The book I’m reading at the moment is Doctor Who, The Writer’s Tale, and is based on an ongoing email interview with the Chief Writer, Russell T Davies.
It’s an interesting read, as it follows the progress of Season 4 of Doctor Who, and Davies is sharing ideas and giving a good perspective of things as they happen. One minute he is lamenting a lack me imagination on his part, the next he is overjoyed that Catherine Tate has agreed to rejoin the cast.
It’s also interesting to see how he approaches writing. He seems very down, and very self conscious about it all, yet at the same time shows an unnerving self confidence that he can achieve what he wants to achieve.
I’d love to be able to write Sci Fi. I do have a strong belief that deep inside me there is a comedy script, but that is borne from a belief that being funny on screen is easy. It’s not, I’ve no doubt over that, but that doesn’t stop me believing that it is.
But to write sci fi. Wow. The imagination that’s needed. Don’t get me wrong, I sometimes wonder if it’s easier. “How can I get the script from A to B? Oh, it’s sci fi, I’ll just create a dragon that does it, or a magic spell to achieve what I want. Or a pixie with a time travelling calculator.” There’s no end to the solutions, as there is no reality that needs to be stuck to.
But then Davies talks about other writers, and gives examples from Buffy and I, Claudius, and although I can’t place the references he made, it made me reflect on the writing in sci fi that can be superb.
Season Four of Doctor Who had an episode set entirely in the cabin of a space ship. There was about ten actors. The script focussed on the relationship between the doctor and one of the passengers on board whose body seemed to have been taken over by an alien. It follows how the alien starts by repeating everything the Doctor is saying, then saying it at the same time before then finding that the Doctor is then repeating the alien. The story then shows the chaos of humans who are in unfamiliar territory (similar to Lord of the Flies, actually), and ends with a slight twist as the Doctor refers back to something seemingly inconsequential at the start of the episode to bring things back to normality. It’s brilliantly written, acted superbly between the two main characters and using a fairly basic surrounding, was probably the best episode I’ve seen, despite the lack of CGI and special effects. Absolutely brilliant.
Buffy was another series that seemed to excel in it’s efforts at being different. Imagine having to write an hour long episode (well, about 45 mins after the ads are taken out) where the characters are all unable to talk. Or an episode written as a musical, where the whole cast break into song the whole time. It must take a huge talent to write like that.
In fact, Buffy even managed to start a new series with a new character as Buffy’s sister, who lived with Buffy and had done since birth. Yet the previous three seasons had shown that Buffy was an only child. This new season showed her sister, and the whole cast paid no reference to the fact that she had never been seen or referred to before. It took a few episodes before eventually being cleared up and explained in a convoluted yet fascinating plot. Again, absolutely brilliant, yet barmy to consider. Yet it worked well.