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The Watch - New Not-So-Discworld Series


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BBC Studios are developing a 6-part series based on the Discworld books. From the name, I assume it's mainly based on the City Watch characters. They're not looking to restrict it to 6 episodes, but one which can have more series to follow. It's being produced with Pratchett's production company Narrativia and apparently looking for other partners to make it a major international co-production.

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They first announced this was in the works quite literally years ago. At the time it was first announced they said it was going to be a 'crime of the week' style show featuring characters from the Watch series and not specifically based on any particular book IIRC.


Will be incredibly hard to cast well. The Watch characters are very vivid and because Pratchett doesn't really describe the looks of his characters (outside of very broad features - Sergeant Colon is a fat middle aged bloke, etc) everyone has very different images in their head.

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Could be great but I'm more than a little apprehensive. All of the guilds, the patrician, the potential satire it could be amazing and have ridiculous potential for many series' but somehow I just think it will end up being a bit like some sort of maid Marion type show (but probably not as good as that even was) with a bit of The Bill thrown in.

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I have yet to see any adaptation of Pratchett's work that has hit the mark in terms of character or humour.


The essence of his style for me was the intricate way he built jokes layered upon other jokes within sentences, and the frequent allusions to real people and places from Roundworld.


None of that comes across on the screen and instead lazy writers just translate it as 'wacky'.

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Even though the casting was generally pretty good (Jane Horrocks as Magrat, Christopher Lee as Death, Charles Dance as Vetinari, Richard Coyle as Moist), the key thing that I think none of the previous screen adaptations (the Cosgrove Hall animated Wyrd Sisters and Soul Music, and the three Sky One adaptations) have got quite right is the tone. In your head, successive jokes can be silly, deadpan, lowbrow, droll, or funny through recognition - in your head you can interpret it in whatever way is funniest. That's a really fine line for a screen, stage or audio adaptation to walk - they have to pick just one reading of a joke, and there's no way it'll match the way every fan read it!


I've just seen @Don Wiskerando  post above, and yeah, I agree. My go-to example of one of the funniest scenes in the books falling completely flat on screen is the bit in Hogfather where Ridcully uses the bathroom designed by BS Johnson. In fact I remember Hogfather being filled with a sort of plinky-plonky music that seemed designed to evoke "wacky". And one of the early books' title pages explicitly denied it was either wacky or zany. I may have mentioned this example before:



I did like the Going Postal adaptation though. And some of the voices in the point and click adventure games are still how I hear some of the characters in my head. So it is possible...

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It is true that Pratchett's style has proven difficult to translate. His humour is often subtle, careful puns and quiet references that aren't obvious that he then plays with and mocks and satirises. That is difficult to put on screen without being blindingly obvious about it. It extends to some of his ideas and themes as well - I quite like the adaptation of the Hogfather, accepting it is slightly too low budget and it gets some of the humour wrong (like the B.S. Johnson bathroom scene mentioned above, they play it wrong but also play it badly so it barely works on any level of humour), but the themes of Hogfather about belief work better on the page rather than on screen.


I did quite like the Going Postal adaptation, but again they play it far too hammy throughout.


I don't think it's impossible to adapt his work well though. A Watch series can be played very straight and still be funny. In fact I think his work generally works better played straight with hints of sarcasm and occasional farce, as much of the humour is dry.


I'd love to see a really good adaptation of the Disc though so I'm open to them trying anything. There's also a Mort movie in the works, and the Wee Free Men is supposedly moving still.

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56 minutes ago, Delargey said:

Wait...Carcer Dun...they are doing Night Watch? That's an odd plot to start on.


Yeah, and are Carrot, Cheery, Sybil & Angua even in it?  It's been a while since I read it but I thought their bits just book-ended the main plot?


The Watch books have a really, really special place in my heart, I adored them as a kid and me and my dad didn't get on most of the time but could always happily chat about them, so I'm terrified about this.  The cast seem alright, Richard Dormer has the potential to be a really good Vimes.  Whoever they cast as Colon and Nobby are never going to be good enough though, I have such a clear picture of their whole essence in my mind's eye.

