The Writer’s Tale

The Writer’s Tale by Russell T Davies and Benjamin Cook (BBC Books)

Introduced by Lesley Arrowsmith, a bookseller at Hay Cinema Bookshop, Hay-on-Wye 

I’m a Doctor Who fan.

I’ve watched all the Doctors from William Hartnell in the 1960s to Peter Capaldi today.

So, when Russell T Davies brought the Doctor back to BBC TV in 2005, and The Writer’s Tale came out chronicling the process, obviously I wanted to know about what went on behind the scenes.

The Writer’s Tale not only tells the story of the first years that Doctor Who came back on TV, but it also goes into great depth about the writing process by looking at the work of a very creative man when he was at the height of his powers. As Russell T says in the Introduction, ‘It’s not writing in theory; it’s writing in action, in motion. In anguish! Ideas written down before anyone else could sit in judgement, or before I could reconsider them in the cold light of day.’

It all started when Ben Cook sent Russell T an email, asking about a magazine article on the process of writing a Doctor Who script. That email sparked off a correspondence that went on for two and a half years, and resulted in a 700 page book – in which Russell T not only talked about the process of getting Doctor Who onto the air, but went into detail about his creative processes, with great enthusiasm.

writer's tale

Entirely at random, here’s an extract:

“I’ve just returned from Shan Shen, the fabled Chino planet. I have voyaged to the stars! In an alley behind Cardiff’s Royal Infirmary. It’s an amazing set … All I do is type the words ‘Shan Shen’, that’s easy, and then all these people have to slave away on a Saturday, in the rain, to create the bloody thing. “

He also talks about Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures, the two spin off series; why Peter O’Toole took the part of Old Casanova in the series where David Tennant played Young Casanova, before he took over as the Doctor from Christopher Eccleston, and Stephen Moffat taking over as show runner, and along the way Ben Cook asks questions like, ‘What’s a typical day in the life of a script writer?’, which sets Russell T off again.

I came away from it buzzing with ideas, and with a lot more knowledge about what makes a story work – the nuts and bolts of plot and how a scene moves the plot along and reveals character interactions, and what good dialogue looks like … It helps if you’re interested in Doctor Who, but anyone who’s interested in how scriptwriting for TV works would be able to find a lot of useful information here.

I have the revised version of the book, which takes the correspondence up to 2009, which includes the death of Ianto in Torchwood and the arrival of Matt Smith as the new Doctor.

700 pages of Doctory goodness!

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