Yes, you can polish a turd… if you light it well.

— Caveat, the whole point to the less is more bit of this post was that the prop under discussion was the one used in the actual series of Dr Who. It wasn’t. It was built by a fan. Looking at the equipment available to the BBC props department and a chap in a shed, the whole perspective suddenly changes. Basically, a 19 year old lad has made something, himself, that I thought was an actual BBC prop. So it’s more on the freaking awesome level than what I call it. So what I say about attention to detail still stands but actually, the example might just as well be made up. So there you are. Check your facts. All of them. Even the ones you don’t even realise need checking. —

This week has been half term so all meaningful work on K’Barthan things has dropped in favour of doing stuff with the ankle biter. We went to a sci-fi exhibition at the local museum, great fun, and opened with a host of look a likes, Dr Who, Darth Vader, a rather handsome jedi knight, a cyberman, Boba Fett and McMini was pictured with all of them.

Inside the exibition they had the actual control console from the Tardis. There have been several, anyone with kids who remembers the beebatron on CBeebies, or who has subsequently seen Cari and David’s Pop Shop will know what happened to the one out of the 5th Doctor’s Tardis. The one in the exhibition was the current one. Here it is. So what do you notice?


That’s right. It’s really shit. And close up, it looks like this?

Dodgy Tardis

and this….?


So this is what amazed me; the difference between the way it appears on film and the way it looks close up.

On film: slick, sparkly and kind of steam punk with all that shiny brass and bits of 1960s telephones. Of solid, robust and more to the point cool.

Close up: shit.

And here’s the magic.

It doesn’t matter how hit looks close up because, it’s designed to be seen on film and the minute I take a picture it ceases to become a load of old tut and turns into to something else.

And what does this have to do with writing?

Well, my point is this. It’s easy to get hung up on world building and character back story when you write spec-fic. But what this teaches me, at any rate, is that the trick is not so much what you put in as what you leave out.

Yes, the Tardis Control Console looks terrible to the naked eye but on TV it looks bloody brilliant. Sometimes, less, or a hint, is more and the reader – or viewer’s – imagination does the rest. The secret is selecting the trigger details, the odd snippet here and there which people reading it will embellish for themselves. The real Gods are the writers who do that in a way that will have every reader seeing the same picture.


Filed under About My Writing, Blimey!

14 responses to “Yes, you can polish a turd… if you light it well.

  1. Who ever said ‘The Camera doesn’t lie’ was talking out of his backside. But ‘Beauty is in the eye of the beholder’ was spot on. You hit the nail on the head for us all though MTM when you say that the trick is getting the reader’s own imagination to work as the writer desires. I think that’s why one of my favourite films is the first of the LOTR films as the Moria segment is almost exactly as I always saw it in my head.

    • Mwah ha ha hargh! I couldn’t get through the Camelot style sparkly sugar coated beginning of the first LOTR film and I confess, never watched them. It’s strange because I loved the beginning in the book, but then, I loved it because of the texture of the words and the sheer joy of writing that comes over in it. You just know that Tolkein had a gas penning that bit.

      You’re right though. When I see the pictures of Terry Pratchett characters, some of the characters are absolutely as I imagined them. I always like it when that happens but I also think it shows the skill of the author, too. Something I have to do a lot of work on, to be honest.



  2. Nice blog. Hate to keep using Jack Vance as the gold standard but he did what you suggest, he created the depth to his worlds through hints and throw away comments, rarely by long descriptive passages.

  3. texasdruids

    One of the first things I learned from writing workshops and critique partners was the concept of sprinkling in historical details throughout a book, rather than hitting readers over the head with history “dumps”. I think that ties in with what you’re saying here. Most of the time a little is much better than a lot. It’s all a balancing act between action, dialogue, internalization and back story, at least in my opinion.

  4. Hi there, I’m flattered that you think that this is the ACTUAL Console from the BBC, But in actual fact this is a Fan Built Console, That I Made, Not the BBC! Its an absolute pleasure to know that people appreciate the time and effort someone puts into making something, to take it to an exhibition, and then get panned by some idiot on the internet.

    Oh and if you’d like to see how its made, here’s the link to my website page;

    Many Thanks

    Aaron Williams

    • Aaron, I am really, really sorry. But please be flattered because it never occurred to me that your version was anything other than the real one. It was totally on a par with much of what I saw there; the cybermen, Darth Maul, the bits and bobs from StarWars and from 2000 Space Odessy, one of the Daleks (there were two) and Blakes Seven. It was as good as anything I saw when I went to a StarWars film props exhibition a couple of years ago. That’s why it fooled me. Please see my official apology as well as the e-mail I sent you. I went and looked at your site and the drawings are fantastic, which just makes it worse.

      Really, really sorry.



  5. Anna-marie river

    Right, after reading your ‘extremely’ interesting article about the above console I feel the need to ask have you built a console? Or do you just sit on the sidelines looking a prat shouting abuse at what other people are doing? It’s very easy to sit and writing a load of words out instead of actually building something you’re proud of. So, how about you ‘show us how it’s done’ and build a TARDIS console yourself and then allow us to pick fault at every little thing. It’s not about being entirely specific with every detail, it’s about building something with friends, having a laugh whilst doing it and appreciating it for what is it.
    Well, I’ll check back later to see if you’ve bothered to build your own one or if you would rather reply with many bitchy and unimpressive things to say in some sort of way of offending me and making me look a div.

  6. Pingback: Humble pie: quite a big slice. | M T McGuire Authorholic

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  8. texasdruids

    I took your description of the console as kind of a backhanded compliment. It’s amazing that Mr. Williams managed to build a console out of everyday objects that passes for the real thing when photographed. I think you made that point quite clear, MT.

    • If I didn’t I really hope I have now. My painting mojo is currently dormant but I am an artist as well as a writer and I know how it feels to put your… well, your soul out there so I wouldn’t knowingly be flippant about another artist’s work.



  9. John Smith

    The real core of this blog is focusing on the writing ethics of “trigger details…letting the imagination do the rest”. It’s a shame this has been lost slightly by Mr Williams and his poor copy of a TARDIS. As someone who has built a console myself I am aware of the difficulties in accomplishing this successfully. However if your going to do a job, its worth doing it ‘prop’erly as the old saying goes.
    Secondly the pain of criticism runs deep although it is my opinion that criticism allows artists to grow, enabling them to develop and flourish, this is why I openly welcome critics views.
    Mr Williams reaction, I feel is sadly disproportionate and an illegitimate dig at a well respected writer and blogger who according to the aforementioned is “some idiot on the internet” It is indeed reassuring to know in this day and age respect is readily available.I solemnly wish for his own sake that Mr William’s endeavors to seek a healthier approach to this attitude.
    The best of wishes to Mr Williams in his future pursuits, such a shame his teenage ignorance has got the better of him on this occasion.
    John Smith

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