Doctor Who Boss Russell T Davies on Callbacks, Villains and Disney Notes


[This story contains spoilers from the first two episodes of Doctor Who‘s new season, “Space Babies” and “The Devil’s Chord.”]

BBC’s science-fiction powerhouse Doctor Who has launched its new season starring Ncuti Gatwa (Barbie, Sex Education) across the world on Disney+ with a two-episode premiere.

Showrunner Russell T Davies first performed the unenviable task of bringing the series back to the small screen in 2005, with actor Christopher Eccleston (HBO’s The Leftovers) in the lead role and launching it to new heights with almost 14 million viewers tuning in from the U.K alone.

Davies then left his showrunning duties in 2009, handing the franchise over to Sherlock’s Steven Moffat. But he returned for four specials celebrating Doctor Who’s 60th anniversary in 2023. And with it, he brought Gatwa to the role of the Time Lord.

The Hollywood Reporter published the first part to this interview ahead of Doctor Who‘s Disney+ launch. Now, Davies digs into spoilers from the first two episodes, and talks about bringing the Doctor’s sense of humor to a U.S. audience: “There are no ‘Disney notes,’” he says. “They’re just as much up for this adventure the rest of us are.”

***

When you brought Doctor Who back to television in 2005, you had burping bins and farting aliens. And now, almost 20 years later in “Space Babies,” you have villain The Bogeyman (a monster made of boogers) and a farting space station.

It’s a release of methane, I think you’ll find! (laughs) I love that. I think it’s absolutely brilliant. The fact that 19 years later you can refer to something that happened in any other drama 19 years ago! Go on, you can’t! (laughs) I know what’s memorable, I know what works. I know what stays in the memory, and that’s absolutely one of them. And I love that stuff.

The whole of “Space Babies” is based on a pun [The Bogeyman]. It’s a pun-based show, and I think that’s glorious. I think that it’s kind of an obvious thing to say in interviews that’s a pun for the kids. I don’t think puns work like that. I think adults love to read books as much as children do. I think the puns are for the adults and the scares are for the kids, actually. The use of that word is always puzzling. The crossover with Bogeyman, it’s appalling! (laughs)

But my favorite thing about it is how much the Doctor laughs. We’re now many years into the Doctor Who revival and we’re presenting this as a new show. So in episode one, to have the Doctor laughing that much, that’s the glorious thing about it. He thinks it’s so funny. I have never seen the Doctor laugh at a reveal that much. Can you? Have you ever, ever, ever seen that happen in Doctor Who? Never!

There’s a moment where the Doctor uses his Sonic Screwdriver to enable Ruby’s (the Doctor’s companion, played by Millie Gibson) phone to call her mum, even though they are thousands of years apart. That’s a lovely callback to your 2005 episode “The End of the World,” where the Ninth Doctor (Eccleston) did the very same thing for his companion Rose.

Yes, it is. It’s what he’d do. I remember sitting writing that thinking, “Oh gosh, I did that. I’ve done that before.” And then I thought, “Well, I did it 19 years ago and this is a brand new audience. But it’s very important that she doesn’t feel separated and abandoned from her family.” So there’s no way he couldn’t do it again, because it’s a good scene. It’s what he’d do, it needs reminding.

This time, when Ruby gets her phone zapped, she says, “How much did that cost?” Rose wouldn’t have thought of that. There’s something a lot more savvy about it. Ruby’s very aware of that 50 quid she got for a gig last night. And that’s her first question, “What does that cost?” I like that.

In the opening of “The Devil’s Chord,” is the Doctor Who theme tune playing on the TARDIS juke box?

I’m just not going to answer the question! (laughs) How can that be? And you know, I put things like that in knowing that people will discuss that for the next 60 years. It’s a glorious opening isn’t it? I love that.

I was slightly disappointed the Doctor didn’t do a “decomposing” gag after the Maestro (new villain played by Jinkx Monsoon) meets their end.

Yes, I thought about it at the end. But I thought that would really sound like Maestro is dead, and if ever there’s a character ripe for return — it’s Maestro!

I love the quote, “lovesick songs for heartbroken lesbians” in “The Devil’s Chord.” I thought that was an amazing title for an album.

Yes, who would have that? Blur could have that. No, that would be… what are they called? Last Dinner Party!

Oh yes, they had a hit with “Nothing Matters” last year.

That’s gorgeous. I love that. That’s for them. They would sing, “Lovesick Songs for Heartbroken Lesbians.”

Later in that episode, there’s a great gag for film students: “I thought that was non-diegetic…”

Oh, thank you. Thank you for getting that joke because, there are plenty of people on the production team I had to explain that too. (laughs) And then you get people who don’t understand the joke and they go, “Can we cut it?”

And in many ways, it’s the ultimate joke that they’re actually being attacked by Murray Gold’s music. Murray Gold is such an intrinsic part of the show and he appears. Hooray! Outrageously, he gets a credit! [Gold is Doctor Who’s composer.]

He’s playing himself I noticed.

He existed in 1963. He is immortal and eternal, and will always be with us. (laughs)

Sticking with cameos, you also have Shirley Ballas and Johannes Radebe. [Judge and dancer, respectively, from BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing (the U.K. equivalent of Dancing With The Stars)].

Shirley and Johannes! How could we resist? I was on set that day. I made sure of that. Johannes and I were born on the same day, different years, obviously. Yeah, both of us, twins!

The Fifteenth Doctor (Gatwa) speaks Turkish. Is that his equivalent of Tenth Doctor catchphrase Allons-y!

Haydi ama! That’s right, it’s the equivalent. I thought we should go a little bit more worldwide with our Allons-ys. Deliberate.

So, was using Turkey intentional or just a pin in the map?

I remember Googling quite a few languages to find something that sounded good. I simply wanted to sound good. “Haydi ama” sounds wonderful. I love it. I can’t remember the other languages I looked at, but I liked that one. I wanted it to be more of not the traditional Western European stuff.

How did Disney react to the moment in “Space Babies” where a baby brandishes a flamethrower?

(laughing) Everybody loved that. It’s one of the best moments in the world! They’re fantastic, whatever you might think, there are no “Disney notes.” You look at their output, it’s wild. It covers all sorts of stuff. They’re just as much up for this adventure the rest of us are. It’s great.

Doctor Who episodes “Space Babies” and “The Devil’s Chord” are available to stream on Disney+ (excluding U.K. and Ireland). New episodes debut weekly on Saturday.



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