Upon learning that Russell T Davies, the man who brought Doctor Who back to TV and the mainstream after years in the wilderness, was returning to the franchise most fans would have automatically rejoiced – then quickly scratched their heads at the unusual nature of his return.
You see, Davies’ comeback to the Whoniverse hasn’t arrived in the form of a new episode, spin-off series ideas or even a novel – instead, he’s spent the last few months drawing cartoons for poems about the Doctor and his adventures.
“Yes, it’s not a normal thing to do,” Davies acknowledges of his involvement in Now We Are Six Hundred, a collection of AA Milne-inspired Doctor Who poems written by James Goss released today. “But I’ve always kind of scribbled away.
“From my book The Writers Tale, BBC books knew that I could draw – well they thought I could draw, I hope I can draw.
“So when this came along, I think they thought that I knew James Goss, I think they thought it was quite quirky, I think they wanted somebody who knew their Doctor Who history very well.”
Hooting with laughter, he adds: “Also, a lot of illustrators wouldn’t get themselves an interview with Radio Times, let’s be honest! They’re not fools!”
The poetry book written by James Goss and illustrated by Davies
Clearly, it was a match made in heaven – and while to some it might seem odd for Davies to step back into this world after waving goodbye over 7 years ago, Davies objects to the idea that this is his “comeback” to Doctor Who at all. In his mind, he never really left.
“It’s funny that, because people think I haven’t been involved with Doctor Who at all,” he muses. “I watch it all the time, and all my friends work on it, and we e-mail each other. I’ve been e-mailing Brian Minchin, who’s the outgoing executive producer, just this morning.
“So it looks like it’s gone from my life to you, it’s there every day for me. So this was just a really normal thing to do, to say ‘Oh yeah, I fancy that.’ It’s a different set of muscles as well, literally a different skill, and I do want to draw more, and the way to draw better is to draw more.”
And if he wanted practice, he certainly got his wish. Turning through the pages readers will be confronted with a vast variety of Davies’ charming drawings, which range from the cute (tiny Piglets hunting for the Tardis) to the artistic (a drawing of River Song based on 18th-century painting The Swing), the mainstream (Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor swinging from a scarf) to the shamelessly fan-baiting (female Doctors, killed-off characters and hated incarnations of the Daleks are all alluded to in subtle gags).
At one point, Davies’s drawings even make Michelle Gomez’ evil Time Lord Missy pregnant by one of her former male incarnations, after Davies previously joked about the prospect with current series showrunner Steven Moffat.
“Come on, it’s just an irresistible joke really isn’t it?” he says. “It’s there, begging to be done.
Image: Penguin Random House, from the poem ‘Winning’
“I had absolute freedom to be honest. They just kind of handed [the poems] over. And one or two of them I had to phone up James and go ‘What’s this?’ and he’d go ‘It’s about the Valeyard’ and I’d go ‘Oh right, I get it now!’”
“It’s so visual, Doctor Who,” he adds enthusiastically. “Give me a poem about the Celestial Toymaker, and I can draw forever. That’s a glorious thing to illustrate. And it always has been such a visual pictorial show. So it was just a wealth of material in the end.”
And it wasn’t even the first time Davies had brought that visual nature to life on the page, having previously used his cartooning skills to help explain complex ideas while he was running Doctor Who.
“There were times when you’d say ‘I need to spaceship to do this, it turns on its side,’ or ‘I need the monster to come out of the floor like this,’ or ‘I need to ceiling to collapse’ – and sometimes you sit in the meeting, and sometimes it’s easier for me to draw it out myself,” Davies recalls.
“Not all the time – because we had teams and teams and teams of people to illustrate stuff like that – but it was kind of a shortcut, a shorthand.”
Image: Penguin Random House, from the poem ‘The Death List’
Clearly, it’s a useful skill to hold onto – so does he ever wish he’d gone down the path of full-time illustration instead of writing? According to Davies himself he had considered it as a teenager, before being discouraged from that path by a careers teacher due to his mild colour-blindness.
“I certainly wouldn’t be getting interviews in the Radio Times!” Davies quips. “Whooo, I wonder. Who can know? I made the choice not to go that way.
“I kind of wish I’d kept drawing all these years, I have kind of dropped it, because you do get better every time you draw. So I think I’d be rather good by now, if I’d had a solid 30 years, since I was 20, of drawing.
“But never mind. I’m delighted to be doing it now. Really happy. It was joyous, the whole thing was joyous to do. I knew I’d love it, and I did.”
Image: Penguin Random House, from the poem ‘A Good Man’
No matter. Illustrating’s loss is definitely TV’s gain, with Davies’ post-Doctor Who work – critically-acclaimed Channel 4 drama Cucumber, Shakespeare adaptation A Midsummer Night’s Dream and upcoming Hugh Grant series A Very English Scandal – all continuing to keep him in the public eye, while the series he’s perhaps best known for enters an exciting new era with new Doctor Jodie Whittaker and showrunner Chris Chibnall.
“What a happy time,” Davies says. “I understand people’s fears and doubts, I can be as traditional as you like. And yet that clip (announcing Whittaker as the first female Doctor) simply showed what a good idea it was in 10 seconds.
“That’s an amazing piece of work. Which just proves that it’s time, the idea’s time has come. When these things are in the air, it’s magical that they happen. It’s just wonderful. Completely wonderful.”
So there’s no jealousy that he won’t get to write for perhaps the most momentous Doctor since the series began?
“I don’t get jealous about something like that,” Davies retorts. “If I was jealous I’d go and ask Chris to write one. Bless him, I think he might let me in the door.”
And on that enticing note, I have to wonder – after writing for Doctor Who and drawing for Doctor Who, what’s next in Davies’ mixed-media Whoniverse travels? I suggest Doctor Who cross-stitch, but he has a better idea…
“No, I should BE Doctor Who!” he proclaims grandly. “Fourteenth Doctor, it starts here.”
“Come on, tall and Welsh and gorgeous,” he concludes. “That’s just meant to be.”
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