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Russell T Davies talks about the challenges of keeping Doctor Who in front of a primetime audience. Steve Pratt reports

DOCTOR Who returns this weekend with a new travelling companion - one that producer and writer Russell T Davies never thought he'd entice back into the Tardis. Comedy star Catherine Tate first appeared as Donna Noble in the 2006 Christmas special, The Runaway Bride. Now she returns to travel through time as David Tennant's sidekick for a whole series. "We had no idea Catherine was going to come back to us, none at all, " he says. "We couldn't believe we got her for the special really, she's so in-demand. And not just that, Catherine generates her own stuff, she's a writer too, so she's always busy. "A meeting between BBC Head of Fiction Jane Tranter and Tate led to the permanent gig in Doctor Who. Tranter suggested that the comedy star might be open to returning to the series. Still Davies didn't believe it. "I thought it was ridiculous, but my colleague Julie jumped on a train to go and meet with Catherine two days later, " he admits. "I didn't go because I was busy saying 'don't be ridiculous, we'll never get her'. But Julie went and Catherine agreed to a whole series and cancelled all her plans there and then. She moved to Cardiff for nine months to film as well, which is some commitment. "He rates Tate among the very best of the Doctor's many companions. "She's absolutely fantastic, " he enthuses. "That's why we wanted to bring Donna back and why I wanted to write more for her. Obviously Catherine can do comedy with her eyes shut, and there's a lot of comedy in Doctor Who, but when she hits the tragedy - and there's a lot of tragedy for her character in this series - she gives the most stunning performance. "Seriously, when I pack my bags on Doctor Who, I'm knocking on Catherine's door and asking what we're doing next. She's brilliant. "Not that he reserves all his praise for her. He talks about how hard all the cast and crew work on the show, adding there's a danger that David Tennant doesn't get his share of superlatives. "He's so powerful, and brave and scintillating as the Doctor, there's almost a danger of him blinding everything else, " says Davies. "That's why we have to have an equal aboard the Tardis in the companion. Suddenly it becomes a different dynamic and we see David upping his game to compete with Catherine. It's amazing. "What Davies isn't giving away is any of the storylines for the forthcoming 13-part series. "Well, there's David and Catherine on screen together, which is very special indeed. Every year we write stuff that pushes him, because we don't want him to get bored basically, " he says. "We never want him to have an easy life either, so this year there's more, darker material for David, but also funny stuff for him too because he's so good at playing that. "I can say monster race the Ood are back, and they look fantastic, plus there are various other surprises, with everything building toward the most staggering climax you will ever see. " Guest stars appearing during the series include Felicity Kendal, Fenella Woolgar (as crime writing queen Agatha Christie), Sarah Lancashire, Phil Davis, Peter Capaldi, Tim McInnerny and last season's travelling companion Martha Jones (played by Freema Agyeman) returns too. With hits such as Queer As Folk and Bob And Rose to his credit, Davies took a huge gamble when he attempted to revamp the Doctor Who franchise back in 2005. But it's been a huge success, although the time just before a new series is "really scary", he says. "We just want people to watch it because it's lovely. I love it. It's well known that I've always loved Doctor Who, but I do, I really do. "Those who said that the Doctor, whose encounters with the Daleks and other monsters used to have terrified children hiding behind the sofa, was past his prime were proved wrong by the success of Davies' reinvention. "We were careful and very aware of that when we brought it back, " he says. "We knew there were lots of people who'd not seen it before. We were writing for them, really. All the elements of the show were there, the Tardis, the sonic screwdriver, but it was a clean start. "The dread was that mum and dad would sit down and watch the show, but the kids wouldn't because, let's face it, you don't want to do what your parents do when you're a kid, and anything they watch is automatically bad. "That was a very big worry at first, but I think it was a cynical view of families. It turns out kids love sitting with their mums and dads to watch TV, especially 'event' television like X Factor finals and things like that. "I just knew if we could create that sense of event every week we'd stand a chance of being successful and getting an audience. And I was right. " Doctor Who returns to BBC1 on Saturday at 6.20pm BBC4 is running episodes from the1963 Doctor Who with William Hartnell on Saturday from 8.30pm

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