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

Lotus position. Focus. Right. After me. 'Russell T Davies Is Not God'...oh,oh,oh, calm, calm. That's right. 'Russell T Davies Is Not God'...keep going. Lovely, deep breaths. That's it. Ready? Clench those buttocks. Breathe. Mmmmmmm. And 'Russell T Davies Is An Egomaniac'...shush, shush...calm down. No, you're losing, crap....'RTD MUST GO'....'RTD MUST GO'....'HE IS A BASTARD'...fuck. We were doing so well. No...buttocks...clench...calm. Clench your bum for Davies...? Oh, no. That's tantamount to an invitation.

He's moody, sulky, bitter, unfeeling and domineering. He likes to primp his ego.
Not working, is it? The hordes of the internet are slagging seven kinds of shite out of Mr. Davies and now share a smug expression amongst their massed ranks. That 'we told you so' expression. The Anorak Zone forum (I mean, you are really asking for trouble calling yourself the Anorak Zone, aren't you) has been rubbing its collective hands together in glee over cross-patch Russell's attack on Outpost Gallifrey in The Writer's Tale. Basically, because they've got away with sticking their own knives into Nu-Who (I loathe that expression. I'll need a bit of correctional self-flagellation for using that on here). Silly sods. Before I regale you with the action replay of the last few chapters, let's get one thing straight. Russell is not God. He's moody, sulky, bitter, unfeeling and domineering. He likes to primp his ego. He's two faced. He is removed from reality (yes, Anorak Zone, I concede that one) but then he's been locked in the BBC's Doctor Who ivory tower for four years and The Writer's Tale isn't subtle in telling you he wants out. Wouldn't it send you doolalley?! And guess what? We'll (yes, that's me included) probably do all this again with Steven Moffat in about four years from now. Better start now. The Moff Must Go! Steven? Are...are you there?

C'est la vie. Que sera sera (yeah, I've gone all Doris Day on your asses and so has Russell by the looks of him)...

"We still cling to the notion of the writer-eccentric, which is a bloody nightmare on set."
Partners In Crime is done. The pages flood across to Ben Cook, Sarah Lancashire gets the Super Nanny role and Peter Fincham, the soon to be ex-controller of BBC1, has lost the plot with all the plans for the 2009 specials and is stuck in Queen-gate. Next thing is, he's cleared his desk and gone. Steven Moffat meets Jane Tranter and Jana Bennett and says 'yes!' to the Big Chair. Well, as long as Russell runs a damp cloth over it. Meanwhile, Ben asks Russell the more important questions about the different drafts that each script goes through and how Russell demarks between his roles as producer and writer:
"I do find it easy to divorce my two roles. With my producer's hat on (it's lemon), if a scene becomes impossible or expensive or is simply dropped on the day because they ran out of time, then I can score a great big line through it. Even if I loved it. I won't moan or bleat or feel any substantial regret. It's something that writers in this country need to be trained in, like in the US. We still cling to the notion of the writer-eccentric, which is a bloody nightmare on set. That sort of writer kicks up a fuss if a character is wearing a white shirt instead of a blue one. That sort of writer shouldn't be allowed near filming. Mind you, that writer-eccentric does allow you to get away with murder. Writers are allowed, professionally to be stroppy and weird and angry and demanding and petulant and oversexed and drunk. As long as your writing is good, that behaviour is sort of revered. Even expected. We're allowed to misbehave, because it's seen as creative, like it's part of the job. Rubbish!"
Me thinks the lady doth protest too much. One of the things fans have observed, and it's something Russell has admitted to, is his capacity for telling lies. OK, so it's not as outrageous as sniffing coke on set, but it's part and parcel of the outwardly facing Davies personna - the big, gay, eccentric Welsh bloke who says 'Marvellous' and 'Hurray' at the drop of hat with that cheeky grin and glint in his eye - and it does make you wonder how much of the above he actually gets away with. Note the 'we're allowed to misbehave' so he's obviously including himself there. I stopped reading at that point because I realised that the book I was eagerly devouring might well be a tissue of lies, a masterful manipulation of the said correspondence between him and Ben. "Don't believe every word, then", I muttered to myself.

