RTD’s thoughts on Journey’s End

My copy of “A Writer’s Tale” just arrived and nothing else is getting done. It’s a wonderful, riveting and extremely honest read. “Honest” isn’t a word we always associate with RTD but there is a real candour about this huge, year-long e-mail exchange. First, it makes you appreciate the relentless pressure of the job. He made himself ill worrying about the Bad Wolf Bay scene in JE not working and was still rewriting it a matter of days before it was shot – hours, even – and by that point he’d two weeks to deliver the script for the 2008 Xmas special.

I haven’t read every word yet – it’s over 500 pages – but obviously his thoughts on the Doctor/Rose ship particularly intrigued me. There’s absolutely no question of his total commitment to it. His original intention was to keep the Hand-in-a-Jar in reserve until DT regenerated, and then use it to grow a human Tenth Doctor who returns to Rose. However, at a fairly early stage of planning the finale, he decided to integrate the duplicate Doctor into the plot against Davros, a decision he seems to have come to regret.

Hence his problem with the Bad Wolf Bay scene, which he agonised over – that’s not too strong a word:

“That scene doesn’t work. I have always known that, from the moment I typed it out, but I don’t know how to fix it. Rose has to be stupid to fall in love with Doctor 2. No matter what I do, that’s not her Doctor. I can Elastoplast over it by saying that Doctor 2 needs Rose, but that’s slight. You don’t feel that….

….One thing I do know: this isn’t a couple-of-lines rewrite…There’s no sentence that will paper over the cracks. It’s a plot rewrite. I’ve got the story wrong. And that’s massive, potentially.”

He has another go, but it’s still not working:

“I know exactly what’s wrong: it’s too complicated. Emotionally, I mean. It has no echo, no resonance, it’s empty sci-fi. When the Doctor and Rose were separated into parallel universes in Doomsday, that felt like every love you’ve ever lost – even if it’s only the ones you’ve lost in your head…But when you’ve been separated into different universes, but now have a double of the man that you loved, who’s not quite the same, but who’s better because he’s mortal, but worse because he’s not the original…well, you’re going beyond human experience. There’s no parallel with real life. No equation. Therefore, no feeling.”

Benjamin Cook suggests that people can relate to the scene because in real life “we’ve all loved and it hasn’t worked out, for whatever reason, so we’ve found someone else. And yet we know that the next love is not the same, they’re not as good….We’re all just making do.”

RTD agrees but says “The problem is none of us does it THAT QUICKLY. Not in three pages. Accepting second best is a quiet, passive condition.”

Benjamin Cook replies:

“I wonder whether Rose’s decision works because it’s quick. If she had time to think about it, of course she wouldn’t stay on Bad Wolf Bay. As I read it, Rose accepts second best, Doctor 2, because her doctor, the original Doctor, manipulates her into doing it….

You’re hung up on the idea that Rose must be dumb to choose to stay on Bad Wolf Bay, but she doesn’t choose, does she? Not really. He does.”

Oh golly. I find this whole exchange incredibly illuminating. It vindicates my gut feeling that nobody involved was entirely happy with JE. It grew into a monster driven by the need to bring everyone back and to resolve an impossible, ridiculously overblown crisis situation. And that resolution had to be achieved against murderous deadlines, intense and frequently hostile publicity, limitations of time and resources, actor availability (for example, he booked Camille Coduri and then found it incredibly difficult to write her into the plot convincingly, but to back down at that point was financially and politically very difficult) AND, not least, the sheer exhaustion of working flat out for four years solid.

I can’t, not for a minute, aspire to RTD’s greatness, but I recognise so many of my own problems with writing in this book. First, that you can get carried away by a brilliant idea and find it’s locked you into a place where you’d rather not be. Script outlines have to be prepared months ahead, and once actors and resources are booked, they are very difficult to alter if they aren’t working out. You do also wonder whether he finds it too difficult to involve other people in his editorial decisions. He likes to write in secret and, although people like JG have opinions he clearly deeply respects, ultimately their job is to fight for the resources to get his scripts made, not to help him write them. Once again, it’s interesting to speculate whether the show might beneft from a more “Writers’ Room” style approach. Much is made of the narrative arc, but in fact there seems to be insufficient co-operative work around the table to make the series gell as a whole, both in terms of plot and tone – and much of that boils down to sheer exhaustion and lack of time.

If only the Duplicate Doctor plotline could have been hammered out at a much earlier stage, it might have been possible to anticipate its artistic ramifications and its probably rather negative effect on the Doctor/Rose arc as a whole. Imagine how different Rose’s choice would appear if the original Doctor had already regenerated, but the human one was David Tennant. It was meant to be the happiest ending imaginable, but it got shafted by the sheer complexity of the plot demands in the finale.

