An Interview with RUSSELL T. DAVIES

An Interview with RUSSELL T. DAVIES
Creator of TORCHWOOD, QUEER AS FOLK, and producer of DOCTOR WHO
By Abbie Bernstein

russell davis doctor who interviewRussell T. Davies, creator of TORCHWOOD and QUEER AS FOLK, producer of DOCTOR WHO for the Christopher Eccleston/David Tennant years of its current revival, is at a Television Critics Association press tour party for BBC America at the Langham Hotel in Pasadena. He and David Tennant have already done the big Q&A panel for their mutual final season of DOCTOR WHO, which will go on with a new Doctor and a different showrunner. Davies asks his assistant to bring him a glass of orange juice while he talks to several journalists, including yours truly. The others, who’ve been talking to him for awhile, detach themselves to talk to other BBCA talent at the party, leaving me to converse with Davies solo.

For starters, Davies states his policy on spoilers – like most showrunners the world over, he’s against them. “I know we’re here to publicize these shows, but I really don’t believe in giving too much away, because I think so much is given away these days about television and films that by the time somebody gets around to seeing them, they feel like repeats.”

Being vigilant against spoilers has resulted in some very specifically-edited trailers for upcoming episodes, Davies adds. “Well, we argued over [the clips used in the trailers] long and hard. There’s an editor called Thomas back in London at BBC Cardiff who put those together. And we went over them twenty-seven times, every time saying, ‘No, take that out, no, take that out.’ I know science-fiction fans are very, very clever. You can show them one character, and if he’s hiding something in his hand, they’ll guess what it is, and if he’s hiding something, they’ll guess why he’s hiding something and therefore there’s nothing at all left [that they haven’t surmised]. I’ve seen them do that. It’s such a literate audience, all you really get in those Christmas [episode] clips are faces. Literally, we’re just showing you who is in it – we daren’t show any more.”

Timothy Dalton narrates the trailer. Will he be seen in the episode? Davies is cagey about this as well. “He’s playing the Narrator – you’ll just have to see,” he laughs. “You’ll have to wait ’til December. I really don’t believe in giving out information too soon.”

Indeed, Davies won’t even say if Tennant’s final episode as the Doctor will include a regeneration into the next Doctor. “That’s what typically happens, but maybe it’ll be different this time. I’m literally not even giving that away.” As for the selection of Tennant’s successor, Davies says he did not have a hand in it. “I didn’t pick the new Doctor at all. That was the new production team. They were completely in charge of that.”

As David Tennant played the Doctor over three seasons and several telefilms, did Davies began to write for Tennant’s voice as an actor? Davies gives a somewhat surprising answer. “The moment you start to know someone’s voice, that’s when it starts to turn into something different, because I think that can lead to very lazy writing. I can deliver something that automatically fits his speech patterns very well, almost on autopilot. That’s when you [have to] start doing stories like when the Doctor became human for two episodes, or like that ‘Midnight’ episode with Lesley Sharp, where he loses his voice – you actually need to guard against knowing an actor’s voice too well and need to look for new stuff. Otherwise, I think the writer gets bored and I think the actor gets bored. Once you know what they’re going to do, look for something different. Of course, David is just limitless, and so anything you do, he matches it, he takes it even further than you ever imagined, so it’s a great process.”

In Britain, DOCTOR WHO started life (almost fifty years ago now) perceived as a children’s show. While it’s clearly grown up a lot over the years, it’s still shown in the country that makes it at a relatively early hour, compared to Davies’ spin-off creation TORCHWOOD, which has adult sexuality, violence and blood. Did the BBC ever tell Davies there were things he shouldn’t do on WHO? “There were no edicts as such. There was my own common sense as a producer. For example, on DOCTOR WHO, I don’t believe in showing blood. We very rarely shown any blood – on a very violent show, there’s no blood. That’s not in the BBC guidelines. We’re not a children’s show, we are a primetime drama. Technically we’re allowed to show blood – I don’t think that’s right when there are children watching. So that’s not a BBC edict – they’ve given us absolute freedom and trust and faith, and the budget to go with it, so we’ve been very, very lucky. And obviously TORCHWOOD goes out later and is more for adults, so we have the freedom to go further. But even then, it’s all common sense.”

