For Doctor Who fans, Russell T Davies is the man who resurrected their favourite TV show in 2005 and steered the ship for five successful years.
But for Davies himself, the subject he is most interested in – and wants to be remembered for – is his work about gay culture and people.
“Doctor Who was written before me, Doctor Who will be written after me,” says the writer, who admits he has refused offers to return to the sci-fi show despite still being a passionate fan. “These things where you are yourself – subjects like gay culture and gay politics and gay people – are the subjects closest to my heart,” he tells RadioTimes.com. “I hope that will be on my tombstone, to be honest. So I will keep writing. It means the world to me.”
Davies has recently penned Cucumber, an eight-part drama for Channel 4, on this very subject with a companion series Banana showing on E4.
Cucumber follows the lives of Henry (Vincent Franklin) and his former long-term boyfriend Lance (Cyril Nri) after their break up. E4 series Banana tells standalone stories involving characters largely drawn from the younger end of the Manchester gay scene. There will also be an online factual strand called Tofu about modern gay life.
“It’s what I learned from Doctor Who when we span off Torchwood and The Sarah Jane adventures,” says Davies with a laugh. “Make hay while the sun shines.”
Davies’s first major exploration of the gay scene was his Channel 4 drama Queer as Folk, which aired in 1999 and provoked a storm of headlines about its explicit depiction of gay sex.
Cucumber promises to be similarly frank, and Davies admits that it has been easier to get these kind of scenes on air this time round.
“In 1999 there was more scrutiny. We had 27 executives with microscopes and scalpels and there was much less bother this time. It’s all very normal and all very, very fine. If anything, these days you get notes about swearing. I love characters who swear. I swear a lot and I love it.”
Nevertheless, he insists he is not seeking to cause outrage for its own sake.
“If you set out to shock you are not going to get very far. You might not believe this but making television is a really rigorous process and when you put in a sex scene you have to go through the channel, the people financing it, co-production and so on. A scene has to be really rigorous and honest.
“Television really isn’t often cheap and sensational. There’s always a point to what you are putting on screen, even if it sometimes goes astray.”
What about the reality of life for gay men now compared with 16 years ago, when Queer as Folk aired? Davies says his new dramas are careful not to create the impression that things suddenly became easy for them – especially young people – following the advent of greater equality and gay marriage legislation.
“I included a lot of those younger characters because it’s assumed that there is a lot of complacency among the young, that they don’t have to fight for the rights so much because they don’t have to march on the streets as much as we did. We therefore assume mistakenly that they have no problems.
“There is no such thing as a young person with no problems. It’s the nature of being young to have angst, to get torn up about things. Because the law is on your side doesn’t mean you have escaped yourself.”
But Davies admits that things have certainly changed for the better.
“My sister who is a teacher in a Welsh comprehensive asked me to give her the dates when Cucumber is on because she said ‘I can tell my gay kids to watch it’. That sentence literally didn’t exist 16 years ago, that’s how much of a different world [we live in].
“So however much I might say young kids still have problems and there is still a long way to go in terms of equality, you also have to stop and celebrate and put party balloons up and say that is absolutely fantastic, it’s a different world. Amazing.”
Davies insists that “you don’t have to be gay to watch” Cucumber or Banana, though, and says he is particularly keen to attract straight men to the dramas.
“I don’t want people to think that they should have watched Queer as Folk in order to understand [Cucumber and Banana]. That’s my only worry about it. It’s a completely free-standing show.
“But anyone who enjoyed that show 16 years ago should come and have a good time.
“The one audience you have to persuade is straight men because I think women will have no problems flocking to this. I myself have never been drawn to very straight male dramas like Minder. I have never watched an episode in my life. But I think there is a lot for everyone in this.”
Cucumber and Banana will be shown on Channel 4, E4 and 4oD on Thursday 22nd January. Channel 4 will also curate an online factual strand called Tofu about modern gay life