John Walker's Electronic House

An Open Letter To Russell T. Davies

by on Jun.03, 2007, under Television

Mr Davies,

Doctor Who isn’t very important at all, really. It’s a television programme with a legacy of kitsch nonsense, recently revived to provide a moment’s entertainment at Saturday teatime. It’s trivial. In the end, it doesn’t matter. But it’s also capable of being something special.

The recently broadcast two-parter, Human Nature/The Family Of Blood, demonstrated this. The premise, from start to finish, was wholly silly – a man who travels through time putting his person into a watch that he then ensured the remaining human form would not consider of any consequence. Daft. Aliens chasing him through time, possessing humans, shooting green deathrays, animating scarecrows – all ridiculous. And yet, in its execution, it was something special. It told a story of love, of fear, of tragedy. At its heart it was the moving and horrific tale of a love doomed by death, but death made so much worse by the illusion of survival. The cold cruelty of the Doctor contrasted with the unconditional love of Mr Smith made his ghastly offer of letting Joan accompany him all the more chilling and upsetting.

It spoke bravely of the terror of war, and the depths of awfulness when children are forced to fight. Its ending at the memorial was bold and beautiful. It scared children, it moved adults. It was what television should aim for, wrapped up in the silliest of clothes.

It was written by Paul Cornell.

Looking back at the previous two series, Cornell once more stands out with Father’s Day – another remarkably emotional and evocative episode, made all the more impressive by using the dreadfully cast and constructed family Rose was surrounded by, and somehow making them tolerable, let alone engaging.

Mark Gatiss has written hugely entertaining episodes that tap into people’s memories of the classic series, while still appearing fresh.

Then there’s Steven Moffat’s episodes. In the first series his wonderful The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances two-parter was both terrifying and wildly fun. Then series 2’s The Girl In The Fireplace was a stunning piece of writing, containing an epic story in under forty-five minutes, and somehow surviving containing the hateful character of Mickey. I look forward greatly to his offering for this series, Blink, next week.

You have a great team of writers contributing to the series. And you have successfully relaunched a franchise that was previously too tired to work. Please, Mr Davies, concentrate on your godfathering of the series, focus on maintaining the thematic arcs of darkness and emptiness in the Doctor’s life, and please, stop writing for the programme.

Where you have succeeded, you have achieved a lot. You’ve created a space in the UK schedules where the fun of science fiction can be made accessible for a family audience while leaving room for genuine pathos. This is wonderful. The vast majority of episodes you have written for the last two years have taken all this opportunity, and wasted it. Nasty, flimsy outlines of ideas glumly inflated with special effects.

Please, look at what the recent two-parter achieves, and compare the results with your so many episodes this series. Look what your programme CAN be, when you work in the position for which you are so talented and accomplished. Let your programme BE that. We don’t need another soap opera. We don’t need endless attempts at contemporary references (in a time travel programme, for heavens sake). And we really don’t need a tourism commercial for Cardiff. (If we wanted that, we’d watch Torchwood, and then gouge out our eyes with rusty spanners). Step up, sit in your executive throne, continue your script editing maintenance, and give the writing task to the fantastically talented crew you have recruited.

Let Doctor Who rise above a trivial Saturday teatime filler, and let it be that little bit more of which it is so clearly capable.

Thank you,
John Walker

14 Comments for this entry

  • The_B

    P.S: In addition, can you please tone down, Martha Jones’ infactuation with the Doctor. We get it, she’s female, he’s male – that doesn’t necessarily mean she has to fall in love within the space of what must be less than a week. If you absolutely have to put it in then do as John asks, and not have the episodes which build up her feelings be so stupid. But personally I’d prefer Jones to not turn into a carbon copy of Rose (romantically) within 7 stories.

  • bob_arctor

    His episodes are excessively camp.

  • Steve W

    You’ll be please to know that Davies is only writing four episodes next season (plus the inevitable Christmas special), and Moffat gets another two-parter.

    But before you get your hopes up, Gatiss and Cornell have not been signed up and will not contribute to season four.

  • John

    Yeah I saw. And the appalling Helen Raynor has somehow got another two-parter. What exactly would it have taken for her to /not/ get given another script?

  • afray

    I had stopped watching Who, but by pure chance I caught Saturday’s second part. I was amazed by how good it was (although I thought it got cheesy-bad with the memorial ending, but maybe I don’t have a soul).

    However isn’t this the same feeling you get the day after having the flu, where the cold, tiredness, and mild headache are so much better than the hours of self-pity you just spent tucked up in bed?

  • Andy Krouwel

    Hurrah! Blink was indeed excellent.

  • Rachel

    Here here!!

  • Rachel

    *coughs* I mean hear hear!

  • Ted Shatner

    Cornell once more stands out with Father’s Day – another remarkably emotional and evocative episode, made all the more impressive by using the dreadfully cast and constructed family Rose was surrounded by, and somehow making them tolerable, let alone engaging.

    I never thought much of Jackie Tyler (or the actress who played her) but I always liked Peter Tyler and Shayn Dingwall was certainly not ‘dreadfully cast’ (he performed well alongside Don Warrington, not chewing up the scenery like Trigger did). I also grew to genuinely like Mickey as well.

    And Russel T. Davies can write decent, solid episodes – “The End of the World” was one of the better episodes of Season One, there was nothing wrong with the two Christmas specials that he penned (Davies actually made f**king Tate watchable), “Doomsday” was superior to 90% of other season finals from other sci-fi shows, “Love & Monsters” was far darker than it’s camp reputation would suggest (well you are sewing silk purses out a pig’s ear if you script involves a monster drawn by a eight year old) and “Gridlock” was the best episode of the first half of Season Three.

  • Tracy

    We’ve just finished watching the end of series 3 in Australia. We wholeheartedly agree with your assessment of the variable quality of the episodes – excellent with moffat and cornell; disappointing and annoying with RTD. love your letter. do you think we can turn it into a petition to stop RTD from scriptwriting? shall we all send a copy to the BBC? anyway, thanks for the awesome letter. great to have like-minded reviewers out there.

  • Me...

    This was a terrible letter. Poorly written and ill informed. Mark Gatiss hardluy alludes to the original series, and paul cornell is a much better novellist then screenwriter. RTD has done some truly fantastic episodes and has come up wiht some great ideas. The series two finale was all down to him and it was bloody fantastic. And if you look intothe history behind Tooth and Claw you’ll relise that it is an epic in itself; the way it wraps up true events wiht a classic fictional idea into one hell of a story. And to top it off it starts the huge Torchwood story arc tha spawned its own series. RTD is a brilliant man, with a brilliant mind. Although, his allusions to homosexuality are annoyingly common, but that’s part of his charm. I hope he stays on as a writer and producer for a long long time.

  • kate

    I think John should get his priorities right. First he says Doctor Who, quite frankly the highlight of most people’s week, is a time filler, then he says it has wonderful undertones, and then he says that Russel T Davies should stop writing for the show!!!!! Excuse me, but I think you are mad. Very, very, very mad. Without Russel, the entire show would slowly but surely start to become an old peice of clog in a beautiful and fast flowing river. No offence to other writers, but Russel makes the show what it is, as one of the most-watched and best-loved programme in the UK. Making Pick of the week much more often than East Enders, the show is truly magical and if Russel took your advice, I must say at least a million viewers would stop watching, including me.
    Thank you.

  • Carter

    Yeah I mostly agree with kate I think John needs a little perspective but I also think that although Russel was an amazing producer I think the show will e in good hands with Steven Moffat considering he wrote the scripts to most of what I consider the best episodes with the exception of Fathers Day.