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The great defender: Russell T Davies, writer of Doctor Who, is British TV's hottest property

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The great defender: Russell T Davies, writer of Doctor Who, is British TV's hottest property. He tells Rachel Cooke that he is appalled by the industry's crisis of confidence

Why is Russell T Davies so good at his job? How is it that he can turn out one acclaimed hit after another, from Queer as Folk to Bob and Rose, a run of unprecedented success that has now reached a glorious prime-time frenzy with his revival of Doctor Who and its various spin-offs: Torchwood, shortly to transfer from BBC3 to BBC2, and his own favourite, The Sarah Jane Adventures, for CBBC? I don't think this question is especially hard to answer. Davies is an incredibly talented writer, but he also loves television: I mean really loves it, and in the most unsnobbish way. He's a consumer as well as a producer. Ask what he watches himself, and he'll pause for a minute, like a child contemplating glass jars in a sweetshop.

"Oooh," he says.

"Well, there's Corrie [Coronation Street]. Always Corrie. It's so brilliant. There's Bodies, and Gavin and Stacey, the most fantastic thing that's been on for years. And I love reality TV. I get pissed off when actors complain there's no drama on television. Big Brother is drama; it is crafted, it's a story well told."

Where does he draw the line? Is there nothing that he won't watch? "Yes! Amanda Burton. I won't have that woman on my telly!"

This passionate enthusiasm is charming (and funny), but it also means that Davies lacks the hand-wringing tendencies of most of those who write about television, and many of those who work in it. Tapping his mobile phone frenetically against the table at the London club where we meet (he's desperate for a cigarette), he tells me that he doesn't believe in TV's so-called Golden Age. "I'm sick of reading that it's all going to shit. The other day I saw Hollyoaks. They'd done anorexia. Yes, how boring is that? But the story was about two anorexics encouraging each other, and it was incredibly powerful. Now, Hollyoaks is on at 6.30pm, five days a week. The trouble is that [the naysayers] don't really watch telly. They don't watch normal output [like that]. You might as well ask an MP what he thinks of television."

He is amazed by the spectacle of BBC high-ups acting like--to quote Jeremy Paxman--an order of self-flagellating medieval monks, offering pre-emptive cringes to all and sundry. "Telly is so ashamed of itself. When a problem comes along, it bows and buckles and is fucked. It lets itself be, in a way that novelists or opera never would. They're apologetic because it's just in the corner of the room, burbling away. There aren't enough people taking enough pride in it."

Having begun his own career in children's television--he produced Why Don't You?, the show that told kids to switch off their TV sets and go and do something less boring instead, like, er, build their own hovercraft--perhaps it is understandable that, of all the "scandals" that rocked the BBC this summer, he is most infuriated by the one over the naming of the Blue Peter cat. "Don't even get me started on that shit. I was appalled. That man [the programme's former editor, who was sacked] was utterly dedicated to Blue Peter. So, they changed the name of a cat in a poll. Who gives a fuck?" Of the researcher who plucked a child from the studio audience and got her to pose as a competition winner after the Blue Peter phone lines failed, a dishonesty for which the BBC was fined [pounds sterling]50,000, he says: "That was clever, frankly. They're live on air, so she gets a kid in to fix it." If this sounds provocative, it's meant to: it stems not from a belief that people should be allowed to do as they please when spending public money, but from an understanding of the intense pressures of 21st-century TV. "Interactivity, the red button, all that extra content with no more money in the budget. So, if something goes wrong, of course you're not giving it your full attention. You're just trying to get your programme on air." Is the BBC safe? Will the proposed job cuts be detrimental to its good health? "Oh, I don't think the end is in sight, although every empire falls in the end. It could be smaller, to be honest. Could you merge BBC2 and BBC4? I think you could, and you'd have a fine channel."

The irony is that he is enjoying the biggest success of his life in-house at the BBC, with Doctor Who. (The Christmas special, centrepiece of the Christmas Day schedule, will star the Titanic, Bernard Cribbins and Kylie Minogue, a surreal combination that only Davies, master of the impossible, could conjure up.) And, as a result, he is now one of the most influential people in British television (and number 15 in the Guardian's Media 100). How long will he go on? He recently told a newspaper that he wouldn't like to do series seven--and season three is only just out of the way. "I miss Manchester. That's where my house is, and my boyfriend. I have to travel between there and Cardiff [where Doctor Who is made] and I've only just worked out my socks and knickers routine. Doctor Who is terrifying because it's so visible. We have eight million viewers. We can't get away with making a bad episode. But it's also the best job in the world. I control the mothership. I say: 'I want Pompeii, with rock monsters!' How great is that?"

Why, I wonder, did Doctor Who succeed when so many people (including me, a long-time fan) felt the attempt to resurrect it was obviously doomed? Davies is momentarily lost for words. "I don't know. People had been asking for 20 years: why does science fiction work in the cinema and not on television? So I thought: all we can do is be cinematic. It's a big show. I don't mean ratings. I mean big emotions, big pictures. It's never half-hearted."

Are there other series that he thinks are due a dusting down? Not really, though he admits to a touch of envy that someone else--Adrian Hodges, who wrote ITV's Primeval--is bringing Terry Nation's apocalyptic Seventies series Survivors back to our screens. But when he has done with Doctor Who, he will go back to writing his own stuff, use some of the ideas he has got carefully stored up.

"Oh, yes, I've got a plan," says Davies, with the air of one who, however modest, also knows that commissioning editors across the land hang on his every word.

Disclaimer: These citations are created on-the-fly using primitive parsing techniques. You should double-check all citations. Send feedback to whovian@cuttingsarchive.org

  • APA 6th ed.: Cooke, Rachel (2007-12-17). The great defender: Russell T Davies, writer of Doctor Who, is British TV's hottest property. New Statesman p. 78.
  • MLA 7th ed.: Cooke, Rachel. "The great defender: Russell T Davies, writer of Doctor Who, is British TV's hottest property." New Statesman [add city] 2007-12-17, 78. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: Cooke, Rachel. "The great defender: Russell T Davies, writer of Doctor Who, is British TV's hottest property." New Statesman, edition, sec., 2007-12-17
  • Turabian: Cooke, Rachel. "The great defender: Russell T Davies, writer of Doctor Who, is British TV's hottest property." New Statesman, 2007-12-17, section, 78 edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=The great defender: Russell T Davies, writer of Doctor Who, is British TV's hottest property | url=http://cuttingsarchive.org/index.php/The_great_defender:_Russell_T_Davies,_writer_of_Doctor_Who,_is_British_TV%27s_hottest_property | work=New Statesman | pages=78 | date=2007-12-17 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=16 April 2024 }}</ref>
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