Writing a Doctors script: Do It! Do It! Don't! Don't! Don't!

Friday 13 January 2012, 13:58

Claire Bennett Claire Bennett

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An advisory list of potential delights and horrors when writing DOCTORS scripts.

Doctors The cast of BBC One drama, Doctors.

100% my opinion - In no particular order...

1. Trust your script editor and use their skill and experience. They can have moments of genius for which you can take most of the credit.

2. Go with the suspension of disbelief... up to a point. Yes our doctors will make unannounced house calls (that nobody working in the NHS would) but there needs to be a convincing impulsion.

3. Resist the temptation to cram too huge a change into too short a time. Someone who deeply loathes their neighbour at breakfast is unlikely to suggest demolishing the party wall after tea.

4. Don't think it is a show about medicine. It is a show about interaction.

5. Know everything there is to know about your characters. It's not enough to be aware of what political shade they are. You need to know what's in their shed, what they think of "statement" wallpaper and whether or not they watch "Question Time" and buy free-range eggs.

6. Embrace the characters that are given to you. The core characters on Doctors are fabulously diverse and played by some of the most competent and excellent actors on television.

7. Don't be afraid to start in the middle or at the end or with a flicker of a moment. Build your story around the scene that resonates with you most.

8. Fight for what you want. In one of my very early episodes I really wanted a BEANO-esque small boy with an aluminium saucepan stuck on his head who would sit in the waiting room throughout - with shorts on and grey socks. It made me laugh. I knew it would make other people laugh. I was told that he would be sent straight to A&E and so I couldn't have him. I didn't win that one but years later another writer did and a BEANO-esque small boy with an aluminium saucepan stuck on his head sat in the waiting room... and made me laugh.

9. Don't begin an episode with someone making an appointment to see a doctor.

10. Go for the most you can get away with in the beginning and know you'll have to take it back. We'll never be allowed to drop the "C" bomb but clever insults, well earned and coming from the right mouth are commonplace.

11. It's too easy for people to have "died in a car crash". Think of more imaginative ways for people to have died unexpectedly and have created that emotional chasm. Put them in a catastrophe; have them fall off cliffs and down lift shafts, let them be the victims of murder and botulism. On the same subject, not all troubled teenagers lost their mothers in a car crash when they were small.

12. Smash stereotypes for sport.

13. Crumble predictable outcomes as a religion.

14. Don't think of DOCTORS as just a daytime drama - think of it as a show that offers you the potential to do almost anything.

15. Resist the temptation to make your guest characters larger than life. This is a practical note. If you underplay it the actor will have room to develop their role without over blowing it.

16. Leave room for fear, anxiety and anger to develop. If you start with people shouting at each other they have nowhere to go but more shouting and louder shouting. And then they shout a bit more before it all goes quiet. Shouting is the distinguishing quality of other shows. I'm no advocating no shouting... just shouting with awareness.

17. Root the show where it is. Look at the map and web sites if you don't know the region. Use references that make sense and place names that work in the context of a market town environment on the outskirts of Birmingham. Check out www.birminghamitsnotshit.co.uk

Claire Bennett has written nearly 50 episodes of Doctors, as a core writer on the series. Download her script for last year's Doctors Christmas episode 'Lebkucken vs Papparkakor' from the BBC writersroom script archive. Watch a clip from the episode below.

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    Comment number 1.

    Thanks Claire, that's really interesting advice - but how would someone go about submitting a script to Doctors?

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    Comment number 2.

    Thank you, all good information.

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    Comment number 3.

    This is great advice from Claire. I'd love to write for Doctors too. A real shame that continuing drama scripts have to be submitted via an agent. Don't really understand why when the rest of the BBC has an open door policy.

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    Comment number 4.

    BTW if that's incorrect, happy to be put right! :)

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    Comment number 5.

    Hello Paul. You are incorrect. No BBC departments have open door policies except BBC writersroom.
    Regarding only accepting work via an agent, you need to see it from the BBC's (or any network's) point of view. If they were open door, they'd get a deluge of scripts through. They just haven't got the manpower to sift through the wheat and the chaff, which is why a dedicated department like BBC writersroom is there.

    Having a filter in place (e.g. agents) means that the best material from more experienced writers will hit their desks.

    Paul, get yourself an agent. Then you can do that too. If you can't, then enter BBC contests, get noticed, submit to production companies, etc.

    You can't expect to write for a BBC soaop without climbing that greasy ladder first.

    Hope that helps. ;)


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