Saturday, June 27, 2009

Russell T. Davies talks 'Doctor Who' & 'Torchwood'


By Alan Sepinwall/The Star-Ledger

In conjunction with tomorrow's American debut of "Doctor Who: The Next Doctor," the first of five "Doctor Who" specials that will conclude the tenure of both star David Tennant and producer Russell T. Davies (you can read my review here), I spoke with Davies about saying goodbye to the character he helped resurrect, and about the upcoming miniseries "Torchwood: Children of Earth," which BBC America will be airing July 20-24.
Davies called me as I was finishing up the third episode of "Children of Earth" -- an exciting, epic story in which Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman) and his team deal with alien invaders who can make our world's children do whatever they want -- and so our discussion begins with that.

What was the impetus behind telling this particular "Torchwood" story?

The main impetus came because in Britain, we were shifting channels. We'd been on a smaller channel as a sci-fi cult show, but this is moving it onto BBC1. It's the main primetime channel, so we needed to do something bit. Also, although I created "Torchwood," I'd been away from it for a while. I wanted to do something new, a different type of storytelling, to give it a big kick and stretch myself as well. So all of that thinking led to a new format. They've been doing this (miniseries) format quite a bit in Britain, where you'll do five shows in five nights. It's a new form of storytelling that I loved, and when the offer came to make "Torchwood" part of this five nights a week thing, I jumped at it. I loved it.

So do you think, if BBC orders another series, you'll stick with this format?

I think it's hard to revert to the previous format having done this, but if BBC1 says, "We want to do 13 weeks like before," of course we're going to do 13 weeks. We can do all sorts of things. The six-part weekly thriller is another standard British format that we haven't tried yet. That's what's nice in this digital world: the platforms change, the digital tier gives you new options, and "Torchwood"s been at the forefront of it, since we started on a digital channel.

"Children of Earth" seems more epic, both in its scope and in the production values, than anything you did in the first two series.

Glad you said so. That was the aim. "Epic" was one of the keywords that we used. And it's quite important for newcomers to the show to know they can watch it from scratch. We're going to give them this big huge story where they can understand everything important in the first five minutes and go from there. I love telling stories about scale, and it's a big international story. But at the same time, even if you make things epic, no matter how big the threat is, you've got to have great characters, great actors at the center of it, so everything works on a personal level. So we've got John Barrowman doing wonderful work as Captain Jack, Eve (Myles) as Gwen Cooper, and everyone.

But when you're making an event, five nights a week, it would be wrong to tell a small, detailed domestic story. It's a brilliant production team, because we didn't have any increase in budget. It just looks like we did because they simply worked like dogs. The cast have worked hard, and it's made by people who love this, and with real passion. And the end result shines through.

You said before that you love stories about scale, which anyone watching your version of "Doctor Who" would already know. Every year, it seemed like the finales got bigger and bigger. Is one of the reasons you're leaving that you realized you couldn't top yourself anymore?

There's always further to go. I don't just increase things in scale because I'm mad. With "Doctor Who," every year the finale got bigger, and every year the rating got bigger. We were adding, like, 2 million viewers every year. That's been a great joy, and part of the whole game of "Doctor Who" is that the public joins in, word spreads, and more people watch. Increasing the scale of the program has literally paid off. If the viewers had been deserting the show, I would have done something different. When we get to David Tennant's finale, you will not believe the scale of it. But it's all about the acting in the end. Wait till you see David Tennant in his last episode, and John Barrowman in his last episode of "Children of Earth."

I'm unclear on the timing of this: were these five specials always designed to end David Tennant's time in the role, or did that happen after you started doing them?

No, we always knew they were going to be his last specials. It was his choice. When Steven Moffat took over the show, of course David wondered if he should be continuing, because of course Steven will be the most brilliant showrunner in the world.

It's funny, we've now all moved on, for the most part. We all feel that we've done the right thing. There's not one moment where we'd want to use a TARDIS to go back in and do over again. It's been good, it's been healthy, no regrets. If the handover had gone wrong, I would have felt terrible. We've protected the show, and kept it enshrined for the people in the UK.

I've only seen two of the specials so far, but there's this recurring theme about The Doctor not wanting to take on a new companion because of what happened in "Journey's End."

Poor Donna Noble.

You're a bastard, by the way.

Ha ha ha! He just called me a bastard. Ha ha ha ha!

Well, is there a specific character arc to these specials?

It's what I love about "Doctor Who." It's 46 years old, and now in my final year, we discover there's still a brand new way of telling the stories, which is The Doctor traveling on his own, which was done only once in the old years, Tom Baker with "The Deadly Asssassin." it gives us a chance for him to have a different companion every time. In "Planet of the Dead," we have Michelle Ryan, and in "The Waters of Mars," we've got Lindsey Duncan as the companion; she's almost 60 years old, quite a brilliant actress, a different way than we've gone previously. In the finale, it's Bernie Cribbens, who played Donna Noble's grandfather.

Read the rest here.


The Doctor...

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