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Jan 23, 2007

"'New Earth was a nightmare, honestly..."

Inside As Russell T Davies admits in this afterword to Gary Russell's book, Doctor Who: The Inside Story, the series is probably the most documented programme in television history.  Between Doctor Who Magazine, Doctor Who Confidential, dvd commentaries and other books, what new is there to be said?

Quiet a lot as it turns out.

The style of the book complements previous publications.  Ben Cook's eyewitness articles for Doctor Who Magazine provide a flavour of what it must have been like on set during the making of the progammes.  Andrew Pixley's Doctor Who Magazine Specials offer the technical and scheduling nuts and bolts, what happened on which day and in what order.  Shaun Lyon's two Vortex books supply the outsider's perspective, the gossip as it happened.  Now Russell rounds off the bookshelf by presenting the retrospective viewpoint, a chance for the actors and production team to discuss their favourite memories and what they might have done differently, given the time and money.

'Hooray!' shouts the author at the opening of the section about the crafts people working on the series and that sets the attitude of the whole book, that this is a new successful series and something to be celebrated.  The opening section describes in detail the genesis of the series, from Davies' earliest proposals in the mid-late nineties through to the commission and production; the second half works from episode to episode concentrating on the most interesting issues in the production of each story - sometimes the writing, sometimes the set design, sometimes the music.  The writing style is chatty and positive throughout, completely without the funereal tone that infused Gary Russell's previous book Regeneration (about the making of the tv movie), which seemed to be a catalogue of mistakes and mistaken egos.

" 'Hooray!' shouts the author at the opening of the section about the crafts people working on the series and that sets the attitude of the whole book, that this is a new successful series and something to be celebrated."

Which isn't to say he shies away from some of the controversies of the new series.  This is the first time I've seen in print the problems that occurred during the first filming block (comprising Rose, Aliens of London and World War Three) when the ideas of the director Keith Boak clashed with those of special effects crew The Mill and Millennium FX who jointly created the Slitheen, both regretting the mismatch that happened on-screen were in some shots the aliens would move stealthily and in others lumber around explaining why the aliens are now generally either completely computer generated or a prosthesis.  The reasons for Christopher Eccleston's choice to stay for one series aren't given too much detail, but it is heartbreaking once again to hear how the production had planned for it to be a complete surprise, even to the point of filming a false version of the season one cliffhanger that would have been sent out on the preview disk for television reviewers.

Perhaps the most illuminating section is the twelve pages given over to the craft of the script editor, which within the new series has been rather obscured elsewhere.  Largely an interview with Helen Raynor, it lucidly explains how her job is to be the filter between the producers and the script writers and that actually, she and the other script editors talk more with the writers than Davies himself, who reveals that he sometimes only speaks to them once a month; Raynor is actually creatively very involved even to the point of discussing with Davies changes to his own work (a job which she notably dreads).  It was exciting to read that part of her job also includes 'reading outlines for new audio plays featuring the Eighth Doctor and signing off lists of things it was acceptable for a talking Dalek'; this indicates that there is, for once, a coherent presence behind the franchise.

"Perhaps the most illuminating section is the twelve pages given over to the craft of the script editor, which within the new series has been rather obscured elsewhere. "

Remarkably the book is filled with fascinating photographs of the production not seen elsewhere and concept drawings that demonstrate that often the designer will let their imagination run riot, creating something almost unrecognizable from the traditional iconography, only to draw it back to the familiar.  There are also some of Davies' own sketches of scenes in The End of the World and a moment not filmed in which Rose would have found herself perilously tipped onto the glass viewing screen slowly cracking under the heat.  Earlier in the book, Raynor wonders whether the head writer has a really spectacular version of the whole series already mapped out in his head and these drawings prove it.

The key success of the book is that it demonstrates the passion of everyone working on the series to create something that we, the viewer and fan, will love.  At the beginning of each mini-section about make-up or costume or special effects, Russell describes how each crew member found themselves on the show and for most it sounds like the pinnacle of their careers, that nothing else they do will quite match it.  What that means is that when you revisit an episode that you don't entirely love (New Earth), you can at least understand that those involved tried their very hardest to get everything right, even if as is explained in these pages some things went a bit wrong (New Earth). 

It's a pleasure to hear that Gary Russell has now been hired as a script editor on both Doctor Who and Torchwood since as this book demonstrates he knows the series inside out and will be able to bring a considerable talent to both.

Comments

"Largely an interview with Helen Raynor, it lucidly explains how her job is to be the filter between the producers and the script writers and that actually, she and the other script editors talk more with the writers than Davies himself"

I knew it. That single sentence carries over and explains an awful lot about Torchwood as well.

Gary Russel on Who and Torchwood? YES!

SURELY the second-best living script editor choice after Terrence Dicks. As Stephen Moffat says on the City Of Death DVD about Douglas Adams, the jobs needs a good nuts-and-bolts man rather than an idea generator.

This IS a good sign.

The sudden increase in quality of the strips in Doctor Who Adventures happened when he came on board as Script Editor there which says a lot.

Yay that was my first thought when I'd heard Gary was leaving BF. How could they NOT snatch him up for Who?

Just FYI, Chris was on Heroes on Monday night here in the US, and for the few seconds he was on, he was better than anyone else on the show so far. So very odd to see him though. Longish hair, scruffy beard... neat.

'tis indeed a great book, although I think we'll have to wait a good decade or so to get the very best behind-the-scenes tomes on this era. That's only natural, really.

Erh, it's official, BTW. The Eccleston episode of Heroes beat 24 in the ratings. Heros had 6.5 rating/15 share, 24 had 5.4/12. I won't pretend to know specifically what those mean, American ratings systems are horribly convoluted(or at least seem that way).

Both shows, however, beat the snot out of CSI Miami. Take that pouty Caruso!

I must say the new series of 24 is really quite good. Still, americans have peculiar preferences.

Personally I am not sure that Gary Russell being a script editor on new Who is necessarily a good thing, as we could just end up with episodes like Big Finish audios and I am not sure that is a good thing either, as Big Finish is catering for just Who fans and not the general public.

I could be wrong, however, and it could be great.

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