THE WRITER'S TALE (even more of it) - Russell T Davies & Benjamin Cook


I was cruising through the Outpost Gallifrey Doctor Who Forum towards the end of last week, double-taking at threads like "Which Doctor Had The Nicest Hair" and of course the chatter was all about Helen Raynor. According to Russell in The Writer's Tale, Helen, poor girl, had decided to lower the visor on her Fan Shield and actually brave the forum to see what 'they' thought about her two Dalek episodes after they'd gone out .

I'll let Russell explain:

"More and more, with every writer. It’s those internet message boards. The forums. They destroy writers. The job is full of doubt already, but now there is a whole new level of fear, shouting at us. It is now a writer’s job, like it or not, to put up with it. It’s like when Helen Raynor went on Outpost Gallifrey last month and read the reviews of her two Dalek episodes.

She said that she was, literally, shaking afterwards. Like she’d been physically assaulted. I’m not exaggerating. She said it was like being in a pub when a fight breaks out next to you. I had to spend two hours on the phone to her, talking her out of it, convincing her that of course she can write, that we do need her and want her. That bastard internet voice gets into writers’ heads and destabilizes them massively."
Hang on...I'd better check that my ramblings didn't induce her intestines to leap up and strangle her brain. Er...no, I described Daleks In Manhattan as "a terrifyingly dark piece of Doctor Who, atmospheric, scary and with well realised supporting characters" but I was less charitable about the concluding part, Evolution Of The Daleks: "it looked spectacular but the illogic of some of the plotting, some of the odd directorial choices and an over-repetition of Doctor/Dalek confrontation cliche made it a less effective episode than the first part. Its plunge into surreal 'Rocky Horror' B movie territory, whilst a template that is suitable to the material and its themes of mad science and 1930s Gothic noir, doesn't do any favours to the emotional power needed for the characters to operate in the scale of this story. It felt flat despite all the best efforts."
Helen dared to write about Daleks and Pig Men. She's a girl and what do girls know about Doctor Who? Well, the ones I've met know plenty.


Phew. That's OK. Helen, call off the dogs! It was constructive. I didn't hurl the hideous, misogynistic abuse that left her "shaking", according to Russell. My theory is that she went into the 'Rate The Episode' thread and not the 'Reviews' section. The former is usually a cess-pit of inarticulate bile with no redeeming or constructive features to its credit. It's full of monosyballic grunting and, frighteningly, many hormonally challenged male fans who still haven't got over the fact that a person called Verity actually produced one of the greatest television shows on Earth. Verity was a woman, for heaven's sake! Helen dared to write about Daleks and Pig Men. She's a girl and what do girls know about Doctor Who!? Well, the ones I've met know plenty.

What this then leads to in Russell's book is his view that critics, particularly women-hating old farts on a Doctor Who forum, aren't important. It's their own importance that they're interested in and essentially they're just typing at each other and the artists they are ranting about shouldn't give a fuck about what they say. Quite right too. Any young writer stumbling into that bear-pit would be reduced to tears. It's a shame because Helen, Russell and any number of other production personnel might walk away from such forums with a distorted view of online opinion and the perpetrators will still feel it is absolutely fine to froth at the mouth with what is, at the end of the day, personal abuse rather than genuine critique. The trouble is, since last year, the forum has ditched the 'Reviews' section. It's actually ditched the one place where sane, intelligent people can actually write about Doctor Who without insulting anyone. Well, almost anyone. The forum now lacks that balancing principle and the 'Rate It' threads hold full sway every time an episode is aired. One of the reasons I was here for Series 4 and not there. God, it always worries me as a reviewer that I could be hurting someone's feelings with a disingenuous remark. I just wouldn't do it.
He didn't give it a moment's thought how Gatiss might have felt. Is this something that comes out of that toughening up process, d'you think? He doesn't do 'domestic', does our Russell.
Russell essentially says that young writers will have to go through this baptism of fire in order to toughen up and that fan critics in particular are just absent fathers at the birth of any piece of art or culture who can only carp on after the baby has taken its first steps into the world. Helen, contact the CSA and make 'em pay. Go on the attack, as Russell suggests. All this comes at the end of the Bastards chapter. It's a chapter that left me simultaneously ashamed of my fan status, sorry for any writer involved in the show and bewildered by Russell's icy hard-heartedness. When Ben asks Russell if he thinks he's a bit of a bastard himself, Russell reveals a side of himself that I think will change your perception of him. He actually comes across as callous. It's not deliberate and he does proffer a number of examples where he has worked with other professionals in the industry who he now has, for all intents and purposes, disowned. There's a moment where Julie Gardner has to remind him that he may upset writer Mark Gatiss, who has been beavering away on a script for a year, when he drops the story entirely. He didn't give it a moment's thought how Gatiss might have felt. It didn't occur to him that Gatiss might have felt aggrieved. Is this something that comes out of that toughening up process, d'you think? He doesn't do 'domestic', does our Russell.



