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Book Review

Book Cover

Doctor Who
The Writer's Tale - The Final Chapter


Author: Russell T Davies and Benjamin Cook
BBC Books
RRP: £16.99, US $24.99
ISBN: 978 1 846 07861 3
Available 14 January 2010

For this revised and updated edition of The Writer's Tale, Doctor Who's head writer and executive producer Russell T Davies and journalist Benjamin Cook continue their in-depth discussion of the creative life of Doctor Who to cover the last of Russell's specials, as well as the increasingly successful Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures spin-offs. Candid and witty insights continue throughout a second year's worth of correspondence, covering David Tennant's final episodes as the Doctor, Russell's own departure from the show, and the legacy that both leave behind as a new era of Doctor Who begins...

The original hardback version of The Writer’s Tale was published back in 2008, and proved to be an utterly essential and completely unique insight into the creative force behind Doctor Who.

The book documented 13 months of candid e-mail correspondence between Head Writer Russell T Davies and trusted journalist and friend Benjamin Cook, from February 2007 to March 2008, as preparations for the fourth series of new Doctor Who were getting underway.

In particular, the book chronicled the creative process behind the scriptwriting of Series Four, as Cook expertly coaxed Davies into revealing his innermost thoughts, hopes, fears, anxieties and moments of sheer unadulterated panic. It was exhilarating and it was brilliant.

The Writer’s Tale - The Final Chapter is the new paperback edition of this glorious body of work, but it is by no means a simple cheap re-packaging of the original material. Nor is it a slightly extended version with a few chunks of new material thrown in for good measure.

No, The Final Chapter goes much further than this and actually whacks a whole new book at the end of the original one! An extra 350 pages in fact, picking up the baton from the first volume, and taking us through another 15 months of correspondence between Russell T Davies and Benjamin Cook, as Davies prepares to write the final four Specials which will mark the end of both his and David Tennant’s time on Doctor Who.

This unusual marketing move from BBC Books has raised more than a few eyebrows from fans, some of whom will understandably be a bit miffed at having to fork out for the same book twice in order to read the new material. I’m sure many of you will be wondering whether to even consider buying this at all, if you already own over half the book in a much glossier and more attractive hardback edition.

Well, you should. Because that edition has now been rendered practically obsolete by this all-new indispensable paperback version. Russell T Davies takes us another maddeningly addictive journey inside his own head as he writes his final episodes of Doctor Who, as well as mapping out the superb Torchwood - Children of Earth epic, and the third series of The Sarah-Jane Adventures. It’s all in a day’s work for this guy, and it’s marvellous that he chooses to share the joys and pain of it all in such a frank and candid manner.

Some of the bolder ‘revelations’ in the brand new material will already have been widely reported in the fan press by now - the abandoned plans for a crossover with Star Trek, the true identity of the mysterious woman in The End of Time, and David Tennant having a minor ‘wobble’ and pondering whether to stay on for another series with Steven Moffat (Davies himself didn’t seem too impressed by this, it would have denied him Tennant’s final episode and a regeneration.) But there’s so much more than that. There are intriguing early storyline ideas for the Specials that were ultimately shelved (at least one of which, it has to be said, sounded a lot better than what we ended up with!)

We see and feel Davies agonising and fretting over his workload, being rude and quite unpleasant to some of his colleagues, and, perhaps most disturbing of all, dining with and fawning over Michael Grade (cough, spit) in The Ivy and agreeing with him that Doctor Who was “shit” in the mid-80’s and he was right to shelve it!

It’s unusual to hear Davies being so blatantly dismissive of an earlier era of the show, and it’s every credit to him that this kind of potentially explosive material has been kept in. This book is clearly not an ego-trip. Davies is not afraid to cast himself in a bad light or reveal his vulnerabilities on the printed page, and this makes for a refreshing change. It’s utterly compelling stuff.

Not everything from the original hardback edition has survived the translation to paperback. For reasons of space, most of the first-draft script material has been removed, although Benjamin Cook’s introduction helpfully directs you to where the complete shooting scripts can be downloaded for free.

Sadly, much of the gloss and sheen of the original gorgeous hardback edition has also been culled for this rough-and-ready paperback version, losing the vast majority of the superb colour photographs and general stunning design of the original volume.

It’s actually a bit of a shame that BBC Books haven’t released the 350 pages of cracking new material as The Writer’s Tale 2, in a lavishly illustrated hardback edition of its own, as it more than deserves such a presentation. I can’t help feeling that a trick has been missed here, and that owners of the original hardback will be in danger of overlooking this.

Never mind. Don’t be put off by the baffling marketing strategies at work here, you still need to buy this book.


Danny Salter

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