Saturday, 6 October 2007

Russell Thief Davies - or Just Coincidence

One of the things new writers worry about when submitting their material to various agents and publishers is having their work plagiarised in some way. How do they know that the editor or publisher won’t steal the core ideas and rework them in a piece of their own?

It is a basic truth in the world of writing that authors are regurgitating themes, ideas, set pieces and characters that they have been exposed to throughout their lives. Some of their material might be culled from their own experiences or the experiences of people they know. Some of it might be an affectionate nod towards the fiction they themselves grew up on.

Working writers (that is, writers who are making a living from their work and go from one commission to another) are on the lookout all the time for fresh ideas to prevent their output drying up. Television script writers plunder newspapers and magazines for inspiration. Very often a popular theme or a striking news item finds itself reworked and presented as a storyline in a soap opera. It’s conveyor belt drama for the mass market, and that conveyor belt must not under any circumstances be permitted to stop.

When I was writing The Feeling’s Unmutual in 2003, I had the double thrill of learning that the BBC had invited top TV scribe Russell T Davies to be Head Writer and Executive Producer of a revived and reinterpreted series of Doctor Who. I knew that my book was featuring classic Who quite prominently and that the Six Doctor himself, Colin Baker, was going to endorse it.

Very excited, once my book was published (September 2004), I mailed a copy to Mr Davies courtesy of BBC Wales. Needless to say, I did not receive a reply. This bothered me a bit because I felt that Russell would have enjoyed reading it from a fan’s point of view. I knew we were very different people in some ways, but in the Doctor Who way we would be very similar.

I also sent Christopher Eccleston a copy. He had grown up in Little Hulton and had attended Joseph Eastham High School, the secondary school I went to. I knew he would be interested in the book, not only because he was filming the new Doctor Who, but because he would recognise the Little Hulton and surrounding areas described in the book. Needless to say I didn’t get a reply from him either.

The Feeling’s Unmutual not only details my life and the way Asperger syndrome has affected me, but covers the creation of my little robot school girl Anne Droyd.

In just a few months I began receiving emails from Doctor Who fans (one a prominent member of the Appreciation Society, another a fan in Canada) who were also readers of my book Anne Droyd and Century Lodge alerting me to the fact that Russell T Davies was going to include a robot of television presenter Anne Robinson in the episode "Bad Wolf" and call her Anne Droid.

When the episode aired in the summer of 2005, a number of people approached to ask, “Do you think Russell Davies has read your book?” I could not help but ask the same thing myself.

But – I also knew that Russell had grown up watching the same programmes I’d watched, and that his influences would be very much the same. I later learned that I was not the first to think of the pun “Anne Droyd”. An author in the 1970s had included a character with that name in a Star Wars novel. So Russell might have been influenced by that.

Nevertheless, it did irritate me enormously when the scribe declared that his Anne Droid was the funniest thing in the whole of the 2005 series.

Other similarities started to show through, such as organisations having secret bases beneath derelict buildings and ordinary streets. But – again – there were examples of this in many a sci-fi/adventure series in the 1970s/80s.

And so I dismissed the idea that my work was being ripped off.

Until January 1 2007, when The Sarah-Jane Adventures debuted. Davies executive produced that too, and oversaw the writing of the episode with long-time Doctor Who novelist Gareth Roberts. I had been a big fan of Roberts’ 1990s “Missing Adventures” The Romance of Crime and The English Way of Death, and had written to him to tell him. This time I did get a reply, along with a signed copy of his then new book The Plotters (which was as equally well written and absorbing as his previous titles). To return the gesture, in 2002, I sent Gareth a signed copy of my original Anne Droyd novel.

I cannot say for definite that my autobiography and children’s novel have been mercilessly reworked, but I do believe that Davies and Roberts know of my writings.

The Doctor Who series goes from strength-to-strength in terms of popularity, and I’m glad it is enjoying a much deserved renaissance. Russell T Davies has received BAFTA awards for his involvement. But one rarely hears him crediting other writers or admitting that he has sourced existing material.

For my sanity’s sake, I will not be sending him, or indeed any other writer not known to me, manuscripts or even published books in future. All material is up for grabs and re-working. So if you are a fledgling writer, don’t show your work to anybody unless it is a trusted friend, an agent or a publisher.