Anyway, in the following two chapters, Int. Spaceship and Live And Let Die, the angst over writing the Christmas special gives way to a rapid succession of script pages. My God, when he finally gets going, he churns the pages out. In the space of just under three weeks the script is written. It makes for fascinating reading as he goes back to the start every time and revises before adding anything new. He's also got pressures on him from the art department and The Mill who basically are telling him he's gone way over budget and has to cut, cut, cut. What emerges is a writer with a laser precision in reducing pages and extraneous scenes both for narrative sense and budgetary restrictions. He's like a surgeon.
"That's why, in this gay lark, I stress visibility. Change the law, have education classes, do whatever you want, just be seen."
In the middle of it all, he turns down George Lucas and the chance to do Series 5, has dinner with Kylie, swoons at Russell Tovey and covets Charlie Hunnam's arse. Scripts for Torchwood get abandoned, some polished and rewritten for Sarah-Jane whilst he gets jealous about Peter Morgan's Longford script. There's also a very interesting analogy between creating visual images and homophobia:
"The simple image thing is right at the root of homophobia too. The fundamental image of life, of family, of childhood, of survival, is man and woman. Every story, every myth, every image reinforces that. Even the images of the real world reinforce that, because, statistically, heterosexuality is the norm. It's the default. It's the icon. Man/man or woman/woman disrupts a fundamental childhood image. Homophobia does seem to come from some gut instinct that's beyond the religious or the physical act or whatever. It's primal, and I think that's from the pictures. It's from what we see and what we're shown. That's why, in this gay lark, I stress visibility. Change the law, have education classes, do whatever you want, just be seen."
Bringing us back to the Outpost Gallifrey forum again. If I had a pound for every post or thread that whinged about Russell turning the series 'gay', or inappropriate gay humour or imagery, or some kind of fifth column 'gay agenda' running the show...well then, I wouldn't be on here talking to you lot. I'd be a very, very rich man. There is homophobia on those forums and I do wonder if it is simply because Doctor Who really has become that disruptive in what it now dares to show a family audience? Long may it do so, I say.

Ironically, there's now a "Helen Raynor Apology Thread" on the OG forum. Bloody hypocrites. "Oh we're sorry, Ms Raynor for being absolute c**ts...". I'll be back with more. Yes, more! I know, I'm going to town on this book but it's that good. Look if you're bleeding from the ears just post a comment saying 'Stop You Bastard' and I'll get the message. Until then...

Comments
2 Responses to “THE WRITER'S TALE (even more of it) - Russell T Davies & Benjamin Cook”
  1. Scott says:

    Frank,

    I have been following this via RSS having greatly enjoyed your Behind the Sofa reviews, and I'd like to thank you for the blog generally - and the posts on this book in particular.

    I'd read lots about this book, but your posts are the first that have made me want to own it.

    Keep up the excellent blogging work,

    best wishes

    Scott

  2. FRANK says:

    Hello Scott.

    Many thanks for the comments. I really appreciate that you're enjoying the blog, especially my ongoing commentary on 'The Writer's Tale'. I'm in bed with Russell and Ben right now (Russell takes up most of the bed) and about to read the next three chapters and I'll no doubt have much more to say tomorrow. It's a terrific book, inspirational especially if you're a writer. And very funny. It's certainly allowed me to put much more of my own personality into the review, which can't be a bad thing.

    More to come, so drop by again.

    F

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