In Channel 4 drama It’s A Sin, series creator Russell T Davies pays tribute to the friends he lost to HIV/AIDS, which first reached the UK in the 1980s.
Speaking at a press Q&A, Davies confirmed that much of It’s A Sin is autobiographical or else based on people he knew, while certain characters in the It’s A Sin cast are based on real-life individuals.
More recently, the former Doctor Who showrunner also revealed that the character Ritchie’s cameo on Doctor Who was “a little smile towards Dursley” McLinden, an actor who died of AIDS in the early 1990s.
Who was Dursley McLinden?
Dursley McLinden was an actor, singer, and dancer. He was born in Douglas, Isle of Man on the 29th May 1965, before moving to London to study acting at the age of 16. He appeared on the West End (including in an acclaimed production of Gigi) and in the company of The Phantom of the Opera.
On-screen, he appeared in the film adaptation Just Ask For Diamond, Mr Bean, Freddie and Max, and as RAF sergeant Mike Smith in the 1988 Doctor Who episode Remembrance of the Daleks.
He fell ill with HIV/AIDS seven years before his death, and became involved in AIDS activism alongside his acting career, which he continued to pursue despite his illness. He appeared onstage at Her Majesty’s Theatre in Haymarket just 10 weeks before his death.
He died in London on the 7th August 1995, at age 30.
How does It’s A Sin pay tribute to Dursley McLinden?
*Warning: spoilers ahead for It’s A Sin episode four*
In It’s A Sin episode four, Olly Alexander’s character Ritchie (an aspiring actor from the Isle of Wight) is cast in a small role in Doctor Who, in which he and others face down a Dalek during a battle scene.
Ritchie’s casting in Doctor Who turns out to be pivotal, as it’s only when the show’s head of make-up notices that “something’s wrong” with Ritchie’s skin that he decides to get tested for HIV/AIDS.
According to creator Russell T Davies, the Dalek scene was also a tribute to Dursley McLinden, whom he met at his friend Jill Nalder’s flat. (Nalder is the real-life “inspiring” person who informed the character Jill, played by Lydia West)
“What a beautiful boy! He was one of Jill’s friends and one of the first people I ever met who’d been in Doctor Who,” Davies told Doctor Who Magazine. “I went to Jill’s 30th and there he was. He was already very ill, but he was so hilarious and lovely. I was thrilled to meet him.”
“He became very wonderful in his AIDS activism when he was ill, but to me he was that boy from Remembrance of the Daleks. That’s why I knew I had to write a Dalek scene in It’s A Sin.
“I didn’t do it as a joke. It’s not me going, ‘Hooray, let’s get a few pages in Doctor Who Magazine.’ It, literally, felt natural. I was really desperate to do it. It’s a little smile towards Dursley, who I loved. I did it for Dursley.”
You can order a free HIV test kit for National HIV Testing Week via the It Starts With Me website. For any questions about HIV or advice, please contact Terrence Higgins Trust Direct on 0808 802 1221.
All five episodes of It’s A Sin are available to stream on All4. Looking for something else to watch? Check out our TV Guide.