Doctor Who: The Writer’s Tale: The Final Chapter book review
Russell T Davies and Benjamin Cook update The Writer's Tale. And it's an invaluable book for Doctor Who fans...
Back in our original review of Doctor Who: The Writer’s Tale, we concluded that it was as good a book as the dedicated Doctor Who fan could ever hope for. It was a warts and all account – via the medium of e-mail conversations between Russell T Davies and Benjamin Cook – of the writing of Doctor Who over the course of a couple of years, and was extremely candid at times.
I wondered, on reflection, whether the number of Christmas cards that Russell T Davies’ received in its aftermath was down, but from where I sat – as a fan of the show keen to know more – it was a staggering and very unusual insight. It dragged a little in places, but that was the nature of the beast. And what it did more than anything else was open the door on a world that we never get to see. As I concluded back then, “This is, at best, a riveting insight into not just a terrific television show, but also a modern day television writer, with all the insecurities, highs and lows that go with the territory.”
The original text of the book is all included as you would expect in this updated tome. But don’t let that moniker of The Final Chapter fool you. You get far more than a token extra chapter bunged in here, in the hope of selling a few more copies when a book hits paperback. You, instead, get a further 300+ pages, charting what’s happened in Doctor Who since the first book concluded. So you get Russell T Davies dealing with David Tennant leaving the show, and then the not inconsiderable task of putting together the special episodes of Doctor Who that we got in 2009. Then there’s also the small matter of Torchwood: Children Of Earth in the midst of it all, which doesn’t get as much attention, but still benefits from its inclusion in the book.
The new material is, to be fair, a little less broad in some of its tone than before, quite simply because the episodes that the extra material covers deals primarily with episodes that Davies was writing himself. We don’t get analyses of the likes of Skins this time, but we do get a lot more introspective material (and very welcome it is, too). The reason for this seems to be that in the first chunk of The Writers’ Tale, Davies was juggling many writers, who were putting together Doctor Who, Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures, and with the specials, they rest solely on his shoulders.
That said, the feel of the first edition remains very much intact. After all, there was a real sense of a by-the-seat-of-your-pants operation that could come off the rails at any moment. It reminded me of my college days handing essays in at the last minute, only in this case it was handing in scripts for multi-million pound budget television series. It was, and remains, fascinating to see just how close to absolute deadlines Davies frequently sailed, and there’s a sense of that too in the new material as he wrangles with the shape and direction of David Tennant’s final episodes. Once again, it’s as interesting as ever to see just what time many of the e-mails were sent.
The new book isn’t shy of tasty titbits. Quite the contrary, in fact. We get the e-mail exchange where the Daleks were considered for inclusion in The End Of Time, and Davies also talks about his reluctance to bring the Time Lords back, and why he locked them away for the duration of his reign (in spite of what I’ve written before, I couldn’t help but end up agreeing with him too). Plus there’s the identity of the female Time Lord we kept seeing in The End Of Time, and many bits of script that didn’t make the final cut. It’s hard to think of anything Davies and Cook haven’t covered that a Doctor Who fan would want to know, right down to e-mail exchanges between Russell T Davies and Steven Moffat, with the former checking with the latter over things he wanted to put in his final episodes.
My favourite passages, though, are where Davies uses the e-mails to unlock a particularly tricky story conundrum, most notably in his use of the character of Wilf in the specials. You can also feel the steam coming off his keyboard when you read the excitable e-mail he sends to Cook where he hatches his plan. I loved passages like that in the first edition of this book, and I loved them again here. We simply don’t get the chance to be any kind of fly on the wall to such material usually, and from an outsider’s point of view, this is a real treat.
The other highlight for me was Davies’ retrospective assessment of his first Doctor Who episode, Rose, and how he would have dealt with the production of it a little differently now. The book is full of moments like this, and even more so than ever, it lifts the lid on the behind the scenes working of a major show.
Whether you’re a wannabe writer, a Doctor Who enthusiast or just interested in the mechanics of putting a TV show together, I’ve read nothing quite like this, and the additional material is equally fascinating. That it was written when Davies was also planning his move to America is all the more astonishing, and adds to the feeling of controlled chaos.
My ultimate conclusion from it all is that I’ll never write a Doctor Who episode in my life. I’m not sure my mental health could stand it. But I’ll gladly be re-reading this book. If edition one was my favourite book of 2008, then this is surely the first must-buy of 2010. A superb, fascinating piece of work.