With Russell T. Davies set to return as the showrunner of Doctor Who in 2023, it seemed like the perfect time to finally read The Writer’s Tale. Published in 2010, Doctor Who: The Writer’s Tale explores the final two years of Davies’ original run of Doctor Who – from the earliest days of season four to the final days of filming the Tenth Doctor’s regeneration special. Told through emails sent back and forth between Davies and Doctor Who Magazine writer, Ben Cook, The Writer’s Tale chronicles the good, the bad, and the in-between of producing these episodes. It’s less of a how-to-write book and more of a book about writing. And for that, it stands apart from the crowd of various behind-the-scenes books for TV shows and movies. (4.5 out of 5 wands)
Doctor Who: The Writer’s Tale – The Final Chapter
Written by Russell T. Davies and Ben Cook
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.
For hardcore Doctor Who fans, The Writer’s Tale is a smorgasbord of tantalizing information and behind-the-scenes tidbits. There are glimpses of companions that never were (RIP Penny Carter), stories that got axed (I’m always gonna be a little bitter about the Most Haunted homage never making it past the planning stage!), and plenty of discussion about ongoing storylines that should excite even the biggest Doctor Who fan. If you’ve ever wondered what goes into making this huge, crazy show, then The Writer’s Tale is the book for you. There are even excerpts of Davies’ early drafts for some of his biggest episodes – the season four finale, and David Tennant’s regeneration episode. Having the opportunity to read such early versions of iconic stories is easily worth the price of admission alone. Plus, you get a front-row seat at the absolute pandemonium that of one showrunner leaving, and another one stepping in. And also all the ways that revealing a new Doctor can go wrong. It’s the perfect time period for a tell-all book, and everything you could want to know about this period of the show is laid bare.
Even more interesting, though, are the parts of the book that focus on Davies’ personal experience during this time. The Writer’s Tale is the rare book about TV/film that doesn’t paint a particularly rosy picture. Davies even says at one point that anyone who reads the book and still wants to be a writer will probably end up becoming one. For Davies, the work is hard. It’s never-ending. It’s emotionally taxing. And he works himself to the bone. But for all the moments of turmoil, there’s an equal amount of joy. And The Writer’s Tale captures this beautifully. The moments where Davies just spills his ideas onto the page are like witnessing how a magician performs their magic trick. And it’s glorious to witness.
Through it all, you can always feel Davies’ passion for the show. He only puts himself through all of this because he adores Doctor Who. And as the book inches towards his final days as showrunner, you really get the sense of his conflicting emotions. His happiness, his sadness, his relief, and his regret. And it’s honestly quite moving. After all, it must be hard to walk away from a show like Doctor Who. And for that reason, alone, the book is a must-read for anyone hoping to one day run a TV show. Plus, reading the insights of a TV veteran like Davies is beyond fascinating for anyone with even a passing interest in the industry. It’s a shockingly honest and somewhat brutal read at times. But one that’s always fascinating.
At the end of the day, Doctor Who: The Writer’s Tale bears less in common with more traditional behind-the-scenes books and reads more like a memoir. It’s an exhaustive, intimate, and revealing look at the end of Davies’ original run. For fans of the show, it’s filled with orphaned ideas, early drafts of scripts, and a mountain of other Doctor Who fun facts. And for everyone else, it’s a stark, beautiful rumination on showrunning a show. And on writing in general. If you’ve got the slightest interest in writing for TV, it’s an absolute must-read.