Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

Doctor Who: The Writer's Tale - The Final Chapter

Rate this book
When The Writer's Tale was published in autumn 2008, it was immediately embraced as a classic. For this extensively revised and updated paperback edition, Russell T Davies and Benjamin Cook continue their candid and in-depth correspondence to take in work on the last of Russell's 2009 specials - and the end of David Tennant's era as The Doctor - while also looking back to the achievements of the first three seasons. With over 300 pages of all-new material, including new photos and original artwork, The Writer's Tale is a fitting tribute to Russell T Davies' phenomenal achievement in bringing Doctor Who back for a new generation of fans.

736 pages, Paperback

First published October 31, 2008

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Russell T. Davies

23 books350 followers
Russell T Davies, OBE, is a Welsh television producer and writer. He is a prolific writer, best known for controversial drama serials such as Queer as Folk and The Second Coming, and for spearheading the revival of the popular science-fiction television series Doctor Who, and creating its spin-off series Torchwood. Both are largely filmed in Cardiff and the latter is set there.

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
1,502 (62%)
4 stars
675 (28%)
3 stars
187 (7%)
2 stars
31 (1%)
1 star
9 (<1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 245 reviews
Profile Image for Ben Dutton.
Author 2 books30 followers
February 6, 2012
There are many hundreds of books about writing – some of them are very good indeed. When I taught creative writing at university, I used to wax lyrical about Stephen King’s On Writing, but also about E.M Forster’s Aspects of the Novel and Dorothea Brande’s Becoming a Writer. To that inestimable list I can now add The Writer’s Tale by Doctor Who head Russell T Davies.

When this book first appeared in 2008, it was hailed as a masterpiece. Included in top ten lists at the end of the year, appearing on Richard and Judy’s Book Club list and read by millions of Doctor Who fans, I was a little wary that it would be too populist, contain not nearly enough about the actual writing process. I did not buy it then. When Russell T Davies completed his final episodes for David Tennant, they updated the book, and it was declared even richer in content. Now I had to have a look.

Constructed around an email correspondence between RTD (as he’s known) and Doctor Who Monthly editor Benjamin Cook – he requested RTD to deconstruct his writing process over the course of one episode that became a two year analysis in writing, living and thinking. That this is a book about Doctor Who is almost incidental: the lessons one can learn from this invaluable tome can be applied to any form of TV writing. As someone looking to begin a career in the BBC very soon, it has been an eye-opener and primer for what I can expect.

It is also very, very funny. This was the biggest surprise – though it shouldn’t have been, for RTD’s scripts have always been funny (a small aside: I’ve followed RTD’s writing career since 1999 when Queer as Folk showed me that there was more to TV than the serial killer dramas and dull action movies my family thoroughly enjoyed. I think I enjoyed that show all the more as I had to watch it in secret, at two in the morning, and couldn’t talk to anybody about it as all my friends and family were/are homophobic and so I related to Nathan Malone and his journey, and boy did I laugh with them too) and this book is just as funny: his lift journey at the NT Awards with Liz Sladen and the rest made me buckle over with splitting sides.

If one has even the slightest interest in writing, Doctor Who, the television industry, then The Writer’s Tale is an absolute must. I’d recommend you watch the finished products of David Tennant’s final episodes as The Doctor, as it illuminates those moments wonderfully: and made me keen to sit through them all again.
Profile Image for Ken.
2,112 reviews1,316 followers
May 10, 2019
A fascinating insight into the production of a hit tv series through a series of correspondence between Russell T Davis the head writer of Doctor Who and Benjamin Cook a journalist for DWM.

This book predominantly covers 2008 where the show was at its absolute peak, along with spin-off shows Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures.
With a heavy workload and vast approaching deadlines, it was interesting to see how Davis coped under pressure.

Most interesting were the different plans for Season 4, including an alternative ending of the season with a Cyberman in the TARDIS!

I always find the making off a show interesting and this book certainly delivers that.
Profile Image for Rosianna.
75 reviews
February 7, 2009
Even if you're blubbing at the Doctor and Rose on Bad Wolf Bay in 'Doomsday', you're empathising, you're feeling it, and there's an echo of every loss you've ever had in that.

It's tricky to write about my reaction to The Writer's Tale because it was so mixed. Primarily, it was so honest, and I never expected about 98% of the book (if not more) to be made up of emails between Russell T. Davies and journalist Benjamin Cook. Cook asks brilliant questions, never forced, and Davies has a wonderful manner of spiralling off into a tangent, full of anecdotes and sex jokes and procrastination.

I don't know whether The Writer's Tale has affected my perception of Davies - the correspondence could easily be turned into a biography as Davies details some of his own motivations, detractors, issues with the scale of Doctor Who publicity and corporate attention as a result of its success - but it wasn't necessary to like him.

On some level, I think to enjoy The Writer's Tale, you have to enjoy his ideas, or his characters in any of his work. You have to have a certain amount of respect for his creation and once you have that, it's not easy to pull yourself out of this brilliant insight into the formation of those ideas, seeing as the script and actors accommodate the characters that have a life beyond the script (something that Davies himself appears to deny, yet simultaneously believe).