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They're not adapting any particular storyline apparently, but you'd bet they're going to nick ideas - Carcer being extrapolated as a nemesis rather than the single book villain he is (which in fairness does push him as having been a bigger problem for the Watch than purely what that plot dictates) being one of the easier ones. It was originally pitched as a 'crime of the week' show but I'd imagine they'll weave a longer narrative through it as well.


They're certainly mixing up the timeline - Carrot is still a new recruit but the Watch has characters that joined after him being already established, Angua for instance is being described as his trainer, whereas obviously in the books she arrives after Carrot has made it to second in command. I can see why they've done that but I kinda am married to the books take - especially as Angua kinda exemplifies the Watch changing from a boys club to diverse organisation, following on from Carrot turning it more professional.


I could see Dormer being a good Vimes, perhaps very good (I was strangely find of him in GoT despite him doing... well, not much). The rest I don't know but they don't 'fit' the look I've had in my head for them for quite literally decades (i.e Sybil in my head is effectively a younger slightly better looking Pam Ferris, Cheery looks like a bit like a very short blonde Josie Long, with a beard, etc etc) but they were never going to. If they do Nobby and Colon they're on a hiding to nothing, both are very vivid characters but neither are expressly described so everyone will have very, very different takes on the basic outline Pratchett gives.


I'm kinda trepidacious about this now. Pratchett is hard, really hard to translate from the page, and the little hints at the tone of this doesn't fill me with hope. I'm a bit concerned it's going to be a bit fanfic, but perhaps even worse that they might have taken the characters in slightly out of kilter ways.


Like so many people Discworld is beloved to me, I've read the books over and over and over... and never enjoyed them less. And the Watch characters are like the crown jewels in a drawer of diamonds (mostly). An adaptation can't really size up.

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I think I pictured Sybil as Liza Tarbuck, essentially.  Colon and Nobby are sort of Mark Francois and season 2/3 Baldrick shapes in my head.


I think most of my trepidation about this is the worry that they'll just adapt it as wacky fantasy.  Peak Pratchett does something similar to the Roman satirists like Juvenal in using a ridiculously over the top literary form undercut with realism to create social commentary, and the Watch books were the main outlet for it.  They cover feminism and the patriarchy, racial divisions in a multicultural society, the industrial revolution, the dangers of idiotic blind patriotism, the shrinking of the world through telecommunications, the mechanisation of war, class divides - loads of stuff which I wonder 1) will they actually try to adapt and 2) will it actually translate properly without the books' inner monologues and narrator doing most of the heavy lifting.

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6 hours ago, JohnC said:

Richard Dormer as Sam Vimes

That's... actually pretty good, I can see that.


You lot have summed it up perfectly, lordy I hope they do this right. After so many books, so many re-reads, you have this mental image built up, helped of course by the wonderful artwork that adorned the books, maps, etc. I both really want, and am nervous, for it to be adapted.

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I'm in equal parts nervous and excited for this. And the more I hear, the more nervous I get. 


If Vimes doesn't start as a drunk it removes his entire redemptive ark and either puts it into exposition, maintains it as a battle he is currently fighting or ignores it completely. All of which are ignorant of the effects that Sybil has on him. 


Carrot is the catalyst for the watch changing and growing and him coming into the series as the first new member of the Watch since Gaskin just let's the whole redemption and improvement of the watch flow so naturally. I just feel a short six ep season introducing Carrot to the existing three members of the Watch and then expanding out just makes so much more sense. I don't even need the Dragon. 


Richard Dormer though is a great shout. 


And I've always seen Nobby and Colon as these two. 




As an aside, and going into the territory of witches, I always saw Stephanie Cole and Miriam Margoyles as Granny and Nanny. 

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44 minutes ago, omus said:

Stephanie Cole and Miriam Margoyles as Granny and Nanny


Yes, perfect :D


Josef Altin actually has a bit of a Nobbyesque quality to him




I've no idea who would be a good Vetinari, he's just an abstract combination of black clothes, sharp angles and calm ruthlessness in my head.  I never watched Sky's adaptation of Postal, was Charles Dance any good?





