How To Write Television, The Russell T. Davies Way

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Whatever your quibbles with Russell T. Davies' often-schmaltzy storytelling on Doctor Who, you have to appreciate his madcap throwing-things-at-the-wall sensibility. Davies says he writes that way on purpose, and answers your Doctor Who and Torchwood questions, in his new book.

The Writers Tale: The Final Chapter, a new collection of Davies' email discussions with a journalist about the revived Who, comes out in a couple days. But a lot of the juiciest bits are coming out now. Including a passage where Davies talks about the fact that in his stories, major plot developments seem to come out of nowhere. Rewatching "The Sound Of Drums," Davies ponders the fact that the TARDIS becomes a Paradox Machine, we learn of the Archangel Network, and so on, with no advance notice or foreshadowing. And he says this is deliberate, in an excerpt posted by SFX Magazine:

I can see how annoying that looks. I can see how maddening it must be, for some people. Especially if you're imposing really classical script structures and templates on that episode, even unconsciously. I must look like a vandal, a kid or an amateur… The simple fact is, all those things were planned. All of them were my choice. They're not lazy, clumsy or desperate. They're chosen. I can see more traditional ways of telling those stories, but I'm not interested. I think the stuff that you gain from writing in this way – the shock, the whirlwind, the freedom, the exhilaration – is worth the world. I've got this sort of tumbling, freewheeling style that somersaults along, with everything happening now - not later, not before, but now, now, now. I've made a Doctor Who that exists in the present tense. It's happening now, right in front of your eyes! If you don't like it, if you don't join in with it then… blimey, these episodes must be nonsensical. But those classical structures can be seen in Primeval, in Demons, in Merlin, in all of them – and yet we stand with millions more viewers. And I think that's partly why.


Actually, not to quibble, but Davies does do foreshadowing quite a bit — but it's usually one of the worst things he does. Like Bad Wolf, or the "he will knock four times" thing, or the ominous Ood cameos, or the random mentions of Mr. Saxon during all the episodes leading up to "The Sound Of Drums." It's always heavy-handed — I much prefer the "stuff comes out of nowhere" approach to the "stuff is foreshadowed with a heavy brush" approach.

Other stuff SFX reveals from the new book includes the fact that David Tennant wavered about leaving, and actually considered staying for Steven Moffat's first season. Tennant had a meeting with Moffat, in which Moffat laid out his plans for the year, but in the end he decided to leave with Davies and Julie Gardner.


The writers had a ton of ideas for the Easter special that were rejected in favor of "Planet Of The Dead" — including a space-war story featuring the Chelonians, the tortoise aliens from Gareth Roberts' classic novel The Highest Science. Another idea would have involved a deserted hotel with weird centaur aliens who freeze the Earth for a carnival procession. And thirdly, Davies considered a Star Trek parody, in which the Doctor tweaked the starchy pomposity of Starfleet's officers. (And as you may have heard, an actual Trek/Doctor Who crossover was discussed in 2005, until Enterprise was cancelled.) Finally, Roberts proposed a story about aliens implanting their eggs in humans — in a play on Easter Eggs.

Also, Tennant's final story could have been a one-parter, where he died saving a family of aliens who were stranded in a spaceship with a leaky engine, and the radiation from the engine kills him. Also, instead of the cactus-like Vinvocci, we could have had runny-faced aliens. And Davies considered bringing back the Daleks in "The End Of Time," including a Dalek Minister and Dalek Parliament, but then he heard the Daleks were coming back in Moffat's first season. And yes, in Davies' mind, that mysterious Time Lady really is the Doctor's mother.


Both Martha and Mickey were supposed to be in Torchwood's "Children Of Earth", but they both had to bow out — and Noel Clarke only bailed a week before the read-through. Martha was also supposed to be in the final episode of The Sarah Jane Adventures season two, but when she couldn't make it, she was replaced with the Brigadier. Davies had the opportunity to have the Sarah Jane Adventures air in the plum time slot of Saturdays at 5:30, but said no, because it would have required reinventing the series.

Many more details at the link. [SFX]