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Russell T Davies and Benjamin Cook
The Writers Tale - The final Chapters.
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So, ill let you into a little secret, most people that know me know this already, but for those that don't, I'm a massive Doctor Who fan, there it's out their now!!
To the point of almost obsessive about The Doctor, his adventures and his friends and enemies.
So when I saw this book mentioned on a Dr who forum I just knew id have to obtain it at some point in the future.
Roughly £8.50 later and a few days for delivery from Amazon, I had this huge monster of a book in my mitts, so for all of you that haven't read this, or for those that have but fancy reading me waffle on about it, I shall begin..
The Writers tale is a book by Russell T Davies creator and writer of various TV shows such as Queer as folk, Second coming, Casanova and of course Doctor Who.
Co author is Benjamin Cook editor and writer for the official Doctor who magazine.
Normally I wouldn't mention a co author on a celebrity's book, cos it's normally just a ghost writer or such like, but here the co author is as much a part of the book as Russell T Davies.
So onto the book, I always start book reviews by telling how many pages it contains, normally I don't like my books too long or too short, but this weighing in at over 700 pages is actually the exception because even at 700 pages I could have carried on with it!
So firstly this isn't a fictional piece, this is a serious look into the makings of an hit TV series, please don't let this put you off, its almost as gripping as fiction and will make you think a lot about writing and television and the human condition.
The book began life when Ben cook contacted RTD asking for a few interview emails about the writing process for an episode or two of the then new series 4 of Dr Who, Well this couple of Emails soon flew out of control and became a monster of the sorts no one can contain.
So the whole book is a set of emails and text messages sent back ands forward between the two men, at first RTD is not quite sure if this will affect his writing, but soon finds he likes it so we start to gain a lot of insight into the world inside the mans head, which isn't always rosy.
The book deals with his issues of depression, lack of motivation his inability to write until he is right on deadline, this is moving yet funny with some bits almost Laugh out loud funny!
The book was originally released on hardback in 2008 and focused on the writing of Series 4.
It was re-released on paperback in 2010 with an added 300 pages talking about his work on the series of specials released in 2009 ending with both RTD and 10th Doctor David Tennant both leaving their roles on the show.
As well as the Emails there are some script extracts that didn't make the final show, some photos and some original cartoons drawn by Mr Davies.
I would recommend this book to any fan of RTD, Dr who or just television in general, though I should warn there are some references to sex and drug use, and some bad language at times so maybe not for the younger fans!!!
I would also recommend it for anyone that wants to learn how to get into working in the television industry or who wants to become a writer.
I read all 700+ pages in about 3 days because it was completely engrossing, I didn't use to like RTD and this book doesn't make him out to be a saint, but having read it I have a lot more respect for him!
The book also has a website with more info about the writers etc it also contains full shooting scripts for all Russells episodes from series 4 and the specials year, well worth a look.
Hope this has been useful
I've been Kyle Coare, goodnight!!
**Please note that this review is for the updated version of "The Writer's Tale" and has the subtitle "The Final Chapter". I asked dooyoo to create a separate entry into their catalogue for this version but was advised to add it here.**
If you have seen some of my reviews in the past you will know that I am a huge fan of the television show Doctor Who. When I ordered my DVD box set of the 2009 'specials' this book popped up among Amazons list of items that they thought I would like based on my purchase history and from other customers buying habits (a sneaky but effective way of cross-selling) I had no idea that this book was even in print as I have never read a Doctor Who book even though I was aware that fiction stories were available, deciding that I liked the idea behind it I went ahead and bought it.
What's the book about?
Essentially the book is a collection of emails that have been put together between the shows then Executive Producer and Chief Writer; Russell T Davies and Benjamin Cook; writer for the Doctor Who magazine. Originally the idea was for Cook to gain an insight into the mind of Davies for a series of articles for the magazine for the launch of Series 4 of the show but over time as their discussions became more frequent and more open they had the idea to collate all the emails into order and publish the exchanges in book form.
The original version of the book simply entitled "The Writers Tale" contained emails from February 2007 to the middle of 2008 and covered everything from the pre-production of the fourth series through to the casting, episode writing and logistical problems surrounding the show.
The updated version of the book carrying the subtitle "The Final Chapter" continues the email exchange between the two and covers the remainder of Davies' tenure on the show and discusses the 2009 specials and of course the decision to leave the show whilst it was a major success.
Now I have written a brief description of what to expect I can elaborate more here. If you a fan or follower of the show, David Tennant or even Russell T Davies then this is a must read, the book explores the dynamics of how a show the size and importance (to the BBC at least) runs and the complications and demands that are put on the Chief Writer. The email exchange is surprisingly frank and honest and I was amazed at just how complicated it actually is trying to create an episode of what is the BBC's flagship programme. Davies has an endless list of things that he has to consider when writing: timing, budget, actor demands, location are some and in his emails he is unafraid at venting his frustration when things go wrong.