Either way, it's a "must-read" for any Doctor Who fan, but they know that already and have probably already bought you two copies for your birthday. Mine's wrapped and everything.
Author 18 books47 followers
April 26, 2010
I'm a huge fan of Russell T. Davies' big, epic writing in the new Doctor Who, so as a writer I welcomed this chance to peek inside his head, through his email correspondence with journalist Benjamin Cook. What I found surprised me, enlivened me, heartened me; made me laugh and cry and say, "yes, I know that exactly!" He's candid, sordid, "big and blousy," and funny. He doesn't sugar coat things; many parts are painfully honest.

But here unfolds the twin story of one of the most successful shows of the decade and a while-I'm-writing journey of the man who made it happen. The book reads with all the nail-biting gusto of a good novel. It's a look at writing from a vantage seldom seen, from the writer's desk itself, where choices are made that effect, in Davies' case, literally millions. It's a story of what, and why, and sometimes how. It's a story of writing and life and just how much they're intertwined.

Read this book if you are a writer. Read it if you're a Doctor Who fan, or just a science fiction fan in general. It's worth every page.

Profile Image for Magdalena.
158 reviews25 followers
February 13, 2013
Amazing adventure. Voyage not only into great screenwriter's head, but also into life of very interesting, very kind, very funny person. Two weeks ago I didn't especially like RTD. I love RTD now. Hard work. Sleepless nights. Doubts. Constant strive for perfection, for improvement. But above all - fun and happiness, because it's the best TV show ever created, isn't it? And pride. Quite justified. I really enjoyed reading about the creative process, abandoned ideas, evolving stories. About Davies' vision. (Althought Kate Winslet as River Song - maybe it's too much. :D) Not only for Whovians, but for all people fascinated by act of creation, television and way of thinking of this talented, impossible man.
Profile Image for Shona Henderson.
24 reviews3 followers
June 25, 2021
Absolutely hilarious, poignant, and inspiring. I want to become a screenwriter when I grow up.

In all seriousness, this book has made me look at Doctor Who (a show I already love) in a whole new way. I understand it so much better and Russel T. Davies is a living genius. You cannot convinced me otherwise.
Profile Image for Nicholas Whyte.
4,565 reviews175 followers
December 23, 2009
"http://nwhyte.livejournal.com/1278783.html[return][return]This book is essential reading, not just for the Doctor Who fan, but for anyone who is even slightly interested in the show, or more broadly who is interested in the process of writing for television.[return][return]It is structured as a year-long email conversation between journalist Benjamin Cook and Russell T Davies about the process of writing the fourth season of New Who, from Voyage of the Damned to Journey's End. (Also briefly including Time Crash.) On the scale of loving or hating RTD, I am sort of in the middle: I respect and admire his achievement in reviving Who in the first place, which I think in the end puts me just slightly on the 'love' side of the divide, but I don't always like his writing, or his public persona. This book reinforced both my positive and negative prejudices about him as a professional, but it grounded them in a much deeper understanding of his personality, and in the awful responsibility of the writer on a show like Who: his loyalty and his guilt circulate around his key colleagues - Julie Gardner, Phil Collinson, David Tennant - and worrying that he won't produce the goods with adequate quality or promptness.[return][return]Vast amounts of draft script are included in the book, much of which made it to screen. I found the roads not taken rather interesting - who was the comedienne who might have played Penny, the companion who never was because Catherine Tate accepted the invitation to return? Imagine if Dennis Hopper had been available? And at the very end of the book, Cook rightly persuades Davies to drop a really awful linking script between Journey's End and The Next Doctor. [return][return]But even more interesting is to see what the fundamental idea of each story actually is. They are not always very strong. The Stolen Earth/Journey's End is almost entirely about showing rather than telling:[return][return]...Daleks, en masse. Lots of gunfire and exterminations. And the biggest Dalek spaceship ever - more like a Dalek temple. Christ almighty! The skies over the Earth need to be changed to weird outer space vistas. Also, visible in the sky, a huge Dalek ship exterior. The size of a solar system! This will probably explode. Like they do.[return][return]And Davros.[return][return]So the episodes are seen at this point largely as spectacle rather than story; the most effective bit, the end of Donna's travels with the Doctor, emerges rather late in the day from Davies' fevered imagination. One may not always like the solutions he comes up with, but the insight into the creative process. Is utterly fascinating and compelling.[return][return](Certain sections of fandom will not be pleased by what he has to say about the internet. Too bad. To paraphrase Neil Gaiman on George R.R. Martin, Russell T Davies is not your bitch.)[return][return]There is a surprising amount of death in the book: Christopher Ecclestone's driver, David Tennant's mother, Verity Lambert, and most of all Howard Attfield, called from his sick bed to reprise his role as Donna's father, but unable to complete the scripts. After his death, his scenes are reshot with Bernard Cribbins. The show must go on.[return][return]Indeed, that is the bigger lesson from the. Book. If Doctor Who is sometimes less than perfect, it happens basically because The Show Must Go On, and because the writers and producers have determined to put on screen what they can. It is rather amazing that it ended up so well as often as it did.[return][return]Anyway, this is probably the most interesting book about Doctor Who that will ever be written. If you are even slightly interested in the subject, get it."
Profile Image for Katherine Sas.
Author 2 books23 followers
May 10, 2016
This book is not for Doctor Who fans.

