Terry Pratchett's The Watch Series by BBC Studios - When? What? How? Huh?
Written and researched by Rachel Anthony-Rowlands
Terry Pratchett said
A lie can run around the world before the truth has got its boots on
Discworld Monthly has always been proud to tell the fans The Truth and there are so many different things being said about the various TV adaptations of Terry Pratchett's works that I felt it was time for a truthful article about The Watch series and how it came into being what it is today.
For a series that had its roots in a very well established book series, there are huge expectations that it will be as funny if not funnier than its origins and faithful to the source material.
As very little is in the public eye about the series (which is currently being filmed in South Africa) what little is known is causing a huge amount of people to apportion blame onto Terry's family on social media.
What we have tried to do here is to give a very factual timeline and analysis of Huh? What? Why? Huh? about The Watch
When? A (not so) Brief Public History of The Watch development.
1989 - 2011The first City Watch novel Guards! Guards! was published in 1989 and the City Watch came into being. In the following years another 7 novels, one spin off book and one short story about the City Watch were published with Snuff, the final City Watch book being published in 2011.
2011Prime Focus Productions entered talks with Terry Pratchett to produce a series entitled The Watch. Prime Focus Productions' managing director Rod Brown had previously produced three live action adaptations of Terry Pratchett's novels while working for The Mob Film Company.
2012Narrativia Ltd. was formed by Terry Pratchett and consisted of Rob Wilkins, Rhianna Pratchett, Rod Brown and Terry himself. Narrativia took control of existing Pratchett projects, previously being produced by Prime Focus, as well as starting to develop new ideas.
For those of you who don't know, Narrativia owns and controls the exclusive multimedia and merchandising rights to all of Sir Terry's works, including his Discworld characters and creations and continues to do so to this day. The day to day management of Narrativia is performed by Rob Wilkins.
2012At this time, it was mooted that The Watch would be a police procedural, post-watershed, drama series based on characters from the books and would consist of 13 episodes with each episode being 60 minutes long. The estimate at the time was that the series would have a budget of 2 million pounds per episode. Rhianna Pratchett would be one of the writers on the series as well as Guy Burt (who previously worked on The Borgias) with rumours citing Terry Jones and Gavin Scott as the heads of the writing team. At the Discworld Convention in 2012 it was announced that Rhianna had been working out how forensics might work on the Disc and was planning on bringing an Igorina into the watch as their forensics officer.
2014: SeptemberColin Smythe (Terry's literary agent) went on record saying the scripts were in development and that filming was planned for 2015.
2015: MarchTerry Pratchett took Death's hand and walked across the sands and the Great A'Tuin stopped swimming through space for a moment.
2015: AutumnRob Wilkins announced via a video for the German Discworld Convention that the series was still in production and nothing more would be announced until they started filming.
2018: MarchDeadline Hollywood made a statement reporting that BBC Studios was developing a six part series called The Watch as the basis of a
There was no official word from either Narrativia or BBC Studios at this time.
2018: AprilRod Brown left Narrativia Ltd.
2018: OctoberThere is an official announcement from BBC America, that they have greenlit a series called The Watch with Simon Allen at the helm. It will be an 8 part series of 60 mins per episode and will be produced by BBC Studios.
2019: SeptemberThe cast started being announced. Adam Hugill as Corporal Carrot was the first cast member, followed swiftly by Richard Dormer as Sam Vimes, Jo Eaton-Kent as Constable Cheery, Marama Corlette as Corporal Angua, Lara Rossi as Lady Sybil and Sam Adewunmi as Carcer Dun.
2019: SeptemberRhianna Pratchett makes her position known on Twitter with regards to The Watch series.
2019: 30th SeptemberFilming started in Cape Town Studios in South Africa.
Images started being leaked online such as this one of Adam Hugill in the make-up chair.
