Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Doctor Who: The Writer's Tale

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of Doctor Who: The Writer's Tale (2nd edition, BBC, 2010).

This was a little exhausting. It was also a pain in the rear to read! At 704 pages, no paperback will be long for this world without putting only one half of the book down on your reading desk or table at a time while holding the rest gingerly. Since a book as compelling as this will be sending fans and researchers back and forth to their bookshelf constantly, I suspect this was a ploy of BBC Books to sell more copies - one to keep in as-pristine-as-possible condition, and one to have its spine destroyed by constant rereading.

Anyway, it's a lengthy, exhaustive, incredibly engaging back-and-forth correspondence between Doctor Who's executive producer and head writer from 2005-2009, Russell T. Davies, and journalist Benjamin Cook. It starts just before transmission of the 2007 season with David Tennant and Freema Agyeman, while Davies was prepping for the fourth season, which co-starred Catherine Tate, and goes right through the end of Tennant's time in the lead role. It is huge fun, because Davies is so incredibly effusive, candid and indiscreet.

There's a fair amount of celebrity gossip, but it's all much more interesting than trivia. The remarkable stardom of Kylie Minogue will probably leave most American readers, unaware of her really amazing run of British hit singles, baffled, but the genuine affection that Davies has for the actors that the show employed - especially the great Bernard Cribbens, whose real-world wartime experiences became the fictional Wilf's - was great to read.

The best experience is just understanding how Davies somehow managed to function at all in such an incredibly high-stress job. British television drama places far more of the load on one person - Doctor Who, unlike American shows, doesn't have a writers' room - and the amount of rewriting that Davies did on most of the stories will probably have you questioning why on earth he didn't just write every episode himself. I didn't always agree with Davies's choices on Who - despite so much to enjoy and embrace, four of his five super-big endings just fell flat for me - but there's no question that his work is the living definition of a labor of love. Recommended for anybody who enjoys the show, or anybody who wants to write.

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