RUSSELL T DAVIES - The man who gave DOCTOR WHO the kiss of life

Tom Pheby looks at Russell T Davies' long battle to bring Doctor Who back to our screens.

Russell T Davies is no stranger to doing things the hard way, but when it came to resurrecting Doctor Who the head writer and executive producer (showrunner) faced hurdle after hurdle, yet in the face of it all he showed a steely determination to bring the Time Lord back to our TV screens.

Undeniably a devoted fan, Russell T Davies, like most of us, was deeply miffed by the 16 year absence of Doctor Who - but this only served to fuel his ambition to secure it's return. By his own admission he had a love affair with the show that stretched back to the Patrick Troughton era and was bordering on an obsession. It was that desire that made him approach the BBC in the late 1990's regarding a possible return. The timing of this was perfect as it was something the Beeb were already considering, and so discussions were held first in 1998.

Davies had already cultivated a reputation for shocking television audiences from their sofas. During negotiations with the BBC he was courting a degree of controversy with the series 'Queer as Folk' (1999). Mary Whitehouse (not her again) took an extremely dim view of his work and no doubt referred to it as a "video nasty" - probably because of the absence of tea drinking vicars. She once described children's programme Jackanory as "completely irresponsible", and the Benny Hill Show as "soft porn", so this would prove to be a considerable hurdle when it came to the much loved 'children's series' Doctor Who. Surely that would mean that Davies was unlikely to get the nod.

This immensely talented Welsh born writer, along with others including Mark Gatiss, had to pitch his ideas to the BBC on how to resurrect the exiled Time Lord. As if he were selling the show like toilet tissue. I suppose this is to be expected, as the BBC is full of semi-arthritic, semi-retired, bearded old men who insist on propelling excrement down the television like an over enthusiastic farmer ridding the pig pen of overflow. Yet he persisted, offering to write a pilot for consideration, bravely demanding that any venture he was involved with would have to have a decent budget, and that the shows running time would have to increase substantially.

The twentieth century became the twenty first and it seemed like the project was doomed to failure. As the heads of the BBC changed as regularly a sailors pants, Davies himself was tested by each new gaggle of penny pinching pinstripes. To his credit, he remained focused about his vision and the direction in which he felt the series should go. Resurrecting Doctor Who must have felt like climbing Everest in a pair of slippers - a job for either the brave or the foolish, yet he carried on regardless.

Negotiations started up again in 2002. Davies recalled a meeting with Mal Young (Controller of Continuing Drama) in which he discussed a series of possible projects including the revival of Doctor Who:
"I remember, someone in the room said, 'Why don't we bring Tom Baker back?' and we all said, 'Yes!' I was sitting there, going with anything, 'Yeah, that'd be great!'"
But I doubt he ever truly thought of Baker as a serious contender, it was likely just a diplomatic Davies encouraging wild fantasies to get the project off the ground.

Finally in August 2003 the Controller of BBC One Lorraine Heggessey and Controller of Drama Jane Tranter, offered Russell T Davies the chance of breathing new life into Doctor Who. A month later he'd accepted the job, by mid December he'd pressured the BBC into funding 13 episodes.

The biggest obstacle came in 2004 when Michael Grade returned as Chairman of the BBC. Both Grade (Boo) and Director General Mark Thompson (Hiss) were reluctant towards seeing the show return, almost insisting the series stay off the screens for their own individual reasons. Thompson was said to have asked Jane Tranter to cease production without explanation. Tranter said: "He asked me if we could stop making it, if we were able to stop? And I said ‘No'".

As planning on the revived series began, Davies was looking down the barrel of a gun and was prepared for failure, saying that he would just have to explain himself at conventions if it didn't go according to plan. He was extremely mindful that the funds would be provided from the licence fees and wasn't about to waste resources on a series of extravagant whiz, fizzes and bangs. If anything, he knew the key to its success were the stories. The effects had to be in there, this was Doctor Who after all, but they were not his main consideration.

The rumours began in earnest about who was in line to get the plum role of the doctor, all kinds of names were thrown out there, from Hugh Grant (surely not) to Alan Davies (more like it) and a whole load of truly bizarre suggestions. RTD recalled:
"They (the newspapers) mentioned celebrity chefs and magicians and I thought how damaged has this property become?"
Just prior to the relaunch of the series appearing on our screens, the tabloid press insinuated that he wasn't fit to be in charge of a 'national treasure' like Doctor Who, that he may introduce a "gay element" into the series. The article also featured a out of context comment Davies had made stating his show had "more sex than any other program", but he was clearly not referring to Doctor Who anymore than he was referring to Songs Of Praise, and the public sensibly ignored the hysteria. Steven Moffat mused "People are always talking about Russell's gay agenda, I imagine he keeps it in a pink folder in a leopard skin safe!"

Finally, on the March 26th 2005, Doctor Who returned with a huge fanfare. Staring the edgy actor Christopher Eccleston, who annoyingly begged for regeneration after just one series giving poor battle weary Davies yet another major headache. After Eccleston's short innings RTD surprisingly plumped for a relatively unknown actor by the name of David Tennant to fill the Time Lords shoes, This proved to be a resounding success and the series went from strength to strength.

My own opinion, retrospectively, is that some of the shows in that first series were a little light, a bit of a mish mash. But as the series grew, the story lines improved and it was wonderful to have the Doctor back where he belonged. Russell T Davies proved that he was the right man for the job, and he took the show to new and exciting levels, example: 'The End of Time', still a firm favourite of mine.

With all of the hurdles faced, and the presumed public image of the show, you have to wonder just how a revived Doctor Who could've turned out if it was in the hands of someone who did not have the vision and determination of Russell T Davies. Would the show even still be on screen ten years later? I think it's unlikely. Like him or loath him, RTD gave us Who fans exactly what we wanted and I can't thank him enough for that...and even though the red top press may try and insinuate it, there's nothing 'gay' about giving the kiss of life to the Doctor!

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