Because, no matter how hard we argue that the two Doctors are the same, our feelings of identification as an audience contradict that and we won’t jump that hurdle in a few rushed minutes. And appearances help enormously. Just as people talk about Tom Baker or Peter Davison as “my Doctor”, even though logically that’s ridiculous, just as it’s ridiculous to hate – say – the Tenth Doctor and love the Ninth (since they are the same character), to most viewers Ten is the Doctor in love, the one who found such lovely happiness with Rose and had it all swept away. We needed to see that, and I find it enormously comforting that if the original plan had worked out, we would have done.

As for Benjamin Cook’s point that we can identify with the situation of making do with a second-best love, I agree that’s RL, but I don’t watch things like Doctor Who for RL. I watch them for hope and resolution. I think that’s the kind of show RTD would have liked to write, but RL got in the way.

BTW, the book includes almost complete scripts of VOTD, PIC and the finale, as well as huge chunks of FOP, which he massively rewrote. Midnight and Turn Left succumbed to lack of space, but the scripts are available on the BBC Writers Room site. It’s surprising how much an original script differs from even the best transcription. For example, in the online transcript of JE, a stage direction describes the Doctor as “utterly broken” after Davros’s rant. A reasonable assumption, but RTD didn’t put it in, which leaves one wondering how much was filled in by the director or DT himself.

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19 thoughts on “RTD’s thoughts on Journey’s End

  1. Thanks very much for posting this — it’s fascinating. What really gets me is that RTD’s original solution of human Ten after DT regenerated still has the same problem — it’s not the “real” Doctor with whom Rose had adventures and fell in love, and she hasn’t chosen this version of the Doctor. But emotionally, it feels so much better, because once Ten has regenerated, Rose’s “real” Doctor is gone and the human Doctor with Rose is enough of a happy ending. It’s because “real” Doctor Ten is still around that human Ten with Rose feels second-best, at least for me. I wonder, if, after Ten eventually regenerates, human Ten and Rose will actually feel much happier and satisfying to me; I think they will.
    And I have to say, regardless of all of the above, I still think it’s awfully clever that RTD has written in a way through human Ten for DT to return to Who at any time after he does eventually leave, and not even have to worry about the passage of time or anything like that.

  2. Imagine how different Rose’s choice would appear if the original Doctor had already regenerated, but the human one was David Tennant. It was meant to be the happiest ending imaginable, but it got shafted by the sheer complexity of the plot demands in the finale.
    That would feel way, way better. Even if we KNOW that Eleven is still the Doctor, there’d be something very comforting in having Ten and Rose together for all time. As it is, watching Ten go on without Rose *still* makes me feel conflicted. (I’d sort of like to think, though, that after some time together, Rose isn’t going to be thinking of Ten II as second best, but you know. :D)
    Any chance you’d be willing to transcribe some of what RTD wrote about his original intentions? I’d *really* love to buy the book myself, but until Christmas, it’d still be nice to get a peak inside of RTD’s head, especially as it concerns the Doctor and Rose.

  3. About 10 months before he wrote JE, he said:
    “I’ve put the Doctor’s bubbling hand on board the TARDIS so that when David regenerates, one day, he’ll grow another self and send it off into the parallel universe, so Rose has a Doctor of her own. Ahh! But then today I thought, why delay? His duplicate will now do this at the end of 4.13, which will be gorgeous, and close off the Rose story for ever. That way, the Specials in 2009 will really be special – no companions, no back-references at all.”
    Not good news for those hoping for a Christmas fixit, I’m afraid.
    In a way I sympathise with him. When I first heard the two-doctors theory I thought it would be the perfect solution. It wasn’t until I saw it acted out that I realised the fact that original Ten was still alone would be a huge problem for me. By the time it hit RTD he was in too deep to do anything about it.
    He also says some interesting things about the birth scene of 10.2, and whether it should be Rose or Donna in the TARDIS with him:
    “But….if Rose is going to spend the rest of her life with Doctor 2, shouldn’t she be with him in the TARDIS as he springs into existence – and they spend the rest of the episode together, riffing off each other, both liking each other. And Doctor 2 is half-human, remember, so he can be more overtly sexualised than the original. Do you see how neat that is? If I don’t take that option, she’ll have to meet Doctor 2 in the last 10 minutes. Pretty quick to fall in love.
    So, right, take that option – but that requires Donna to bond with the hand-in-a-jar, then think no more of it, waltz out of the TARDIS, with the original Doctor, to become Davros’ prisoner, leaving the Doctor 2 birth to happen as if she’d had nothing to do with it. That’s wrong. That’s very wrong.”
    Seems to me that the whole thing needed, desperately, to be workshopped well in advance with a writers’ group who’d spot these things – instead it was written on the hoof to impossible deadlines. I think it would probably kill RTD to do another series – by the end he was a complete wreck.
    I’d love to read an equivalent volume about, say “Heroes” or “Lost.” I feel that RTD’s book is, in some ways, a cautionary tale about the dangers of non-collaboration on a show. The American model isn’t perfect either, and can lead to blandness, but it has a lot going for it.