I mean, it is. Of course it is. It's co-written by one of the great Doctor Who writers and a columnist for Doctor Who magazine, chronicling a three year period of making the show, and they constantly talk about the process of making Doctor Who.

But really, this book isn't only (or even primarily) about Doctor Who. If you are interested in writing, or the writing process, this book is for you. If you're interested in the aesthetics and production of TV, too. In a nutshell, this book is about artists, and work, and self-doubt, and self-confidence, and actors, and producers, and fans, and fandom, and critics, and media, and journalists, and politics, and faith, and humor, and life.

Oh, and Doctor Who. That too.
Profile Image for Sandy.
79 reviews2 followers
May 8, 2011
This book was an unexpected delight. I noticed it by accident at my local library, and picked it up expecting some backstage insights into the television show but not much else. What I found was something richer and broader - an insightful and intelligent look at the whys and hows of scriptwriting, and of working in television in general.

"Doctor Who: The Writer's Tale" consists of approximately a year's worth of emails between Russell T. Davies, the head writer and producer of the relaunched Doctor Who series, and Benjamin Cook, a fellow writer and reporter. The emails attempt to answer broad creative questions like "Where do ideas come from?", "What does it take to be a professional writer?", and "How do you know when a script is good?" in the framework of a year of writing the fourth season of Doctor Who. The book also contains several full-length scripts for episodes, printed chronologically as they are written over multiple days, with comments and revisions.

This book was very nearly a five star read for me. I loved the email correspondence between Davies and Cook. However, the scripts themselves felt redundant, mostly because Davies's writing style is to let everything kind of percolate for a while, thinking about things, and then write in one creative burst - meaning that his scripts are written nearly exactly as they end up being aired. It can feel like reading the long text version of an episode you've already seen, without additional insights, when you just want to get back to the conversation at hand.

But what a great conversation! Russell T. Davies discussing his creative process highlighted a lot of the things I admire and love about his work, and find frustrating at the same time. The Doctor Who miscellany (the companion that didn't make it, the script ideas he muses on - like Doctor Who meets Harry Potter) are a bonus for Who fans. And did I mention he draws as well? The book is full of little comics of the characters and scenes in his scripts (he has a very visual imagination).

I'd highly recommend this for anybody interested in the nuts and bolts of writing, television, and Doctor Who fans in particular.

Four enthusiastic stars.
Profile Image for S Gail.
108 reviews6 followers
April 7, 2011
Okay, I'll be straight with you. If you're not a follower of the sci-fi/fantasy television series Doctor Who, there's probably little reason for you to read this book (or this review, for that matter). It's not just about Doctor Who, of course. It's about British television in the early part of the first decade of this century, and, above all, it's about writing, but to get to that, you 'll be wading up to your waist in Doctor Who and if you're not a Whovian, you'll just get lost, trust me.

Russell T Davies is the guy who resurrected Doctor Who. Or ruined it, depending on whom you ask. I'm married to the Resident Fan Boy who seems to have been moving into the latter camp ever since we were exposed to the final four specials that rounded off Davies' tenure in the New Who universe that he created. (The Resident Fan Boy is a Classic Whovian, devoted to the series as it was between 1963 and 1988, although he'll watch anything Who-related.)

Now, I wasn't crazy about those specials either. However, I can credit Davies with making me a New Whovian in the first place. Like many current female fan-girls, I came to DW after watching Tenth Doctor David Tennant in the saucy biopic Casanova, penned by Davies. My reaction at the time: "Hey...isn't David Tennant the new Doctor? Wait a minute...Russell T Davies wrote this? Didn't he write Bob and Rose ? He's writing the new Doctor Who too?!?"

So I started watching the new Doctor Who, then I started staying up late to catch reruns of Davies' first Who season, with Chritopher Eccleston as the Ninth Doctor and...

...I became a prime candidate to read A Writer's Tale: The Final Chapter which covers the period when Davies began writing his final full season of Doctor Who while beginning a long, detailed and deliberate series of e-mails with Doctor Who Magazine writer and journalist Ben Cook. This gives fans of the show a peephole into the shadowland of roads not taken in character development, plot, casting, and special effects (usually the first to go to save money).

For example, early on in the correspondence (back when it was going to be just a Doctor Who Magazine article and not a 600+ page tome), Davies describes his ideas for the Doctor's companion to follow Freema Agyeman's Martha Jones. (Again, if you're persisting in reading this and you're not a Whovian, you really should stop. Really.) He envisions an older woman in her thirties as a change to the twenty-somethings usually traveling through time and space with the quadricentenarian Doctor, a lady who has just been jilted by her fiancé. As these ideas are forming, news comes that Catherine Tate, who played one-off companion Donna Noble, will be returning for a whole season. Donna is thirty-something and has been jilted by her fiancé (who actually betrayed her before being fed to gigantic infant alien spiders), but now Davies must come up with a re-introduction, rather than an introduction.

