By: Russell T. Davies and Benjamin Cook
Date Finished: 03.02.12
(Yes, I do realize this is the only way to make a book blog even nerdier.)
This book is extraordinary. It is a book about Doctor Who that does not analyze Doctor Who. It is a book about writing that does not analyze writing. In fact, it is not a traditional book, rather an extended conversation via email.
On February 18, 2007 Benjamin Cook of Doctor Who Magazine emailed Russell T. Davies, head writer of Doctor Who with an idea: “How about a magazine article on the writing of one or more of your Doctor Who scripts? The nuts and bolts of the process, from start to finish.” Later that day, Davies replied, “Well, that’s a yes, then. You had me at hello.” Thus began a two-and-a-half year correspondence.
(A little background… this email exchange occured as Davies was starting work on Series 4. It quickly surpassed the length of a magazine article, leading Davies and Cook to publish “The Great Correspondence” as a book instead. The original Writer’s Tale covered only Series 4, but during that year, Davies formally decided to leave the show and chose a successor (Steven Moffat). In fact, most members of the creative team passed on their roles to new people. To give the new team a chance to nail down their vision for the future, the show took a year off between Series 4 and 5. Davies and the old team stayed to provide a few specials to fill the space and lead up to the regeneration into a new actor for the Doctor. As such, Davies and Cook extended their discussions until Davies physically left the show. The book I read (The Final Chapter) includes the original book and a second book’s worth of emails from that final year.)
There are similar books out there — Scott Westerfeld’s From Bogus to Bubbly is a prime example — but nothing touches on writing as deeply as this. Westerfeld’s book is wonderful and gives great insight into the writing process, but it’s told in retrospect. It’s a tidied up version — smartly arranged and with the luxury of distance. The Writer’s Tale was written in real time. It shows writing in the midst of deadlines, shooting schedules, actor availability, and shipping containers falling on set pieces. It shows writing in the midst of weddings, funerals, chicken pox, and hospitalizations. Nothing else comes close. And nothing else can come close. If a writer were to publish their journal, it might be interesting, but flat, compared to this. The richness of this book lies in the banter, the smart feedback, and the utmost honesty. Cook constantly poses difficult, but insightful questions and Davies answers without hesitation. Both men are truly remarkable.
Of course, if you’ve never watched the show, this book is one big spoiler. As a (huge) fan of the show, I found the book almost more suspenseful than a traditional story because I knew the ending. But how does he get to that moment I so love?? Plus, it’s downright hilarious. Their reactions to the most absurd situations had me literally hooting. (I don’t “hoot” often, but it’s one of Davies’ favorite terms and the most appropriate description.) More often than not, the funny bits came along as I was reading in public — why does that always happen? Embarrassing. But, oh, so worth it.
If you’ve never watched the show, it’s worth doing so, just for the chance to enjoy this book.
At the end of the day: Really, really for me.