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All New Who (2003)

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16-page special marks Doctor Who's 40th birthday, and there's really something to celebrate: a new series by Russell T Davies. He gives us a taster of what's to come

Second week in September: Russell T Davies (creator of Queer as Folk and Bob and Rose) is given the go-ahead to write the new Doctor Who. Third week in September: the good news is announced to the nation. Fourth week in September: the man himself speaks to RT ...

How did you become involved?

It was a long process. As a freelance scriptwriter, I first sounded out the BBC about writing it in 1998. I've worked for ITV since then, but every time I've had a meeting with the BBC I've talked about it. I bumped into Alan Yentob [the BBC's director of drama] at the BBC4 launch party and even then, over a few glasses of free red wine, I was going, "Why don't you bring back Doctor Who?" So I just nagged, basically, and then remained terribly aloof from them. Ha ha! Don't look desperate! Sitting at ITV, winning awards and things ... "Come on, you need me!"

So it took a while for the BBC to come round to the idea?

It was the strangest and fastest thing in the world. I knew nothing about this until the second week of September. I'd actually forgotten about it, being busy on other things. To be honest, word spread and the press release [announcing the series] had to be written earlier than it should have been. Nothing's ready yet. I'm busy until the new year and that's when work will start properly.

How did you feel about the 1996 television movie?

Actually that movie had nine million viewers. Drama these days would die for nine million. It did very well here, it just didn't get through in America. I liked its design, its contemporary feel. Some of the dialogue was absolutely cracking. I didn't like the fact that it was about the Doctor. If he hadn't arrived on Earth, that adventure wouldn't have happened. I do think an adventure should be happening, into which he walks. But that's personal choice ... and the personal choice is mine now! Ha ha ha! I'm not used to that! When I say, "I wouldn't do things that way," I won't! Hooray!

It's quite a responsibility, making Doctor Who work.

All you can do is not worry about it. The memory of Doctor Who is so dominated by its fan base, who are marvellously devoted and very nice people, but if you look back to the 1970s and early 80s when we were kids, everyone watched it. I remember being at school and teachers watched it. Before we got this sort of ironic self-awareness about it, it was genuinely loved. I only watched it cos my mother made me sit down with her because she loved it. Girls watched it, too, not just boys. That's the most important thing to remember: not the cult that's built up afterwards but that itwas massively popular.

What are your first Who memories?

The regeneration of William Hartnell. I loved it. Patrick Troughton, Cybermen, all that. I absolutely loved it.

So Troughton is "your Doctor"?

No, Tom Baker. But like them all. Presumably you've analysed the old series' strengths and weaknesses? The strength and weakness is the same thing: the range. It's a bugger. Every episode, you could be looking at going to a new location with a new cast—which eats up money, but is simultaneously one of the most exciting things about it: you can go anywhere and do anything.

How might you update the show? Those assistants, for instance, used to be screaming ciphers.

The trick is to make it more real in terms of the very first episode having genuine wonderment. I can fairly confidently predict that there will be a young female companion who will discover that she can explore time and space. If you watch Doctor Who you can take that for granted, but it's the most astonishing concept. It's really time to go back to basics on that.

Travelling back to the 1600s and looking around — fans of the programme have seen that sort of scenario in their thousands. But we're talking about the ten million people we want to be watching finding this concept fascinating. Just because fandom has looked at that a million times, doesn't mean the Saturday-night audience has thought about what it's like to step out into Victorian London and meet Charles Dickens. Go back to basics and say, for the companions, this is the greatest journey of your life. You cannot underestimate that. I want to write these characters as I would in anything else, and I write character well, though I say so myself.

And the Doctor himself?

Hard to say at this stage. l just want to make him the best character ever. He should be so fascinating, he's radioactive. He's funny, clever, wild and fast. Your best friend times 500.

You mentioned historical stories. Early thoughts on settings?

The full range. Why exclude anything? The budget is going to be a determining factor. The 21st century is going to be the handiest place to be, because it's on our doorstep.

onsters?

There are copyright issues, but it'd be nice to bring in one or two moments of old archenemies, just because there's a great audience of dads and mums at home going, "I remember that monster!" You wouldn't bring back Dracula without giving him fangs.

Will you delay writing the script until a Doctor is cast?

I'm going to start writing in January, which is before casting. There really is no one in mind yet. We'll make the programme what we want it to be, then cast it, rather than having it too celebrity-led. Also we want to approach brilliant people, and to do that with the script. When they see episode one they'll see what I'm doing with it and how good it's going to be.

And the series airs in 2005?

Definitely.

Early reports stated six episodes?

Anything can happen. It's all about money; as a show, it's a budget-eater. But it'll be a good run — at least six episodes.

It has to be done properly. If the show dies again ...

I know. Money is a problem; it would never be as cheap as it used to be. But if you look at that old stuff, it's a four-camera studio. Everything's shot on single camera these days. Get a single camera in there, proper lenses, proper lighting, even the old stuff would look better. I think we're going to get on top of it.

So the sets can wobble but we won't notice?

They won't wobble! They won't! I shall lean against them myself, and I'm 6ft 6ín. I personally will eliminate wobble.

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  • APA 6th ed.: Griffiths, Nick (2003-11-22). All New Who. Radio Times p. 2.
  • MLA 7th ed.: Griffiths, Nick. "All New Who." Radio Times [add city] 2003-11-22, 2. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: Griffiths, Nick. "All New Who." Radio Times, edition, sec., 2003-11-22
  • Turabian: Griffiths, Nick. "All New Who." Radio Times, 2003-11-22, section, 2 edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=All New Who | url=http://cuttingsarchive.org/index.php/All_New_Who | work=Radio Times | pages=2 | date=2003-11-22 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=20 November 2017 }}</ref>
  • Wikipedia (this page): <ref>{{cite web | title=All New Who | url=http://cuttingsarchive.org/index.php/All_New_Who | work=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=20 November 2017}}</ref>