Descriptions of the series included
punk rock thriller,
...following a group of misfit cops as they fight to save a ramshackle city of normalized wrongness
from both the past and future in a perilous quest."
Cyberpunk was also a word that kept cropping up in the news reports about the series.
2019: Oct/NovMore images got leaked such as this one showing some of the costume artwork on the walls and this extra special close up of an extra in costume.
2019: NovWe as Discworld Monthly exclusively revealed that Hakeem Kae-Kazim will be Captain John Keel.
2019: NovA week later, an official press release confirms this and also reveals the following cast members. Anna Chancellor as Lord Vetinari, James Fleet as The Archchancellor, Ingrid Oliver as Doctor Cruces, Ruth Madeley as Throat and Biance Simone Mannie as Wonse.
The press release featured the following nuggets:
Anna Chancellor said
... With the combining characteristics of Dracula and
Elvis - Lord Vetinari has sprung to life in the most alarmingly joyful way
Ruth Madeley says:
The character of Throat was male in the original books so
for the team to cast me was extra exciting. I'm really looking forward to seeing how Throat develops and
what mischief she can bring.
2020: JanFirst look images get released with this new press release (see below)
New things in the press release:
Set in a fictional city where crime has been legalized, The Watch is a genre-busting series that follows a group of misfit cops as they rise up from decades of helplessness to save their corrupt city from catastrophe.
Uniquely anarchic and thrillingly entertaining, the character-driven drama follows
several of Terry Pratchett's best-loved creations from his
Discworld novels on a riotous
and emotional odyssey.
What we know about The Watch series.
(for clarity we refer to the TV series as The Watch - and the book series as City Watch)
Not a lot is the short answer.
We know The Watch is
Inspired by not
Based on as the
@terryandrob twitter account informed the world back in Nov 2019 so we don't expect direct adaptations
of the books.
The sets look like they came straight from the set of Blade Runner 2049 with the extra layer of dirt added.
In this image of Angua and Cheery, we can visibly see some things that are not around in the book version of the City Watch, piercings on police officers are not the most sensible thing, especially on a werewolf, and the plastic framed glasses around Cheery's neck don't fit in the City Watch world the book readers know and love. That coupled with the electric fans, lights and what seems to be a white plastic kettle in the background and rubber soled boots, it is a step further away from the original City Watch.
What we do love though is the poster and the sense of disarray to the place though.
There is so much going on in this image of Sam Vimes and Angua. First thing we noticed was their badges. No number on Vimes' badge and Angua's badge is not quite visible enough to be able to tell if its identical to his or not. We like this iteration of the watch badge a lot but it should have numbers visible. In Vimes' case it should be 177.
Some people have suggested that it is Death in the background having a curry but whoever it is they are dressed much more like Carcer is in the next image. They just don't have enough presence to be Death.
The huge amount of Electric lamps here is off-putting for a world which doesn't have electricity in the books.
A plastic zip on Angua's jacket is also out of place for those who expect to see the Discworld from the books.
Carcer is here with what appears to be a couple of Deep Down Grags, although our sources have informed us that they are in fact Carcer's Goblin henchmen. For those who don't read the books, Deep-Down Grags are Dwarfs who don't like open air and bright light, but considering these are Goblins which in the books are around 2ft tall, the sizing of the species in this production is all wrong. They carry crossbows like they are guns.
First look at Carrot. Of all the watch costumes, this is the closest to what is described in the books. Chain main, buckled shirt, whoever read the brief obviously looked at the books too.
Again electric lights are seen here and graffitti? Those paint colours are too modern for the City Watch.
Lady Sybil Ramkin looks nothing like we would expect which isn't a bad thing, but an opportunity to place a larger lady in a prominent role has been missed here.
The vented box / generator on the floor is not something we would expect to see in Ankh Morpork.
We know who some of the cast is, but equally we know who they haven't mentioned as yet.
The characters seem to be a far cry from the characters the fandom loves from the books.
