Why it’s time to give Russell T Davies the respect he deserves

With the news that Russell T Davies is stepping down from the Doctor Who chair, Simon thinks it's way past time to actually say thank you...

Russell T Davies: cheers, Mr D

The announcement earlier this week that Steven Moffat would be taking over effectively as the head of Doctor Who was met with a predictable response from some quarters online.

There was, and we share it, a happiness that a writer of Moffat’s unquestionable skill would be steering the series in the future (albeit with one or two questions about whether this would dilute his own excellent episode work). But there was also the latest chapter in the bashing of Russell T Davies, and this was represented in many posts that you wouldn’t have to look too far around the interweb to find. RTD’s going! Take Tennant with him! Bring back the old days! All that kind of thing.

But here’s the thing, and it absolutely should not be missed. Without Russell T Davies, there would be no Doctor Who right now.

Because here was that rarest of things: a writer/producer who had built up the required currency to pick and choose projects, and he picked Doctor Who. More than that, he fought for it.

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Furthermore, he not only had the clout to even get it back off the ground where many others have failed, but he also then got it back on Saturday evenings, with a budget that dwarfed anything the show had seen before. With that, he then had to shape a programme that would balance the wishes of the long-standing Doctor Who fanbase, with one that would bring in a fresh, more modern audience. And like it or lump it, that’s just what he’s done.

Because, let’s face it, it ain’t the 1970s any more. The goalposts for television have changed dramatically, and the new Doctor Who exists in a marketplace where if it didn’t get ratings inside two episodes, it would have been carted off the BBC Three before you could blink. I, for one, think that RTD has done a terrific job. For here’s a show that does continually reference its heritage, that does bring back great villains from the past, that has brought back an old assistant, and bothers to involve the many faces involved with it in the past. What’s more, it’s still finding new ways to talk about a character who has been tackled hundreds, even thousands of times across numerous media since the 1960s. That’s no small feat.

Now think back to the 1996 television movie, where the show was effectively redeveloped for an American audience. Take Sylvester McCoy out of the opening ten minutes, and there was a very different show. It wasn’t bad, and I quite enjoyed it, but I’ll gladly have Russell T Davies’ take on Who any day of the week. Eric Roberts as The Master? Pur-lease.

Let’s not forget too that we’ve had some great episodes that stand side-by-side with many of the terrific stories from Who past. The assorted Steven Moffat adventures (especially, of course, Blink). The Family Of Blood. Utopia. The Christmas Invasion. School Reunion. Heck, the man himself even wrote some of those.

I say all this sat by a similar list of grumbles that many of you, I suspect, share. There’s a bit too much running round screaming. The sonic screwdriver and the psychic paper are being flashed around as easy get-out-of-jail cards. Romances with assistants. The underwhelming end to series three. The loud music. The occasionally cheap double entendres. I’m not blinkered, and I think that the new Doctor Who is, in its own way, a flawed beast. But there’s no other programme on the schedules that I’ll arrange my life around, and that’s even in the days of Sky .

The next chapter in the life of Doctor Who is set to be an exciting one, and Steven Moffat is undoubtedly a popular choice, and more than likely the right man for the job. Yet Doctor Who will still lose something when Russell T Davies moves on. His enthusiasm and passion for the subject matter, his skilful series-long narratives, his ambition and the way he’s managed to revitalise and evolve a long-dead show at the very least deserve some appreciation, if not a healthy dose of respect.

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It’s been a bumpy ride, RTD, but here’s one viewer who’s damn grateful for what you’ve done. Maybe, in time, more people will agree.

 

Martin’s not quite so keen on RTD’s Who.