on 16 January 2010
I loved the original Writer's Tale - lovingly presented and fantastic content - and it became one of my very favourite non-fiction books, so I was eagerly looking forward to this extension of the correspondence. When flicking through, my first feeling was slight disappointment - but I'll come back to that.
Firstly, to put that bit about "300 new pages" in context. In its new paperback form, the original book runs to 340 pages, and there's 340 of new stuff in addition - so you've got a new book's worth on top!
But, I do feel that it loses something in a black and white paperback edition. The original was vibrant, with illustrations by RTD dotted throughout plus lots of little photos - so when you read a piece of correspondence or a script extract you could instantly relate it to what you saw on screen. This reprint of book one loses a lot of that.
More than that though, most of the actual scripts that were dotted through the correspondence in book one have been removed in the reprint 'to make space'. (These were the RTD first drafts - you can now get the final versions for some free online.) I felt they added a lot in explaining the development of episode ideas and scripts.
For these reasons, if you're new to this (and can afford the considerable extra expense) I'd recommend buying the beautifully presented original and then this in addition for the new stuff.
As to the new stuff - well the correspondence is as revealing, intimate, witty and fascinating as before. There's no sign that the comments are more self-conscious given the knowledge this time around of their ultimate publication.
So, overall, a slight sense of initial disappointment in the cheaper paperback - I'd have happily paid for a shiny hardback volume two - but the brilliance of the correspondence has to win out overall, so it stays five stars for me.
on 1 October 2008
There's no shortage of glossy "Doctor Who" books on the shelves but this is by far the most revealing. It digs deep and gives the reader a fascinating insight into the exhaustion, exhileration and relentless hard slog that goes into the flagship show. Read it, even if you don't care for DW, if you want to know the truth about a writer's life. It's very warts-and-all, at times very funny, and always comes over as being honest. You won't get closer than this to finding out why things turned out the way they did. In particular, RTD's thoughts on "Journey's End", the S4 finale, are intriguing and reveal how he copes with the inevitable gulf between his first concept of how a story should end and the version that reaches the screen, subject to the limitations of budget, time, actor availability and overall tone.
Like the Doctor himself, RTD clearly feels under pressure as the man everyone looks to for answers, he finds it almost impossible to relinquish control of his beloved show, yet a part of him longs for a break from the constant creative demands on his energies, preferably before the stress kills him.
There are certainly a few dark nights of the soul here, but also complete versions of the scripts of "Voyage of the Damned", "Partners in Crime" and the explosive two-parter finale, including the early drafts and absorbing explanations for the way things changed later. An extra bonus is a plethora of photographs, some from deleted scenes, and RTD's unexpectedly witty and professional cartoons of cast and characters.
on 28 September 2008
An astonishingly enjoyable read. If you've ever even toyed with the idea of writing, this gives you huge insights into the sheer grind and self doubt that goes into trying to get a script out, and it's a fascinating read. The email exchange structure gives a frankness that any other style would probably skirt around and you get a feeling of a genuine professional friendship between the authors. Some of the content might be a little too frank if you were thinking of buying a "Doctor Who" book for the kiddies, because it's not really a "Doctor Who" book - it's a book about writing, and the writing happens to be "Doctor Who". You do end up worrying if Russell EVER sleeps and whether this writing lark is good for his health, you do wonder how anyone finds the time to do that job, and you do get to see another side to the cheery upbeat soul who appears on TV, but that just makes it all the more intriguing. And on top of all his other work, Russell's found time to provide a large number of very inventive cartoons to illustrate the text - you'd have to hate the guy if he wasn't so good at it. The book looks fantastic, too, beautifully laid out. All in all, a big fat Hooray!!
The paperback edition THE WRITERS TALE: THE FINAL CHAPTER followed in January 2010, and all that I said in my review of the original remains pretty true, although the format has been changed radically for that edition. It is a smaller book format and whilst there are full colour photo inserts, the bulk of the reprinted text pages are now black and white, so maybe whilst it's not quite so beautiful to look at as the original, the written content is still as great as it ever was. The biggest surprise with the paperback edition is the addition of 300+ pages of brand spanking new content - making it a stonking doorstop of a book - which covers the period from the end of the last book to the end of Russell's time working on the show - the production of the 5 specials and all the surrounding Who-hah! - which actually quite probably makes it very worth buying all over again.
on 29 September 2008
Predictably witty and honest, this is a book that will be enjoyed by Doctor Who fans and aspiring writers alike. What really comes across is that Davies is passionate about the show he resurrected and is often tortured by his perceived shortcomings as a writer. I can well understand why he's had enough, although I suspect he won't in fact be able to stay away for long.
The e-mail format and excerpts from Doctor Who scripts mean this is a book you can 'dip into' quite easily rather than reading from cover to cover and the writer's own cartoon illustrations are an unexpected bonus - is there anything this man can't do? This would make a fantastic Christmas present for those of us who don't know how we'll make it through 2009 without a Dr Who series.