  4. That’s very interesting. I had heard that he wasn’t satisfied with the way JE turned out, but not the part about always intending to cleave off a human Ten to end Rose’s story. I think his original vision would have been better, yes, but knowing he did always intend that endpoint makes me happy.

  5. Imagine how different Rose’s choice would appear if the original Doctor had already regenerated, but the human one was David Tennant.
    Actually, that’s one of the things that made me hate “The Stolen Earth”—Rose’s reaction to the regeneration made it seem like she thought Ten was the only “real” Doctor. The Rose I fell in love with didn’t love Ten—she loved the Doctor. (She also loved the Doctor’s life. She’d never have stopped traveling if she had any say in the matter.)
    It’s ridiculous to hate—say—the Tenth Doctor and love the Ninth (since they are the same character).
    I’d dispute that. (Well, I kind of have to, since I do hate the Tenth Doctor and love the Ninth.) Nine and Ten might be the same person, but they’re presented very differently, and they have completely different character arcs.
    ANYWAY.
    Does RTD talk at all about the Bad Wolf storyline? I’d love to know if the Doctor was right about Jack’s immortality being an accident. Or for that matter what he had in mind when he was writing Rose’s post-season one character arc. (She changed almost as much as the Doctor did, IMHO.)

  6. I’d love to know if the Doctor was right about Jack’s immortality being an accident.
    I would love to know if RTD gave a thought to Rose and Jack interacting for more than, oh, five seconds. Someone please tell me a scene ended on the cutting floor.

  7. Re Bad Wolf – haven’t read the whole thing yet, obviously, but I don’t think it comes up at all. It’s basically a day-to-day diary of writing S4, so that’s outside its brief.
    There was a brief exchange between Jack and Rose in an early draft of JE – something along the line of “I want a word with you after what you did to me…” but then Ten changes the subject. Clearly there was huge pressure of time on the finale script, so a lot of good stuff was junked.
    Another nice little scene that didn’t make it – Rose originally didn’t tackle the first Doctor about his unfinished sentence at BWB. It was a nice, intimate little scene between them in the Crucible roundabout the time he lost the TARDIS. Later it was shifted, word for word, to the beach scene, presumably to make it seem that Rose made more of a choice in favour of 10.2. There was also a lot of to-and-fro’ing on whether to include the kiss.

  8. About 10 months before he wrote JE, in fact before S3 aired, RTD wrote:
    ““I’ve put the Doctor’s bubbling hand on board the TARDIS so that when David regenerates, one day, he’ll grow another self and send it off into the parallel universe, so Rose has a Doctor of her own. Ahh! But then today I thought, why delay? His duplicate will now do this at the end of 4.13, which will be gorgeous, and close off the Rose story for ever. That way, the Specials in 2009 will really be special – no companions, no back-references at all.
    In addition, he had to write the script for the 2008 Xmas Special immediately after JE. It was filmed very quickly so DT could get a break before he started with the RSC. And there’s no possibiity of getting DT back, even for a day or two, until January 09.
    Of course, it turned out to be anything but gorgeous in practice and he’s been known to change his mind, but the omens aren’t good.

  9. I wish I could say the same. Unfortunately, it feels like RTD is saying that Rose needs the Doctor—so much so that a duplicate who’s “not quite the same,” and who’s explicitly “not her Doctor” is better than nothing—but he doesn’t need her. (He called the idea that the Doctor needs Rose “slight,” and he only added it to paper over the flaws in the scene.)

  10. No, I think what he referred to as “slight” was the late and hurried insertion of a few lines from 10.1 about 10.2 needing Rose. It was a quick fix, and not enough to make her change of heart convincing, given her absolute determination to get back to the Doctor, no matter what the cost.
    My own take on Rose is that she wants to get back to him primarily because she knows how much he’s suffering without her. The point in Doomsday where she starts to fall apart is when he tells her he’s on his own again. And I always felt that speech in Doomsday where she tells Jackie, “He does it on his own, Mum, but not any more. Because now he’s got me,” is Rose’s manifesto.
    You can, of course, argue that it’s anti-feminist for Rose to see her role as primarily servicing the needs of a man, but he’s not just anyone and she made that commitment right back in EOTW when she put her hand into Nine’s and said, “You’ve got me.” I always found that aspect of her rather beautiful. The Doctor is so hopeless at recognizing his emotional needs, it takes someone fairly bloody-minded to make sure they’re being met.

