The Writer’s Tale: The Final Chapter (2010)
Russell T Davies & Benjamin Cook
BBC Books, 704pp
There are many hundreds of books about writing – some of them are very good indeed. When I taught creative writing at university, I used to wax lyrical about Stephen King’s On Writing, but also about E.M Forster’s Aspects of the Novel and Dorothea Brande’s Becoming a Writer. To that inestimable list I can now add The Writer’s Tale by Doctor Who head Russell T Davies.
When this book first appeared in 2008, it was hailed as a masterpiece. Included in top ten lists at the end of the year, appearing on Richard and Judy’s Book Club list and read by millions of Doctor Who fans, I was a little wary that it would be too populist, contain not nearly enough about the actual writing process. I did not buy it then. When Russell T Davies completed his final episodes for David Tennant, they updated the book, and it was declared even richer in content. Now I had to have a look.
Constructed around an email correspondence between RTD (as he’s known) and Doctor Who Monthly editor Benjamin Cook – he requested RTD to deconstruct his writing process over the course of one episode that became a two year analysis in writing, living and thinking. That this is a book about Doctor Who is almost incidental: the lessons one can learn from this invaluable tome can be applied to any form of TV writing. As someone looking to begin a career in the BBC very soon, it has been an eye-opener and primer for what I can expect.
It is also very, very funny. This was the biggest surprise – though it shouldn’t have been, for RTD’s scripts have always been funny (a small aside: I’ve followed RTD’s writing career since 1999 when Queer as Folk showed me that there was more to TV than the serial killer dramas and dull action movies my family thoroughly enjoyed. I think I enjoyed that show all the more as I had to watch it in secret, at two in the morning, and couldn’t talk to anybody about it as all my friends and family were/are homophobic and so I related to Nathan Malone and his journey, and boy did I laugh with them too) and this book is just as funny: his lift journey at the NT Awards with Liz Sladen and the rest made me buckle over with splitting sides.
If one has even the slightest interest in writing, Doctor Who, the television industry, then The Writer’s Tale is an absolute must. I’d recommend you watch the finished products of David Tennant’s final episodes as The Doctor, as it illuminates those moments wonderfully: and made me keen to sit through them all again.