We felt a comparison is needed to note the major differences between The Watch and City Watch.
The Watch - Sam Vimes, Captain of The Watch, disempowered by a broken society
City Watch - In the books he was a solid idealist with a strong faith in the justice system, whilst also being a committed cynic who knew that his ideals would never be met.
The Watch - Constable Cheery, the ingenious non-binary forensics expert, ostracized by their kin and finding a new home and identity.
City Watch - Constable Cheery is a dwarf, one of the first to be openly female. Dwarfs on the Disc all look alike, distinguishing between their differing genders was almost impossible, with beards being a notable feature along with the fact that they are shorter than humans. Cheery decided that she would rather wear a heel on her iron boots and wear a leather skirt with lipstick to show the Discworld that she was a female dwarf.
The Watch - Constable Carrot, the idealistic new recruit, raised by dwarfs, but really a human abandoned at birth.
City Watch - Not a huge amount of difference here, except he trained Angua in the books. Even in looks Hugill makes a passable Carrot, he's not quite Carrot shaped (the pun in the books was he that his build was Carrot shaped).
The Watch - Corporal Angua who is tasked with Carrot's training and keeping the rookie alive.
City Watch - Angua has long hair and is physically beautiful with surprising strength and a tough attitude making her the officer most people feared the most.
The Watch - Lady Sybil Ramkin, last scion of Ankh-Morpork's nobility, who's trying to fix the city's wrongs with her chaotic vigilantism.
City Watch - Lady Sybil Rankin was most at home in wellies and a leather apron, wearing a wig to cover her singed hair from looking after the Swamp dragons at her Sunshine Sanctuary for Sick Dragons. She had faith in the Patrician and his ways to make the city work for all, certainly not a vigilante.
The Watch - Lord Vetinari, The Patrician of Ankh-Morpork, and architect of the
city's normalized wrongness and ramshackle system of governance. Played by an Actress here, we have no
clue as yet as to how Anna will come across as the Patrician although by the quote she gave in a press
... With the combining characteristics of Dracula and Elvis - Lord Vetinari has sprung
to life in the most alarmingly joyful way
City Watch - The Patrician aka Lord Vetinari is a calm calculating man who fears nothing and believes firmly in the one man one vote as long as he is the man.
The Watch - Throat, the city's best snitch, with a gang of freelance henchmen at her beck and call.
City Watch - C.M.O.T. (Cut Me Own Throat) Dibbler who is a street dealer selling Sausages inna bun and other delights such as a dragon detector. He works alone although he does have dopplegangers all over the Discworld who may or may not be related to him.
The Watch - Captain John Keel, former leader of The Watch and mentor to Sam Vimes, determined to save the corrupt and chaotic city.
City Watch - (Spoiler Alert for the books) Keel died in Night Watch, technically, and Vimes stepped into his shoes metaphorically so we have no clue how they are going to portray him.
The Watch - Wonse, a wizard hopeful in waiting that is frequently underestimated played here by an actress.
City Watch - Lupine Wonse is a former childhood friend of Vimes, and secretary to the Patrician, Wonse was not a Wizard. (Spoiler Alert) He died at the end of Guards! Guards!
So little is mentioned about the last three characters that have been cast, so we'll leave you with the only description we have from the press releases,
Archchancellor, wizard, magical advisor, and the Head of the Unseen University.
Head of The Assassins' Guild, Doctor Cruces.
Carcer Dun, wounded and wronged, out to hijack destiny itself, take control of the city and exact a terrible revenge on an unjust reality.
There has been no mention of Fred Colon or Nobby Nobbs, no mention of Detritus either, all of which are important members of the City Watch. Are they not in the TV Series?
Fans have been throwing questions around online without getting any decent answers.
Unfortunately a huge amount of the questions are of outrage and anger at what they perceive to be a slur on Terry Pratchett's legacy.
We've taken a few of the relevant questions to answer here.