And you've got to hand it to him, this guy is bursting with ideas. I spent the book thinking: "Ooooh...that would have been nice..." or "Gee, I'm glad we were spared that..." It's probably the tantalizing promise of what a story could be and the the fear that it will fall short that results in what seems to be a lot of procrastination on Davies' part. I'm beginning to wonder if this is an essential part of writing, remembering the late Douglas Adam's classic line about loving deadlines and the "whooshing sound they make as they fly by". I certainly felt a pang of recognition myself, every time Davies confesses using up precious writing time doing unrelated work or watching television, even though I have neither Davies' talent nor the responsibility for the success of an iconic television show.

Of course, having this responsibility means having not only talent and imagination, but a healthy ego and a thick skin. Davies has the first three in spades (and enough humorous self-deprecation to temper the ego). However, for all his protestations to the contrary, he has a surprisingly thin skin, particularly when it comes to the slings and arrows of outraged DW purists. When Helen Raynor (writer of two double-parter episodes) fails to resist the temptation of checking out Outpost Gallifrey (a vehement Doctor Who online fan forum), she is badly burned and Davies howls in her defense:
Helen is in a delicate position in that she's only just started, and she's on the verge of being really very good - and now she finds herself ruined by this wall of hostility. It makes me furious.

Now, I think both he and she are being a bit silly. Raynor's episodes were certainly not amongst my favourites, but apparently they were vastly popular so somebody must have like them. Davies claims you can't resist seeing what people are saying about you online. I say you can and you must and any DW writer who is misguided enough to venture on to a Doctor Who fan forum must be bonkers, anyway. It's like a fight club in there; I avoid forums on any topic like the plague. I do, however, engage happily in post-episode analyses of Doctor Who episodes on other people's blogs. I think it's one of the pleasures of being a fan. We certainly don't expect Mr Davies, Ms Raynor nor anyone else involved in the show to drop by, take our advice or get their feelings hurt. Most smart actors don't read reviews; smart writers should probably do the same.

What did I learn from this book? I learned that Russell T Davies wrote not only his own episodes, but as the show's head writer re-wrote most of the episodes by other writers. Some evidently didn't mind and their comments on the process are included; a couple probably did. (I don't think Davies re-wrote episodes by Stephen Moffat who eventually took over the series from him.) Again, I was stunned by the quantity of ideas generated by this man; many of which were not used.

Bottom line? While anyone who is not a fan of Doctor Who would not get this book at all, it is pretty well irresistible for anyone who does love this extraordinary television show, whether they're a Russell T Davies fan or not. All Whovians owe a debt to him.
Profile Image for Ffion.
54 reviews
December 4, 2021
Soppy review incoming…

This has been such a comfort read to me this year and I kind of didn’t want it to end. Anyone who knows me knows RTD’s era of doctor who means the absolute world to me so this was a joy. I quite literally laughed and cried my way through. I loved the insight into his process, feeling so stressed at how much he procrastinated but mostly emotional at how much love and care he put into this show. Nobody can match his range actually <3

Reading this was bitter sweet as I knew he’d never run the show again and I’d never love it as much…well sike!! Maybe I never lose? Bring on RTD era no 2 and The Writers Tale: the final chapter (russell’s version) (from the vault).
Profile Image for Michael Mills.
323 reviews18 followers
April 3, 2017
On his Who's Round podcast (in which he interviews various people who've been involved in Doctor Who over the years), Toby Hadoke got very annoyed with those listeners who only downloaded the episodes in which he interviewed Russell T Davies.

I do feel for Hadoke but I understand why listeners reacted in that way: it's not just that Davies was far more notable a contributor than Geoffrey J. Cravat and most of the others Hadoke has interviewed (as showrunner from 2005 to 2010, he oversaw the series' revival and arguably most popular period), it's that he is also one of the. best. interviewees. out there.

So The Writer's Tale, a record of the emails sent between Davies and journalist Benjamin Cook, over the latter years of Davies's time showrunning Doctor Who is a real treat.


If you're a fan of the show there's all the behind the scenes gossip and factoids you could hope for (Dennis Hopper's abortive role in the 2007 Christmas special; Davies's original low-budget plan for David Tennant's finale; Penny Carter, the companion who wasn't) but the real joy of the book is getting 700 pages of Davies's thoughts on narrative, representation, the TV industry, and everything in between.

Deliberately neither a behind the scenes guide nor an instruction manual on writing, it is a record of the process of writing as told from Davies's perspective. You don't have to agree with him, you don't have to emulate him, you don't even have to like him, but when you disagree, dissimulate or dislike it'll likely be in the understanding that it is Davies himself who has given you half the tools to argue against him. You may despair at his endless last-minute rushes to write his scripts, but it's because of him that you'll understand why that complicates matters and makes other people's lives more difficult. He's not short on self awareness.

He's also very, very funny, which helps.

