At some level, just about every book on writing is pretty much the same. You’ve got some self-appointed expert talking about what works and what doesn’t, pointing out examples of success or failure and explaining how to achieve the former and avoid the latter. And while I humbly believe that Writing the Pilot has a lot of specific information you won’t find anywhere else, most of what fills most writing books is identical at every level deeper than personal style.
What you don’t get out of most writing books is a sense of what it’s actually like to write. How a tiny germ of an idea appears in your brain and sprouts into a story… or doesn’t. How little pieces of subconscious inspiration will magically join together with other bits, or attach themselves to something you’ve been struggling with, and suddenly transform everything you thought you understood. And what kind of brain-breaking work it sometimes takes to forge a vision you think you see with perfect clarity into the story you thought you understood.
That is what you find in Russell T. Davies and Benjamin Cook’s Doctor Who: The Writer’s Tale. Because it wasn’t written the way other books on writing are — long after the fact. This book is a huge collection of emails between Who showrunner Davies and journalist Cook as Davies planned and executed the fourth season of the series. Because it’s being written as the show is being made, there are lots of insights into TV production. But far more entertaining is watching the writer’s mind at work. Davies comes up with a spark of an idea, and then over days and weeks and sometimes even months (they work on a different schedule over there!) we watch it develop into a story, and then an episode. If you’ve seen the fourth season, this is even richer, because you will occasionally recognize that spark and understand how far Davies has to go to make it into the episode you know. But even if you hate the series, it should be fascinating and inspiring to get inside this brilliant writer’s mind.
And if you want to see what how the final scripts turn out, they’re all available for download at the book’s website.
Look, we can all argue whether the casting of the Twelfth Doctor is a stroke of genius or proof that Davies’ successor Stephen Moffat is actually a racist, sexist, imperialistic pig. (If you scroll down this page, you can probably figure out where I come down on the question…) But we can’t argue about this book. It is simply marvelous. And inspiring. Even if you don’t know a Tardis from a toadstool, if you’re interested in writing for television you must read this.