THE WRITER'S TALE (the finale) - Russell T Davies & Benjamin Cook

And now, the end is near...and so I face the final chapter. Sped through the last four chapters and closed the book with a very satisfactory snap. Rather like the series does, I'm going to go backwards in time for this, the last part of the review. My audience has probably dwindled to one old fella and his cat by now but I never said it would be easy.

It's really not that obvious and perhaps some real emphasis on Rose falling for the double of the Doctor would have helped.
A post-chicken pox/bronchitis suffering Russell, having delivered the two part finale of The Stolen Earth and Journey's End manages to offer some words of encouragement from his death bed strewn with flowers and pictures of Russell Tovey. He's just conceded to Ben that the original ending to Journey's End is a load of cyber-bollocks and dilutes the utter bleakness of Donna's fate. It'll have to go.


"You ask how a writer finds their voice. Everyone has a voice, in life and in print, but finding it in print takes time. There's no technique for finding it, I don't think, and it's never 100% individual. Yes, imitate like hell. Everyone does. But I'm not sure that it happens on purpose; it's a natural process. We all do it in speech, maybe even with thought. I can hear conversational riffs in my speech patterns that are from my friends, dozens of people, and writing is the same. Gaining a voice, whatever that is, comes with experience and practice - and the writing, again, is indivisible from the person. Your voice tends to be something that other people talk about, about you. It's not something you think about much yourself, and certainly not whilst writing.

You find your voice by writing, by experience. It doesn't matter what exactly you're writing, just that you are writing."
If there's one piece of scripting that's been contentious in the finale, it has to be the scene back at Bad Wolf bay where Rose is left in the parallel universe. For me, personally, that scene still does not work. It postulates that Rose will settle for the duplicate Doctor even though we know she actually wants to go off with the original version in the TARDIS. In Time For Heroes, the final chapter, Russell himself admits that the scene really doesn't work. And tries and tries to fix it. The compromise is the last draft where he tweaks the script so that the choice falls to Rose to go with the duplicate Doctor simply by asking which of them can openly acknowledge their love for her. The duplicate Doctor can, as he's half human, whereas the original can't or won't. The filmed version still doesn't work for me - it still feels that it happens too quickly. If the idea of Rose loving the duplicate Doctor had been gracefully introduced into the narrative, say, at the start of The Stolen Earth then just maybe that scene would work. As Russell himself confesses:
"It's too complicated. Emotionally, I mean. It has no echo, no response, it's empty sci-fi. When the Doctor and Rose were separated into parallel universes in Doomsday, that felt like every love you've ever lost. But when you've been separated into different universes, but now have a double of the man that you loved, who's not quite the same, but who's better because he's mortal, but worse because he's not the original...well, you're going beyond human experience. There's no parallel with real life. No equation. Therefore, no feeling."


He tweaks the original, which still includes the original Doctor handing over a piece of TARDIS to his double so he can grow his own, but I still think that despite some slight improvements that it's also down to the editorial choices after filming too. Russell is convinced that Billie is channeling some lust for the double of the Doctor earlier in the filmed finale to try and get the concept over but I don't see it myself. It's really not that obvious and perhaps some real emphasis on Rose falling for the double of the Doctor would have helped. In the end, no matter how hard he's tried to fix that scene it still cheapens the drama of the original separation in Doomsday.

As well as sacrificing the Cybermen conclusion (wisely, may I say) and the grow your own TARDIS bit, he also slices away a flashback to Skaro and a young Davros and a gathering of aliens at the Shadow Proclamation as well as Judoon ships battling Dalek saucers. Much of it is a question of money. Mind you, he manages to save some little moments that otherwise would have bitten the dust in the edit because Julie's managed to get the go ahead from Jane Tranter to make Journey's End 60 minutes long.
It's torture reading the emails as he jumps through various hoops over a scene that will eventually be compromised in the final version.
In Day Old Blues he's stressing over the fact that he can't work out what to do with all the elements he's gathering for the finale. The whole problem with flagging up the relationship between Rose and the double Doctor to the audience first rears its ugly head here. If Rose is going to spend the rest of her life with this Doctor then she needs to be in the TARDIS with him when he pops into existence. So should she be there with Donna at the same time? He doesn't take that option and consequently we get Rose choosing to be with the double after only getting to know him for ten minutes. A point that isn't lost on Russell:
"If I don't take that option, she'll have to meet Doctor 2 in the last ten minutes. Pretty quick to fall in love. So, right, take that option - but that requires Donna to bond with the hand-in-a-jar, then think no more of it, waltz out of the TARDIS, with the original Doctor, to become Davros' prisoner, leaving the Doctor 2 birth to happen as if she had nothing to do with it. That's wrong. That's very wrong."


It's torture reading the emails as he jumps through various hoops over a scene that will eventually be compromised in the final version. There's also a rather heart-felt email, (he does have feelings, readers) where he discusses letting himself down in his private life rather than in his working life. I know a number of you will roll your eyes at that bit and swear you can hear sad violins but it does show how much he has put his own life on hold for the sake of his craft and the series. And I think he really means it. As well as the development of Journey's End, the book also takes us, via the chapter The Christmas Invasion through the construction of The Stolen Earth and his efforts in preventing it being an empty runaround with spaceships. Ben suggests a tweak to the original Bernard Cribbins inspired scene where Wilf paintballs the Dalek by reminding Russell of the classic 'My vision is impaired' catchphrase. An entire Dalek descent on Westminster also bites the dust as does a cameo from Russell Tovey as Midshipman Frame.
He's being paid to be the face of Doctor Who, isn't he?. It comes with the territory.
At the end of Holding The Line, there's a long email about his experience at the launch party for Voyage Of The Damned. It's vitriolic. Splenetic. It covers four pages and is probably the longest single rant in the whole book. The press, Tory MPs, gay fans and the actual quality of the screening are on the receiving end of his acid tongue. He's clearly not enjoying it and many people would quite rightly say he should bloody well force himself. He's being paid to be the face of Doctor Who, isn't he?. It comes with the territory. It's difficult to be sympathetic. However, during the Q&A he's dreading an awkward question and he does recount a previous journalist from The Times criticising the Cybermen two parter for its Motorola product placement.


