The Trouble with Russell T Davies

May 1, 2008

I have been a life long fan of Dr Who. I’m the only non-nerd Dr Who fan in the world or I keep my nerdiness well hidden, one of the two. But with the new series and its driving force Russell T Davies, I can keep silent no longer!

I love the original series, all of it, right up to the end of the Tom Baker era, then the Peter Davison and Colin Baker eras were alright, with the Sylvester McCoy era, generally, sucking Sontaran dick.

So, it was with delight a few years back that I heard of the shows return, after that mediocre 90’s telemovie. Russell T Davies, the resurrector of the show, gets for this one feat a place on the Gallifreyian council, guaranteed.

Christopher Ecceleston’s new Doctor was cool, David Tennant’s is equally good. Billie Piper was a good companion too, pert, bit of a tart, cheeky, etc. The show brought back old villains and had some good episodes, vastly improved the special effects and even had some effective tearjerker comebacks from the likes of my favourite female companion Sarah Jane Smith. This is all the good news.

Now, the bad news. It’s the stories. They kind of suck. They set up a villain or story, then there is 30 minutes of manic peril, followed by a conclusion. Now the FX are great, etc. But that’s all we get now. Dr Who used to be about ideas, a whole Galaxy of them.

We have to blame Russell T Davies, the new shows shamen. Maybe he’s under some form of experimental mind control from Davros? He wrote most of the offending episodes. They’re a bit ‘gay’. I mean the term in the way of ‘lame’, not homosexual; yes I know Davies invented “Queer as Folk”, a gay lifestyle drama. Maybe that’s the problem. The show is too politically correct. The Villains in Dr Who were never PC. They were always manifestations of various forms of alien fascism. Ruthless, blood curdling, terrifying, once you get over the plastic suits and look at the content of the show.

Not only that, the original show was rich on ideas about every conceivable sci fi tale, parable, metaphor or situation you can imagine in this dimension or the next. Classic Who touched many political, ethical and social issues and not in some ‘gay’ PC way either, but in a way that was unsettling, original and unconventional.

Dr Who was daring as a children’s show, for being so legitimately disturbing. It treated its audience, both child and adult alike, as if they had brains and could actually make up their own minds about what they see. The Doctor is a very morally ambivalent character, essentially good but nuanced and with a dark side. Best exemplified in episodes like Genesis of the Daleks, The Green Death, The Silurians, Tomb of the Cybermen, The Invasion, The Dalek Invasion Of Earth, Talons of Weng Chiang, The Ark In Space, The Sontaran Experiment and many others. These episodes all dealt with issues using more intelligence, heavier subject matter and better scripts than most American sci fi movie blockbusters of today! I shit you, not.

While we may not expect such daring and intelligence to be manifest in the beige and pop TV land of the 00’s. I was hoping to see some of the great ideas of Who return. And they have sometimes. Mark Gatiss, from League of Gentlemen, has written a few good eps in the new show and the one with the statues that moved from the last season, was classic Who. Even, the RTD’s episode that had Derek Jacobi revealed as the Master, made the hair stand up on my neck and had me jump for joy (ala Tom Cruise), on the sofa at this arch villain’s return. What a shame they had to bring in John Simm, who gave us a ‘too much Ritalin’ young funky Master. Jacobi’s Master was magisterial and magnificent, but all too brief, he can come back, though. After all the show is about time travel…

In coming weeks I’ll review a classic Who episode, to explicate the complexities of ideas going on in the old show and the apparent idea/content wasteland of the current series. Russell T Davies, get off the cybercock and start bringing Ideas back to Who. Daring, challenging, chilling ideas, need to be new catch words at the BBC Wales. The episode about the Who fan’s video diary was good Mr Davies, so you have ideas within you. Channel the disturbing non-PC threat of the original show, its there to see in hundreds of classic episodes. Do that and you will be nominated an honouree Time Lord, in perpetuity. You can still keep a PG 13 rating, just make it subversive and in the subtext.

Oh and please bring back Tom Baker, for just one or two episodes. That would be a truly timeless gift from the Vortex.

3 Responses to “The Trouble with Russell T Davies”

  1. Paul Ecchi said

    The problem, if you follow Davis’ career, is that his breakthrough show (Queer As Folk) ran like one long pop video (style rather than content) and since before that he was a ‘nobody’ and after that he has became ‘bankable’, he appears to believe that an ‘all style no content’ pop video kind of show is where the big audience numbers are at (and the success of his Dr Who has sadly proved him right). It is a shame, partially because my opinion of Dr Who is similar to yours, and partially because this now seems to be the way of the world. You are never going to get a good plot in something that costs as much to make as Dr Who, because they need a large audience, and large audiences only flock to pap! I guess we should have been born forty years earlier. Failing that we need to be 30 IQ points stupider so that we can enjoy the stuff that sells today.

  2. richard777 said

    I agree, ‘all style and no content’ is right with the new Who. “One long pop clip’ is another good analogy of yours.

    But I disagree that you couldn’t have the best of both worlds, substance and pop. The show has sometimes achieved it and with Davies getting the arse one day or taking a back seat, hopefully a new Svengali or script editor can bring the stories to the new Who it needs. It may never be as good as the original series, but at least getting half way there would be a major achievement. We could then live with some pop stuff, without feeling as if Ice Warriors had frozen our minds, as it currently does watching the new show…

  3. […] But when the show came back twenty years later and the Sci-Fi Channel started airing the new episodes, I became a fan all over again. I absolutely love the new series, first with the great Christopher Eccleston and now with the even better David Tennant. But what’s funny to me is that I also recently found out that two of my underground film connections are big fans of the show as well. One is, of course, Chris Hansen, which is why I’m posting this. And the other is Richard Wolstencroft, director of the Melbourne Underground Film Festival, who recently wrote about Doctor Who here on his blog Idea Fix. […]

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