Writers Block is a common problem he faces and when deadlines are nearing you get a real sense of the pressure he is under trying to come up with ideas and a script which can be used for filming. Benjamin Cook acts as both interrogator and confidante to Davies, he asks questions, gives his opinion on issues and until you get used to the style of the book you really do feel as if you are somehow reading two peoples private conversations. The email exchanges are always interesting, full of humour and fascinating to read and you really do get an insight into the mind of a scriptwriter.
The book begins just as Davies is considering the storyline for the 2007 Christmas special and his ideas for series 4 of the show. Through his emails we discover how he managed to get Kylie Minogue to agree to the Christmas special and his joy when Catherine Tate agrees to reprise her character of Donna Noble for the whole of the fourth series. Discussions over his announcement to leave the show are featured as well as the secrecy and talks that went on when David Tennant also decided to leave and throughout the first part of the book we follow the creation of the fourth series and the Christmas special. There are reproductions of the scripts that were cut from episodes and plenty of on-set photographs as well as Davies thoughts on the other two Doctor Who spin-offs he writes for; Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures.
The new part of the book "The Final Chapter" focuses on the 2008 Christmas episode and the four specials from 2009 and features the continuing email exchanges between Cook and Davies. In these we learn more about David Tennants decision to leave the show and the major storylines that Davies wanted to feature. He faces the same problems as before with writers block, budget issues etc and this time there is a real sense of sadness that his time as the shows writer is coming to an end. Through the email exchange we get the chance to find out what he wanted to achieve from the show and how he thinks the episodes turned out as well as dealing with writing scripts for more Torchwood and Sarah Jane.
Personally I do think that Davies receives a lot of undue criticism when it comes to some of his episodes and it's only when you get the chance to actually read how he went about coming up with ideas whilst trying to follow guidelines that you appreciate just how tough it must have been. It is clear that he wanted to remain loyal to 'old school' fans of the show whilst wanting to create a new vision that attracted a new audience.
Scheduling issue, budget restraints and getting things done to tight deadlines seem to work against him for the most part as not only did he write the series he also produced it too and you do get the sense from the emails that he bit off more than he could chew a lot of the time. If producing and writing a show like Doctor Who wasn't already big enough he also had deadlines to meet and production meetings to attend for Torchwood and Sarah Jane and it is actually remarkable that he did manage to pull everything together whilst taking the time to email someone his thoughts and ideas at the same time. By reading this book I gained a true insight and look into his hectic world and I have a lot more respect for him now that I had when I was 'just' a viewer.
I am under no illusion that the book is quite as open and honest as it probably would have been if it hadn't been scrutinised and checked before publication. It isn't watered down by any means but realistically it must have gone through a rigorous check before being allowed to be sold to the general public. Although you do discover a lot you can bet that there is plenty that had to be removed or edited and whilst that isn't a criticism of the book as a whole (I thoroughly enjoyed it) it does show Russell T Davies in a very good light (and in my opinion rightly so)
At 704 pages it's certainly a book that would take even the most dedicated reader some time to get through; I found it a book that I picked up every so often to read a chapter or two before putting back down as you are essentially reading emails that have been sent by two people. The book is set out in clear, separate chapters with sections covering a period of just under two years and does feature plenty of photographs and illustrations too.
I would never describe the book as 'gripping' as it isn't fiction and therefore by its nature it isn't a page-turner but what it does give you is a behind the scenes look at a successful TV show. The books dimensions are larger than a standard fiction book with the paperback version (this is what I have) measuring 23cm by 15.4cm and is 5cm thick so it is on the heavy side too which proves awkward if wanting to read for an extended period of time.
For me this was fascinating and a truly interesting read and one that I thoroughly enjoyed. It will appeal to older, adult fans of the show (there are discussions that won't be suitable for children especially when Davies goes off topic and talks about his personal life) and there are instances where bad language is used, so do bear this in mind if wanting to give as a gift.
My copy being the updated version of the book features a different cover to the one shown above, mine has Russell T Davies stood between David Tennant (The Doctor) and John Sim (The Master) and has a band of text running beneath the picture saying "The definitive story of the BBC series updated with over 300 pages of new material" This version is available from Amazon for the bargain price of £8.50 which for me was a superb price.
To conclude then, a perfect 5/5 dooyoo star rating from me and a definite recommendation - if you are a fan of the show or wanting to get some tips from a successful scriptwriter then it is a must-read.