  11. And I always felt that speech in ‘Doomsday’ where she tells Jackie, ‘He does it on his own, Mum, but not any more. Because now he’s got me,’ is Rose’s manifesto.
    *laughs* I hate that speech. It’s one of the reasons why I don’t see the Rose in season two as “my” Rose. (If I had to pick a line from the series as Rose’s manifesto, it’d be the one in “The Christmas Invasion” where she tells Mickey, “Someone’s gotta be the Doctor.”)
    It’s not that I think it’s anti-feminist. It’s just not the story (or the character) that I fell in love with. When Rose told the Doctor, “You’ve got me,” I didn’t think that she saw her role as primarily servicing the needs of a man. I just thought she was responding—in an impulsive, intuitive, typically Rose-like way—to the Doctor’s grief and loneliness. But the Rose I fell in love with is the one who told Jackie, “If you saw it out there… you’d never stay home,” and who told Mickey, “The Doctor showed me a better way of living your life. You know, he showed you too.”

  12. Oh well, I don’t see it that way. It’s not that Rose needs him so much and he doesn’t need her; it’s that they’re happy and better together but he doesn’t believe in giving the Doctor(the one onscreen) a happy end. FWIW, they say a couple things in the last confidential that elucidate that point. It’s not how *I* see the Doctor, but they seem to feel that the loneliness is integral to his character, which is a shame. No, he wanted to give at least one character a happy ending and I think he felt a human Ten would do that for Rose, whether or not we agree.

  13. Hmm, I think Rose is very responsive to the needs of the Doctor and wants him to be happy, but I don’t think it’s ever at the cost of what SHE wants. She wants him to be happy, yes, but she wants to be with him in the sort of life he leads mostly. She’s just lucky enough that those two things coincide fairly neatly. I don’t think, to be honest, that Rose would ever concede that he would be better off with someone other than her. She’s not that sort of person.

  14. Very interesting, thanks for writing it up!
    In a way I sympathise with him. When I first heard the two-doctors theory I thought it would be the perfect solution. It wasn’t until I saw it acted out that I realised the fact that original Ten was still alone would be a huge problem for me. By the time it hit RTD he was in too deep to do anything about it.
    *nods*
    And I think he is very right about how that scene doesn’t have the emotional resonance that, say, Doomsday had. I find it comforting that he thought so much about what his characters would do, but I still wish he could have found a way to fix it. I definitely think Rose and Ten II interacting *before* the beach scene would have helped.
    You know, maybe part of it was just that he lined up too many guest-stars in these last two episodes. The Doctor and Rose story needed a bit more than what he gave them, and it definitely seems like RTD is very, very aware of that.

  15. hat really gets me is that RTD’s original solution of human Ten after DT regenerated still has the same problem — it’s not the “real” Doctor with whom Rose had adventures and fell in love, and she hasn’t chosen this version of the Doctor. But emotionally, it feels so much better, because once Ten has regenerated, Rose’s “real” Doctor is gone and the human Doctor with Rose is enough of a happy ending.
    I can’t buy that at all – but then I also can’t buy Rose’s rather immature ‘please don’t change’ in JE. Rose has had two Doctors. She loved Nine first, and then had to learn to fall in love with Ten again (so I also have to disagree with the comment in the OP that Ten is the Doctor who fell in love. So did Nine, and nowhere in either of their runs is that clearer than the kiss in POTW).
    So to me it wouldn’t matter whether the Time Lord Doctor left alone at the end of JE was Nine, Ten, Eleven or some other Doctor; he’s still the Doctor and Rose would love him just the same, and he would love Rose just the same.

  16. One thing I’ve learned about fandom is that people judge you not by the medium, but the message. Most of them are there in the first place because they have major issues with the message they’re getting from canon.
    I can rationalise it for ever, but I can’t get past this. Rose and the original Ten is the only ending that feels right to me. So either I write what people want to hear, which gets old very quickly, or I retreat to tiny hardliner communities where my view is endorsed, or I go through the same old arguments every time I post something.
    None of those options really appeal to me, so I can’t imagine writing much more DW fic. I’d rather find somewhere else to put my dreams. In the end, it’s your emotional response to a situation that shapes your work, and I only feel I can be myself with people who feel the way I do about JE. Not that I can’t enjoy stories with other POV. I just don’t feel comfortable writing them.

  17. Considering that he mentioned “no companions, no back-references” 10 months before writing JE, well before he realized he’s written himself into a corner he wasn’t comfortable with, I think it’s possible he may change his mind about what to write for the 3 specials after this year’s Christmas special. He seems very uncomfortable about his writing and the ending of that arc – I don’t think he’ll be able to accept his Doctor Who experience if he doesn’t fix it. And we know how much he loves Doctor Who, so I really think he wants to end his tenure on a good note. That’s my hope anyway! 🙂

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