The man is back!
Doctor Who certainly owes a lot to Russell T. Davies. Not only is he responsible for reviving the show that had gone off the air 16 years earlier, but Davies has been lauded for revitalising and rebranding the show for a modern audience. The older episodes certainly have their place in the hearts of fans, but the cheaper, tackier, and less cinematic Who was hardly going to appeal to 21st-century audiences.
Davies took on the task of balancing the expectations of the Doctor Who community and making the show appealing to viewers (any Whovian who has tried to explain the premise of Doctor Who to an outsider can surely empathise) and emerged triumphantly. From 2005 to his departure, Davies oversaw the rebirth of a British cultural phenomenon, with a blend of excellent characters, well-plotted drama, and a genuinely fresh take on the sci-fi genre. His reign was not infallible, of course – who could forget the bonkers Valentine’s Day special Love and Monsters – but he left behind him one of the best British TV shows of the 2000s, and a devoted fanbase hungry for more.
To say that his return, announced by the BBC in the last week of September this year, was greeted warmly by a fanbase, amongst whom many feel that the lofty expectations set by Davies have not been matched by his successors, Steven Moffat and Chris Chibnall. Even this may be something of an understatement.
It would be unfair to present the reception to Davies’ initial run as full of unanimous praise – again, see Love and Monsters – but equally, it is true that the reception to Moffat and Chibnall has been decisively much more mixed. This shift has had truly little to do with the titular character: Matt Smith, Peter Capaldi, and Jodie Whittaker, who will be stepping down along with Chibnall, have all been fantastic Doctors, but the consensus seems to be that the material that they have had to work with is not up to scratch.
Certainly, other factors must be accounted for – it is difficult to imagine Davies’ run pulling anywhere near the numbers it did if it had to compete with modern streaming services, and it is blatantly unfair to label Moffat and Chibnall as somehow ‘incompetent’. But since the show’s 50th Anniversary Special in 2013, it appears to have lost some of the whimsical charms and wonderful storytelling all but synonymous with Davies’ stint with the show.
Since then, Davies has only gone from strength to strength, with projects such as A Very English Scandal, It’s A Sin, and especially the semi-dystopian Years and Years. He has clearly not lost his touch. Moreover, Davies has openly spoken of his desire to expand the Doctor Who brand to create a Marvel-esque cinematic universe, with multiple projects happening concurrently to one another. Chibnall still has a whole season for himself to try and improve things before moving on, but Davies may be the best man to breathe new life into a story that has fast been becoming stale.