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Seven

Master of the universe


Last Updated: 12:01am GMT 11/03/2007
Page 3 of 3

THE RUSSELL T. DAVIES EFFECT

And The Grand wasn't his only failure. Writing is, after all, an imprecise science. Some things work, some things don't. Take Mine All Mine, Davies's drama about a family who inherited Swansea: by the end of its run, on ITV, it was getting two million viewers. 'But there was still no way I would be unemployed after that,' says Davies. 'It's just not that sort of industry. There's a lot of work for good television writers. And I'm one of those. In this country, you have to be a drunk and a drug addict for people to stop employing you.'

Not that he's excusing an audience of two million. Davies thrives off an audience. It defines what he does - popular drama. He's a fan of everything from Coronation Street ('the wit and wisdom of that show - I watch it five times a week') to Cold Feet, and reckons that Shilpa's victory in Celebrity Big Brother was 'the most fascinating two weeks in television's history -almost.' To Davies, reality TV is just a different way of telling a story. 'After all,' he says, 'when Panorama discusses racism, who really wants to watch?' Newsnight is currently pestering him for an interview, and Davies is still saying no. There aren't many television dramatists who would say no to the chance to discuss narrative arc and subtext on Newsnight - apart from, maybe, Russell T. Davies. 'I very rarely watch it,' he says, 'but, when I do, I end up throwing stuff at the screen. I think they're hugely pretentious. I saw them once reviewing The Lion King, which is one of the most brilliant films ever made. And the snobbery, talking about Disney. I couldn't believe it.'

Early on in the Doctor Who production process, Davies knew he had the Saturday night 7pm slot, and it informed the feel of the programme he was going to make. 'If you channel-hop on a Saturday night,' he says, 'you're up against the big Light Entertainment shows, like Ant and Dec, with a shiny black floor and a huge audience. With background music behind everything. They're phenomenally loud, those shows, and I believe that's what draws an audience. So we decided to make Doctor Who really noisy.'

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Davies used to work with graphics, and it shows. He is keen on visuals. He's even taken to drawing aliens - Cassandra was one of his - to show his creatives. For the first few months of the job, he was sat in the big chair saying 'Big pictures! Big pictures!'

'I was shouting: "Blow up Big Ben. Blow up Number 10. Let's have a space ship. Not just 10 Daleks. Let's have 1,000 Daleks. Coming out of the spaceship. Coming out of 10 spaceships." That was one of the excitements of working on Doctor Who for me: big pictures.'

Tell him that CGI is getting cheaper. Tell him - and then stand back. Because today he's trying to get an extra shot that makes sense of episode three. It costs £3,500, and he doesn't have £3,500. Davies will never complain about the funding of Doctor Who - not publicly, anyway. 'But it's still the sort of budget, I gather, that they get for Waking the Dead. And they're standing around in morgues. We're blowing things up, with monsters everywhere. We could make a much smaller show. We don't. We make it big and blousy.'

The new series has certainly escaped the confines of the three-wall set, and it's more contemporary. 'I keep reading about how I introduced emotion,' says Davies. 'How ridiculous. I've introduced emotion? Doctor Who is about two opposites travelling together: their friendship and their love for each other. An alien and a human. He's got a Tardis; she's got a family, and a mother and a boyfriend, which is an innovation for Doctor Who - but not for me. It's the only way you can write it now. The more polarised, the better.' He's 900. She's 19. How much more polar can you get?

Davies divides his time between Cardiff - a nice little flat looking out over Cardiff Bay - and Manchester. 'It used to be 50/50,' says Davies, 'but now I'm here for 10 or 11 months a year, and home for weekends - to see the most patient boyfriend in the world.' He has, finally, got the pants and socks to support the two-city lifestyle, but he can't get used to one of the worst journeys on rail. 'Four hours of hell. It's like Calcutta - sitting on a box of chickens with peasants hanging from the windows outside.'

This is one of the reasons why Davies is ready for a new challenge. 'I've always wanted to adapt The Old Curiosity Shop. I love it. It's about time someone had the nerve to rewrite Dickens. The whole plot is a mess. The first three chapters narrated by Edward somebody? Obviously Dickens worked out that he couldn't be in every scene. So, at the end of chapter three, he goes: "That's the end of my part of the story - goodbye." And Quilp's death? Is that it? Anyway, lo and behold, ITV are doing it. If you stay too long somewhere you start missing out on chances like that.'

A fourth series of Doctor Who has already been commissioned, and Davies is putting the finishing touches to scripts for Christmas 2007. His work here is - almost - done. When he does leave, it will be with happy memories, especially of the day the Doctor returned, on 26 March, 2005. 'That afternoon,' he says, 'I went into town, shopping and pottering about. There was a buzz in the air. I felt like I was eight years old again. It was like "Mum's dragged me to town, and I've got to get home because Doctor Who's going to be on". I'll never forget that feeling. As long as I live.'

  • The new series of 'Doctor Who' returns to BBC1 on 31 March at 7pm
  • THE RUSSELL T. DAVIES EFFECT

    Before Russell T. Davies came along, there wasn't much of a Doctor Who industry, just a specialist niche occupying small corners of the internet and a few shelves in Forbidden Planet. But since 2005, the series has become one of the BBC's biggest money-spinners, a sprawling beast that, like the thing Tom Baker battled in The Power of Kroll (episode 105), has many tentacles. Here are just some of them:

    Pulp fiction

    In the last week of 2006 the Top 50 hardback fiction list included nine Russell T. Davies-inspired books: six Doctor Who and three Torchwood titles. In the first week of January 2007, three of the top five best-selling fiction hardbacks were Torchwood stories. As a result, despite publishing no other fiction titles, the BBC is now the 10th biggest publisher of fiction in Britain.

