By: Sab Astley


Russell T Davies is the master of reusing and recycling. Most obviously, he’s fond of casting actors from projects past for leading roles in newer work (notably, Christopher Eccleston had starred in The Second Coming and David Tennant in Casanova before joining Doctor Who), but he's also prone to holding on to and breathing new life into ideas long after he first came up with them.

This is a skill he found particularly useful during his first Doctor Who run, taking monsters like the Toclafane (conceptualised as an alternative for the Daleks all the way back in July 2004) and later re-establishing them in their own right as The Master’s metallic menaces. Even small details like names are re-worked; a Donna had originally appeared in Queer as Folk, with the name being unconsciously resampled by Davies without him even realising.

Now, with Davies' surprise return to Doctor Who looming, everyone is searching for potential clues as to RTD’s approach to his second run – and unusually, the acclaimed screenwriter might have already given us a pretty good idea of what he's planning thanks to a little book called The Writer's Tale.

The Writer’s Tale is a tome of correspondence between Davies and Doctor Who Magazine contributor Benjamin Cook, taking place over the pre-production of season 4 right up to the final shots of Tennant’s last special between 2007 and 2009. This uniquely intimate look into Davies’ writing process not only gives us an insight into how RTD approaches writing projects like Doctor Who, but also gives the chance to discover unused and scrapped ideas – the original concept for Years & Years is mentioned in here, all the way back in 2008! – that RTD could return to and retool for his second pass as showrunner.

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Starting with the big one...

The Next Doctor

Russell Tovey
Russell Tovey

14th Doctor speculation is currently at an all-time high, with names like Michael Sheen, Michaela Coel, T’Nia Miller and Olly Alexander mentioned. However, one name that hasn’t arisen, which might just be a strong contender to bet on: Russell Tovey.

Davies makes no secret of his love for Tovey, and in a discussion over potential 11th Doctor castings, RTD states that Tovey is "amazing – I think I’d make him the eleventh Doctor". Since then Tovey has starred in Davies' Years & Years, and currently all of his upcoming projects are in post-production – making it the perfect time for RTD to nab Tovey if he so wishes.

Alternatively, if we look at Davies' choice of actors in the years since The Writer's Tale, the choice becomes clear: Lydia West. She’s clearly a favourite of RTD’s, starring in both Years & Years and It’s A Sin, and could follow in Jodie Whittaker's footsteps as a female Doctor (and the first 'lead' Doctor to be played by a Black actor, though Jo Martin's Fugitive Doctor technically got there first).

Altogether, based on RTD’s creative patterns and the insight of The Writer's Tale it seems Russell Tovey or Lydia West are strong options for the 14th Doctor. However, there is a third possibility – the return of David Tennant.

Tennant’s return has been speculated since RTD’s announcement, and now rumours supposedly supporting this idea have emerged. Apparently, Tennant may return not as the 10th Doctor, but as a new 14th incarnation for a brief collection of episodes to tie into Who's 60th anniversary. Initially, many may think there’s little weight to this – but the idea of a Tennant-centric mini-series apparently once appealed to Davies, as he asked Cook "how about a mini-series with David in 2010?" to get his thoughts on a possible concept, as relayed in The Writer's Tale.

It’s worth noting that Davies' successor Moffat offered up series 5 to Tennant for one last outing in the role, and according to Davies, "David [was] thinking about it!" Cook later mentions an interesting anecdote from his interview with Catherine Tate: "She admitted that had you all been doing another series, she wouldn’t have hesitated in signing up for it." This then spurs an echoed emphasis of that Tennant mini-series through a 'what if?' reflection: "Imagine how incredible a second series with Catherine and David would have been."

So who knows? With Davies returning, original revival producer Phil Collinson back on board and Julie Gardner and Jane Tranter on hand via new production company Bad Wolf Studios, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that Tennant could also be part of this "getting the band back together" team-up. Maybe Catherine Tate could even show up! It still feels unlikely but if there's anything we've learned recently it's that anything is possible when it comes to Doctor Who.

