Russell T Davies And The Heritage Of Doctor Who

Nick: Has your time on Doctor who changed your perspective on old Doctor Who?

Russell: “No, not really. I get the DVDs and sit and watch them…”

But are you more forgiving now?

“I always was, though. I’m a fan. We can all take the piss out of certain episodes because that’s part of the joy of being a Doctor Who fan… I’ve actually been interviewed about Doctor Who for many years, before I even worked on it, because it was referenced in Queer As Folk and because I always loved it. And I’ve never slagged it off. I’ve never slagged off the Colin Baker years, never slagged off the Sylvester McCoy years, because I’ve always loved it. If ‘Delta And The Bannermen’ came on telly now I would happily sit and watch it, because I really love Doctor Who. I’d never sit down and watch an old Blake’s 7, I’d never watch The Champions, all those old shows… I love Doctor Who, and I always have done. I’d rather watch Doctor Who than anything else. And I never gave up on it. People always go ‘Oh, that episode came on, and I turned off my television…’ I didn’t. I sat there wincing, wishing it was better, and I thought it might be better next week. You look for the good in it, don’t you? So it doesn’t feel any different. I was always forgiving of things. I always knew they didn’t have much money. I don’t quite buy into the argument that they were poor and we’re rich, because although we’re rich we push the ambition of it just as far. We push ourselves as far as they did. It’s not like we sit there with pots of money, we make every penny go further than it should go – it’s the most handsomely produced programme on television, I honestly believe that. And that is not easy. We could have doubled the budget and easily use up all that money. So I’ve never needed to forgive it, really.”

Do you feel a greater kinship with the old production teams now?

“Not particularly. It’s still different worlds. I think that goes down to the reason I don’t like multi-Doctor stories. I don’t actually think you’re seeing three different Doctors together. I think you’re seeing three different actors together. So in a sense we’re not in the same job. I suppose, yes, they still must have sighed about Daleks wobbling, just as we do. Ours still wobble at the wrong moment and you sit in the edit thinking ‘Get rid of that…’”

But as a fan you never got off on ‘The Three Doctors’ or ‘The Five Doctors’? Is that what you’re saying? Or is that a TV professional judgement that you’re making?

“I like them for being parties. I like them being celebrations. I love that, I loved the fuss of ‘The Three Doctors’ when it came along. And the night of ‘The Five Doctors’ was enormous, it was brilliant. But when do you ever get a fan saying, ‘That’s my favourite story?’ You love them because they’re important, because they’re part of the history, but you could search high and low before you get a fan saying ‘That’s my number one favourite.’ And they should be. It’s really weird that. They should be, but they’re not. Because there’s that extra level of production in it. And actually you have to face the fact that they’re different actors. You could write a really… maybe this is the key to doing it, and maybe Steven will do this one day… if you actually wrote it properly… I could go and write a great film about a man who meets a very young version of himself and a middle aged version of himself, and an older version of himself. That’s drama. That’s a film. A high-concept film. Starring Jim Carrey. But actually because you’re dealing with different actors you can’t do that with ‘The Three Doctors’. It fights itself. All the beautiful things that are there to be said would sound ridiculous if it was Peter Davison saying that to Jon Pertwee. It just wouldn’t work. All the emotion and the bittersweetness inside would be fought by what the actors look like. Never mind the fact that he’s sort of aging backwards, which makes it so that the younger ones are older than the older… younger… ones! So everything that should work in it as a story I don’t like.

“Steven does it right in ‘Time Crash’ – I know he loves Peter Davison, and part of me really hopes he brings him back for another story. I watched ‘Time Crash’, I was in studio because it was fascinating, I produced it, I was in charge of it, I read it and I loved it. But I was sat there thinking ‘I can never do this’. It was really great to sit in the studio making something I could never, ever do. Horribly that 50th anniversary is approaching at the rate of knots… which is actually on a Saturday, isn’t it? I think November 23 is actually on a Saturday. I keep on thinking I should walk up to the sixth floor of the BBC and tell them that, because they should set aside a couple of million pounds right now for that day. Of course that’s going to be everyone’s first idea, isn’t it? It’s bound to be something big, but I dread that it’s going to be a multi-Doctor doo-dah. Is it really going to deliver everything you want? Except now… and I’m not slagging off the old programme in any way, but now you get these old ideas properly written. That’s the thing. But I still can’t quite see how to make that work. Because the actors would defy its truth.”

How do you switch off the Doctor Who part of your brain now?

“What I love now is that I’m utterly, completely a fan now. So much as I love Doctor Who, nothing’s more important to me than my next idea. If you’d spoken to me while I was writing Queer As Folk, my life was 100% Queer As Folk. It’s very easy for a writer to move onto the next thing. It’s not going to go – if Doctor Who was going off the air, that would be terrible, and I would be fighting at the gates to get it back on. But the fact that it’s continuing means it’s fine. I’ll be getting my fix. I’ll be reading the papers thinking ‘Oh my god, look who they’ve cast…’”

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