Russell T. Davies & Julie Gardner Interview

By Abbie Bernstein

RUSSELL T. DAVIES creator of Torchwood Interview

At the Television Critics Association press tour, one often winds up interviewing people in hotel lobbies. Such is the case with TORCHWOOD creator/executive producer Russell T. Davies and his producing partner Julie Gardner. They’re here to talk about the new season of the DOCTOR WHO spin-off, which this year finds John Barrowman’s undying Captain Jack Harkness, his investigative partner Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles) and Gwen’s patient husband Rhys (Kai Owen) traveling to America. Up until now, TORCHWOOD has been made in Davies’ native Wales, but for this season, a co-production between U.S. premium cable network Starz and the BBC, the show is being shot in Los Angeles and New Mexico.

Prior to creating TORCHWOOD, Davies was best known for creating the groundbreaking series QUEER AS FOLK and reviving the DOCTOR WHO franchise. He and Gardner have been working together since 2005’s British miniseries CASANOVA, starring David Tennant, who would play the Doctor .There are plenty of questions to be asked, but the first is, what’s the division of producing responsibility between Davies and Gardner?

Gardner answers first. “Russell’s the creative leader of everything that we do, so he’s the writer, it’s his vision. I’m there to support that, so I do the practical stuff. I make sure the budgets work, the casting works – I kind of pull it all together in an infrastructure that makes it possible for Russell to tell the very best stories.”

“That’s very modest of Julie,” Davies says, “because she does sort of magically create a space in which we can all be as imaginative as possible, and she always has an opinion on the story as well, so it’s good. We’ve been working together for six years now and there’s no need for it to stop, because it’s working.”

As to why the show is set in the States this year, Davies says, “It was a chance to make the show bigger and better. The BBC is facing all sorts of funding cutbacks under the dreadful [current British] government and so frankly, this is going to happen more and more, I think. Already, half the Dickens adaptations you’ve seen for the past twenty years have been funded by a lot of American money, by Boston, and so on and so forth. So this is just a further step – rather than just taking money off America, actually coming here and working with America, and working with the talent that’s over here.”

This, in turn, led to some plot developments in the new season, including an element that revolves around the death penalty and the execution of Oswald, the character played by Bill Pullman. “He’s delightful, isn’t he?” Davies says of Pullman. “You couldn’t do a character like Oswald in Britain because we have no death sentence. Once over here, I took the opportunity of studying that.”

sci-fi short story submission

As for the story, Davies relates, “It’s far more complicated than just a monster. I think it’s a brilliant idea, and you’ll see how big it is. It could literally fill twenty hours. It’s a big ten-hour story.” As for the new characters coming in, “The majority will be American. America will be the land of the story.”

Although Starz is known for its no-holds-barred fare (think SPARTACUS), Davies assures U.K. viewers that they’ll be seeing the same show as their U.S. peers. “This will be transmitted on BBC One with no edits whatsoever, hopefully [on Starz] the same week we are on BBC One.”

Davies and Gardner took a bit of a break from TORCHWOOD after making the previous miniseries TORCHWOOD: CHILDREN OF EARTH, which guest-starred Peter Capaldi, of IN THE MIX and LOCAL HERO. “What a privilege to work with him,” Gardner recalls. “He’s amazing.”

“He’s a lovely man,” Davies agrees.

The creator says the gap between CHILDREN and MIRACLE likely feels longer to viewers than it does to him. “I’ve barely spent time away from it [TORCHWOOD], to be honest – I watched it go out [in 2009] and then sat down to write this, so it didn’t feel like a break. These things are always clicking in your head. For you, you watch it and you go away and you watch something else and come back, whereas I’ve been sitting there every night thinking about it. So no real changes there.” A few other Davies concepts will have to wait while the new season of TORCHWOOD gets made, he acknowledges. “You always make hay while the sun shines. There are other projects I’m planning and will still make, but when something is a success, when it breaks viewing figures on BBC America, and gets astronomical figures on BBC1, you literally follow the success. You’re mad if you park something and go somewhere else.”

The previous TORCHWOOD miniseries, CHILDREN OF EARTH, had a finale that saw a sorrowing Jack Harkness leaving the planet. How will MIRACLE DAY follow up on this? Davies explains, “[CHILDREN OF EARTH] ends on a sad note for Jack and it’s not much of a way to launch a hero. His first appearance in this [MIRACLE DAY] is running and fighting and being brilliant. Nonetheless, you’ll discover he’s carrying all the legacy of that with him, because that would be an awfully dark note to start with. That’s why they end on that note, those shows,” he laughs. “They end on that note because they’re ending. You’d never start – NEWS OF THE WORLD wouldn’t start that way.”

Despite losing Ianto Jones, we’re still likely to see romance for Jack, Davies adds. “Oh, I’m sure you will. Of all sorts. He can sleep with man, woman or alien.” He reminds us that Jack is truly open to all sexual experiences, as opposed to being strictly gay. “It’s important to point out that he is bisexual, because the trap you fall into with bisexual characters [who are] men, is you only have them sleep with men, and so [with Jack], its men and women. You’ll see the full range of his appetites – in a really properly-done way as well, it’s not just exploitative.” He sees a comparison between the appetites of Jack and the early James Bond. “That’s practically TORCHWOOD Year One.”