Russell comments on the appointments of Steven and Piers, "Shall I lie and say that they're both complete bastards and Doctor Who is doomed?"
There's a tinge of sadness in the chapter Still Fighting It at the news that Howard Attfield having returned as Donna's dad, whose illness Russell has noted, is struggling gamely with his chemo to try and film Partners In Crime. By the 16th October 2007, Howard's illness has prompted his wife to call and declare, "I think we'd better stop". Whilst casting Bernard Cribbins as Wilf to take his place in the series, Russell is touting his Midnight script to replace the recently dropped Tom MacRae episode and has got the nod from Phil and Julie to complete it. Filming on Partners In Crime final TARDIS scene is made difficult by lots of Welsh drunks, the need to add some lines in for Jacqueline King and the question of extras for the scene of the Adipose levitating to their nursery ship. And enter Piers Wenger, the new exec that will replace Julie. Russell comments on the appointments of Steven and Piers, "Shall I lie and say that they're both complete bastards and Doctor Who is doomed?" ( I now fear I can't tell when Russell is telling fibs - is that like a comedy lie, or a proper lie or a double bluff?).

The chapter Steven Moffat's Thighs delves into timey-wimey parallel worlds stuff in a flurry of mail between him and Moffat dissecting Donna's life in the parallel world of the Library. Ben also asks about the dos and don'ts of using flashbacks and voiceovers:
"The techniques are too often being used to disguise the truth, the real story, the heart of the script. It's all pyrotechnics and glitter, fuelled by insecurity. That 'Where do you start the story? ' question can become so overwhelming that the writer goes mad, firing out shots all over the place. If I'm reading something new, especially by someone new, I want to know that they can write, I want to know how their characters talk, how the pace skips along, how the story hooks me, how passionate the writer is, how much I feel the whole thing. I'm not interested in admiring the artifice and thinking, oh, that's clever."
Well, that's buggered my career then. Ben also asks him about his pet hates that might drive other writers mad. He loathes dream sequences and cites Matt Jones' script for The Impossible Planet as an example where this didn't work for him at all. Jones wrote a sequence that took place inside Rose's head and Davies didn't believe it had any dramatic merit and threw it out. That and the television cliche of people storming out of rooms, never saying 'Bye' at the end of phone conversations, characters arranging to go out to the cinema or a restaurant and not actually properly making the arrangement. Davies ends that particular email, "I, of course, make no mistakes ever. Er..."

And that's your lot for today. The very last part of this review will be here at the weekend. Christ, I've got to end it somehow and review something else or I'll go mad. Even Merlin is beginning to appeal...till next time.

(Thanks to After Elton, Broadcast,, Eamon McCabe and The Guardian for photos, clips and screengrabs. A big mwwwwahhh! to you all.)

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

    Ahem. I happen to be one of those
    "silly sods" at the Anorak Zone.

    Our problem with Outpost Gallifrey is not that it is pro-RTD, but that our members have gathered numerous instances of people on OG being bullied and harassed for expressing any opinions even mildly critical of RTD. Hence the amusing irony of RTD singling out that site for attack, and also launching into a Luddite tirade against Internet forums as well. The man makes a program that gets millions of viewers:why is he fixated on what a few hundred people on forums think? I suspect it's because Russell is a control freak who doesn't want to allow any criticism of his work.Hence his
    attacks on the members of the gay community who were unhappy with
    "Bob and Rose" as well.

    You should know we also have several posters on the AZ who quite like Russell and his work, and there no bullying or harassing of them. Many of them actually prefer the AZ to OG, despite the former's "negative" reputation.

  2. Hi, Vector-Victor.

    I absolutely agree with you about the way a certain group of posters on OG leap on anyone who dares to express an anti-RTD opinion. I also agree that having a general swipe at internet forums, RTD is basically criticising people who also write very intelligent reviews about his work. I think the way Helen Raynor was treated on OG especially was shocking behaviour. And he's right to criticise them. He has no right however to tar every forum's posters with the same brush.

    In fact, I've distanced myself from OG in recent months simply because the opportunities to put forward constructive arguments, often negative ones, is no longer an option on OG. As soon as they archived their Reviews section I knew it would get worse. And it did. And I know for a fact that a large contingent of OG members have now set up breakaway forums of their own. I certainly set this blog up as a result of it too.

    Reviewing 'The Writer's Tale' certainly opened my eyes to many of RTD's faults, some of which I think he is very well aware of and some of which he buries his head in the sand about. It wasn't just 'Bob And Rose' where he had a go at the gay community. He ignored a great deal of criticism about 'Queer As Folk' too.

    His attack on OG is an amusing irony from television's biggest control freak, I'll agree. By the way, don't take the 'silly sod' bit personally. And please keep visiting and commenting.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for the comments.

