This article comes from Den of Geek UK.
The news that The Watch – the Discworld-inspired television series based on the works of Terry Pratchett – was being developed further brought the usual range of emotions to readers of this site. Excitement, apprehension, exuberant headcanons. All the classics. Plus one commenter said they should cast Jason Isaacs as Vimes and I absolutely cannot shake the idea from my head.
The show has been in development since 2011, so the original article in Deadline wasn’t a total surprise. However, co-writer Rhianna Pratchett has tweeted “Always wait for the official sources, folks.”
Blake’s 7 was expected to be rebooted around five years ago, on the back of the success of Battlestar Galactica. That has, as yet, failed to come to pass. So, not to piss on your chips (the kind of thing that Vimes might have done prior to Guards! Guards!), but it’s worth waiting for this to be confirmed.
Meanwhile, though, that gives us plenty of scope for frenzied speculation and chin-stroking thinkpieces (see also: all other events in the universe). The Discworld is a series of 41 novels, set in a medieval fantasy world rife with all manner of cultures, gods and monsters. The idea of adapting the novels for cinema had long been considered, but Pratchett had grown weary of Hollywood. He dismissed the abandoned Sam Raimi Wee Free Men adaptation as Disneyfied, saying “it had all the hallmarks of something that had been good, and then the studio had got involved,” and said that focus groups for a film of Mort suggested that they “lose the Death angle.”
Two things have changed in recent years that make moving pictures of Moving Pictures a possibility. Firstly, television has demonstrated that it can pull of the kind of long form, big budget series that the Discworld novels would necessitate. Secondly, Pratchett founded Narrativia, his own production company, in 2012. Since his passing, there will be no more Discworld novels, but the possibility for adaptations, spin-offs and tie-ins still exists. Hence, Narrativia are involved in this possible Discworld TV series, the Rhianna Pratchett/Jim Henson Company Wee Free Men film, and the Good Omens series currently in production.
Several adaptations were made for Sky. These adaptations felt like they were intended to take the plots from the books, abridge them for budgetary reasons, then turn them into festive fare. Broad brushstrokes Discworld, with mixed results. Then again, Discworld books are tricky things to adapt into a different medium.
The first thing to consider when it comes to any adaptation of any novel is that it can’t be the same as the book, and most likely will never be as good. Part of the charm of the Discworld books is the omniscient narrator and the tangential footnotes, the details, and without a Hitchhikers’ Guide type device it’s hard to incorporate this into television.
Then there are the series within the series – the multiple character sets who the books focused on: Rincewind the inept wizard (Matthew Baynton, Matthew Baynton, Matthew Baynton), the wizard university faculty, the Watch, the Lancre witches, Death and his extended family, Moist von Lipwig… plus the way that these characters interact with the other sets throughout the novels. Turning to a random page in Hogfather – a novel in which Death’s daughter Susan is the main protagonist – and we have the Watch and the Wizards involved, with dialogue that moves on at a lick despite being punctuated with descriptive prose.
However, that’s twenty books in. It’s a rich story universe, to the point where the fact the world is on the back of four elephants on a giant turtle is essentially irrelevant, but that’s been built up over time. Game Of Thrones approaches its eighth and final series, which is definitely at the epic end of television. This approach is not an option for the Discworld books, not being written as one overarching story but 41 individual ones that occasionally overlap (plus the short stories).
Adapting the novels in order brings several problems: firstly that the series takes a few books to move away from high fantasy parodies and into something more recognisable as the public perception of “The Discworld books.” Secondly that’s a gargantuan project to undertake, and it’s unlikely that all 41 novels would ultimately make it to screen.
Then you have the issue, as The Mob’s productions for Sky did, of which stories to adapt. Hogfather made sense as a piece of Christmas television, but after that you’ve got a fair few standalone novels or one that introduces some characters. It makes sense to focus on one of these character sets for numerous reasons.
If you’re going to make a Discworld TV series focusing on one set of characters, using Ankh-Morpork as the main location is an obvious choice. Despite all roads leading away from it, most of the Discworld characters go there at least once. There’s plenty of potential to see guest stars playing the Unseen University faculty or the Lancre witches, and it’d be incredibly surprising if Death didn’t feature regularly.
The City Watch are an obvious choice to focus on. Not only does their job lend itself to an existing TV format, but it gives the creative team a large ensemble cast from different races and genders (indeed, the City Watch novels are frequently used to explore gender politics and racism). There’s a lot going on in terms of the character’s personal lives, and there’ll probably a fair bit of armour kicking around once they finish making Game Of Thrones.
The development of The Watch, or CSI: Ankh-Morpork as it was unofficially known, was developed as a crime-of-the-week show. Whether this has changed since 2011 is unknown, though the choice of Simon Allen as Head Writer (whose writing credits are frequently on case-of-the-week shows, such as The Musketeers) suggests it remains in place. It is unknown whether The Watch would be based on the plots of the novels, or devise original stories using those characters.
This writer is assuming, with a six-part series mooted, that a case-of-the-week format would be tied to an ongoing arc. The idea of adapting the books directly conflicts with the information we have about The Watch, plus it will be easier fitting the setting and characters into a TV format than it would be to try to make the novels – written with such a well known voice and style – into television. The Sky adaptations lost something in translation, lacking the energy, pace and comedy of the books. A spin-off into an established TV format would, potentially, be allowed to carve its own identity and have less pressure to match Pratchett’s style.
Part of my brain is clamoring for just straight up adapting all the books now just do it come on pump them into my veins. Which means the idea of The Watch feels slightly disappointing in comparison, but rationally it’s an entirely sensible approach to putting the Discworld on television that has a lot of potential.
If it gets made, The Watch would most likely include new Discworld stories, with the potential for exploring the rest of the Disc if it becomes successful. Yes, it would probably differ in tone and wit to the books because, frankly, how many writers are there who could match that?