Doctor Who: Russell T Davis Interview

December 23, 2009 by  
Filed under - Home, Features

RussellTDavies300“When I was younger I literally used to walk home and write stories all the time about Dr. Who. I never thought I’d actually get to be in charge of it.”

For Russell T. Davis, the childhood dream really did come true. But after five years of writing the infamous sci-fi action adventure and reviving a dead format (together with producer Julie Gardner), he’s ready to put the pen down.

With him goes possibly the most charismatic doctor ever, David Tennant, in the upcoming Christmas/New Year special. Not to worry though; a new time lord (Matt Smith) and writer Stephen Moffat are lined up and ready to take over the sci-fi phenomenon.

Whilst laying a firm foundation for Smith and Moffat, Davis had to restore Dr. Who on a blank canvas. Or rather paint over a picture that had become somewhat old.

“It literally had no support. We all get to middle age and where funny clothes a get a bit lairy and hairy and that’s what happened to Dr. Who, it just got middle-aged and wandered off the path. Ironically, taking a long break was the best thing it could have done,? he doesn’t hesitate to add.

Persuading the BBC to make it would not have happened without the help of executive producer Julie Gardner.

“I was leaving ITV to go and work on BBC Wales, which needed new shows for the network,? she says.

“I had my first meeting with the commissioner where I pitched a six part drama and when she mentioned bringing Dr. Who back I immediately thought of Russell. He’s worked with me before, he’s Welsh, he’s a massive fan of the show – it just made sense.?

So with things up and running, who did they turn to for inspiration? Erm… Simon Cowell, no less.


“A lot of it was really based on Pop Idol thinking; that was the big Saturday night show then. So I thought, ‘We could do that with drama!? says Davis

“I still think if we could have that man at the beginning of every episode introducing the characters, like ‘David Tennant!’ it would be marvellous!?

Moffat take note. But don’t even think about using the word ‘Evil’ in your scripts. Davis thinks it’s all just a bit well, evil.

“It’s a policy I have. I think it’s a stupid word, a stupid thing for a doctor to call someone.?

“Monstrous people do monstrous things but they aren’t evil, no one is. They’re terribly lost, dangerous and dark human beings but they’re not evil.. I literally don’t think such a thing exists.

“I won’t even have a Dalek called evil because it’s simply unintelligent.?

That’s cleared that up. But technological freedom on a show like this, on the other hand, has steadily escalated.

“For the first two years you wouldn’t see anything on fire, then about the third year, they got a button put in,? says Davis. And here was us thinking it was all real…

Support from the Welsh council made last year’s Christmas episode (where ‘Donna’, played by Catherine Tate, is rescued by the doctor on a busy motorway) all the more believable.

“The council closed the dual carriageway for two Saturdays. One main road was cut off for four nights. That’s how proud and supportive Cardiff are of the show,? says Davis.

“I don’t think they even complained when we drove a tank down St. Mary’s Street and damaged the tarmac. They were quite good about that!? adds Gardner.

The Welsh Parliament saw things in a different light, much to Davis’ dismay.

“They’re just a bunch of local politicians. One woman said Dr. Who was a ‘badge of shame’. They just saw it as a London production set in Wales, which just shows how little they know about the show.

“They just sat there and said ‘It’s not a Welsh production’. Why, because it hasn’t got f*cking men in daffodil costumes!?


It’s a good thing he leaves his anger out the work place, describing Dr. Who as a non-violent show.

“There’s very little blood. It’s not a BBC guideline but it’s our policy.

“It’s the hardest thing but something we’re incredibly proud of, that in a constant action adventure show, there’s so little violence. The doctor has only been punched once. I think this makes it a peaceful show, with a sense of humour and a heart to it.?

Writing for the doctor, however, is a less than peaceful task.

“Every writer writes characters as less intelligent than the writer, because you’re in charge of them. They’re you’re puppets. You understand them better than they understand themselves.?

“Dr. Who is one of those very rare television shows where the writer can never be as clever as the doctor, so he’s always ahead of the writer as well. That is why it’s so difficult.

“I used to read other people saying how hard it was to write and I thought, ‘Come on, you land, there’s a monster, there’s a planet, he saves them!’ But once you’re in there it’s a nightmare. You’re constantly thinking of ways to match him.?

This ‘nightmare’ is certainly not reflected in the seemingly effortless spin offs, concerts and merchandise that accompany the Dr. Who name. How hard was it to keep up a brand this big?

“It was a hoot, I loved it!? says Gardner. “The truth was that it was always a brand in our heads.?

“We started thinking very quickly about additional material and websites and other things we could be doing. It was just very organic.

“People in the first year drifted towards us. Every wanted to work on Dr. Who and year upon year it got bigger.?

So where to go from here? Well, Davis and Gardner have nothing cemented (nothing they can tell us about, anyway) but for now Davis has only one regret.

“I would have loved to make an episode where Walt Disney’s frozen head tries to take over the world!?

If you ever get bored of Daleks, Moffat, you know what to do…

Emma Rink

Doctor Who: The End Of Time is on BBC1 on Christmas Day, concluding on New Years Day…