Special shoutout also to interviewer and editor Benjamin Cook, who's the co-author of this book but too easily overlooked. He has an almost tabloid sensibility – but in this context that's actually a very, very good thing. So often in this correspondence he picks Davies up on points or off-hand comments that many would automatically shy away from out of politeness or fear of confrontation; Davies's reflection on his own grief at his mother's death is one of the most moving things I've read in a long time, and it's prompted by Cook asking him flat out why he's not come to terms with it.


Writing, Davies says, is about hammering away at your brain until you find some form of words that feels true to life as you have lived it. This book, as much as his TV scripts, is an exercise in that. God I wish he would write a novel; it'd probably kill me.

If you're a Doctor Who fan, this book is a no-brainer. If you've never even heard of a Dalek, but are interested in storytelling, put it at the top of your TBR pile. And always make time for a Russell T Davies interview.

Profile Image for Richard Wright.
Author 30 books47 followers
February 21, 2010
Oh dear. The original Writer’s Tale in hardback was in my top five books in 2008. In it, Russell T. Davies gives a year’s worth of correspondence detailing agonies and wonders of writing and producing his final regular season of Doctor Who. I loved it, and declared it to be one of only a handful of books I’ve read about writing that I needed to read. Now comes the paperback release, except it contains another three hundred pages, continuing the story through the year in which he produced the five Doctor Who Specials leading to his departure from the series. I started the new material last night, and finished it this morning. It’s as bloody brilliant as the first half, inspiring, and touching, and true. If you’re a writer, of anything, you should read it. It’s also given me my first epiphany in ten years about my own writing, a real mental evolution that knocks down so many self-imposed doors I’m a bit staggered at what I might actually be able to do next. I can’t guarantee that will happen for you, but Jesus, it’s an astonishing feeling. The epiphany also doesn’t come from writing ‘tips’, but just engaging with the mentality and effort Davies shows through his writings, from the sum of his thoughts and struggles. I won’t put it into this year’s top five, but that’s only going to be because I did so in 2008, and doing so twice doesn’t seem fair to the other books…
Profile Image for Mely.
802 reviews19 followers
January 30, 2011
Pretty much the strengths and weaknesses you would expect. Interesting reading about BBC TV production, which is not as different from US production as I'd expect -- it seems to end up with the same crazed rush at (and well past) deadlines despite the apparently more sensible schedule and more limited seasons.

Davies is surprisingly oblivious to some of his own prejudices/carelessness -- I'd have expected the awareness of how gay men are stereotyped in the media (he complains, understandably, about how often his interviews camp him up) to lead to some self-consciousness about casting women as "bulldyke prison guards," but apparently not. What has a bigger effect on his writing, though, is his complete lack of awareness re: savior figures and the Doctor -- he appears to think he's writing against messianic figures, which I do not find a credible analysis of the text (Doctor Who, not The Writer's Tale).

I am probably annoyed by his working methods and self-obsessive introspection far more than is warranted; he reminds me far too much of me.
Profile Image for Jay Bell.
Author 34 books1,916 followers
April 7, 2010
This book is a series of emails between Russel T. Davies and journalist Benjamin Cook. I found that disappointing at first, but most of the emails are long rants from Davies about what it is like to be a writer, so it isn't far from what a proper book from him might have been like. I think writers would get the most from this book, since the interesting tidbits on Doctor Who are few and far in between.

This new edition contains 300 pages of new material, which mostly consist of Davies feeling stressed out and tired along with random chitchat between the two. There is more discussion on Doctor Who, but this is mostly Davies reporting ideas he had that we've since seen on screen.

What I found most disappointing about this book is how it only covers Series 4 of the show and on. It would have been so much more interesting to read about the process of reviving Doctor Who and bringing it back to screens. Maybe some day that story will be properly written down.
Profile Image for Nadine.
Author 1 book10 followers
May 15, 2010
I read the second edition and I.LOVE.IT!

It's as if I had watched Doctor Who all over again. I now know things for sure without having to watch S5 (in regards to River for instance) because I cannot bear it just yet. I cried all over again at how beautifully Ten's and Wilf's final scene in 418 are written.

And most and for all, I am so incredibly grateful to recognize that such an accomplished writer seems to battle the same struggles I have, a pure amateur. At least to some extent. That actually encourages me.

That's it I think. The book is great insight into Doctor Who and Torchwood. And into the way Russell T Davies writes. And if you are interested in purely that aspect, you will get a lot out of it. Plus it's really entertaining.

Couldn't put it down and will probably re-read it.
Profile Image for Adam Whitehead.
552 reviews128 followers
December 17, 2021
In 2003, TV writer Russell T. Davies was hired by the BBC to resurrect their inert science fiction franchise Doctor Who. Many commentators said they were insane to resurrect the old show, infamous for its cheap monsters and wobbly sets. Hitting the airwaves in March 2005, Doctor Who became a smash hit, the biggest drama series on British screens for many years. It made its actors, particularly David Tennant, global stars. In 2010, after four seasons and a series of specials, Davies left the project, replaced by Steven Moffat. From early 2007 through late 2009, Davies conducted a lengthy email correspondence with Doctor Who fan writer Benjamin Cook, discussing the genesis of ideas and how to get them on screen in a practical manner. This book is the result of that correspondence, showing how the fourth season of the rebooted Doctor Who and its accompanying specials were conceived, written and filmed in unparalleled detail.