There were certainly no edicts about TORCHWOOD’s pan-sexual time traveling hero Captain Jack Harkness, played by John Barrowman. Davies says that, even though it doesn’t enhance his reputation as a pioneer, he actually didn’t have to fight for anything in that regard. “I would like to make myself sound brave in the creation of the character – actually, no one ever stopped me doing anything with him. That’s partly because I wrote QUEER AS FOLK, so I have a sort of defensive shield around me when it comes to gay characters,” he laughs, “so you will not criticize [the script’s handling of] them, but I don’t think anyone ever wanted to criticize them. No one ever stopped that happening. And we thought, ‘Bisexual space captain at the heart of a family show …’ Never have we had a single complaint, never have we had to take out a single line of his. And that’s just brilliant – I love that.”

At the end of the most recent installment of TORCHWOOD, CHILDREN OF EARTH, Davies broke up perhaps the only continuing gay couple on genre television, Capt. Jack and Ianto, played by Gareth David-Lloyd, when Ianto died heroically. When Joss Whedon did something similar on BUFFY, THE VAMPIRE SLAYER in killing Amber Benson’s character Tara, there was a tremendous backlash. Granted, as Davies just pointed out, as creator of QUEER AS FOLK, and as an openly gay man himself, people are less inclined to question his choices with gay characters; things might have gone differently after Tara’s death if Whedon had been a lesbian. But was there any sort of audience uprising at Ianto’s passing? “It was utterly expected,” says Davies. “I saw that coming a mile off, I knew that would happen.” However, he adds, “It was very small. There was a campaign to send coffee to the BBC, because Ianto was the coffee boy. At the end of [the week CHILDREN OF EARTH aired on BBC America], the BBC office in Cardiff had received nine packs of coffee, so that’s not exactly an overwhelming campaign. And actually, to be honest, if we’d received nine million packs of coffee, I wouldn’t change my mind. I think people get confused with reality television these days, they think they can vote to keep a character alive. They think they can ring 091 to save Ianto’s life and 092 to lose Ianto’s life. That’s not the case. It’s a drama. It’s not about who lives and who dies, it’s how they live and how they die, and that’s my decision. I thank people for their compassion and their concern, but I also hope they will take that compassion and concern and turn it to real-life stories of real homophobia where real gay men have been murdered in all sorts of extraordinary circumstances, terrible circumstances. If you want to get on the bandwagon about that, there are a lot of real causes out there with people in desperate circumstances.”

Davies says he’ll be back with TORCHWOOD, provided that the series returns. “It’s too early to say whether TORCHWOOD’s coming back. There was a report saying that I said at Comic Con that it was definitely re-commissioned, which I didn’t. That’s just people making things up,” he laughs. “I hope it will and the signs are very good, because it was so successful.”

The reception for DOCTOR WHO and for TORCHWOOD at the July San Diego Comic Con was a bit larger than Davies or the actors had anticipated. “I’ll tell you what it was. The crowd was wonderful. And it is Comic Con. So to some extent, it was expected, but we sort of thought that every show was that big, until we read all the blogs and all the reportage afterwards. I thought you could have been in LOST IN SPACE in the nineteen-sixties and walked on stage and got the same kind of applause. Which I’m sure a lot of people would, but we were taken aback by that. Literally, you get told back home,” Davies adopts the bored, posh accent of someone who can’t be bothered at all with science fiction, ‘Oh, it’s very successful in Great Britain.’ DOCTOR WHO is very successful in Great Britain. The only way people can put it down is saying, ‘Yeah, but it’s not very popular in America.'” The thousands of people packed into the Comic Con auditorium gave the lie to that fallacy. Additionally, “It gets seven million viewers in South Korea. We thought this [the U.S.] is the one audience we were lacking. Obviously, I’d like to triple the figures by the next episode and then triple them every showing after that, but we’re really delighted to have this conversation and you know what we’re talking about. I don’t have to explain it from scratch, which is wonderful.”