    I've never actually visited Outpost Gallifrey's forums,but the general concensus would seem to be that the problems with "constructive
    arguments" you describe are an issue. The other forums I visit-
    AZ, Timelord, Digital Spy-don't let people get bullied for expressing
    unpopular opinions about Doctor
    I have seen rec.arts.drwho, however, and it's pretty awful-bascially people typing obscenties
    at each other. If RTD wanted to make DW fandom look bad,he should have gone there.

    The Helen Raynor thing-hmmm. On one hand I can understand how upsetting it would be for a writer to see her work ridiculed in such strong terms,but on the other hand, if you work in the
    TV industry you are inevitably
    going to get at least some negative reviews.

    I like your blog,BTW-I thought your reviews of "Journey's End" and the SJAs were pretty good. I'll certainly keep visiting.

  4. Anonymous says:

    I am intrigued to find out about these other forums, and will probably join them because like others have commented the attitude on OG these days is distinctly unhealthy.

    I had nearly given up on the place after the broadcast of Doomsday due to the unpleasant air of anti-RTD attitudes at that time but it is undeniably the case that the result of that negativity � which was at the time excessive as far as I was concerned � was a backlash of vitriol and bullying that has now reached disgusting proportions. My memory may be cheating but I first became aware of it during season 1 of Torchwood � there were some very interesting discussions going on between what appeared to be professional TV writers and reviewers who were attempting to arrive at some idea of why, for them, the series wasn�t working. Yet every time a thread opened, often with a warning at the top that it was not interested in pro- or anti-RTD ranting but instead wanted to either discuss seriously - or gently derive humour from - the perceived shortcomings of TW the same louts would walk in and start picking fights. For the first time ever I found the phrase � You�re just a hater� deployed en masse.

    Lately there has been a reprehensible example of bullying on OG when one poster on LiveJournal found that her blog comments had been reproduced in Stephen James Walker�s new Torchwood guide book with neither her permission sought to do so, nor even a heads up from Mr Walker that he intended to do so. The whole matter escalated quickly� partly through a head-to-head series of posts between various writers on the one hand who thought Mr Walker had done no wrong and various lawyers who attempted to point out that there was a possibility, slight or not-so slight, that he may have, but mostly due to a series of rather aggressive posts from a handful of pro-Walker posters who employed language � and in one case imagery � that could be construed as nothing other than profoundly sexist. Most reprehensible not only were these people not, publicly, called to account for such behaviour but at least two on-site moderators appeared to be condoning, occasionally joining in, with the nonsense. It was an affair that has led me to significantly downscale my involvement with the site and look around for other forums.

    I suspect that as several OGers are given RTD�s book for Christmas and read the comments he makes that attitude will continue to grow � The Next Doctor already appears to be enshrined as a classic after two minutes of it have been broadcast, for example. Time, I think, to leave.

  5. There have been a number of instances on OG, some of which you highlight in your comment, that have certainly made me question some of the moderation. Unfortunately, it hasn't got any better of the last year which is an incredible shame because I know that there are many very intelligent, articulate people on that forum who have some valid points to make about both Doctor Who and Torchwood.

    Personally, the rot set in when most of Outpost Gallifrey, as it was, ended up archived whilst the forum remained solely as a method for airing views. Unfortunately, the forum isn't the best place for this. OG's Review section provided an alternate to the baying minority who simply hate anything Doctor Who post 2005. But, alas, that's gone.

    Which is why this blog started up. Later I was then afforded a chance to post reviews on Behind The Sofa. BTS allows you to review any of the related series and spin-offs and then opens it up for debate. Yes, the debates can get hot under the collar but the reviewer is at least given space to post a review and reply via comments.

    I recall the Stephen James Walker affair vividly and I did in fact privately correspond with Stephen about 'internet' etiquette and using quotes from web reviews. The way he was treated was actually quite deplorable and Live Journal reviewers did over react and again moderation seemed quite ineffectual there. Another nail in the OG coffin for me too.

    I don't post as regularly as I used to on OG/DWF, tend to stick to the odd comment on BTS and now post on Outpost Wrinkly which is a spin off forum from a particular DWF thread that was set up as a haven for people who had a point of view where they wouldn't get shouted down. There are probably other fora where that's possible too but I know those who run OW and they are determined to keep their forum free of the baying 'haters' but also allow you to air your opinion, even if it is negative. You will always get a decent debate.

  6. "Unfortunately, the forum isn't the best place for this. OG's Review section provided an alternate to the baying minority who simply hate anything Doctor Who post 2005."

    Actually, that's too one sided a comment. It's not just the haters that I have a problem with but also those at the opposite end of the spectrum who can see absolutely no fault at all in substandard work. The rabidly pro-RTD mob who think he can walk on water.

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