"How to" books on writing are ten-a-penny, most of them rubbish but the occasional great one (Stephen King's On Writing) slipping out. The Writer's Tale takes a fresh spin on the idea, with journalist Ben Cook and Doctor Who showrunner-producer-writer Russell T. Davies corresponding over two and a half years with Davies revealing how his ideas are born, gestate and generate hugely popular, award-winning television.

Reading 700 pages of someone else's emails might sound like torture, but Davies is an impossibly erudite, funny, smart guy and his thoughts on writing are a pleasure to read. It also helps that Davies is impossibly honest and open, to the point of it being painful. Davies acknowledges being a procrastinator who likes to spend months thinking about a story before typing a single word. When he does, it pours out relatively quickly (some of his Doctor Who scripts go from his brain onto the page in under a fortnight), but there's a lot of hair-raising moments when the production team need a completed script in just a few days that Davies is starting to write a fortnight later than he should have done. He always pulls it off in the end, but the amount of stress he causes to himself (and to Cook) in the process is genuinely hair-raising.

More interesting are the "roads not travelled," story ideas that go through many permutations and in some cases episode ideas that are thrown out because they're not working. Davies has to throw out two scripts which are not in the right place and instead write Midnight (which also has no budget, so has to be filmed on just one set) and Turn Left in a rush to replace them. There's also a fascinating early version of Planet of the Dead which features the Chelonians, the excellent tortoise-like aliens from the New Adventures novels, although that gets changed when Davies reluctantly concludes he can't send actors to the United Arab Emirates filming location dressed in layers of foam latex because they will probably expire. Other interesting elements are the extremely detailed work Davies puts into the creation of a new companion, Penny, which is eventually wasted because another producer convinces Catherine Tate to come back as Donna, or a more epic version of Torchwood: Children of Earth where Martha and Mickey have a starring role.

There is also a lot of prescient irony in the book for people familiar with the later history of the programme, or Davies' career. Davies gushes at extreme length over casting Peter Capaldi twice (in The Fires of Pompeii and the Children of Earth mini-series) but never connects up the idea that he'd make a great Doctor. Davies also anguishes at having to ransack his "dream show" idea of a future dystopian Britain to save the Turn Left script, but of course eleven years later he'd make that show with Years and Years anyway.

There's some interesting musings on canon, with Davies at one point saying he does not give a toss about it but then spending several emails musing on obscure points of lore with Cook. Davies also distracts himself to tears worrying about plot points that nobody ever notices (he confides to Cook that he almost had a heart attack because Jackie didn't notice the Doctor destroying her coffee table in a struggle with the Auton arm in Rose, his very first Doctor Who script, something he thought was implausible). Davies also notes that sometimes he likes to draw attention to similarities in scripts to make things appear to be part of a masterplan, when in reality two writers just had similar ideas too close together, such as Donna being the centrepice of her own alternate reality in both Forest of the Dead and Turn Left.

Davies leaves most of his real evisceration for the online hate groups constantly criticising him for introducing "the gay agenda" to the show, or targeting individual writers for harassment and threats if they think they don't deliver. Given how relatively restrained the online discourse was in 2007 compared to now, it'll be interesting to see Davies's thoughts when he returns to the show in 2023.

There's decidedly limited hot gossip, although allusions to John Barrowman's exuberant on-set behaviour take on a different tone when the reader realises they are referring to his tendency to expose himself on-set. Davies skilfully avoids any discussion of why Christopher Eccleston left the series, and there's mostly a lack of real controversy. There is a fair amount of what might appear to be unnecessary wafflage in the book, but some of it becomes really interesting, particularly early discussions of "Did you see Skins last night?" which ultimately turns into a lengthy discussion of what Skins gets right and wrong in character writing, and how and why it improves as it goes along.

Instead, there's a lot of fascinating trivia (Davies once spent an evening propping up a table in a bar with James Marsters from Buffy and Kylie Minogue!) and a lot of meaty, interesting musings on where stories and where characters come from, and how you can get them to do what you need when they have to also be true to themselves.

