As my family and childhood friends can attest, I once had an unspeakably detailed knowledge of the BBC television show Doctor Who. I knew all the episode names, transmission dates, major characters. Think this guy with a shorter nose. Even now, it’s not difficult to recall that the machine used in the War Games episode to ferry troops from one place to another was called a SIDRAT (Space and Inter-Dimensional Robot All-Purpose Transporter). See?
Don’t get me started on TOMTIT. By fourteen, I had caught up with all the Target novelisations. My bedroom walls were covered with Dalek posters and I pretended that my wardrobe was an obsolete, type-40 TARDIS.
I watched the first episode of the re-booted Doctor Who at a science fiction convention. There was a odd feeling in the room, which was huge and packed with semi-sober science fiction conventioneers. I can only describe the atmosphere as the excited anticipation of hatred. Most of the people in that room expected the new Doctor Who series to be shite. Frankly — and I say this from love — the old series was pretty crap. Wonky, proscenium-arch sets; lack of rehearsal; poor choice of writers; often camp in a bad way. Much as I adore the stories of the Peter Davidson era, he was let down on all sides by the production team
What the conventioners got was a combination of great acting, pace, special effects, and, above all, excellent writing. The man most directly responsible for the new Doctor Who is Russell T. Davies. As a showrunner — a writer/producer position thus-far unknown in UK television, as far as I know — Davies assumed responsibility (within limits) for every aspect of the show from script to make-up and quite possibly the mid-morning pastry platter.
Davies has an interesting history. He did not hold any particular ambitions towards writing when he was younger. Graduating from Oxford, he moved towards TV production work and eventually became a producer on BBC summer holiday smug-fest Why Don’t You?
In The Writer’s Tale, Russell T. Davies presents a year-long email exchange between himself and the journalist Benjamin Cook. It is a portrait of a creative endeavour. The angst is here. The joy. The swearing. Childishness. Nobility. Throughout, Benjamin receives drafts-in-progress and gently questions Davies about the process of writing — both in general and for a show like Doctor Who.
Steven Moffat — the man who is take the reins from Russell T Davies — has said that if you still want to be a writer after reading Davies’s book, you probably will be. Either way, it’s cracking book and a must-read for any writer who’s interested in the creation of successful TV show.