?

Log in

No account? Create an account
David Hines [userpic]

book rec: DOCTOR WHO: THE WRITER'S TALE

January 10th, 2009 (04:11 pm)

For years, I've said that two books are indispensible for people interested in television writing: Aristotle's POETICS and David Gerrold's THE WORLD OF STAR TREK. The former is extraordinarily helpful for learning to think about the fundamental framework of dramatic writing; the latter is a *magnificent* dissection of TOS as a series, what worked and what didn't, and thoughts on how to improve it. Gerrold used some of those thoughts later, when he and Roddenberry were developing STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION. It's a brilliant book, and if you're at all interested in the mechanisms of drama I highly recommend it. (In terms of sheer usefulness, I'd actually put Aristotle second to Gerrold. That's how highly I think of THE WORLD OF STAR TREK.)

To those, I'd add, at #3, DOCTOR WHO: THE WRITER'S TALE, by Russell T. Davies and Benjamin Cook. It's an inside look at Davies's and Tennant's last full series of DOCTOR WHO, in the form of emails between Davies and journalist Cook during the preproduction and production of the last Tennant/Davies series. Cook draws Davies out on his process to great effect, and you get a better idea of what it's like to run a TV show out of this than you could ever imagine just sitting around. It's a rough, rough job, and Davies starts out the season blithely saying, yeah, it's wonderful, I'd do this if they weren't paying me, and by the end of it he's about as cheerful as a man on the Bataan Death March. Cook, being a good and helpful friend, quotes Davies's cheerful earlier words back to him on those occasions, causing Davies to hate him with a deep and burning loathing.

The thing has some wonderful insights from Davies about writing. Example:

This script language really wasn't around when I was starting out, certainly not in TV, so I'm not versed in it. It's not how I think about scripts. I don't think, Act One, Act Two, Act Three. It's just not wired into my head. (But I'm 44. If I were 18, maybe I'd be rattling off Third-Act-B-Plot-Denouement theories like a good 'eun.) I do think about shape and rhythm, though, and the direction and velocity of a script, and, crucially, I do think of Beginning, Middle and End. As you said, that's the same thing as Act One, Act Two, Act Three, but in a different language. Every story ever told has a Beginning, a Middle and an End. It's fundamental. But this is where I'm wary of a formula, because I don't think of the Beginning, then the Middle, then the End. They're all connected, they're all the same thing, each dictates what the other is. It's back to that big soup of Maybe in my head. Soup is shapeless. ...

I worry a lot about that formal structure language, because it's the one thing that the inexperienced cling to. A learnt language. Like a set of crutches. Meetings throughout the industry now consist of script editors and producers sitting there saying, 'Where's the Second Act Reversal?' Idiots. Really, they should be saying, 'Who is this man? Why is he scared? Does his wife really love him? Can he really kill her?' They talk about the shape, not the essence, obscuring valid discussion of that actual story -- and story is far more important. In fairness, as I've said from the start, it's hard to talk about actual writing -- the ideas, the scariness, the exhilaration -- so I shouldn't be surprised if the formal language is a substitute, but I really do start to react violently when the substitute begins to take control.


Tons of great stuff like that, along with lots of script drafts and Davies's thoughts on them, so you find out what the hell the man was really thinking about, for example, Donna's terrible fate and Rose getting a Doctor of her own.

Also, there are moments like this:

FROM: Russell T Davies TO: Benjamin Cook
Wednesday 18 July 2007 22:07:16 GMT

AGATHA CHRISTIE

I'm now amusing myself by trying to get as many Agatha Christie titles into the dialogue as possible.




FROM: Benjamin Cook TO: Russell T Davies
Wednesday 18 July 2007 22:25:56

RE: AGATHA CHRISTIE

I'll give you £ 20 if you can slip in Ten Little Niggers.




FROM: Russell T Davies TO: Benjamin Cook
Wednesday 18 July 2007 22:33:43 GMT

RE: AGATHA CHRISTIE

Actually, I did try:

                    DONNA 
          It's like Ten Little --

                    THE DOCTOR
          Niggles aside, let's look in the library.


But I thought it was too risky, so cut it.


Yes, Russell, that was probably a good idea.

Comments

Posted by: Petra (petronelle)
Posted at: January 10th, 2009 11:54 pm (UTC)

Oh, *Rusty.* Yes, it's really a mercy he cut it.

Posted by: PROBE UNIVERSE (liviapenn)
Posted at: January 11th, 2009 01:20 am (UTC)
who: donna - human - no!


Oh... my... God.

Yeah, I actually kind of think if we have already gone 60 years without a hilarious "oh my god, we almost said the N word, aren't we cheeky!" joke, it might just be okay to go on without it.

UGH, that makes me want to smack everybody involved, even the fictional characters. And I *LIKE* Ten and Donna.

*goes away, repeating 'not canonical' over and over again*

Posted by: Elleria (elleria)
Posted at: January 13th, 2009 06:43 am (UTC)

I have now bought this book. Thank you for pointing it out to me....One more book in my TBR pile.

3 Read Comments