find good excuses not to start to write. For some writers and RTD seems to be a prime example, it would appear that only the panic of knowing that a deadline is past and that filming schedules are being impacted is capable of putting fingers to keyboard and getting work started. Of course, when started, it comes out in a torrent.
Readers will look at how scripts are prepared and think to themselves that, given the last-minute panic, it's amazing that the quality is not affected. Certainly, the overwhelming impression is that things get done in great haste after months of inactivity. That is probably doing RTD a grave injustice as probably the greatest creative effort is in mentally putting the pieces together and that is a process that does not produce any actual written result, but does mean that when the writing starts it is just a matter of committing all your thoughts to paper.
Another thing that comes across powerfully is the impression that RTD was a control freak with the show. Even changes of a single word that appear in filming need a telephone call and explicit approval from him. Other writers are re-written unmercifully because they don't suit his style, but every RTD word in the final shooting script is sacred. It all comes across as slightly neurotic (even when discounting the constant references to how sexy certain male members of the cast are and his fantasies about them - something that a male Director would never get away with in print if he were talking about female members of the cast - these references become tiresome in the end).
For me though the biggest disappointment is the poor print quality. The text is small, but readable, but the reproduction of the monochrome photographs is very disappointing indeed.
However you take this book, it is a fascinating insight into the world of Doctor Who's revival and the handover to a completely new writing and production team.
on 22 October 2010
"Try sitting with every other doubt and fear about yourself and everyone, all on your own, with no ending or help or conclusion... At the same time writing can be the most wonderful job in the world."
So said Russell T Davies, during his stint as head writer and showrunner of Doctor Who, the UK's long-running science fiction programme. Now in the more than capable hands of Steven Moffat, the show goes from strength to strength. But no-one can deny Davies' influence in reviving the fortunes of a franchise that - excuse the pun - was nearly lost in time.
Davies' legacy and final days on the series is recounted in The Writer's Tale, a remarkable book that deserves a place in every writer's library. While not an instructional book in the traditional sense (taking the format of a series of e-mails between Davies and editor Benjamin Cook), the contents offer remarkable insight into the writing process.
What makes this book all the more fascinating is that it takes on a 'real-time' sense of urgency as Davies works to deliver the script for 'Voyage Of The Damned' (amongst other projects) in time for shooting. Here he shows his work in the margin, writing scenes then editing and rewriting them while highlighting his reasons. These are punctuated by his own insecurities about the process; the indecision regarding story elements and most valuable of all - a doubt in his abilities and a penchant for procrastination.
It's very much a warts and all affair, but proves that those at the top of their profession can suffer the same stigma as those just beginning their journey. The book is as accessible to fans of the show as well as writers. A glossy, well presented tome that commemorates a much loved series and documents the drama of writing, producing and delivering a palatable experience for a modern audience.
As both a fan of the recent revival of "Doctor Who" and as a writer keen to learn more about the craft, I found "The Writer's Tale: The Final Chapter" to be an informative, entertaining, unusually candid and gloriously in-depth look at the process Russell T. Davies and his collaborators went through to make the show happen.
The book consists of an extended, two-year correspondence (mostly by e-mail, occasionally by text message) between Davies and an experienced journalist for "Doctor Who Magazine", Benjamin Cook. The authors claim that the correspondence has been left largely unedited, to be as candid as possible.
The conversational style between the two is very relaxed and immersive. As a journalist, Cook displays an ability to dip in with incisive, open-ended questions and then sit back to let Davies answer at length, which Davies seems eager to do.
There are many informative titbits throughout the book. On writing, Davies go into great detail about how he chooses stories and characters and how he lets a script evolve before sitting down to write it; his observations on how to make character come across, how to write entertaining and effective dialogue and where the heart of a story lies are all very useful. On top of that, there are several sections where first drafts and final drafts of scenes are compared, so we can see how a script is refined.
We are also told how the production issues of a TV show (such as casting, budgetary limitations, press coverage) can affect its writing, and how Davies dealt with the problems of trying to run several TV shows at once.
The book even has narrative suspense! Especially in the new 'final chapter', Davies relates how he is struggling to make a story fit together as production deadlines loom ever closer. We even see ideas strike him as he is talking them through with Cook, capturing the moments of inspiration as they happen. Even if you know what shape the episodes eventually take, it's intriguing to see how Davies arrived there.
Incidentally, for those people who aren't too familiar with "Doctor Who", "Torchwood" and "The Sarah Jane Adventures", there's an extensive glossary of all the cast and crew involved and constant footnotes to enlighten people about episode details, so no reader is left out.
In short, I would highly recommend this book to anyone with a passing interest in "Doctor Who", Russell T. Davies or writing in general (and for television in particular). At over 650 pages there is no paucity of material and you will be richly rewarded. If you already own the original "Writer's Tale", I personally think the extra 250 or so pages in 'The Final Chapter' are definitely worth it but maybe check the book out at your local library first if you're not sure.