So how did the City Watch get changed so drastically for The Watch?
The original plan back in 2012 was that these would be original stories written with input from Rhianna and at the time Terry himself and they would have been canon. If someone died in the TV series, they could never come back in the books, and the other way around.
Complications came in when Terry died. Clauses that would have stated
Terry Pratchett had any form of input into the series would have no standing anymore as
Terry Pratchett was no longer here. Terry Pratchett and Narrativia are two different entities
on paper, so what allowed one to do things, it didn't allow the other to carry on once Terry had died.
When Terry did the deal originally with the BBC, the team they had dealing with it was a completely different one to the team that has now made the series and as a result have negated any real input that Terry gave them when he was alive.
So why did Rhianna sign off on it then?
Rhianna stepped away from the project a long time ago to concentrate on other things such as her own writing career. Rob Wilkins is a fellow director at Narrativia and he handles most of the workload.
She didn't sign off on The Watch and neither did Rob Wilkins (see Rhianna's tweet above).
Intellectual Property holders don't get sign off on anything generally unless they are the showrunners (as Neil Gaiman was with Good Omens). They can have discussions with the production team but the production team don't have to listen. They certainly don't have creative control of the production in any way, shape or form.
Why didn't they demand this to be stopped?
Once the rights are sold, the rights are sold. Deals done mean that the rights to
produce an adaptation sit with those who have
bought it until the time limit runs out. Because
there is always a time limit on these kind of deals so that the IP holders can eventually get their rights
Sky did have the option to make Unseen Academicals into a TV production like they had done with Hogfather / GoingPostal / The Colour of Magic but time ran out for them to do so and the rights reverted back to Narrativia.
It's like selling someone a mug and then after they bought it, demanding they can't drink coffee out of it. It's not done and they can't stop it unless it breaches the contract or they run out of time on the option to produce.
Why the guns/neon lights/electric fans/cyberpunk feel?
We can't answer that. It does seem strange to place the Discworld in a timeline that has things that the original stories were nowhere near developing. I think that may be a question for Simon Allen if he appears at a Q&A somewhere.
Why have they destroyed MY Discworld?
They haven't. What is in the books is in the books and will always be the same every time you read one. No one is rewriting the books here.
You can choose to watch The Watch with the opinion that it is Discworld in another trouser leg of time (or as I said on Twitter, In another trouser leg, in another pair of trousers, in a different shop on a different planet) or you can choose to watch it and sit there complaining at the screen over everything or you can not watch it at all.
It will never destroy the Discworld in your head unless YOU make it do that.
When is it on TV? Where can I watch it?
They are looking at a 2020 release date.
Our best educated guess is late Autumn and it will be on BBC America with possible simulcast on the BBC in the UK as they have done with Doctor Who.
Currently we just don't actually know. We expect to find out more once the BBC showcase happens at the start of Feb.
What will happen next?
We hope it will attract a whole new crowd of people to the books which is what we have always loved and it will keep Terry's name being spoken which helps keep his memory alive.
Of course, The Watch isn't the only thing to look/not look forward to from the Discworld.
The Amazing Maurice should hopefully be hitting our cinemas in the next year or so and we are so thrilled by the looks of what Ulysses Producktions and the Cantilever Group has done with it. As an animated film of approx 85mins long, the story of the street wise cat Maurice, the stupid-looking kid who plays a pipe and the talking rats is one that is worth waiting for.
TV adaptations and films are nice enough but they aren't the books which is where we fell in love with that Star Turtle and its inhabitants. There are 41 novels and countless spin offs, just buy one, read it and join us somewhere around Pant-y-Girdl.
If you really don't know what I am talking about, go and get the books and then come to the Discworld events which happen all over the world.
If you want more free news about Discworld, then head over to Discworldmonthly.co.uk and hit the subscribe button. We've been writing about Terry Pratchett for the last 23 years and we are the only independent news letter that used to get told off by Terry in person.