★ The Tale of Russell T. Davies

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 teamThis fact was quite obvi­ous to me, even as an eight-year-old when Davidson arrived; the nov­el­isa­tions were lit, cast and pro­duced by my budget­less ima­gin­a­tion.. The folks at that sci­ence fic­tion con­ven­tion knew Doctor Who from old. They expec­ted a pile of kack.

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?Why don’t I? Because I’m not a stage-school kid with a side­line in chocol­ate Rice Krispie cakes, damn you to hell and back thrice. The fic­tion crept into his work (the last epis­ode of WDY involved a way­ward com­puter intel­li­gence) but his sense for the prac­tic­al real­ity of tele­vi­sion pro­duc­tion has nev­er left him. He is also unusu­al in his regard for tele­vi­sion. He doesn’t see it as a poor rela­tion to cinema or theatre. He thinks it’s great. He watches hours of it.

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.

Author: Ian Hocking

Writer and psychologist.

2 thoughts on “★ The Tale of Russell T. Davies”

  1. Great post, you have encap­su­lated the old and the new of Dr Who very well. I bought this book for my young­er daugh­ter for Christmas (I think I men­tioned this to you via twit­ter actu­ally, so sorry for the repeat). She adored it, I could not drag her away for 2 days, des­pite the fact that she also received Wii Guitar Hero and the DVD of Wild Child for xmas. Interestingly, she does not have any interest in any oth­er Dr Who spinoff books, annu­als, etc, only this one. Karen of Euro Crime also liked this book (eurocrime.co.uk) — she often posts Dr Who related mater­i­al on the Euro Crime blog — nice cros­sov­er effect!

  2. Oh, yes, I remem­ber your tweet, Maxine. I got very anti­so­cial when I was read­ing it, too. The book is an incred­ible mix­ture of insight and gos­sip. Glad your daugh­ter liked it!

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