The now-rather-misnamed Writer's Tale: The Final Chapter (****) is as good a musing on how to write genre television as has ever been published. It's certainly lengthy, and has a tendency to wander off-topic, but as an over-the-shoulder look at the writing of a television show, it may be unprecedented and is always fascinating.
Profile Image for Conor.
39 reviews1 follower
November 23, 2020
A wonderful insight into the creation of Doctor Who, illustrating the creative process of writing alongside the highs and lows of television production. It was also nice to have a personal window into such a prolific writer as Davies, getting to better understand the man behind the show's revival.
Profile Image for Phillip.
406 reviews6 followers
August 8, 2022
This is a must read for any Whovian! Not only because of the insight into how Series 4 (...depending on how one counts...) of Doctor Who was written, but also insight into the mind of RTD who will soon be helming Doctor Who again with the 14th Doctor! This book takes you through an e-mail exchange that lasts for two years - as RTD describes his life and times writing the last series of the 10th Doctor, along with the Specials and two-part regeneration story. It's a fascinating behind the scenes look at the production of DW and into the mind of one of the greatest TV writers in history. It will certainly make one realise the degree writers' sacrifice all for their craft, and offer guidance for those just starting their craft.
44 reviews
August 11, 2022
A great read, amazing insight into writing in general and in particular the writing for a TV show. At first I was not sure about the format as being a series of correspondence over a period of time but after the first few pages you really get a feel for it and I personally think it is a much more open and personal account because of it. Highly recommend it.
Profile Image for Miriam James.
168 reviews2 followers
July 9, 2022
I LOVED this. Seeing into the mind of RTD was fascinating and I loved watching how the scripts evolved into what the episodes are now! It made me love these episodes even more, and now I'm even more excited to see what RTD comes up with on his return to Doctor Who!
Profile Image for Nicholas Whyte.
4,565 reviews175 followers
December 18, 2010

Davies and Cook exchanged emails and texts for the last two years of Davies' tenure as show-runner of Doctor Who (ie 2007-2009), so the narrative is spontaneous, spur of the moment, and feels very genuine (though of course the reader cannot know what has been edited out in the process). I had already read the first half, and Cook and Davies spend some time in the second half discussing the reception of the original version. Davies is perpetually struggling with deadlines, with his other responsibilities as showrunner, with his role as a public figure and spokesman not only for his own show but for his industry.

The book offers insights into the process of writing, crafting and drafting, trying to get it right, over the period of weeks and months of producing Doctor Who. Occasionally one can trace particular elements to the outside world: Ben Cook, normally a passionate but detached observer, persuades Davies not to end Journey's End with a Cyberman teaser for The Next Doctor. But more often the writers are drawing on their own emotional resources and imagination, trying as it were to find the story that is trying to get out - there is a nice moment when Davies, emailing Cook, suddenly realises that Wilf Mott should be the instrument of the Tenth Doctor's demise.

Structured as a dialogue between two writers, with lots of pretty pictures and extra amaterial, it is also about a success: whether or not one is a fan of Who or of Davies' treatment of it, the fact is that he revived a faded franchise and made it a hit, and that in itself is a good story even if we are only getting the final years. I commented about the first edition that there were a lot of deaths in it; there is only one in the second half, but it is significant - the mother of the Executive Producer, Julie Gardner, of the same illness which Davies' own mother had succumbed to a few years earlier. While of course all authors draw on many life experiences, it's not too fanciful, I think, to see a direct link between this and the creation of the Claire Bloom character in The End of Time, who in Davies' mind is very explicitly the Doctor's own mother.

The Writer's Tale, however, is probably the best book about Doctor Who that will ever be written, and of immense interest to anyone who cares about television, sf, or indeed the creative process.
Profile Image for Angela.
64 reviews1 follower
March 4, 2016
I absolutely loved this book. So much so, that I began rationing the final few chapters to make it last longer. It gives a real insight into the creative process of one of my favourite show. Its really dispels the myth of the professional writer, sitting down in their office at a set time and typing the whole day away. I love the fact that Russell T Davies appears to approach writing episodes in the same way I approached student essays, (minus the coffee and cigarettes). The idea that one of the most successful writers on British television spends his time finding new ways to avoid writing and hoping that leaving it to the last minute will provide adrenaline fuelled inspiration is, (to use what appears to be his favourite word) a HOOT!
Reading between the lines of the, no doubt highly edited correspondence, I get the sense however, that working with him as an executive producer was far from fun at times. He clearly doesn't suffer fools gladly ( his least favourite phrase) and you can see hints of the attitude that was rumoured to have Christopher Eccleston running for the hills after one series on the show.
Benjamin Cook does his best not to come over as a complete fan boy, but fails spectacularly at times. Though his questions to Russell do become braver as the book progresses, clearly mirroring their working relationship. There is also a shift in tone in the later chapters. These were written after the publication of the original book and you can see that both writers are now acutely aware that they are writing for actual publication, even adding exposition emails to fill the gaps of conversations they've had in person. This makes it seem less personal than the majority of the book, but no less enjoyable.
Reading the book so long after the event it covers adds a different dimension as well. We now know, just how well (or not?) Steven Moffat was, at taking over the series and its a little sad reading Davies excitement about moving to LA, knowing that before long, his partner's illness would have him returning to the UK.
All in all, I think this is one of the most enjoyable books I've read for a while and a great read for anyone interested in writing or TV production. Its certainly inspired me, hence the unusually long review.
Profile Image for Jonathan Palfrey.
336 reviews11 followers
February 3, 2023
This book is a blow-by-blow account of the making of the TV series “Doctor Who” in the period 2007–2009, in the form of a long series of e-mail messages, written at the time in the middle of frenzied activity, between Russell T. Davies (the showrunner) and Benjamin Cook (a journalist and fan of the series).

As such, it’s of interest to three main categories of people: fans of Doctor Who, fans of Russell T. Davies (RTD), and people who want to be (or are already) scriptwriters or showrunners.