Thanks for reading my review.
Before buying this I read the write ups and they all said something like
"Any aspiring writer should read this book" or "Any Who fan should read this book"
And yes, they should, but The Writers Tale is just as relevent for anyone who has ever wondered what goes on in TV, or is simply interested in the way other people think.
This is one of those all too rare books where you get true insight into not just a person but a whole industry, and is probably the most honest book I have ever read being as it is just a collection of emails sent between Ben Cook and Russell T Davies.
Davies pulls no punches when talking about the processes of writing, admitting that there is no right way to write, and expressing his dislike of those who say that there is.
It is fascinating to see TV royalty struggle with the same doubts that we all have, and wrestle with his perpetual procrastination, and google himself to be met with spirit-sapping forum posts.
This book also deals with his descision to stop with Dr Who, and the bringing in of Stephen Moffat, and it is touching to see how these descisions were made, and how it affects him.
The script pages gave it a new dimension for me, I was so interested to see things the way they could have been.
Purely from a design point of view this is a lovely book as well, chunky with smooth pages and nice pictures- it will make a nice addition to anyones bookshelf or coffee table.
I have been a fan of Doctor Who since I was a young child in the 1970s and over the years, I have read probably hundreds of Doctor Who related books - biographies, autobiographies, novelisations and so on. But I can honestly say, The Writer's Tale is the best Doctor Who book I have ever read!
It is written by Russell T Davies (who has also written such famous television series as Queer as Folk and The Second Coming, as well as the new Doctor Who, Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures) and Benjamin Cook. The project began as a series of emails between Russell and Ben and this format is the basis of The Writer's Tale.
Ben wanted to find out more about the process of writing Doctor Who from the initial ideas through the casting process, script writing, filming and editing. This is the side few of us see. We sit there enjoying the final television programme, blissfully unaware of all the hours of toil behind each one. I certainly found the book revealing, enlightening, informative and compelling reading.
We follow Russell from February 2007 until April 2008. This concentrates on Series Four of Doctor Who and the 2007 Christmas special which guest starred Kylie Minogue.
When Russell first starts writing for this series, the companion has not been cast and he writes her as a character called Penny Carter. Partway through this process, Catherine Tate says she would like to do a full series, so the companion role is changed to her as returning character Donna Noble.
In each chapter, there are revelations which I found fascinating. It took me quite a while to read the book, because I wanted to take everything in and savour it. My husband, however, breezed through the 512 pages in a weekend. He loved it too.
The writing style is easy to read and mostly light-hearted, fun and witty. You can really see the rapport that Russell and Ben have and it makes their words a joy to read. Occasionally though, we see Russell's darker moments and these can be quite upsetting and moving. He takes his writing extremely seriously and works his whole social life out around his job (not the other way round) and can become very intense. This just made me love him more, as you can see how important things are to him, but it can be hard to read these parts and some of them are not suitable for young children. (Teens and above only!)
We met Russell and Ben when they did the book signing tour recently and this is where we bought our copy of The Writer's Tale from (Borders, Bristol), plus one for my Dad for Christmas. We got ours signed and both Russell and Ben were wonderful, absolutely fantastic! We really enjoyed meeting them and presumably they enjoyed meeting us too, as I got name-checked in Russell's column in the following issue of Doctor Who Magazine! Wow!
I would definitely recommend the book, as it offers something that no other Doctor Who book has to date. It really makes you appreciate how much work goes into the programme and how many people are involved. One of the most moving parts is when the actor who plays Donna's father becomes increasingly ill and then dies. They change the role to Donna's grandfather and recast Bernard Cribbins in the part.
Despite the sad parts, the tone of the whole book is one of fun and humour and - like Russell T Davies himself - it's large, warm and big-hearted with oodles of affection for Doctor Who, its cast, crew and history.
If it has any disadvantages, they are small. For me, I found reading pages of script tiring at times, so had to break it up into shorter reading sessions for those bits. It did add something to my enjoyment of the final televised stories though and I was pleased our Series Four DVD boxset arrived shortly after, so I could reacquaint myself with the stories, after reading The Writer's Tale.
Overall, this is an excellent book. It has charm and offers something brand new. I think few of us reading this would envy Russell his job or fail to understand why he decided to leave. There are a few contributions from incoming Doctor Who guru Steven Moffatt, but no mentions of who David Tennant's replacement will be. (Though rumours lean very strongly towards Paterson Joseph.)
While you're eagerly awaiting the 2008 Doctor Who Christmas Special, buy The Writer's Tale and enjoy!
The Writer's Tale by Russell T Davies and Benjamin Cook has a cover price of £30 for the hardback, but Amazon are currently selling it for £15.76.