Davies wants to include all kinds of relationships, not just Jack’s freewheeling love life. “Equally, open sexuality has to include everything and that means, for example, having a husband and wife as a great fighting team and happily in love. That’s brilliant, so you have to include the whole gamut. You can’t just say the minority stuff is the important stuff. It has to include everything.”

Davies and Gardner had been visiting Los Angeles when California’s Proposition 8, which made gay marriage illegal, was declared unconstitutional (though it is still being decided in the courts, as of the writing). Was Davies pleased to be in California at the time? “Well,” he replies, “I was unhappy to be here when it was initially installed, which was extraordinary – you think you’re moving to the land of the free in California, and to get that strange, strange archaic vote – especially [coming from] Britain, where marriage now is legal, it was just bizarre, so it’s absolutely delicious to see it overturned. It never seemed like it wouldn’t be overturned. We just had to take a deep breath and I think time is on our side here. It’s a slow tide coming in, but it can’t be stopped.”

As for the reaction of TORCHWOOD’s cast members to working in the United States, Davies says, “Oh, I think they’re very, very excited by it. Not just [working here] – they buy into the sum of it all. It’s a great big adventure for them.”

While Davies has been working on the past two seasons of TORCHWOOD, its parent series DOCTOR WHO has proceeded under producer/show runner Steven Moffat, with Matt Smith as the latest Doctor. What does Davies think of the new WHO now that he’s passed the torch? “Oh, it’s magnificent,” Davies says enthusiastically. “Literally, I had DVDs ferried across the Atlantic to me, first class, every week. I had to train myself not to watch it until the Saturday. That was the hardest bit. So it’s brilliant to see it so successful. [Matt Smith is] gorgeous. I did work with him, because there’s a children’s spin-off called THE SARAH JANE ADVENTURES, that Matt’s the Eleventh Doctor makes an appearance in. I’ve written that, so I’ve actually gotten to write for him, which is wonderful.”

Although Davies spent five years making DOCTOR WHO, and less than that to date on TORCHWOOD, he acknowledges that the latter feels more like his own creation, because, “Well, it is. I suppose you’re right. There’s a history with DOCTOR WHO and you’ve got to be very careful with that history and there’s also a very specific time slot for DOCTOR WHO, which in Britain is six or seven o’clock. That time slot doesn’t really exist here for drama on Saturdays, but in Britain, it gets thirty million viewers at its peak.”

When it’s pointed out that virtually nothing exists on Saturdays in terms of American primetime network programming, Davies observes, “In fact, that’s so strange, that is the weirdest thing. People say things like THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW used to go out on a Saturday. It used to be huge. The person that comes along to reinvent it – because when we brought back DOCTOR WHO in 2005, everyone said, “You’ll never have a drama on a Saturday. That is dead.” And we became the Number One show in Britain. And someone in America will make that decision, and they’ll become billionaires by doing it. If you played GLEE on a Saturday night, you wouldn’t just rule the night, you’d rule the week. Everyone told us in 2005, ‘People go out on a Saturday night.’ That’s the lie, you see,” he laughs. “No, they don’t. No, they don’t. Millions and millions and millions of people stay indoors. Those networks are missing a trick.”

Bringing Starz in as a network with the BBC has expanded TORCHWOOD’s budget this season. Does the extra money allow the series to do things it hasn’t done before?: “You know, it’s a nice budget,” Davies responds, “it’s going to look big, it’s going to get big, it’s going to be international. But at the same time, this show is never better than when it’s intimate, when it’s Gwen and Rhys together, or when it’s Captain Jack. The best thing you can have is a close-up of those actors’ faces. So I’m grateful for the money and grateful and grateful for the ambition, but in the end, TORCHWOOD is always going to be about the actors and the cast and the intimacy of the human race.”

TORCHWOOD: MIRACLE DAY has a lot of anticipation around it, especially as its predecessor, TORCHWOOD: CHILDREN OF EARTH received great acclaim, not just from fans but from the mainstream press and organizations that bestow television awards. Davies acknowledges being very pleased by the reaction last time around. “It’s what you always aim for, and I had a certain amount of faith in it. I thought it was good, but you’re lucky if things get seen, so we were very grateful for the amount – a lot of the press in America, like the blogs and the TV journalists, gave us a lot of support, so that was an enormous part of it.”

Besides the budget and the death penalty, is there anything particularly more American about TORCHWOOD: MIRACLE DAY than previous seasons? “Well, it’s American by dint of being set in America,” Davies replies. “It’ll feel completely natural when you see it. The most gratifying thing was when we did our read-through [of the script, with the cast] for the first time, how the blend of Welsh and American voices sound completely natural. And it worked, it simply worked. So it feels good.” He laughs cheerfully. “We’re delighted to be here.”

Interview By Abbie Bernstein


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Abbie Bernstein

Abbie Bernstein

Abbie Bernstein is an entertainment journalist, fiction author and filmmaker. Besides Buzzy Multimedia, her work currently appears in Assignment X.
Abbie Bernstein