"He accused the crew of being corrupt, of accepting back-handers. And it escalated. The day after that, The Times phoned Motorola and other mobile companies asking if they had illegal deals with the Doctor Who crew, while we had to send the episode back to The Mill for all accidentally seen logos to be digitally removed, at quite some cost."
Russell's so freaked out by the launch party that the morning after, as he makes his way to a Soho editing house, carrying his evening wear on a hanger, he doesn't know that his trousers slip off it. He then has to retrace his steps, on discovering his lost trousers, asking at each cafe and restaurant, "Have you seen my trousers?". Tragi-comic - that's the making of Doctor Who. Days before, he's also had to watch as the media juggernaut of Doctor Who goes into sheer panic as Catherine Tate inadvertently claims in an interview that this would be David's last series. It has consequences and if you recall the TV coverage of the launch the media besieged David with the same old routine about when he was leaving the series. Different day, same old shit. In the midst of this, there is also a page devoted to the emails between Russell and Steven as they finally get up the courage to talk to each other about handing over the show to Moffat.


It doesn't matter. We know he's adept at this sort of subterfuge and it isn't malicious.
Which neatly brings us back to the future. Russell hears from Steven later that he's already started writing the first episode of Series 5. If the writing isn't on the wall then it most definitely is on Moffat's hard drive. The end is near...final curtain...party's over. I started reading The Writer's Tale rather foolishly thinking I might know a little bit about Russell T Davies but what's clear is that the great unwashed masses (I'm a squeaky clean mass, if you don't mind) are in for a surprise. He's a moody old bugger, often ruthless and bloody-minded. I really do wonder how much of the longer email discussions were actually emails because I do think a lot of the considered, thought provoking stuff is more than off the cuff, wee small hours of the morning banter. It doesn't matter. We know he's adept at this sort of subterfuge and it isn't malicious. It's more an instinct for survival because it's very telling that he's worn out, tired and ready to call it a day by the end of the book. And he's still lovable Uncle Rusty.

If you're interested in writing or you're already writing then the book's worth reading. It isn't a self-help manual. It's just Uncle Russell taking the lid off the top of his head and sharing his thoughts with you. With the outpourings comes wisdom, humour, self-doubt and insecurity. And lots of truly lovely photographs, a clean, crisp design from Clayton Hickman and some of Russell's own cartoons. To paraphrase: "How marvellous!"

Signing off. Hope you enjoyed...what...four days of sharing?

(Thanks to Blogtor Who for the two Cybermen pictures, timeandspace.co.uk, Wired blog and Organ Grinder for the screengrabs...big mmmwwwahhh to you all!)

Comments
6 Responses to “THE WRITER'S TALE (the finale) - Russell T Davies & Benjamin Cook”
  1. Anonymous says:

    thanks for posting this series.

  2. FRANK says:

    You're very welcome. I hope you enjoyed it.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Many thanks for the reviews of the book, Frank- enjoyed reading them immensely, as I'm sure I'll enjoy reading the book itself, although I am starting to worry about not necessarily liking Russell by the end of it!

    One thing I'd disagree with both you and Russell about is the emotional truth of the Rose/Other Doctor departure scene- for me it echoes the way that many people end up with partners who resemble former partners, with both knowing that it will never be as special as the original relationship, but that the new partner will actually work, whereas any relationship with the original is doomed. In many ways it matches the bleakness of Donna's fate, although it lacks the epicness of the finale to Doomsday.

    Lee

  4. FRANK says:

    Thanks Lee.

    On the issue that you raise, RTD and Ben discuss exactly your point. I think in fact that Ben raises that with Russell. I can't remember Russell's response but I'll dig it up and put a further reply in.

  5. Based on the reviews I went out and bought this just before Christmas (when it was apparent no relatives were taking the hint!). Many thanks for the detailed reviews that led to that - because it was a most enlightening read, which when followed up by the Charlie Brooker interviews (which I recorded and watched after) had me fearing for Arty Dobe's health. I fear he's burning himself out - which is sad for British telly because lots of the points he makes throughout (learned at the feet fo Paul Abbot?) make clear why the Second Coming and QUeer as Folk were such enjoyable and uplifting pieces of telly.

    My one concern - as a big Rosenthal and Potter fan - is how Arty's suggestions would apply to some of the great pieces they produced - or how his principles would apply to my favourite modern TV Dramatist, Tony Marchant, whose work seems more leisurely paced in comparison? I'd be interested to know what you think.

  6. FRANK says:

    I think he's tired with Doctor Who. It is time for him to go and do something completely different. I think the point of the book is that he isn't telling anyone how to write for television and nor is he saying that the way he writes is the one example to follow. For me, you couldn't apply his principles to Rosenthal and Potter. They are very different writers and both of whom wrote during a period in television that pretty much gave you carte blanche to write what you wanted. Much of Rosenthal and Potters work wouldn't be commissioned today. The thing they share is each having a particularly unique voice. Potter is similar to RTD only in that they both recycle ideas to death and Potter towards the end wrote as a form of abuse therapy which I can easily see RTD doing too.

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