In 2003, Russell T Davies took over the reins of TV’s longest running Sci Fi series Doctor Who, and reinvented it for a new generation. After four years of critical acclaim and numerous awards, Davies is handing over the franchise to writer Steven Moffat and the eleventh, and youngest, Doctor Who, Matt Smith.
But before the present doctor, aka David Tennant, transforms into a new persona, there are three specials that have yet to be broadcast. We spoke with Russell T Davies about his work.
When it was time to find the tenth Doctor, what was it about David that made him the right guy?
We were lucky in that we had already worked together. I first met David when we did Casanova together for the BBC. And I remember during rehearsals we’d make Doctor Who jokes, which amused us. And so he was already there in a way. It was just the best possible time. When you find a great actor you just cling to them, and they’re so limitless and inspiring.
David can just dance over dialogue, I think he’s one of the few actors who understands that dialogue is sort of irrelevant, you throw it away and you rattle across it with real speed, and it’s all [about] what’s going on underneath. And he gets the humor, and there are not many actors who do that. They take it very seriously.
How early on did you decide that you were going to get rid of the Time Lords so the Doctor is now the last of his kind?
Straightaway, I never liked the Time Lords and always thought they were slightly boring and bumped the program down, apart from the one Time Lord, obviously. It didn’t take me a long time to reach that decision. It was one of the first things I did.
When you transition from Doctor to Doctor, are there certain things you need to do to keep the show Doctor Who year after year?
It’s an unusual show because it’s different every week. If it was a very regular precinct show, always in the same place, then the change of lead actor would have enormous repercussions on everyone around it, but because it’s always changing you don’t need to worry too much about the change of actor. We all just hang on for the ride.
How important was choosing Billie Piper and the other assistants that followed her?
It’s a vital part of the format in that you’ve got a man who’s 906 years old, and he’s an alien and he’s a Time Lord. He’s wonderfully Human, but he has that huge other dimension of being practically immortal, hugely wise and also dangerous with that. So the Human person brings him literally down to Earth. But you’ve got to write the roles well, otherwise you’re not going to get people like Billie Piper or Catherine Tate. That was one of the joys of the whole show to work with people like that. Just brilliant.
Aside from David, who was your favorite Doctor?
I was a Tom Baker man. I was just the right age; I was 11 going into comprehensive school. That’s when I really fell in love with it. It’s the most extraordinary combination of an actor and a part coming together, absolute television magic.
You were just at Comic-Con where people camped overnight in the hallway to see your panel.
It was amazing because although it’s obviously a very specific crowd in Comic-Con, we do keep getting told back home Doctor Who is completely unknown in America. So we were slightly amazed in a good way that we had that response.