Of course everybody knows that Swansea produces the best writers in the world, but it's nice to have a bit more proof.
on 19 January 2010
The idea behind the original 'Doctor Who: The Writer's Tale' hardback was simple - head writer and executive producer Russell T Davies corresponded with journalist Benjamin Cook over the course of a year or so, the end result being a kind of diary of the process of writing and overseeing such a large-scale and complex show. The paperback edition, 'The Writer's Tale: The Final Chapter', retains this correspondence, but also continues it, almost doubling the page count and bringing the story up to July 2009, effectively the end of Russell's time on the programme. So, as well as getting the inside story of episodes from the Kylie-starring Christmas special 'Voyage of the Damned' right up to the end of Series Four, this edition includes the 2009 specials, David Tennant's departure, and the making of the 'Torchwood: Children of Earth' mini-series amongst other things.
Unlike a lot of the 'Doctor Who' tie-ins (and frankly, TV tie-ins in general), this is a pretty frank account of the nuts-and-bolts of a writer's life - struggling to come up with fresh ideas, the long, hard process of writing and rewriting according to the needs of the production, as well as the mayhem that comes from being a very visible presence at the heart of the media circus surrounding the programme. It's often surprising to see Russell T Davies, who often comes across in interviews as supremely confident and in control, plagued by self-doubt and finding himself staring at an empty page with time running out. Benjamin Cook's involvement is as part-interviewer, part-sounding board - at times he's responding to Russell's comments and suggestions (sometimes in a negative manner, and in at least one instance, prompting a complete rethink on the part of the production team as to the ending of an episode), at others leaping in with great questions for Russell about his life and work, which help to make the book less 'The Thoughts of Chairman Davies'.
As someone who had read the original hardback, I was unsure about the prospect of an expanded paperback edition - but the sheer amount of new material here means that this feels more like two books in one, a sequel of almost equal length bundled with the original. As such, it's well worth a read even for those who've got the hardback - the new stuff is particularly fascinating as it tells a slightly different story, not so much the production of a series that has, to an extent, settled down to a regular kind of schedule, but a mad scramble to assemble and write a series of specials whose format seems to be constantly in flux in the run-up to production, owing to concerns about scheduling, budgets, the logistics of production and so on. Add to this the cloak-and-dagger activity of announcing David Tennant's departure, and innumerable public appearances including the promotion of the original 'Writer's Tale' book, and it becomes a considerably more varied volume than the original.
Both fascinating for would-be writers or 'Doctor Who' fans alike, 'The Writer's Tale: The Final Chapter' is probably the most enjoyable book on either subject that I've ever read. It's refreshingly frank, full of insight, and is terrific value. Whether you've got the original or not, this really is essential reading.
on 29 December 2008
A very compelling read that you will find very hard to put down. Partially due to interesting subject matter but also the easy to read 'e-mail' format and exchanges.
This is not a book for all Dr Who fans. The text can be very adult and Russell's 'constant' homo-erotic feelings about actors in the shows would not suit all, although I found it very funny.
The big strength of the book however is Russell's honesty. This is really honest stuff, with high angst, stress and doubt all the way through. Clearly Russell has too much 'on his plate' (he says on several occassions it is killing him) and this book explained to me why series 4 of Dr Who was so inconsistant in it's quality. You can see that the end of the series was really a reunion/say goodbye and much of it had the feeling of being 'cobbled' together and being pulled in.
You also get the idea that Russell has no one to bounce ideas off, and at times he regrets this. All the while dismissing any criticism and opinions he finds on the net, in the media etc. But what he says goes, and although he has sought this, he does at times seem to regret it.
If you wish to read the 'raw' thoughts of a writer through his year then this book should be top of you list. It is honest, amusing and thought provoking. Russell is a very interesting man who makes for a compelling read.
If you worship the series and all contributors then this is not really for you. It is not a slick 'are we not fine' book. But it all opens up in such a unique way that that most should love it...warts and all.
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 25 January 2012
This book shuld be mandatory reading for any aspiring writers out there, science fiction and otherwise.
It contains more information about the writing process than any other book I've read (including those written specifically for that purpose).
Essentially, this is a collection of emails between RTD and journalist Benjamin Cook (with some lovely photos and sketches to brighten things up), through discussion about the development, impact and sheer joy of writing something that has become internationally successful. But it's so much more than that.
Yes, there's lots of joking around. Think of the emails you write (never intended for publication) - flippant comments, discussion of new TV shows, chaps you fancy, drunken whingeing. That's there too. And it simply makes us aware over and over again that these are Real People. Not 'Celebrities' - just two men talking. You will laugh out loud, more than once.
RTD is clearly a writer through to his bones. He'd be writing even if he wasn't successful - despite the inevitable neuroses gained by tapping away into a laptop in the small hours of the morning, he's compelled to simply tell stories. And his sense of fun, wonder and slight shock that people like his work is clearly displayed.
It's in his attempts to put into words an extremely personal, visceral and amorphous process - writing itself - that makes this book into a true gem. Those nights spent procrastinating before a deadline. Times when the ideas just don't come. Huge flurries of work as the muse strikes, only to have key ideas rejected. Having an entire universe (and more) in your head, of which only a fraction finally appears in public.
The Timelord that he writes about here may have an entirely other life outside of RTD's (unconfinable by any single individual, in fact), but in terms of this book, his tale is simply a frame by which we learn about story, character and the human feeling that goes into their creation.
If you want to write fiction, read this.
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 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).