Doctor Who: The Second Coming Of RTD - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Doctor Who: The Second Coming Of RTD

Tony for one welcomes the return of our Welsh overlord…
That sound you hear is the electronic scrunching-up of carefully-argued articles about who should be the next showrunner of Doctor Who, written by critics all across the UK.

That OTHER sound you hear is the fandom going batfink-crazy as it falls into division over what, to some people is the answer to their showrunning prayers.

Russell T Davies – long-time fan, exceptional dramatist, and the writer/showrunner responsible for Doctor Who’s initial revival in 2005 – is coming back. When Jodie Whittaker hands over the Tardis keys, it will be to a Doctor of Russell’s choosing, and he will write the 60th anniversary episode, and a series (at least) beyond.

Where’s the bad – right?

Hi. Have you MET the Doctor Who fandom? We can split a hair finer than any laser beam, and can be reliably guaranteed to find the dark side in any event or decision – and then to argue about it like our lives depend on it.

The division over the return of RTD is more impressive even than usual, because both hardcore fans and casual fans alike are taking the opportunity of his return to imprint their own ideas on what that means for the show.

Right now, in many a social media warren, there are people rejoicing that “this means David Tennant will be back as the Doctor!” or “Yay! Now get Martha back!”

In some of the same social media warrens, there are people claiming “Finally! A return to good writing!”

And there are also people who are seeing the return of RTD to the Doctor Who fold as a disappointing, regressive step for a show that should only ever be about moving forward (despite, of course, the almost constant clamour for returning monsters and villains, and the always-thrill of a multi-Doctor story).
Let’s clear up a thing or two here.

There absolutely IS some logic in the idea of being disappointed by a return for RTD – all of us with our lists of prospective new showrunners were preparing to dazzle you with the amount of spectacular talent, fresh thinking, and innovative showrunning perspective that’s actually out there, including plenty that would continue and take ownership of the Chibnallian trend towards increasing the representation of women and people of colour across the Doctor Who universe. Going with any of these new, modern showrunners would have kept Doctor Who on a trajectory of evolution away from a zone of comfort in which it can be rightfully accused of having settled – three white male showrunners in a row, each of whom had been lifelong fans of the Classic era.

So yes, there’s a sense in which returning Doctor Who to RTD can be seen as ‘regressive,’ in that it doesn’t take that opportunity for new blood and ideas.

But hold on a second there.

What is absolutely crucial to understand about the future of Doctor Who under RTD is that IT WON’T BE LIKE THE FIRST TIME.

It practically CAN’T be like the first time… on the grounds that there WAS a first time. You can reach back to the past for ideas, monsters, even themes, but you can’t pull the same genie from the same bottle twice. Doctor Who, TV, and the world has moved on since 2005, so for those expecting a re-do of the first RTD era, you’re very likely going to be disappointed.

Also, for those claiming a return to “less political” or “less woke” times in Doctor Who, obviously, the first thing to say is grow the hell up, Doctor Who has always been about fighting regressive attitudes. Just because you happen to HAVE some of those attitudes now does not change that, and doesn’t mean the Doctor should somehow stop challenging those views. Live long enough and refuse to change or bend and you become the monsters the Doctor has to save us from.

But more than that – err…HELLO! Have you SEEN Russell T Davies’ work? Ever? He’s a writer determined to push the envelope of inclusion just as far as it will possibly go at any given time, and back during his first stint as showrunner, he got lambasted for “adding” (ahem) a “gay agenda” to the show, simply for the still-impressive act of saying the universe includes gay people, bi people, pan people – frankly all the people.
As time has gone on and representation has become more of a thing in the TV landscape, it would be absurd in the extreme to expect a second RTD stint to be regressive about that. The only way for representation is forward. Remember, RTD is the man who, in expanding his story Rose for Target novelization, added pictures of a future Doctor in a wheelchair to the archives of Clive the conspiracy theorist. Does someone have new Big Finish companion Ruth Madeley on speed dial? Oh, right… Russell T Davies does, after her stint on Years And Years…

Russell has always been keen on representing the world in as many facets as possible, and his two latest standalone smash hit dramas, Years And Years and It’s A Sin have continued that trend. The idea that RTD represents some regressive return to ‘non-woke’ storytelling is absurd.

