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Feature: Doctor Who (2000s)

Russell T Davies

Writer and executive producer Russell T Davies ponders the challenges of regenerating the Doctor, reviving classic monsters, and coming up with something more Christmassy than The Christmas Invasion

The past 12 months have seen the Time Lord returning to the TV screen in triumph, seeing off ITV’s Ant and Dec and Celebrity Wrestling, reviving the family drama format, kickstarting Billie Piper’s career as an actress and cementing its comeback by taking pride of place in the BBC’s Christmas Day line-up.

“It’s bizarre, isn’t it?” says executive producer Russell T Davies, speaking to TV Zone at the launch party for The Christmas Invasion. “Who’d have thought, this time last year… it’s just inconceivable. You’ve seen BBC launches; you don’t get the Controller of BBC 1, you don’t get the Controller of Drama standing up and giving a speech at the beginning. It’s quite extraordinary; that’s how much they’re behind it. You ask for the time and you ask for the money, and you ask them for facilities, and that’s how supportive they are.”

The success of the series has, inevitably, got people talking about the possibility of a feature film version of Who – but Davies is quick to rule it out. “It would be a thrill to go to the cinema and see it happen,” says Davies, “but literally there wouldn’t even be time to think about it right now. I do think in the future it’d be lovely to do a middle range, Serenity-sort-of-level film – like, ‘We don’t need that much money, just give us enough so we can see what we can do’. It’s tempting, but there’s no time to be tempted by it! Like I say, maybe when it’s all over, then the dust might settle – then again, the movie people would say the impetus has gone! And we wouldn’t, at the moment, hand it over for them to do that. I mean, very clearly, if they poked their head in now and said, ‘We want to make a film with David now,’ we’d say, ‘No’.”

Ah yes, David Tennant, the tenth Doctor Who. Davies has said that he was keen to avoid making the character a collection of eccentric mannerisms; how was the new Doctor’s characterization decided upon? “To be honest, you wouldn’t believe how few meetings we have about it!” Davies laughs. “Especially when you’re used to the history of Doctor Who, and you get told those stories about how they all gathered in meetings and decided on, ‘the cosmic hobo’, and things like that. We didn’t! They just said, ‘Off you go and write the next episode, and write the regeneration’. It’s the thing about having great actors; you don’t have to describe it to them; you don’t have to say, ‘He’s left handed, he says his lines in a funny way, he says his lines sarcastically, he’s sad on this line’; all those stage directions that bad writers always put in – ‘brackets, he’s sad, close brackets’. You do a bit of that in every script, obviously, but with great actors you just let them fill the space.

“Mainly what you’re writing is the story,” he elaborates. “I mean, he’s reborn, he’s full of energy. He’s got rid of some of the baggage of the Time War, he’s a new man. So you don’t simply go, ‘What are this Doctor’s habits?’, you go, ‘What is the story, how does he develop through the story?’ It’s drama writing as opposed to genre writing; you don’t get hooked up on ‘the cosmic hobo’, and all that. You don’t sit there going, ‘Who is the Doctor, what is he?’, you say, ‘In this story, how could we fulfil the best dramatic impact?’ And that’s what you’re writing; you wait 40 minutes for him to arrive and when he does, he gets a round of applause!”

Read the full interview, plus producer Phil Collinson on the show's future in
TV Zone #198

Doctor Who © BBC
Feature © Visual Imagination 2006. Not for reproduction

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TV Zone #198
February 2006
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