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.