The Next Companion

Catherine Tate in Doctor Who
Catherine Tate in Doctor Who BBC

The Writer's Tale also offers a few clues about the next Doctor's best mate. You see, originally Donna Noble was not the first choice for season 4’s companion – instead, we very nearly got 'Penny Carter'.

She was described by Davies as a "slightly older Northern woman in her mid-30s", the type of person who would have "just black coffee [in the morning] – if it weren’t Doctor Who, she’d have a cigarette. That’s very Penny." The reason for Penny’s creation at the time was that Davies didn’t believe they could convince Tate to return – the concept moved forward to the point where an unnamed but "marvellous actress with a rare flair for comedy" loved by both Davies and Jane Tranter was almost offered the role; but then Tate said yes.

As a result, elements of Penny were folded into Donna: her lovable charming granddad 'Geoff', who we now know as Bernard Cribbins’ iconic Wilf, as well as his band of elderly adventurers introduced in The End of Time.

Penny herself never made it beyond the page, and there’s a clear melancholy shared by Davies when discussing the demise of the character – it’s evident that he had become attached to Penny, and there was definitely a companion there to explore. While a woman called Penny Carter does make a cameo in Partners in Crime as a journalist investigating the Adipose, given Davies’ love for the character, it’s possible that Davies may draw on this strong, Northern heroine he almost brought to life before when it comes to creating season 14’s companion.

Potential Stories

As The Writer’s Tale tracks the development of season 4 and the specials from the first line written to final shot recorded, there are some cut episode concepts that could hint at potential stories for the 14th Doctor to embark on.

Simply titled ‘Nazis’ (a concept placeholder), this episode was the brainchild of Mark Gatiss, who had apparently worked well over a year on the script. It pivoted around World War II as a setting, specifically confined inside the Natural History Museum. The Doctor would’ve had to have dealt with not just monsters on the loose, but a Nazi strike-force invasion at the same time.

However, at the time Davies was “worried about recreating World War II again so soon”, given the close proximity to The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances. Ultimately, Nazis was replaced with The Fires of Pompeii – there’s no Gatiss episode that matches this description since, and Davies himself enthuses about Gatiss as having "one of the wittiest, wildest imaginations in this whole bloody country", so we may see Davies looking to collaborate with Gatiss once again, potentially on this very same concept.

Likewise, Century House was another fascinating episode concept that was eventually replaced, which would have seen the Doctor appearing on reality television show Just Haunted, tracking down the ghost of the mysterious 'Red Widow'. The episode itself would’ve been Doctor-focused, with the companion sitting at home watching it unfold on television. This was written by Tom MacRae, best known as the book writer and lyricist of Everybody’s Talking About Jamie – MacRae had written Who episodes before, responsible for the return of the Cybermen into the revival series, and later penned season 6’s The Girl Who Waited.

The 'Century House' itself was described as "a big, old, abandoned, spooky house, like on a cliff top. Certain rooms would flashback to the 1950s or '60s." Eventually, Davies replaced it on the basis of "the overall tone of both 4.7 and 4.8 being comparatively light, fun episodes", swapping it out for Midnight, a concept he’d actually developed five years earlier – proof, if we needed it, that any Doctor Who concept can be revisited years down the line!

There are also a number of unused concepts from Tennant’s final year of specials. One such was a Star Wars-influenced episode, described by Davies as "something outer-spacey, wild and whizzy, spaceships and lasers. Lots of POW!" It would see the Doctor caught in a spaceship dogfight, materialising right in the middle and forced to get involved. The companion would’ve been a fierce female fighter pilot fighting against The Chelonians, a man-sized tortoise race pulled from Gareth Roberts' '90s Who novel, The Highest Science.

In The Writer's Tale, Davies says: "I’d love [The Doctor] to join the battle with some sort of weapon-stopping device onboard, so everywhere he flies – zipping in and out, he jams engines and guns," effectively neutralising the whole conflict. Given Doctor Who’s budget back then (2007's Voyage of the Damned cost £128,000 and was considered £35,000 over budget before production began), this isn’t a concept they could’ve pulled off easily back in the 2000s. However, the production has had a major upgrade since then, allowing for grander, bolder and more adventurous concepts that are more CGI-heavy. Now, with His Dark Materials creators Bad Wolf coming on board with Davies and TV CGI more impressive than ever, this could be the moment that this story finally comes to fruition.

