Russell T Davies left Doctor Who behind a long time ago, handing in his showrunner’s TARDIS keys in 2010 and rarely looking back (except, of course, as a fan).
But now it’s revealed that Davies has returned to the world of Daleks and spaceship battles for his new Channel 4 drama It’s A Sin, which features an imaginary 1980s Doctor Who serial starring series lead Ritchie (Olly Alexander)
“How d’you fancy Olly Alexander as an actor in the mid-80s fighting for his life on board a spaceship… and then the wall explodes, and THREE DALEKS glide in?!” Davies told Doctor Who Magazine. “How HILARIOUS. It’ll be a hoot.”
And sure enough, the “parallel universe” episode was shot in Manchester’s Granada Studios in late 2019 to appear in It’s A Sin’s fourth episode, which is set in 1988 and sees Richie play a small part in the long-running sci-fi series.
“We’re shooting a scene where the Daleks are, basically, docking on our spaceship and coming to exterminate us.” Olly Alexander later said from the set.
“I can’t quite believe I get to do this!”
In reality, the episode is closely based on 1983 Peter Davison episode Resurrection of the Daleks (with a little of Sylvester McCoy’s Remembrance of the Daleks) – though Davies soon took to calling the imagined story Regression of the Daleks, even creating a fake Radio Times listing (what would a Doctor Who episode be without one?) that can be seen in the Doctor Who Magazine feature.
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“In a world where the Brain of Morbius Doctors have been validated on screen, I think Regression of the Daleks can be canon,” Davies joked. “Frankly, it’s going to be a novel one day. It’s probably going to be a film. All these things will happen.”
“I’ve worked a lot with Daleks, obviously, and they still make me a bit giddy,” added producer Phil Collinson, who previously worked with Davies on Doctor Who. “A bit excited. A bit scared.
“They’re just beautiful. It’s funny to be here on a set full of people who haven’t worked with them before. It’s like going back to 2005. You just see everybody get a bit… gooey.”
Of course, to some seeing Daleks on Channel 4 seems like sacrilege – but Davies was able to get permission to use the Daleks (and Doctor Who material in general) from the estate of Dalek creator Terry Nation and the BBC, also checking in with current Who showrunner Chris Chibnall before giving his idea the go-ahead.
“They could have said no. But, let’s say, they smiled favourably upon me,” Davies said. “It’s always been that way, actually. When I did Queer as Folk, we got the rights to K9 and that was quite easy.
“People get a bit of money and they’re happy. The Daleks were expensive, but it was allowed for in the budget. And I checked with Chris [Chibnall]. It would’ve been very odd if he’d heard about this second-hand from some lawyer.”
Allowing Davies to return to his Who roots and reunite with Doctor Who producer Phil Collinson (who joined forces with Davies for the first time since leaving Doctor Who itself), it sounds like making Regression of the Daleks was a real blast – but there was also a serious side to its inclusion in the drama, that ties into It’s A Sin’s overall depiction of the 1980s AIDs crisis.
In a way, Davies explained, the Doctor Who cameo was a tribute to classic series actor Dursley McLinden (who played RAF sergeant Mike Smith), who he met at his friend Jill’s flat shortly before his death.
“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 said. “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.”
Doctor Who Magazine issue 560 is out now. It’s A Sin begins on Channel 4 on Friday 22nd January at 9pm. Want more to watch? Check out our full TV Guide.