If you don’t fall into any of these categories, this is probably not the book for you. Furthermore, it won’t make much sense to you if you know nothing about Doctor Who.

If you’re still interested at this point, well, the book tells you a lot about how each episode came to be written and put together, from the showrunner’s point of view, with what appears to be hold-nothing-back honesty. If you’re interested in the subject, it’s all quite readable.

I found it quite interesting to watch as RTD worries, procrastinates, and eventually writes or rewrites each story in a tearing hurry at the last minute; then has to modify it further to make it fit the allocated running time and the allocated budget. It turns out that he edited and partially rewrote all the stories credited to other writers—except those by Steven Moffat.

The book aims to give an insight into the creative process, so we find him thinking out loud as he invents, rearranges, and discards ideas on the way to a final script.

In the process, I learned somewhat more about RTD than I really wanted to know, as I’m not a particular fan of his; but he’s a fluent writer, capable of expressing himself quite eloquently, and he deserves credit for raising Doctor Who from the dead and making a success of it in the 21st century.

The book became oddly compulsive after a while, so that I had to read it to the end. And now I’ve quite enjoyed reading it for the second time.

RTD is now at least 13 years older than he was then, and he’s committed himself to going though it all again, having signed up for a second stint as showrunner of “Doctor Who”. Must be mad!
Profile Image for David.
44 reviews5 followers
August 20, 2014
Two years worth of email correspondence between Doctor Who showrunner Russel T. Davies and some spod from Dr Who magazine, that ends up as a writing guide that's actually worth reading. These are dispatches that come direct from the front line of writing a hugely successful television show, and they trace many of Davies' ideas from formation to onscreen realisation, and give a great insight into the pressures, the panic and the immense workload that occasionally drove him to the edge of despair.

Towards the end of the book he writes about having caught a repeat of his episode The Sound of Drums on BBC3. "Was I on drugs when I wrote this?" he asks, echoing many who often critisised his style of writing for the show - often characterised as being brash, messy and unsubtle if not outright bonkers. I've been one of those critics, but, you know what, I take it all back. Actually, that's not entirely true, but I do have a new-found respect for the man after reading this book. For me, there's still too much running and shouting and exhausting mad energy in some - but by no means all - of his "big, blousy" episodes, but learning about the man's creative process and the sheer turnover of ideas has been revelatory.

In his email replies to Benjamin Cook's questions, Davies is open, direct and typically ebullient. In many he describes at length abut his technique and what he has learnt from his years of scriptwriting; in others he's merely sighing over Russell Tovey or some other male guest actor (if you want to know why sex has, for better or worse, creeped into Doctor Who's scripts since its relaunch - well, it's because he seems preoccupied by sex). But he is always completely entertaining, and this book beats every dry, plodding how-to-write-for-TV manual out there.
Profile Image for Shannon.
31 reviews9 followers
July 16, 2018
"I only write to find out about myself, and I'll only achieve that if I'm honest."

I'd always admired Davies. I was a big Doctor Who fan; while I enjoyed Moffit's tenure as show-runner, Davies will always be *my* writer (well...possibly him and Cartmel).

But to get an inside glimpse of Davies' process...to have another writer, and a damn good one, talk about his struggles, his fears, his procrastinations--as well as his triumphs and successes...I just don't think there's another book on writing out there that's nearly so reassuring, so validating, so RELIEVING as The Writer's Tale.

I took months to read this. One month in, I found the courage to start putting some words of my own to paper. As I continue to write, I will probably continue to refer back to this book. It's the most quotable, candid discussion about writing, with none of the pretension of a book about "how to write."

If you're a writer...read this. Not only will you find it, I think, tremendously reassuring, you'll find it USEFUL. Davies has Ideas about Writing, and frankly, I think they're all correct (or maybe I just like that a famous person happens to agree with me). This is such a wonderfully enriching read, that puts into words so many of the things we instinctually FEEL about writing, but can't quite say...seriously, just pick it up. Nothing I can tell you will do it justice, so just trust me on this.
319 reviews11 followers
October 28, 2008
Looking at what I read, it should come as no surprise that Doctor Who is something of a passion of mine. (To paraphrase author Paul Cornell, it's not a favorite TV series, it's a lifestyle choice.) Having said that, Doctor Who: The Writer's Tale is almost certainly the best nonfiction book about the series I've ever read, and one of the best books about writing, as well.

The show collects about a year's worth of email correspondence between executive producer/head writer Russell T Davies and journalist Benjamin Cook about the process of writing Series 4 of Doctor Who. While Davies makes the point time and again that the way he writes isn't necessarily the way everyone should write, the book does provide a lot of insight into his own methods, how he works, and why he makes the choices he makes.

Along the way, we also learn a great deal about Davies himself. Not so much in the way of autobiography, but about who he is. For readers familiar with the extremely positive cheerleader image Davies projects on Doctor Who Confidential and in his interviews and columns in Doctor Who Magazine and elsewhere, it's eye-opening, seeing him put his fears and insecurities on display in such a public way.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 245 reviews

Join the discussion

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.