Another curious concept that was dropped was titled The Empty Hotel – it would’ve featured an old, grandmotherly companion finding themselves in a deserted hotel: "She goes back to the room. Empty. Foyer, empty. Goes outside. Streets, empty. London, deserted". Judi Dench or Helen Mirren were eyed for the role, believing that "we could maybe get Helen Mirren if we planned this far in advance". With Dench, Davies revealed that there was "definite interest from Judi Dench", and he’d "love to see The Doctor with an older companion".

It would transpire that these "weird, spindly, eight-legged creatures with human torsos" had frozen Earth for a second in time, to make their own personal carnival. The tone of the episode was described as "all a bit magical – a sinister fairy-tale". This sounds like a brilliantly creepy episode of Who, and the idea is clearly the most fleshed-out of all the episode concept discussions within The Writer’s Tale. Judi Dench might not want to be the Doctor, but who knows? Maybe she could still be a companion...

Returning Monsters

William Hartnell and Michael Gough in Doctor Who: The Celestial Toymaker
William Hartnell and Michael Gough in Doctor Who: The Celestial Toymaker BBC

When Davies revived the series, he brought back the Daleks, the Cybermen, the Autons, the Macra, The Master, The Time Lords, Rassilon and Gallifrey itself, so it’s quite likely we’ll see some more Classic Who returns in this new run. So what could we expect?

As Davies himself says: "Thank Christ for Doctor Who’s rich history! There’s a wealth of ideas to draw from in a crisis." During the development of series 4, Davies considered the Sisterhood of Karn, The Seeker from The Ribos Operation and The Fortune Teller from Snakedance as possible appearances. While the Sisterhood of Karn would go on to return under Moffat’s tenure, Davies’ proclivity for trawling through the never-ending toybox of Classic Who villains gives us a possible insight into the eras of Classic Who Davies may be looking through to revitalise for a modern generation.

And who knows? If Davies did reconfigure the scrapped Empty Hotel idea into an all-new, full-on adventure, it stands to reason that the person behind such a creepy carnival could be The Celestial Toymaker. A fan favourite whose debut story was sadly lost to the sketchy storage procedures of the BBC, there’s a kitschy playfulness to the Toymaker that Davies could easily work with, re-introducing the omnipotent immortal with a penchant for games to modern audiences.

Davies has mentioned Robert Holmes as his favourite Classic Who writer in the past, one of the most influential to the mythos – he created The Nestene Consciousness and the Autons, The Master, Sarah Jane Smith, The Sontarans, and Rassilon. As some may notice, there’s considerable overlap between the concepts Holmes created and those Davies re-introduced; so what could be drawn from Holmes’ mythology that could fit with the current Doctor Who? The Key to Time, The White Guardian, and the Black Guardian. Seasons 12 and 13 dealt heavily with the disruption of time itself, re-introducing the sub-group of Gallifreyans known as the Shobogans, and given the nature of The Doctor as the "Timeless Child", it wouldn’t be out of the question to consider The Ribos Operation as something Davies may take influence from to tie up this complicated thread.

The nature of writing is a fundamentally fluid process – there’s no possible way of predicting which ideas Davies will return to and which he’ll leave behind; he may even decide to wipe the board clean and start completely fresh. Running a production as large as Doctor Who often requires on-the-fly, big adjustments and alterations at the eleventh hour, as often glimpsed in The Writer’s Tale.

However, no matter what, it seems that RTD always knows when he has a gem of an idea, and keeps it in a safe place, waiting for him to open it back up, dust it off and find a new home for it. Just like the Doctor’s escapades, sometimes the best way to understand the future of Doctor Who is by travelling back to the past. Or at least, reading about it.

Doctor Who: The Writer's Tale by Russell T Davies and Benjamin Cook is available to buy now.

Doctor Who: Legend of the Sea Devils comes to BBC One this spring. For more, check out our dedicated Sci-Fi page or our full TV Guide.


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