INTERVIEW: Why David Tennant And Russell T Davies Are Leaving Doctor Who

Why David Tennant and Russell T Davies are leaving Doctor Who

The end is nigh. Doctor Who returns at Easter for the first of four 2009 specials that will culminate in the 10th Doctor, David Tennant, regenerating into the 11th, Matt Smith. When Tennant leaves, so does Russell T Davies; Steven Moffat will replace him as head writer and executive producer.

The partnership of lifelong Whovians Tennant and Davies has seen the show cement itself in the national psyche, exterminate all competition in the ratings and scoop award after award. During a break from making the next special in Cardiff, Tennant and Davies steeled themselves with a tray of BBC sandwiches to consider past, present and future. Very Who.

Tell us about the Easter special, Planet of the Dead. 
Russell T Davies People are going to be Doctor Who-deprived this year, so it’s got everything in it: CGI monsters, prosthetic monsters, army, police, an alien planet . . . It’s our last chance to have a bit of a laugh. Now the Doctor’s facing the end of his life, it’s going to get dark.

David Tennant Some of it was filmed in Dubai, and there were sandstorms . . . We were despairing. I’d look into the distance and go (Acting), “What is this strange alien world?” Well, I couldn’t actually open my eyes to look at it. The Exfoliation of Doom would be a good subtitle. My hair was full of sand. And blonde. I looked like Tina Turner.

Come the final curtain, will there be a dry eye in the house?
RTD I should f***ing think not!

DT Well, I cried (when I read it).

Did you make a pact to leave together? 
DT We talked about it. It wasn’t a pact . . . I’d sort of decided. But then I nearly changed my mind again.

RTD We had dinner and chatted about it a few years ago. It just felt right. The BBC asked me to do a series five, but I didn’t shift at all.

DT I kept my options open as long as I could!

Your run on Doctor Who saw you bring back plenty of old favourites: K-9, the Master, Davros. Anything you didn’t get round to?

DT We certainly ticked rather more fan-boy boxes than I expected. The second episode I shot had (the 1970s companion) Sarah Jane and K-9 in it. My 10-year-old self melted rather when (the Sarah Jane actress) Elisabeth Sladen came in.

RTD I would have loved to have done a Star Trek crossover. The very first year, we talked about it. Then Star Trek finally went off air. Landing the Tardis on board the Enterprise would have been magnificent. Can you imagine what their script department would have wanted, and what I would have wanted? It would have been the biggest battle.

Didn’t George Lucas try to recruit you, Russell, as a writer for his Star Wars TV series?

RTD He came knocking on every single writer’s door in the whole land. And there are British writers working for him on this Star Wars series. But I’m not allowed to say who. The writers are out there now, at Skywalker Ranch (in California). Yesterday, they were allowed into the props room; they were playing with lightsabers. It’s a lovely job. But I’m not going to do a sci-fi series that’s second-rate compared to Doctor Who (hoots of laughter).

DT Do you feel you want to do something with grown-up people having sex?

RTD Yes. And I’d like to write something like that, too. Boom, boom!

DT Woo-hoo! He can still tell ’em, ladies and gentlemen.

Both of you must have been offered other sci-fi reboots. 
RTD Oh, I get those. Someone did ask me about (the 1960s television series) Lost in Space, and that could be brilliant. Obviously, I said no. I’m sorry, I’ve done the best. But Lost in Space did make me think for a moment. If they got that right: a family, a robot, a villain, trapped on a spaceship . . .

DT I’ve been offered a sci-fi thing — that I’m not allowed to discuss.

David, your Hamlet attracted a new crowd for the RSC. Teenage girls dressed up like they were off down the disco, apparently.

DT Dressing up? No! Which tabloid have you been reading?

Come on, hundreds of people camped out overnight for tickets.

DT Well, I suppose there were people who wouldn’t have necessarily come to see the RSC do Hamlet. But there was never a sense that people were there for the wrong reasons. There was not anybody dressed up as a Cyberman in the front row. (Thinks) I’m not suggesting Doctor Who didn’t sell a few tickets, but. . . Who fans are clever people.

RTD They’re intelligent, literary people. I thought it was magnificent. Can I say that? And I do not want to sit through three and a half hours of Shakespeare. I said, “If I fall asleep, hit me.”

DT Thanks for that. What if the cast had seen you? “Aren’t you Russell T Davies?”

In Stratford, some shops had Doctor Who-themed promotions.

DT There was a chip shop that put up a poster — “Exterminate Your Hunger!” But this story has got out of proportion.

Will you concentrate on theatre after Doctor Who? You’ve said: “Theatre is my default way of being.”
DT Only because it’s always felt like my normal job. For the first few years, I’d do the odd episode of Rab C Nesbitt, but theatre paid the rent. (Not entirely convincingly) I have no idea what happens when I finish here. It’s a blank canvas. (Knowingly landing Davies in it)What about you, Russell? (Davies roars with laughter, ignores the question)
Do you ever see yourself just producing and not writing?

RTD No. Though, if the right thing . . . maybe . . . No, no. NO. I hate other people’s scripts. (Laughs) I’m only in it for me.

The working title “MGM” — More Gay Men — has been mentioned for your next television project. Something more along the lines of your 1999 drama Queer As Folk?

RTD Yes, maybe.

DT You just made that up one day.

RTD Well, it wouldn’t be about just any gay men. If I said I was going to write about chipmunks, I’d spend the next six months being made president of the Chipmunks Society and would have chipmunks turning up at my door, saying, “Can we have work?” So, maybe I’ll write about gay men.

DT Not a bad idea, though, a chipmunk drama.

RTD You’d be a chipmunk, wouldn’t you? A gay chipmunk?

DT I can’t wait.