Looking back, what would Davies say has been the most unique aspect of his tenure on DOCTOR WHO? “I’ll tell you that very simply. If you look at my mobile phone, I have got the greatest actors in Great Britain on my phone, David [Tennant] and Catherine [Tate] and Billie [Piper], and guest stars like Penelope Wilton and Lesley Sharp and David Morrissey, and young talent, like Lenora Crichlow, who’s on BEING HUMAN, Russell Tovey, who’s on BEING HUMAN – they’ve been in DOCTOR WHO. People always talk to writers about the writing – people never talk to writers about the actors. Half our life is dealing with these people who take our words and say them on screen and there’s a real impenetrably magical chemistry there. I have had the best time. Simon Callow, Derek Jacobi – simply the best talent in the world. So that’s been the most magical thing, that people are dying to do DOCTOR WHO. You just look through the history of not only our regulars, [but] everyone [who’s appeared on the series]. That has been spectacular. I loved it.”

By Abbie Bernstein – Entertainment Reporter

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  • Nina

    If you’d like to see the reception Russell got at Comic Con, I shot an posted the entire Q & A panels for both TORCHWOOD and DOCTOR WHO. In the TORCHWOOD panel he talks about his reasoning behind the death and the response.

  • Gunther C.

    I saw those YouTube videos (they were fun)as they came out. It makes me realize what a little gem you Buzzy people have in this interview without the giant audience and the cameras rolling. I feel we are getting a little bit more of the man behind the mask. He seems to appreciate the opportunity to continue grow artistically and the privilege to work with the finest actors. I’m sure the new crew will be fine but I’ll miss his touch in Doctor Who.

  • Margaret Bell

    Poor Ianto, they only manged 9 packets of coffee? Mr Davies sounds brilliant but that’s to be expected. Most of us understand the bit about keeping us spoiler free. I appreciate getting a feel for the way he looks at the series and the characters.

  • Bob Yuba

    “It’s a drama. It’s not about who lives and who dies, it’s how they live and how they die, and that’s my decision.”
    That is a fantastic quote. Don’t you wish more fans could understand that if they always got what they wanted the story would suffer?

  • June K Williams

    Isn’t it amazing that lacking any real thing to criticize people would say that it wasn’t popular in the U.S. Well even people who do not get BBC America are finding ways of seeing it via DVD purchases and rentals or downloads

    Then there are things like having Torchwood themed dinner parties with a marathon running in the background to get people who aren’t familiar with it up to speed. Bet more people have added BBC America to their cable/satellite tier because of Torchwood than any other program on the network.

  • Jippy

    I found that amazing how he can contradict himself on interview. I have a big doubt of the 9 coffees because on another interview, it’s 6 coffees. What is the real number of coffees receive? But if he receive received nine million packs of coffee, it’s million of fans who don’t want to follow anymore Torchwood. Pretty bad for a good rating.

    Sorry it’s not Wales they aim, it’s London. Maybe he should see is fact before answer to your question.

    And if COE is awesome and everyone don’t care of Ianto, why Ianto win all the polls around the world and BBC have not decide yet for a season 4?

    Also, he insult all the campaign who have already do a succes to bring back characters (Sherlock Holme, Daniel Jackson).

    This writer is hilarious. Also for is concept of real drama, I don’t know real drama = immortal and alien.

  • As the sender of at least 9 packets of coffee (personally) I can perhaps shed some light on Mr Davies figures.

    We sent them to BBC LONDON, as Mr Davies himself has explained in previous interviews that he does not open any fan mail. If he would like a more accurate figure to use in future interviews I would suggest he contact Mr Mark Thompson, the Director General of the BBC and recipient of a large shipment of coffee, 100 smiley face balloons and many many cards and letters.

    Anyone else interested in the accurate figures may not be given them though, as audience feedback is omitted from the FOI act so no one outside the corporation is allowed to get verification of the exact amounts. We tried. We do however have photographic proof of many of our postings.

    I would also like to confirm that yes, the campaign HAS taken that compassion and concern and turned it to fighting other causes alongside bringing back Ianto Jones. Most notably, to date we have raised £7,839.56 for the BBC Children In Need Appeal.

    Many of our UK members, including myself, have also supported the successful Petition to get the UK government to apologise for its treatment of the homosexual wartime intelligence hero, Alan Turing.

