This interview was originally published in Radio Times magazine.


As Doctor Who's 60th anniversary specials approach, returning showrunner Russell T Davies sat down with Waris Hussein, the original director of the iconic sci-fi series.

The pair talked about everything from the power of the original episode, An Unearthly Child, to working with the eccentric First Doctor, William Hartnell.

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And, to finish, Davies looked from the past to the present - discussing what it was like to come back to the Whoniverse.

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As the original director and current showrunner, you must have met before?

Russell: It was at a marvellous, queer Doctor Who convention in Cardiff about five years ago, talking about gay matters in the show. We were very proud to be there.

Waris: I wish I had been able to cover a theme like that in the show, but in those early days there were very few points of view.

Russell: I don’t know. You dealt with war. You dealt with race, to some extent. I think it was all there in that first episode.

Waris: Well, I don’t want to be telling tales out of school, but we had no script to work with. I remember coming in and saying, "What do we do with this?" to [producer] Verity Lambert. She said, "We have to make it work." We tried, and we did.

Russell: You absolutely did. Your shows are still loved today, all these years later. Your peers all strutted past you, saying, "I’m doing Dickens. I’m doing Jane Austen. Aren’t I posh?" Forgotten! Every single one of them. Your work lives on.

Waris Hussein and Russell T Davies standing in front of a gold background
Waris Hussein and Russell T Davies. Yoshitaka Kono for Radio Times

Waris, what was in that original episode, An Unearthly Child, that still resonates today?

Waris: I never cease to be amazed at how it managed to take off. I know it was the Daleks in the next story. But what was the magic?

Russell: It wasn’t just the Daleks – it was episode one! I must have seen that 100 times. It’s still so beautiful, so mysterious. And what’s astonishing is that the show has never changed. It’s still about a mysterious police box in which an almost unknowable man leads human beings into a world of adventure.

Every time I write an episode one I never skimp on those scenes of the companions staring at the TARDIS, discovering not just a new space, but a whole new life. That is magic every single time, because Waris made it magic in the beginning.

Waris: I envy the people working on it today, because we worked with such parsimonious circumstances; no money for special effects. I watch now with a sense of awe!

Russell: Isn’t that funny? Because we watch yours with a sense of awe. You created the original awe that we’re trying to replicate.

Radio Times An Unearthly Child preview from 1963
Radio Times An Unearthly Child preview from 1963.

Why do you think the show has survived as long as it has?

Russell: It’s extraordinarily loved by people who don’t fit in. I love Star Trek, but Star Trek is a military show. There’s a formality to it, an establishmentarianism. Whereas, with Doctor Who, the lead character’s a mystery. Everyone wishes they could be taken away from taxes and parents and homework. It’s the ultimate magical door.

Waris: The magic is being able to bring the Doctor back as someone else. William Hartnell left, but that eccentricity was still there.

Russell: The moment they realised that Patrick Troughton could step in, that’s when they really discovered it could run and run. That was the incredible decision, because they could have just ended it and said, "Let’s invent Professor X who travels in time."

How did you find working with William Hartnell, Waris?

Waris: He was an eccentric. A hardened Brit from the old Second World War mood. He was always apprehensive of foreigners. And at the time I was introduced to him he wondered who I was and where I came from. But as soon as I convinced him that I knew what I was doing, we developed a great affection for each other.

Doctor Who - the first Doctor (William Hartnell) wearing a suit and smiling
Doctor Who - the first Doctor (William Hartnell).

Did you experience that kind of prejudice often?

Waris: Of course. We were living in times where Enoch Powell had made that terrible speech about rivers of blood. If you were an immigrant, then you had to put up with that subconscious prejudice.

Russell: I look back and I think, "What an extraordinary figure you must have cut walking through Television Centre as an Asian man." Frankly, that wasn’t the norm then. And now you look at it 60 years later, where Ncuti [Gatwa], a black man, is about to walk through the BBC as the Doctor. Does that feel like a victory of sorts?

Waris: It does. I was the first British Asian in my field to be doing what I was doing. What did worry me internally was working on set and all these people watching me. I’d think to myself, "They’re waiting to see whether I’ll fall on my face. But I’m not going to fall on my face."

Russell: I felt that as a gay man. If you fail, you fail all other gay men at the same time.

When you revived Doctor Who in 2005, Russell, did you think that the show would still be on air today?

Russell: It very much felt like all or nothing. We poured everything into that first year, thinking it might never come back after that. I never actually suspected it would take off to this extent, that it would still be running in 2023. We thought, "Maybe we’ll get three or four years out of this." We never saw this coming. But that’s the programme. It keeps on being strong.

The Doctor (David Tennant) and Donna (Catherine Tate) in Doctor Who hugging each other, looking scared
The Doctor (David Tennant) and Donna (Catherine Tate) in Doctor Who. BBC Studios/Bad Wolf/Disney

You’ve returned to take over Doctor Who again. How are you finding the experience this time?

Russell: It’s not hugely different, it’s just a 2023 take on the same show. I knew I had more stories in my head. That’s the most important thing. The BBC had already decided it was going to team up with a streaming service overseas – in this case, Disney Plus.

It was going to go worldwide, it was going to have an increase in budget. And I believed in the BBC’s ambition. It’s what I would have done anyway, and there they were, planning it, and asking if I wanted to run it. It felt right. I didn’t hesitate for a second!

Check out more Doctor Who interviews in Radio Times magazine, on sale now.

Doctor Who's first 60th anniversary special The Star Beast airs at 6:30pm on Saturday 25th November on BBC One and BBC iPlayer. Classic episodes are available on BritBox – you can sign up for a 7-day free trial here.

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