Doctor Who has done wonders for Cardiff, where it is filmed. Last month, the BBC awarded the University of Glamorgan £20,000 to investigate the Doctor Who effect. 
DT What is that? You mean the effect on Wales itself?

RTD Tourism. Millions of quid have come into Cardiff ’cos of the people visiting here; in the bars, the clubs and the hotels. Taxi drivers take people round on tours now. Let alone the industry that we bring in to work on Doctor Who.

DT The Royal Hotel now does a Doctor Who weekend.

RTD Keeps you busy, doesn’t it?

DT Every weekend. . .

RTD . . . the honeymoon suite!

DT I’m exhausted. The perks of this job are magnificent. No. Apparently, you get a room — obviously — a ticket to the (Dr Who) exhibition and a remote-control Dalek awaiting you on your bed.

RTD That’s not bad, is it? I know, it’s funny: the boats do go up and down Cardiff Bay now, with Dalek voices . . .

It’s been a bad year for the BBC — Sachsgate, the University Challenge debacle. There were even complaints about your colleague John Barrowman on the radio, getting his penis out. 
DT It’s never in.

RTD That’s just normal!

DT (As if the world's gone mad) It was on the radio.

RTD It’s getting quite ferocious now. It’s the papers. And, remarkably, we live in a BBC that listens to the papers. If the BBC holds its nerve for another 10 years, those voices will be gone. But I don’t know if the BBC will hold its nerve for another 10 years. And I’ll tell you another thing (bangs table), all those people who said “Get rid of the licence fee”, they haven’t said a word since advertising collapsed and the entire commercial sector’s in danger. ’Cos then you look at the BBC and think, “This is remarkable.” The trouble is, the BBC doesn’t have the nerve to stand up, because it’s so apologetic. It doesn’t fly its own flag and say, “Look how brilliant we are, and look what you’d lose if you attacked us.”

DT As someone who works for the BBC, of course I’ve got a vested interest. But as a consumer who has grown up in Britain, and someone who aspired to do the job I do by everything the BBC did, f*** we’d miss it if it goes.

The episode of Doctor Who Confidential when Matt Smith’s appointment was announced got more viewers than the FA Cup match on ITV.

DT Ha, ha! You see? It’s the final victory! It’s the final victory of spoddy kids like me, who grew up not understanding football and liking Doctor Who, and being ridiculed and seen as geeky, and finally . . .

David, will you be leaving Matt Smith a Bush-to-Obama style note? “From 10 to 11”?

DT We did chat on the phone. And we may well again, I suppose. But there’s nothing to say. He’ll do it his own way. He’s too good and too interesting an actor to want to know from anyone else how to do it.

You cooked up the Doctor’s wardrobe together, based on, of all things, Jamie Oliver appearing on Parkinson. How would you
like the Doctor’s look to evolve? 

RTD Oh, I wouldn’t presume to say.

DT He’s quite a natty dresser, is Matt. He could probably delve into his own wardrobe for something fairly . . . They may have to tone him down, actually. He’s quite wacky. In a very stylish way, of course. Makes me feel old.

RTD Maybe they should do something different every story. Have him dress like a real person.

DT “Like a real person?” You crazy heretic. He’s already got quite Doctoresque hair.

RTD Yes, but it’s not as good as David’s.

DT Ha! It’s different.

RTD It’s good hair. I like his hair.

DT It is quite . . .

RTD The poor man. We’re discussing his hair!

DT Well, so’s the rest of the country. We may as well join in. I’m just glad it’s somebody else for a change.

Will you, Russell, have any steer in Matt’s character? 
RTD Absolutely none. I wouldn’t want to write a single word for him. When he appears, every word will be written by Steven Moffat. He’s Steven’s, and Matt’s, character.

Will you pinch any souvenirs from the set?

DT I never have done.

RTD A whole Tardis. Ha!

DT A sonic screwdriver would be nice. But there’s only two. And they’re worth a fortune.

RTD That would be lovely, wouldn’t it?

DT We’re angling now: “What we’d really like . . . presented in a nice gift box.”

The level of media speculation the show generates has never died down. It’s perhaps rivalled only by James Bond. Remarkable, considering it is, or was, a children’s show. 
DT Because it’s got that cross-generational appeal, which few other things have. It’s not a working-class thing, it’s not a middle-class thing. The competition winner from Doctor Who magazine was on set today, a 15-year-old girl. When I was a kid, 15-year-old girls didn’t watch Doctor Who.

RTD It’s hard to express the joy of that. For 20 years, this thing was a joke. It was slightly embarrassing admitting liking it. In fact, very embarrassing. You’d see comedians taking the piss out of it. It would crop up on I Love the 60s shows, where they would make it look like rubbish. And to see it being what it always was in our hearts is just amazing. You mentioned it in the same sentence as James Bond. My God, that’s impossible!

DT The next special has Lindsay Duncan in it. Lindsay Duncan wins Tony awards. This is one of the poshest actors there is.

RTD That just feels so nice. But I always knew it was this good.

DT Are we going to sound terribly smug and sycophantic now?

RTD (Mock heroically) They can take the piss out of what we’re saying. But they’ll never touch us. (Thinks) The whole thing never lost its excitement for me. Otherwise I’d have been gone. That’s not why I’m going now. I’m going “in case”.

DT I would agree with that. I’m going in case it becomes a job. Because it still doesn’t feel like one.

A good rumour: Prince Charles was going to appear.

DT We did ask!

RTD He turned us down, bless him.

DT He didn’t reply personally?

RTD No. You don’t get past a serf.

DT He came to see Hamlet, though. I should have collared him . . . (quickly) That was nothing to do with me. He’s a patron of the RSC. He comes to most things.

Would you work together again?

DT Only if he asks me.

RTD Oh, do shut up. Yes, please. I would love to.