Doctor Who is actually, really coming back. We never thought we’d get to say that!
SFX Exclusive! Interview with Russell T Davies
Twenty-Fifth September 2003 will be a day that Doctor Who fans will never forget, for it was then that the BBC finally announced that Doctor Who was to return as a television series after a criminal absence of 14 years!
The man behind the rebirth of the good Doctor is Russell T Davies, creator of Queer As Folk and recent SFX fave The Second Coming . Davies’s name was first attached to the show three years ago, when news circulated of an aborted attempt to bring back Who to the BBC. But that was then, this is now. This time it’s for real. He’s back! He’s really back!
“Well, I can’t say too much and it’s television, so anything can go wrong, but at the end of August they approached me!” says Davies to SFX in an exclusive interview. “My agent met Jane Tranter, who’s the Controller Of Drama, at a press launch and Jane just went, ‘Ah! Doctor Who ! Russell! Tell him! We’re going to do it!’”
The news was announced earlier than the BBC had planned. What broke the story was that BBC1 controller Lorraine Heggessey let slip that Doctor Who was coming back in an interview with The Daily Telegraph . “The BBC Press Office went barmy!” says Davies. “So they had to put out this press release, but then it was in the Telegraph so no-one may have even noticed!”
The new series of Doctor Who marks Davies’s first work for the BBC since his sci-fi double whammy of Dark Seasons and Century Falls . “There are plenty of people at the BBC I wouldn’t work with,” he says, “but a woman I have worked with called Julie Gardner, who’s lovely, has just been made Head Of Drama at BBC Wales, and so, bizarrely, the whole thing is going to be made out of BBC Wales. But whether it’ll be made in Wales or not, I mean... there’s a million discussions yet to go. Julie’s currently got a million Doctor Who tapes at the moment, because she’s never really watched it. She’s been watching these tapes and she absolutely loves it! I only recommended the best ones like ‘City Of Death’ and ‘The Ark In Space’ and she was sitting there going, ‘This is a marvellous programme!’ She produced Othello for ITV – she’s a truly classy, brilliant woman.”
The new series will be executive produced by Gardner with the BBC’s Controller Of Drama Series Mal Young. Davies’s first formal meeting with the BBC bigwigs took place on Monday 29 September and within two hours, Davies says, they were interviewing potential producers.
Already the press is going wild with rumours about the new Doctor. William Hill bookmakers put Jonathan Creek star Alan Davies as the most likely choice, while Bill Nighy’s name was brought up by a loose-tongued Clayton Hickman (editor of Doctor Who Magazine), when he revealed on Radio Four that Nighy was Russell’s preferred choice.
“The Heads Of Drama will have very strong ideas about casting,” Davies says, “and they’re the ones with the money, so we’ve got to listen to them.” And what about Tom Baker, who told one interviewer that he’d heard that Eddie Izzard had been cast by the BBC as the new Doctor. Any truth in that? “Not at all,” he says. “Bless him. Which doesn’t rule Eddie Izzard out, of course – I’m going to write a script in January, and then we’re going to think about casting. And then, can I just point out, we have to go through the minefield of agents and contracts and money and conditions… the casting of any Doctor is a long way off.”
Little is known about the format of the new series. Davies says the new Doctor Who will have “at least” six episodes, but they’re aiming for more. If the series is only of six, then Davies says that he’ll write the lot; if more than six, then he is aiming to get other writers involved. “Until budgets are sorted out – which won’t be till way into the new year, because it takes forever to finalise a budget – I won’t be able to say how many episodes there’ll be,” he declares.
“Although the BBC are saying, ‘Do what you want with it’, I know that even if they think they haven’t got a notion of what they want, they have got notions of what they want, because they’re designing a schedule for, like... I don’t know when for, but worrying things like Autumn 2004, which is too soon! I mean, I can’t even start work on it until January!” But surely he’s had time to ruminate on it? “Oh, I think about it all the time! But nothing definite. Me and Julie have had long conversations, it’s not a reboot or any of that nonsense. I’ll bring back the Nimon and the Garm!” he jokes.
“But I don’t want to do a send-up. A real, full-blooded drama, that’s what I want to do. Make you laugh, make you cry... It’s got to be well-written, it’s got to be fun, it’s got to be exciting, it’s got to be accessible.”
So, will this be a Year Zero rebirth of the series or a proper continuation?
“I doubt it’s going to be a Year Zero,” Davies says. “No one’s even mentioned that. I don’t see the need for a complete reboot, it’s a bit like chucking the baby out with the bathwater. Which I did actually do, once; his mother was livid! However, the marvellous thing is that anything can happen. I might write that first script and decide that Year Zero is the only thing that can make a new series work. Right now, every option is open.”
It looks most likely we’ll have to wait until 2005 to see the return of Doctor Who to BBC1, but already Lorraine Heggessey’s enthusiasm for the programme is evident. Not content with scheduling an hour-long documentary entitled The Story Of Doctor Who for this Christmas, she’s also rumoured to be planning a series of Who repeats running up to the new series. And with audio producer Big Finish’s licence extended to 2007 and a new webcast with Richard E Grant, it seems that Who ’s taking on the 21st Century.
To use an old saying, he’s back, and it’s about time.