Russell T Davies discusses the themes of secrecy, sexuality, and his personal connection to Doctor Who: ‘I had a realization: I am in love with you.’
My earliest distinct memory of watching television? I can pinpoint the exact date because I am a devoted fan of Doctor Who and we are very fond of factual information. It was October 29th, 1966, when I was three years and 188 days old, during the fourth episode of The Tenth Planet. The First Doctor, William Hartnell, collapsed on the floor of the Tardis and regenerated into Patrick Troughton. I was completely captivated and also somewhat frightened. Although I didn’t fully understand what was happening, I felt a deep and unsettling sense of unfamiliarity and fear in the core of my being. Could that moment have influenced the course of my entire life? Well, here I am.
The mentioned episode has been absent from the archives for many years. In the past, when VHS and streaming were not even thought of, it was believed that TV programs would only be aired once. As a result, they were erased and recorded over. It is possible that in this process, an episode of Tomorrow’s World was mistakenly deleted, which featured the Doctor’s encounter with the Cybermen at the North Pole. However, this episode remains vivid in my mind, as the visuals are deeply ingrained in my memory. Interestingly, fragments of this regeneration were used in a montage on the show Blue Peter, showcasing the dedication of fans. Rumor has it that the episode was sent to the Blue Peter office and never returned. It adds to the allure of Doctor Who to imagine that an employee may have snuck out of TV Centre with a film canister hidden under their shirt. Could it have been Val? Unlikely.
It’s hard to work out when I shifted from being a viewer to a fan. We only had three channels in the 60s and 70s, so everyone watched Doctor Who. Though even then, long before my gaydar activated, I had a keen sense of people on the same wavelength. When I was 10, we had a student teacher at Sketty primary school in Swansea who couldn’t resist telling us the solution to the cliffhanger of Death to the Daleks, Part One. He correctly predicted the Dalek guns wouldn’t work because all power was being drained by the mysterious Exxilon City. That was an amazing moment for me, to see a teacher so thrilled by a piece of TV. I felt that connection, a thrill, a kinship, a hum and a buzz between us. I wonder who he was. Still watching, sir?
At 11 years old, a significant shift occurred for both myself and the show. I began attending a comprehensive school and the role of the Doctor was taken on by Tom Baker. One memory that stands out is when TV Comic published a stunning illustration (credited to Gerry Haylock) of Tom Baker wearing his iconic hat, scarf, and trademark smile. In that moment, something clicked in my mind and has remained ever since – a simple thought that expressed my love for the show.
Drawing a connection between homosexuality and being a fan is simple. It may even be true. As I grew older, two things happened simultaneously. I realized my sexuality and became withdrawn, observing parties and having crushes on boys from a distance instead of joining in and drinking alcohol, afraid of revealing my true self. At the same time, I immersed myself in television. Both aspects became hidden and secretive. Doctor Who became the forbidden love that could not be openly acknowledged.
The closet endured. Several years later, in my late 20s, after relocating to Manchester and working in television, I frequented Canal Street every weekend. On one such weekend, I hooked up with a pleasant guy who noticed a book about Doctor Who on my bookshelf and exclaimed, “I was in that! I played a soldier in The Caves of Androzani.” In a moment of embarrassment, I fibbed to this man I had just slept with, claiming that the book belonged to someone else and I was not familiar with its contents. My apologies, soldier.
I am curious about why I became deeply enamored. Can anyone truly provide an answer to that? Part of the mystery lies in the qualities that the Doctor lacks. They have never held a job or had a boss, nor have they had any parents. They are exempt from paying taxes and doing homework. They never have to return home at night. Perhaps one becomes infatuated with the show as a child because the Doctor is essentially a big kid. I could never have the same level of love for Star Trek because they are like the navy; if I were to live until 2266, they would not allow me on their ship. I would be lucky to even be scrubbing the floors below deck. However, the most captivating aspect of Doctor Who is the Tardis’ ability to land anywhere. As a child, I would often daydream about turning a corner and seeing the blue box, then running inside to escape everything. That desire has not entirely disappeared.
My first trip on board the Tardis would be to nip back to the 1960s, find my little self and tell him: “You’ll be running the show one day!” (And also: “Don’t kiss Johnny Stone,” but that’s another story.) I found my way to that job by opening both closet doors at once. I wrote Queer As Folk, and at the same time, I made one of the lead characters a Doctor Who fan. The climax to the series was Vince trying to decide between two men by asking them to name as many Doctors as possible. In order. It hadn’t been my actual plan, but that show linked my name with Doctor Who in the industry, so when Jane Tranter decided to bring it back in 2002, her eye fell on me. And it turns out, she’d been in the closet, too. She’d become controller of drama at the BBC while secretly harbouring a desire to bring back the one show she’d truly loved since childhood.
I believe that a passion lies dormant within many of us, ignited during our days of shared experiences. Recently, I visited a new barber for a haircut. The intimidating barber was a rugged, gruff Scotsman with a piercing squint. I was slightly intimidated, but too afraid to leave. He motioned for me to sit and inquired about my occupation. I mentioned working on Doctor Who. He gruffly responded, “Never seen it.” Alright.
He reminisced about his childhood, smiling and getting lost in thought. He mentioned watching the show with his parents on Saturday nights and recalled one episode where a woman walked into the sea, which had scared him. Excitedly, I identified the episode as “Fury from the Deep” from 1968, where Maggie Harris was possessed by a Weed Monster and met her demise in the North Sea. I suggested he rewatch it on the iPlayer, 55 years later. He chuckled and said he might, sparking a conversation about TV, family, life, love, and loss – all thanks to a nostalgic TV program.
I have been fortunate in my experience with Doctor Who. My love for it has been reciprocated. And in the future, a child will be watching and the show will belong to them, coinciding with its 100th anniversary in 40 years. Perhaps there will be a more advanced form of the show, but I am confident that Doctor Who will continue to exist in some way.
On 17 November 2023, this article was updated to correct an error. The previous version stated that The Tenth Planet, Episode Four was broadcast on 26 October 1966, but the correct date is 29 October 1966.
The popular show Doctor Who will be back on BBC One at 6:30pm on November 25th.