    Some of our US members are also fighting to repeal the DOMA.

    Passion and the desire to fight for a cause that matters to a person are not things that come in finite quantities. Just because we choose to support an attempt to bring back a much loved character to our screens does not mean that we do not devote time to other worthy causes.

    I would also point out that many of the most vocal members of the campaign are, in fact, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and I believe we also have at least one Transsexual member. We are all ages, all shades of the rainbow of sexuality and I have made some truly great friends working on this campaign.

    If all we do is manage to persuade the BBC that it’s scheduling needs MORE honestly written and non sensationalised lesbian, gay and bisexual characters like Ianto Jones then I for one will count that as a victory.

  • D.Arrowood

    I hope you are not saying that the death of Ianto was because of some anti-homosexual agenda. First, Russel T. Davies has always been quite openly gay and was the creator of the series Queer as Folk. Second, Ianto was only one of a number of characters who were killed off. The object of those deaths were to bring Jack Harkness to the breaking point and it suceeded in doing it so that in his despair he leaves Earth. Ianto’s death was shown as almost the final blow for Jack. But truth be told it was his sacrifice of his own grandson that on top of all the other losses made Jack quit.

    Britsh television unlike American television has always seemed to be able to handle character death and change. We just don’t have the stomach for it. It doesn’t change what a wonderful show Torchwood was and may yet be again.

  • June K. Williams

    While I understand being upset with the death of Ianto (what Torchwood fan wouldn’t be upset) BBC had no control over the writing and Mr Davis had good reason to do what was done. It hurt to see Ianto die and that was point of it. If he and Gareth David-Lloyd hadn’t suceeded in making Ianto such a beloved character then his death wouldn’t have had much meaning. As it was it destroyed Jack and ripped apart the home he had made for himself in Cardiff.

  • Patou

    Well, I don’t know for you but I personally don’t watch TV to be hurt by the death or the destruction of my 2 favourite characters, especially after having been told during months that I will be a happy fan with this new season because the relation between these 2 will progress. I usually don’t see death as a progression…I am still not able to see the “good reason” in this…And to see the point. If it was to have me hurt and being upset for sure it worked but it still doesn’t make sense for something supposed to entertain me (and which obviously entertained me before this season)!

  • Jippy

    Actually, RTD say himself the death of Ianto is the first decision he take before write the script. Also, Jack give Jasmine in Small World (season 1 episode 5) to the fairies. Jasmine was a child. Ianto is alive in this episode. Jack give 12 children in 1965 to the 456. How he can’t give his grandson if Ianto is alive when he do all this sacrifice before. RTD choose to kill Ianto when the script was not create.

    Torchwood is the property to BBC and not RTD. RTD have not create Jack Harkness. BBC give money to RTD and RTD write the script of season 1 episode 1 and after nothing. He never write another episode. Just COE. So yes, BBC have the right to say bring back Ianto.

    Also, death stay not death to Torchwood and that is the point the fans want to say to the writer. In many novels and seasons, we have many mention Jack can’t continue without Ianto.

    Season 2 episode 1: I come back for you (Jack to Ianto).

    COE day 5: Jack say to Gwen he not stay to Earth.

    In many novels, Jack say how much he love Ianto. Ianto is the first man he never love so much in all is life. I think the writers should know what they teach us (FANS)

    So I think it’s pretty clear if Ianto stay dead, that destroy much more the character of Jack and simply going to give a season 4 who the fans don’t want to follow. Maybe not all the fans but a big portion and the polls around the world mention the same thing.

    BBC know that.

  • Mike Perrier

    The first show of the new series, broadcast on Saturday, featured a kissogram, a naked Physician along with a “sexed up” Tardis.During the special 65-minute episode, The Eleventh Hour, in which Doctor Who had 20 minutes to save Earth from aliens identified as the Atraxi, his new companion, Amy Pond, was revealed as a kissogram dressed in a skimpy policeman’s outfit, complete with mini-skirt and handcuffs. In one scene, Amy, played by the actress Karen Gillan, told the Doctor that her kissogram repertoire also included nuns and nurses’ outfits.