Russell T Davies can save Doctor Who all over again
In 2005, he was the man that brought a dead series back to life – now, he can help it regenerate once more.
For Doctor Who fans, it’s a dream come true – because against the odds, it looks like Russell T Davies is here to save the day. Again.
Russell T Davies’ era on Doctor Who is looked back on with a great deal of fondness by fans, and it’s not hard to see why. Under his tenure (2005-2010) the series broke ratings records, had a plot twist land as a bulletin on the BBC news and made David Tennant the most famous man in Britain – not bad for an old sci-fi show made in South Wales.
But really, Davies’ greatest achievement was that his version of Doctor Who just… worked. It’s hard to remember now how much doubt there was about whether Doctor Who could work in the 21st century, with old memories of wobbly sets, slightly naff aliens and long, confusing stories overshadowing the imagination and devilishly clever writing of the classic series.
But he did it! In 2005, Doctor Who was reinvented as a family drama that combined high-concept sci-fi with more down-to-earth characters, maintaining the spirit and drive of the original series with a new style and ethos all of its own. And after five years, Davies and his leading man Vworped off into the sunset, having done the impossible – saving Doctor Who from irrelevancy.
And that might have been that. Following Davies came Steven Moffat then Chris Chibnall, both putting their own stamp on the material and casting new Doctors as time drifted away from the Davies era. And in that time, TV changed. BBC iPlayer didn’t exist when Doctor Who was first reborn, let alone Netflix or Amazon or Disney Plus, and over the years Who faced more and more competition while traditional live TV viewership dried up.
While still delivering respectable ratings, it’s fair to say that the series is currently less popular than it has been since its revival in 2005, with many thinking that the departure of showrunner Chris Chibnall and star Jodie Whittaker in 2022 was the perfect time for a rethink and relaunch of what Doctor Who means in this TV landscape.
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And the one man offering ideas for what that could be? A certain Russell T Davies.
“I was in the middle of running an empire,” Davies said earlier this year, looking back over his time on the series. “And my God I did that 10 years too soon, didn’t I?
“There should be a Doctor Who channel now. You look at those Disney announcements, of all those new Star Wars and Marvel shows, you think, we should be sitting here announcing The Nyssa Adventures or The Return of Donna Noble, and you should have the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors together in a 10-part series. Genuinely.”
At the time, these comments attracted a fair bit of attention, with fans daydreaming about the possibility of such a DWCU (Doctor Who Cinematic Universe) – but of course, it was all hypothetical. Just an idea.
Or at least, it was – because today, against all the odds the BBC announced that Davies would be returning to take over Doctor Who again over 11 years after he first handed it over. It’s hard not to see this as a kind of mirror image of his first time taking on the show, with Davies coming on board to revamp an older show, of its time (in this case, the early 2000s) and in need of a rethink for the modern landscape.
He did it in 2005, and I’m confident that he can do it again in 2023. If you just glance at his prolific output over the last few years, the plaudits and awards won for A Very English Scandal and It’s A Sin, it’s clear that he’s not lost his touch for tapping into the zeitgeist. He’s also clearly never lost his love for Doctor Who (in fact, he was writing short audio stories published during the 2020 lockdown, which could have been an early clue), and has already, casually, laid out a vision for how it could compete with the Disney/Netflix behemoths.
In all the speculation about who could replace Chris Chibnall as showrunner, Davies was never even considered because it seemed so unlikely – too good to be true, in fact. But somehow, the impossible has happened and we’re looking towards NuWho, part 2. Somehow, we can tell this story is about to get even better.
Doctor Who returns to BBC One this autumn. For more, check out our dedicated Sci-Fi page or our full TV Guide.