★ 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.

Published by

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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