Imagine … Russell T Davies: The Doctor and Me review – a joyous profile of a blazingly brilliant writer
Alan Yentob is currently in the reception area of Doctor Who’s new headquarters, accompanied by a Dalek prop. Russell T Davies warmly welcomes him, jokingly pointing out the “greatest evil in the universe” and the Dalek. I have a feeling this isn’t the first time Davies has made this joke, but Yentob can’t help but laugh and accept the bear hug. As both the presenter and series editor, he bravely kept this moment in the final version.
This uplifting movie showcases the exceptional abilities of RTD, who is considered a once-in-a-generation talent. I must say, he has met his match with his former Granada colleague Sally Wainwright, who is arguably the best TV writer in Britain. As they reflect on their respective careers, I am grateful that there are no unexpected disasters to ruin contemporary British television.
A whistle stop tour of his TV CV begins with Davies’s roots in children’s programming, including a brief stint as a Play School presenter. Imagine if he hadn’t realised that his destiny lay behind the camera. Doesn’t bear thinking about. We fast forward past underrated gems like Bob & Rose (gay Jonathan Creek!), The Second Coming (young Christopher Eccleston!), Casanova (young David Tennant!), and Cucumber (which makes me cry all over again at that devastating Cyril Nri death scene).
Yentob follows Davies’s development as the leading filmmaker depicting the gay male perspective. Davies initially explored this theme with an installment of the historical drama The Royal, which focused on a bartender coming to terms with his sexuality in 1920s Manchester’s Canal Street. Despite initial hesitation from producers, Davies remained confident and proceeded with filming, knowing that budget constraints left them no other option. This experience helped Davies discover his unique style, leading to the creation of groundbreaking series such as Queer As Folk and the recent critically-acclaimed masterpiece, It’s a Sin.
After directing his strong political emotions towards the dark and pessimistic criticism Years and Years, and fueled by the loss of his dear partner Andrew Smith, Davies was prepared to share the tale he had been avoiding for three decades. He had purposely disregarded the topics of HIV and Aids in Queer As Folk in order to rebel against common depictions on screen. Finally, he was ready to pay tribute to “those courageous, stunning young men” who lost their lives during the epidemic of the 1980s. As a result, It’s a Sin shattered streaming records and sparked a significant increase in HIV testing.
Davies has constantly drawn inspiration from his past experiences. As he explains, there is no separation between himself and his writing. His entire life is intertwined with his work. In his residence in Mumbles, Swansea, one can find toy Daleks displayed on the bookshelves and “La!” mugs in the kitchen as a playful reference to an inside joke from his show “It’s a Sin”. His teenage memories of the Jeremy Thorpe trial served as the foundation for “A Very English Scandal”. His fascination with the low-budget soap opera “Crossroads” gave birth to his character Nolly. He happily admits that he holds onto ideas, scenes and dialogue for years, patiently waiting for the right moment to use them. When the time comes, he is able to write entire scripts in a matter of moments, with his fingers struggling to keep up with his thoughts. He asks Yentob if other writers are similar to him in this regard, but is met with a negative response. Davies appears slightly disappointed by this revelation.
The story includes a prominent character known as the Time Lord. Davies’ earliest memory, at the age of three, is watching Doctor Who. While his peers were focused on sports and relationships, Davies was captivated by the show and even created impressive comic strips based on it. He eventually realized his talent for writing rather than drawing. In 2005, Davies successfully revived the show after 16 years off the air, turning it into a worldwide phenomenon.
The person in charge of the 60th anniversary special is the most suitable caretaker for showcasing unique and unconventional individuals. Despite having been inside the Tardis many times, Davies still feels excited when he shares the experience with Yentob. His enthusiasm for thought-provoking shows was reignited by “It’s a Sin”. With the help of Disney’s resources, he can now channel all his passion and stories into the second generation of “NuWho”. This is a promising sign for the show’s future. Another promising aspect is the new Doctor, Ncuti Gatwa, who exudes charm and “rizz”, as defined by the dictionary.
Sure, this is puff as much as documentary. Yet with its riotous interviews and evocative clips, this is a timey wimey treat – whether you’re a Whovian, a fan of great TV or just someone who appreciates a man with a resealable pack of 1,000 Tetley teabags (Davies is an out and proud bulk buyer). It is glorious to spend an hour in the company of his big, blazing brilliance – and a reminder of how lucky we are to have him.
“Picture this… Russell T Davies’ special, The Doctor and Me, aired on BBC One and can now be streamed on iPlayer.”