Below are the similarities I have noted between my works and that of Russell T Davies since the revival of Doctor Who in 2005...

Anne Droyd

There is a character called “The Anne Droid” in Bad Wolf.

Secret Bases Under the Streets

Rose, The Christmas Invasion, The Runaway Bride (Thames floods the base as Century Lodge does the Foundation),Torchwood, SJA: Invasion of the Bane.

Sarah-Jane Adventures

I worked in a pop factory for seven years – there is a secret base beneath a pop factory.

I obsessed about Dr David Banner and The Incredible Hulk, my book references them frequently – Sarah-Jane lives on Bannerman Road.

Anne Droyd and Century Lodge features an ice cold villainess – Invasion of the Bane features an ice cold villainess.

In Century Lodge’s underground bunker, the villains are creating an android girl. She is like a blank slate, she doesn’t know anything, she has superhuman abilities (memorises a school register instantly), but she doesn’t understand social conventions. One of the human children in the story is called Luke – in Invasion of the Bane’s underground bunker, the villains are creating a hybrid human child. The child is like a blank slate, he doesn’t know anything, he has enhanced mental abilities (learns to read instantly), but he doesn’t understand social conventions. They name him Luke.

Rip-off or just coincidence? I can’t tell anymore. Am I just that bit too paranoid? Very probably. But it’s best to be safe.


Darryl Sloan said...

I'd be fairly confident these are just coincidences. Most of the ones you state are pretty loose.

My first novel, Ulterior features reptilian aliens who walk among us disguised as humans by some brain-tricking technique. We can see through the guise when we feel sharp pain. Guess what? A few years ago I saw an episode of Buck Rogers called "Mark of the Saurian." It featured reptilian aliens who pose as humans using the same technique, with exactly the same means of seeing through them. I could not believe it! And I'm pretty certain I never saw this episode when I was a kid. If anything, I was thinking about V when I wrote the novel.

As for "Anne Droid," there are numerous Anne Droids out there, as well as "Annie Droid" if you google the term. I even remember an "Andy Roid" (a play on "an-d-roid") comic strip. It's all a fairly obvious play on the word "android." I doubt that Davies copied you.

Will Hadcroft said...
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Will Hadcroft said...

Thanks as ever for your insightful comments, Darryl. They are appreciated.

It’s nice to know that other authors are having similar experiences.

I think in this instance my feelings of paranoia have been heightened by the fact that other people come to me and suggest that my work is being plundered.

They are well meaning and loyal to what I have created, but what they imply doesn’t help my natural leaning toward obsession and my tendency to fixate on negative ideas.

On reflection I can see that Messrs Davies and Roberts grew up in the same era as me and were influenced by many of the same things.

It is inevitable that these things will bleed through into their work, and, indeed, they will be deliberately referencing some of them in an affectionate way.

It's just a concern when others think I am being ripped off.

With the name Anne Droyd, there are indeed many variations out there. I was going to spell it “Anne Dreud” originally so that the German connection would be there (as in “Freud”), but later thought better of it.

I think most children would not realise the “eu” is pronounced “oi” and then the wordplay would be lost.

It does irritate, though, that the spelling is not consistent with that of real German surnames.

G L Wilson said...

"...Sarah-Jane lives on Bannerman Road..."

Surely, that'll be an-joke reference to the Doctor Who episodes Delta and the Bannermen.

Will Hadcroft said...

Hey, it hadn't occurred to me at all that it might be Delta and the Bannermen.

It might well be!

Beetroot said...
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Anonymous said...

If you look at most of RTD's Doctor Who scripts they are full of other people's ideas adapted by him for Doctor Who. Look at the last series finale. There were references to Captain Scarlet’s Cloudbase, Terra Hawks, Flash Gordon, and Lord of The Rings. The recent Christmas special pulled in ideas and characters from various disaster movies. Torchwood often seems like a thinly disguised combination of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel (programmes that RTD is a big fan of).
If you ‘harvest’ other peoples ideas on a regular basis perhaps you can justify it by claiming that a) there is no copyright for ideas, and b) is it the same idea if it’s being used in a different genre anyway? Fantasy to SF for example. But if you do it that much, doesn’t it suggest you're a lazy writer, and worse, isn’t there a danger you’d become more and more blatant because you’ve convinced yourself your entitled to do it?

