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Friday, 24 September 2021

OPINION: What Can we Expect from Russell T. Davies’ Who Return?

Russell T. Davies’ return to Doctor Who was something that came as a complete shock, I wasn’t expecting it at all and it turns out, neither was anybody else – although the last few episodes of the Chibnall run seemed to harken back to the days of the Russell T. Davies era, featuring the return of characters that he introduced to the show, the fact that Davies would ever return after stepping away at the end of David Tennant’s time on Doctor Who is something instantly surprising. It’s almost certainly, cynically, some might say, a bid to win back the doubters – we all know Chibnall’s run hasn’t been well-received by most of the hardcore Whovians, which is a bit of a shame as there have been some stellar episodes (The Haunting of the Villa Diodati, Fugitive of the Judoon, Nikola Telsa’s Night of Terror, Demons of the Punjab, Rosa and Ascension of the Cybermen have been personal favourites, and I’ve enjoyed the two series overall), heaping more pressure on Series 13 than it already had, but I must admit, this is exciting.

 

And it’s easy to see why. Davies has been making hit after hit for the BBC as of late, Years and Years and It’s A Sin (winner of a National Television Award earlier this month)but he’s returning to the show at a completely different time from when he left it. When he was last writing Who, so far removed ago that the first series of the revival is now closer to that of the classic show than it is of the current one, he brought with him viewing figures for that were among the highest the show ever received, in an age pre-streaming, where Doctor Who was appointment television for many in the UK. Wikipedia’s average viewing figures for the Tenth Doctor’s final bow, series four plus the specials, come in at 8.05 million, the highest average figures across the board. (and of course as the creator of the revival he’s responsible for series one, which had 7.95 million, the third-highest average figures across the board, behind series eleven at 7.96 million). In terms of audience appeal Doctor Who was huge – giving us two spinoffs in the form of Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures, both happening under Davies’ tenure – even if now it’s a far cry from what it once was in terms of viewing figures. No wonder the BBC want the man who made it what it was at its best back, and as a fan of the series himself, it’s great to see him return.

I’m beyond excited to be back on my favourite show. But we’re time-travelling too fast, there’s a whole series of Jodie Whittaker’s brilliant Doctor for me to enjoy, with my friend and hero Chris Chibnall at the helm - I’m still a viewer for now.”

— Russell T Davies says

We can expect bold, politically charged storytelling that Davies has not shied away from in the past. Whether or not we’ll see a return of many of his fan-favourite characters like Martha Jones or even past companions remained to be seen, but now we have the showrunner the choice of who becomes the next Doctor is fascinating. from It’s A Sin seems like an obvious choice – especially given that the showrunners have a track record of selecting actors that they’ve already worked with on previous projects. Davies has cast both Christopher Eccleston and David Tennant, both top-tier actors, but I would assume he would want something altogether different – after all, both actors were at completely different Doctors, and playing it safe is something that Davies doesn’t tend to do.

 I could be wrong on this, but I’m willing to throw it out there - don’t expect cheap nostalgia cash-ins from one of Who’s most experienced – and best, writers, after all, he certainly didn’t need to take Who at this point of his career again and certainly didn’t need to act as a filler showrunner for a one-and-done season. He’s even more experienced now, and will have almost certainly learned from his first time out as the Who showrunner. His shows have time and time again broken new ground in terms of televised storytelling. Whilst his era of the show itself has, like every other showrunner, has had its ups and downs, some of the best episodes of Who have come under Davies. And I’m very excited to see what he has in store for us next.  Chris Chibnall is too. After all, rather appropriately “[Davies] built the baton that is about to be handed back to him - Doctor Who, the BBC, the screen industry in Wales, and let’s be honest everyone in the whole world, have so many reasons to be Very Excited Indeed about what lies ahead.”

 Could these stories have been told with a more creative, fresh voice? Nida Manzoor’s We Are Lady Parts would have been an instant winner of a showrunner for me, but Who’s stable of showrunners has consistently fit multiple requirements: they must have written Doctor Who before, and they must have showrunner experience with ideally more than one project under their belt. Toby Whitehouse could have been an option (The God Complex, A Town Called Mercy, Under the Lake are good stories), and he has showrunner experience in Noughts and Crosses. But would that appointment have been too similar Chibnall in terms of fan reception? It’s certainly not the most exciting of picks – especially when you have the prospect of Davies there. Sally Wainwright would have been amazing – but she hasn’t written for the show before. Michaela Coel was always going to be a pipe dream, especially with the number of projects on her plate going forward.

 Who better than Davies then, to bring what he has learnt from writing Years and Years and It’s a Sin to the series, when he surely has a new idea – a new story that he wants to tell? Reuniting with Bad Wolf puts a fascinating perspective here too, that’s also worthy of a mention – Doctor Who is no longer a public service remit show, but instead, something under a private company. Davies has openly said in the past that there’s no reason why Doctor Who shouldn’t be as large or as expansive as the MCU in terms of spinoff material, is this what maybe the BBC and Bad Wolf are looking at in the long game here? Could a Doctor Who+ streaming service be on the cards? They certainly have the back catalogue for it.

 But perhaps what’s most important to bear in mind though, is that there’s a new series of Doctor Who still to come, one more adventure for Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor, and it can feel like given that much of the 13th Doctor’s swansong will be overshadowed by the prospect of what comes next. But for now, as graceful as ever, Davies said, in his own words, that he’s “still a viewer for now” and that “there’s a whole series of Jodie Whittaker’s brilliant Doctor for me to enjoy with my friend and hero Chris Chibnall at the helm”. Whilst we’ve only had a teaser trailer for now, my anticipation levels for Series 13 are all-time high.

 Contributed by Milo

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