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26 minutes ago, Don Wiskerando said:

Margolyes is Nanny Ogg in real life.  She would be perfect.


Also, 'The Joy of Snacks' is the best pun ever committed to the page.


I think the very best pune, or play on words, is from Night Watch:



The helmet had gold decoration, and the bespoke armorers had made a new gleaming breastplate with useless gold ornamentation on it. Sam Vimes felt like a class traitor every time he wore it. He hated being thought of as one of those people that wore stupid ornamental armour.


It was gilt by association.



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Fuck it, an indulgence... Discworld Watch fan casting.


Vimes - Stephen Dillane

Carrot - Tom Hopper/Kristoffer Hivju

Colon - Colm Meaney/Mark Addy

Nobby - Eddie Marsan with a lot of makeup

Angua - Kathryn Winnick

Cheery - Josie Long

Sybil - Olivia Colman

Dibbler - Andrew Scott

Vetinari - Charles Dance (was Alan Rickman)

Visit - Dev Patel/Matt Smith

Reg Shoe - Mackenzie Crook

Willikins - Simon Pegg


I've tried to be somewhat realistic here - while Sybil in my head is always going to be a younger, slightly better looking Pam Ferris, for instance, that person doesn't exist, so I've gone for an alternative. Likewise Nobby is basically Baldrick bit less stupid and more cynical, but Tony Robinson is way too old now.


If you did this for the entire Discworld series you'd have the entire British character actor fraternity in work for years.


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I've seen the Batman comparison suggested in a couple of places, and I'm not sure where that's coming from. The BBC America announcement says:





Lara Rossi plays the formidable Lady Sybil Ramkin, last scion of Ankh-Morpork’s nobility, who’s trying to fix the city’s wrongs with her chaotic vigilantism.


I suppose that could refer to her determination to find sick swamp dragons and bring them to the Sunshine Sanctuary?


I think Batman comparisons are reading a bit too much into it. If they want characters who jump around on rooftops in the dead of night, there's always the Assassins' Guild.

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The Batman/Sybil thing I don't think is that much of a leap. An upper class vigilante... It's Batman. I don't think there's anything in the books that Sybil does that can be described as 'vigilantism'.


The description and casting seems to be doing Sybil dirty - she's a well built upper class woman who is obsessed with dragons and intensely practical, who becomes Vimes' grounding rod and also his path to accepting his new status. It's a fairly thankless role and I could see why you'd want to push her as a more proactive character... But the character this seems to be pushing is Sybil In Name Only.


They also seem to be doing Cheery wrong as well. They're pushing her as a gender fluid character. But she's not. Cheery is a woman. Her race has an issue with sex, and Cheery becomes a ground breaker by openly being feminine in a race that only exhibits masculinity. She's not 'confused' or changeable in her gender, she's a woman that chooses to reject her background in a race where everyone appears to be a man.


Hmm. The more I think about this series the more it worries me. It smacks of the writers wanting to do their own thing but slapping a known property over the top.

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I always pictured sybil as a bit like the farmers that French and Saunders used to play, the whole wearing wellies under previously expensive lavish dresses and her fire proof gear. Certainly not a slim woman that's being a vigilante in any way. 

All about how it's played and costume though really and I know those are all actor headshots but cheery doesn't look right either somehow. Then I doubt she'd start off as bearded with the whole "Bob" in blackadder type storyline either.


As mentioned though, Charles Dance would be a good vetinari now rickman is no longer with us. 

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9 hours ago, PK said:

was Charles Dance any good?

Vetinari is probably my favorite character, all told. I love Vimes, but Vetinari is pretty much there throughout. 


I thought Charles Dance did a good job of Vetinari's deadpan ruthlessness, walking that thin line between quietly intimidating and being "nice" (as it serves Anhk-Morpork, and his overseeing it). 


If anyone hasn't already done so, immediately book a week off work and read all the Watch books back to back. 

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