Comment by Beetroot

Will Hadcroft said...

Thanks for that, Beetroot. The Voyage of the Damned Christmas special also culled elements from classic series Doctor Who. The idea of a sailing ship in space is reminiscent of the Peter Davison story Enightenment and the angel robots saying, "Information:Kill," reminds me of the politely spoken butler-like robots in the Tom Baker adventure The Robots of Death.

RTD may argue that there's nothing new under the sun, and that Doctor Who of old was often a pastiche of a classic novel or Hammer Horror movie - which indeed they were. But what he does is SO blatant.

This is where the conveyor belt nature of new Doctor Who is a problem. Why should RTD write half the season himself? He only needs to write the first story, maybe one in the middle, and the season finale. OK, when it first came back the BBC were selling it on the credibility of his name. Not so now. They could go back to the old style of producing where several writers are commissioned and overseen by a script editor or a team of editors.

I think RTD draws from many sources because he has to. There is no way one writer can keep churning it out like that.

Hopefully he will hand over the baton to someone else after the 2008 series (perhaps when it returns for a full series in 2010?).

Beetroot said...

I agree with everything you say Will. I was beginning to think that, like the small child in “The Emperor’s New Clothes” I was the only one who could see that RTD was doing this. If you or I, or anyone else submitted scripts like that to the BBC we’d have them sent straight back. I think it’s partly the high production values of the new series, the special effects etc, that allows him to get away with it. Imagine some of the great stories of ‘Classic’ Doctor Who being given those sorts of resources. Great stories and great effects, the series would never have become such a passion of just a few discerning fans.

I get the distinct impression that RTD feels that Doctor Who is his personal property, and that he can do what he likes with it. Worse still, he should write most of the stories because he’s the best writer. Other people have written the best stories. The worst stories have been written by RTD. They’re the ones full of clich├ęs, rehashed ideas taken from other popular film and TV etc. (including as you’ve pointed out Will, classic Doctor Who) and his own personnel and unsubtle campaign messages on gay issues.

Like you I hope the baton get passed to someone with a more traditional approach to producing, but I fear that he has collected a like minded entourage around himself, one of which will no doubt be groomed to carry on where he left off.

Will Hadcroft said...


I think it’s partly the high production values of the new series, the special effects etc, that allows him to get away with it.

He does seem to approach it with the view that if one can imagine it and the effects boys can do it, there's no reason why one shouldn't do it. I like Doctor Who to stretch the imagination, but I also like it to have *some* grounding in reality or current science theory. It's all a bit too magical for me (that sonic screwdriver gets waved about like a wand these days!).

Imagine some of the great stories of ‘Classic’ Doctor Who being given those sorts of resources. Great stories and great effects, the series would never have become such a passion of just a few discerning fans.

Even some of the not-so fondly remembered stories would have faired better. Imagine "Paradise Towers" set in a truly derelict towerblock, with frightening cleaning robots, a great cast, and a more versatile actor playing the Doctor. (In fact, "Gridlock" puts me in mind of "Paradise Towers" with a few quid spent on it).

I get the distinct impression that RTD feels that Doctor Who is his personal property, and that he can do what he likes with it.

It doesn't help that Alison Graham in the Radio Times calls him "the master storyteller" and his production team treat him like God. I get the feeling that they don't really challenge his more outrageous ideas.

Worse still, he should write most of the stories because he’s the best writer.

Well, to start with, the BBC wanted him to write the whole 2005 series because his name carried so much weight. But now the show is established, he doesn't need to dominate it so much.

Other people have written the best stories.

Agreed. Though I do like "The Parting of the Ways", "The Christmas Invasion", "New Earth", "Gridlock" and "Utopia", which are all from Russell's pen.

and his own personal and unsubtle campaign messages on gay issues.

All writers lace their work with their own particular preoccupations. But yes, Russell's are so very obvious.

Like you I hope the baton gets passed to someone with a more traditional approach to producing, but I fear that he has collected a like minded entourage around himself, one of which will no doubt be groomed to carry on where he left off.

Rumour has it that Steven Moffatt ("The Empty Child", "The Girl in the Fireplace" and "Blink") will take the reigns when Russell moves on. He is certainly the best qualified to take it forward, in my opinion.