    Hundreds of Doctor Who novels have been published since the late 1960s and following the cancellation of the series in 1989, Virgin Publishing developed a successful range of original stores under the Doctor Who New Adventures name, many written by fans, a number of whom are now writing for the television show (including one Russell T. Davies).

    BBC Books published six Doctor Who novels last year, all featuring new stories not seen before on television. Each sold at least 50,000, while the top seller, The Stone Rose, has so far sold 70,000, an amazing figure given that most hardback fiction sales reach just a few thousand. A further nine new titles will come out in 2007 along with eight Torchwood novels to accompany its second series.

    Penguin also benefited from the RTD effect last Christmas when its Doctor Who Annual sold more than 300,000 copies, way above the few thousands sales the industry usually expects for children's annuals.

    Toys and stuff

    Doctor Who merchandise was responsible for an estimated £50 million of retail sales last year. The show has dominated Britain's toy industry over the past 18 months and earlier this year the Doctor Who Voice Changer Helmet was voted Toy of the Year by the Toy Retailers' Association, while Doctor Who action figures - more than 1\u221978 million of which were sold in Britain last year - picked up the Boys Toy of the Year Award.

    A wide range of Doctor Who merchandise is now available, ranging from character walkie-talkies to bedlinen, alarm clocks and even a remote-control K9. DVD sales are soaring: the complete series one compilation quickly became BBC Video's top grossing 2006 release in North America. Internationally, the show is also selling well: broadcasters in more than 32 countries including Russia, Japan and India have acquired the series from the BBC. Torchwood has so far been bought by nine broadcasters.

    The show recently made the transition to the stage, according to gallifreyone.com, the biggest Doctor Who website, which boasts more than 25,000 visitors a day. The Ten Doctors, a new story, ran to a packed house during Gallifrey 2007, the annual convention which took place in America last month.

    Saturday night

    Britain's biggest channels spent years trying to reinvigorate Saturday night television by experimenting with variety formats - and then came Russell T. Davies's Doctor Who.

    The series showed how well-written, slickly produced sci-fi drama could once more reunite the family around the television on a Saturday night. Ratings for the first two series averaged just under eight million an episode, while the Christmas 2006 special attracted an audience of close to nine million. And it didn't take long for ITV to try to emulate the BBC's success.

    Within weeks of the Doctor's return in March 2005, ITV confirmed plans for its own £6 million sci-fi rival about time-travelling scientists, Primeval, which launched last month with almost seven million people watching the first episode. ITV also developed Eleventh Hour, a sci-fi series starring Patrick Stewart. It was broadcast last year to lower-than-hoped-for ratings.

    Back at the BBC, commissioning editors sought to build on Doctor Who's success in the Saturday early evening slot by developing more drama for a family audience. First came Robin Hood which, despite a subsequent slip from the opening show's audience of just over eight million, is set to return for a second series. Now in development is Merlin, a reworking of the Arthurian legend, destined for the 7pm Saturday-night slot next year. Cardiff

    Swansea-born Russell T. Davies has also produced a lasting legacy for Cardiff. Both Doctor Who and Torchwood raised the profile of the Welsh capital as a go-ahead 21st-century city. In response, Cardiff has built a tourism package on the back of the shows and is courting a new breed of 'sci-fi tourists'.

    The city's four-star Park Plaza Hotel, for example, sells Doctor Who luxury weekend-breaks. Visitors receive two tickets to Doctor Who Up-Close, an exhibition running in Cardiff Bay that has attracted 130,000 visitors, and an inflatable Dalek. The tourist body Destination Cardiff, meanwhile, has dedicated a page to Torchwood on its Visit Cardiff website, which also has details of a tour of Torchwood locations.

    The RTD effect has also put Cardiff's television production business on the international map. Before it kicked in, few high-profile network series were made in Wales. Since the BBC chose to base Doctor Who, Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures in the city, however, creative talent that might otherwise have left has chosen to stay while a number of top creatives from London have packed up to head west. BBC Wales also produces BBC1's Life on Mars, which is filmed in Manchester.

    The franchise

    The BBC has created a wealth of Doctor Who spin-offs to capitalise on the success of the revived television series.

    The newest is The Infinite Quest, an animated story with voices provided by David Tennant and his new sidekick, Freema Agyeman. It will air a day or two before each episode of the new Doctor Who series within Totally Doctor Who, the weekly fanzine broadcast on CBBC. The new series, which was developed by the usual Doctor Who editorial team, consists of 13 three-and-a-half minute episodes. At the end of the run, each will be rebroadcast together to form a single, new Doctor Who episode.

    But The Infinite Quest is not the first Doctor Who spin-off the BBC has produced. Following the Christmas special in 2005, for example, digital TV viewers could press the red button for a 15 minute interactive experience of life as the Time Lord's companion. And to accompany series two, the BBC produced 13 minute-long 'mobi-sodes', bite-sized prequels to each episode to be watched via mobile phone.

    The BBC has also produced a series of weekly podcasts featuring commentary about the series which fans can download from the BBC's official Doctor Who website (www.bbc.co.uk/doctorwho), the BBC's most popular site dedicated to a single programme. The podcasts of last year's series two quickly became i-Tunes' most popular TV-themed downloads.

    Meanwhile, former Doctor Who designer Paul Tams and Bob Baker, the co-creator of the Time Lord's former robot sidekick K9, are developing K9 Adventures. The £3 million, 26-part series, which combines live action with computer animation, is due to air on the commercial TV channel Jetix Europe next year. The Doctor won't be joining K9 on these adventures, however, because of contractual obligations.

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