For Torchwood, it’s been quite a journey. Starting off as a Doctor Who spin-off on BBC Three, it’s developed an identity and scale over the years, the peak of which, so far, was the five-part mini-series, Torchwood: Children Of Earth.
Now, though, Torchwood has gone global, with its fourth series, Miracle Day. Co-produced and financed with Starz in the USA, we caught up with Russell T Davies at the UK unveiling of Miracle Day to find out what’s what…
Note: there’s a spoiler for the last series of Torchwood, Children Of Earth, in this interview.
One thing I’ve really enjoyed about Torchwood is that it’s always been a show that’s burnt its bridges as it goes along.
[Laughs] That’s one way of putting it!
In a narrative sense, you’ve never given yourself a way back, and the way you left things at the end of Children Of Earth, you did that again. And that, presumably, is the plan again here?
Well, I can’t tell you how it ends. I like what you’re saying, and I’m glad you spotted that. It’s a deliberate trend, because it’s quite easy to end nice and safely and comfortably, and I always think it’s a miracle if you come back. So, it’s just more interesting than the other endings that are on offer.
Was Miracle Day the story that you had in mind at the end of Children Of Earth?
Yes. It was already in my head. It was the story that, if it was going to come back, this is the story that we would have done. But Children Of Earth could have died a death. None of us expected it to do as well as it did. I thought it’d do alright, and I was very proud of it as a piece of work. But you can’t guarantee that good pieces of work will get an audience.
But the fact that we won five nights of the week, in a row, some nights we beat EastEnders, was amazing. We were amazed by that.
Exactly. It was a miracle in itself, thrilling.
It was hard in a narrative sense. Children Of Earth didn’t pull back, and it didn’t pull back from logic, for want of a better word. The decisions the characters make in Torchwood always struck me as entirely based on that. So, you get the moment where Captain Jack has no choice but to kill the child in Children Of Earth. It had to be done. It was the only logical way to save the world.
To me, it was the only thing that he could do.
I love the fact that people criticise Captain Jack for doing that. It was him doing that, or ten percent of the world’s children. Ten percent! He had no choice, absolutely no choice.
That’s why you have to work in a drama, to put people in a position where there is no choice. It takes five hours to reach that moment, and that’s when it works. That’s how hard it is.
Did it strike you, in the reaction afterwards, that people complained more about the death of a character than killing a child?
Not really, I suppose. Because when you see a child die [on a television drama], part of you is thinking he’s not really dead. It’s a child actor. Whereas a lot of people, women in particular, had invested in Ianto in lots of different ways.
Ianto, by accident, if you look at him in hindsight, was practically designed to be a cult character. He’s every minority. He’s minorities within minorities. Him being Welsh, of flexible sexuality. He’s even got a dead girlfriend. He ticks every box. It wasn’t our plan!
But then the final item on that list is kill him, and sit back and watch the result, which is exactly what happened.When it came to Miracle Day, you had the overarching idea. But then you’ve brought in a writers’ room this time? Some of the writers you’ve got are quite astonishing.
Oh, yes, very much. And they all came because they loved Children Of Earth. It was a godsend.
How did they help you flesh out and embellish Miracle Day?
It wasn’t a new process to me, because I used to work in soap operas. And everyone talks as if there’s no such thing as a writer’s room in Britain, whereas our highest rated programmes are run from a writer’s room. It takes a slightly different format, but that’s what the soaps do.
So, yes, I was used to going in and leading a room, frankly, so it wasn’t a new experience to me. Yes, they’re brilliant people, but somebody has to be in charge, obviously. I loved it. It’s kind of what I went there for.
It wasn’t the full system. We ended up with half the American and half a British system. In theory, the full American system is that you work out, on a whiteboard, every single detail of every single episode. I don’t like it all worked out in advance for me. I like to go home and be able to invent stuff on the spot.
The half British system was that once there was a good layout, but not a detailed layout of an episode. We send them off and tell them to write. “Go and do what you’re paid to do. Go and be brilliant.”
We came along to the set visit in Cardiff earlier in the year, and you do an interesting intro to that. You hinted then that Torchwood was finite for you, that there was a point where you would duck out and leave it to other people to do?
Definitely. Yes. Who knows when, because now we get to the end of a production, I love it all over again. I just saw episode 10 on Saturday, and I’m so proud of it. It’s the most magnificent finale we’ve ever done. It’s balls to the wall action. It’s just fabulous.
So, I just don’t know! We’ll have to see if this is a success. It’s a very hard show to hand over to someone else. And I’m not sure I’d do that. But I just don’t know. We’ll have to see how well it does and what I feel like doing.
It’d be great to think there was more. Let’s change format again. Let’s make a movie. We could do all sorts of things. Let’s find something new.From your own personal point of view, your head’s never been solely sci-fi.
You’ve told lots of stories across lots of genres.
I’ve just been accused of being in science fiction for ten years, which is wrong! I was horrified when they said that! Six maybe, but definitely not ten!
But there are other muscles in your head that you want to use, and other voices, and other things about life that are driving you mad, or joyous. So, there’s other stuff to write. And I will. Life is not endless. I will get on with them and write other things. I always will. I’ll always move on.
Can you just encapsulate for us what it is about Miracle Day that should get us tuning in?
It’s a great big rollicking adventure, which Torchwood always is. But the stuff it has to say about society in the west is very true, I think, and very dark. And when you look at a world that nearly collapsed in 2008 due to a financial crisis, this takes it a step further, and sees where we end up.
We really tell the story on a big scale, by the way. It seems very domestic and small to begin with, but it grows and grows and grows. The whole of western society and beyond is changing. So, if you want that size of journey, if you want to come on an imaginative ride that has so much nerve, then come and join it. It’s enormously well told.
You briefly mentioned just before, but just to end with: do you think there will be a film for Torchwood?
I think that’d be a marvellous thing one day. Torchwood is infinitely flexible. So, if you’ve got some money, give us some money!
I’ll give you some money! Russell T Davies, thank you very much.
Read more about Torchwood: Miracle Day here.