And that’s the other thing. The thing that balances Russell T Davies against all those other potential fresh showrunners. You can say it’s a regressive or backward-looking step to appoint Russell T Davies as showrunner for a second time. The only real evidence for the validity of this is that there are other people who could also do the job, but who AREN’T Russell T Davies.

But the fact remains it was his clout as a storyteller that persuaded executives at the BBC to take a chance on reviving the show back in the early 21st century It was – however that relationship then developed – the skill of Russell T Davies as a writer that brought Christopher Eccleston on board as the Ninth Doctor (after the two worked together on The Second Coming).
That was then. If he were being invited back as showrunner on the strength of then, there are plenty of people who’d see that as a good thing. But he isn’t.

This is now. Now, with Russell T Davies still breaking boundaries in both speculative social fiction (Years And Years) and historical social fiction (It’s A Sin), absolutely mastering both the future and the past, the humour and the drama, the oppression of society under villainous regimes, the power of individual and group connections, and the space for both personal tragedy, triumph and joy.

If that DOESN’T sound like someone who should be in the frame as Doctor Who’s next showrunner, then who the heck does?

Yes, there are great writers and showrunners out there. The point being that Russell T Davies in 2021 IS ONE OF THEM, in a way that’s new and relevant, just as he was new and relevant in a different way when he brought back the show in 2005.

Giving him control of the show in 2023 will be a totally different thing to giving him control of the show in 2005 – and he will have earned it with entirely different material.

What’s more, the idea that appointing Russell showrunner in 2023 in a co-production with Bad Wolf, rather than a completely in-house gig at the BBC, is some backward-looking step falls into that trap of thinking a) that it’s the same Russell T Davies as it was in 2005, and b) that the TV landscape hasn’t changed beyond all recognition since then, or that somehow, Davies hasn’t noticed that it has.

He’s absolutely noticed. Relatively recently, he was interviewed and spoke about the idea of a Doctor Who universe – forward-looking spin-offs like Torchwood, backward-looking but forward-facing spin-offs with a Classic companion, Sarah-Jane – that he was putting in place during his first term as showrunner. Now, everybody’s about expanded universes – Star Wars and Marvel (both, significantly, under the Disney brand), as well as DC, are all about wringing as much exciting content out of their universes as possible. Certainly, since the company got the license to create New Who content, Big Finish has been bolstering a ‘universe of Doctor Who’ into place in audio.

Russell T Davies’ first stint as showrunner was informed by the popularity of Buffy The Vampire Slayer (with its young characters and conflict between the fantasy of the concept and the ‘ordinary’ home elements).

It’s by no means out of the realms of possibility that a more Marvel What-If or Loki-style approach to the multiverse of Doctor Who (informed by the Timeless Children, rather than, as many people assume will be his first job, eradicating that change from the timeline) could be a direction in which RTD2023 approaches taking Doctor Who forward in a totally different television environment to the one that existed in 2005.

Making the show as a co-production with Bad Wolf will free up the show to use ‘external’ cash and filming practices too, so whatever happens when Russell T Davies comes back to the show, the one thing you can absolutely take to the bank is that it won’t be anything like the Doctor Who he brought to the screens in 2005.

People who haven’t enjoyed the Chibnall era’s writing are claiming it will be good to return to ‘a safe pair of hands.’ This is a disservice, I would argue, both to Chibnall and more particularly to some of the exciting writers who have had their first break in both TV and in Doctor Who specifically under Chibnall’s showrunning. Certainly, Russell is a safe pair of hands in terms of understanding about pacing, storytelling and emotional engagement, and in hooking viewers in and rewarding them for their attention.

But if you’re expecting anything safe or cuddly, or anything you think is familiar because you’ve seen it before when Russell T Davies comes back to Doctor Who, I can only echo the words of the Ninth Doctor in one of the first trailer spots that first time round.

“D’you wanna come with me?

Cos if you do, then I should warn you. You’re gonna see all sorts of things… It won’t be quiet, it won’t be safe, and it won’t be calm. But I tell you what it will be…

The trip of a lifetime.”
Russell T Davies is too much of a television professional to give you anything less. Anything you think you’ve seen before…

Tony lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who, Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the 70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By day, he runs an editing house, largely as an excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book. With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at

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