One final thought: go to the "Writer's Tale" website (Google it!) to download several .pdf files of Davies's "Doctor Who" scripts for free!
on 9 October 2008
A fascinating insight into the mind of a TV writer. I hadn't realised that RTD worked so hard - heavily rewriting almost everyone's scripts (apart from Steven Moffat's) including the much lauded Human Nature/Family of Blood.
What I also found interesting about this collection of emails between RTD and Benjamin Cook is that it could almost be said that RTD was using the exchange as therapy - who could have thought that the talking head crying "Marvelous!" and "Hooray!" during Doctor Who Confidential was so wracked with self doubt and self criticism during the creative process? Whatever you may personally think about the episodes he wrote, reading this will give you massive respect for the man.
Despite Russell's disclaimers in the text, in my opinion this book would be useful for *all* budding writers, even if they have no interest in Doctor Who...
on 5 June 2011
First off, I bought "The Writer's Tale: The Final Chapter" which was essemtially 2 books in 1. I'd seen the book on the sheleves for a little while, had skimmed through it, but not paid much attention to the detail in it. When I took the plunge and bought the book, I wasn't quite sure what I was getting. I understand from previous reviews that the hardback version of the first book had coloured illustrations and full scripts of the scripts mentioned in the first book. (The full scripts, for me is probably the only thing that I missed out on, that I'd have wanted IN the paperback version) Well, The Final Chapter, for any huge Doctor Who fan, is a must read. The stress Russell goes through is apparent in his emails to Benjamin. Not once did any of his scripts actually make it on the original schedules.. but they all did make it, as we all know.
Seeing season 4 take shape on paper was so fascinating..Backstage adventures, freak outs, staff changes its all here. The rapport between Ben and Russell was really good. It was good to see that even some of Ben's ideas made it into Doctor Who episodes. There are not many books that people would want to read again. This, however, I would!!
All in all, for any Doctor Who fan, young or old, This is a must have!
on 17 December 2008
How does a creative person actually write? I doubt whether the question has ever been answered with such honesty and detail as in this marvellous journal. Ben Cook's questions are probing and serious, and Russell's answers carefully considered and ruthlessly honest - and of course, leavened with unlikely humour. I could not imagine a better primer for any young aspiring screenwriter. Yes, there's a bit of sex in it - but that's life, isn't it?
on 21 February 2010
It's a weighty tome,this Writers Tale,and the best word I can come up with as a summation is Giddy. Let me elaborate a little. We race through a couple of years worth of correspondance between Russell and Benjamin (editor of Dr Who Magazine) and in the process learn of things I never thought I'd know. But the thing is I'm not sure I need to know about how much RTD crushes on his male stars...
But I digress.RTD is a stunning writer. He's got faults (hello cybershades) but he knows how to tell a story. The e-mails are written rather self-conciously at times,as if aware of their final purpose, but they definitely have a pace and an accessibility that makes this an easy read. I do wonder if this is all very genuine and whether sometimes he's editing himself mid-sentence / mid-email (there are a few which are just so "staged" it got me thinking). I actually wonder what the editing process was on this book - if there was one. Being the showrunner of the most successful show on British TV must come with a toll few of us can imagine. Every now and then darkness and worry shines through (look at the times some of these were sent!) and these are where this book gains an unexpected weight - and one which makes it worth buying.
on 8 January 2009
Despite buying hundreds of items from Amazon over the years I have never felt the need to post a review - until now, that is.
I got this book for Christmas and I'm only half way through it, but I just had to add to the list of people praising it.
I'm not going to repeat what's already been written (it's one long chain of email correspondance, it's got lovely cartoons drawn by RTD, some great photos, he's very honest, he leaves writing his scripts til the last minute, he works WAY too hard....oh ok, maybe I have repeated everything), but it's not going too far to say it's the most enjoyable book I've ever read.
Yes I'm a huge Doctor Who fan and of course that adds to my enjoyment, but even if I didn't watch the show I'm certain this book would be just as enjoyable for all the insights into the mind of a writer.
It's fascinating to read his initial thoughts on how a story / episode will look, then follow the various reasons (casting, late scripts, budgets) as to why they had to change before going on air.
His pure enthusiasm for and dedication to the show just drips off the pages, as shown by his early thoughts regarding getting Kylie Minogue and Catherine Tate to appear in the show.
I personally will never label him as "lazy" after watching an episode of the Doc on Saturday again!
It'll certainly be very interesting to see how the show copes when the excellent Steven Moffat takes over in 2010, that's for sure.
If you're any sort of Doctor Who fan at all (note - some of it is unsuitable for kids) then you really should buy this amazing book.
What are you waiting for?? Buy this book now!
Final point - it's a pity when people leave a 1 star review for a book they probably haven't even read (yes Mrs A.P. Hartshorn I'm talking to you).