The Inverse Interview

For Russell T Davies, Doctor Who Is Forever

The returning showrunner and cast reflect on the newest adventures in the TARDIS.

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - SEPTEMBER 1: Portrait of English television producer Verity Lambert (L) and...
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The Inverse Interview

When Russell T. Davies first took on the daunting task of reviving Doctor Who back in the early 2000s, his job seemed nigh impossible. The show, which had been off the air for 16 years after being unofficially “canceled,” was considered a joke at best, and an embarrassment at worst. The one attempt at reviving the show in the ‘90s, with a TV movie starring Paul McGann, was a colossal failure. It seemed that Doctor Who was destined to fade into the cultural memory as a dusty relic of weird, low-budget sci-fi from the ‘60s and ‘70s. “There was a young generation that had never heard of it. Worse than that, there was a young generation that thought it was something that their mom and dad liked,” Davies tells Inverse. “Every expert lined up to tell us it won't work.”

But Davies persevered. Doctor Who returned in 2005 with Christopher Eccleston playing the ninth iteration of the time-traveling alien with two hearts, and it steadily went on to become a global sensation. “I was proved right, thank God,” Davies says. “I was really delighted that there was a great family spirit that [helped] the tradition of Doctor Who get passed along.”

“Every expert lined up to tell us it won't work.”

Now, 14 years later, Davies is back — and doing it all over again. After leaving the show alongside the wildly popular lead David Tennant, Davies returned (again, with Tennant in tow) to helm the 60th anniversary specials. And he leads the charge with the upcoming new season and a new Doctor, played by Ncuti Gatwa. But the landscape is wildly different from the last time he took a gander at reviving the show. Doctor Who has never really been off the air, though its competition is fiercer — streaming platforms like Netflix, Prime Video, and Hulu offer a breadth of genre shows just as wildly imaginative and weird as the long-running BBC sci-fi show. But with a move to Disney+, and a bigger budget that comes with it, this new era of Doctor Who could feel just as fresh as it did in 2005.

“It has felt like it needs a new energy, a new openness,” Davies says. With the first few episodes of the upcoming Doctor Who “Season 1,” as the show is rebranding itself with its move to Disney+, Davies goes out of his way to explain things for a new audience that might be tuning in for the first time. “If you are sitting there at home thinking, ‘What's this show? Why is it called Doctor Who? Is he a doctor? What is that thing? What's a police box?’ That's all explained on screen,” Davies says. “All answers are there. Very aware of that, and we've done that on purpose.”

“The Nature Of Being A Progressive Show”


When Doctor Who returns this week, it might appear to look dramatically different from the low-budget black-and-white show that premiered on the BBC in 1963. The Doctor is played by Ncuti Gatwa, the first openly queer Black actor to take on the role. The Doctor’s iconic tool, the sonic screwdriver, has been redesigned to look less “like a gun,” per Davies. The TARDIS doesn’t have stairs anymore! But one of the most significant changes is the revamping of Davros’ origin to make the infamous villain less ableist. Davies is aware that these changes might rankle some longtime fans. But he has a good reason: “In the end, I have to sleep at night,” Davies says. “And I have to trust that I've reached this position in the industry, that I'm given this trust, that I'm given this responsibility, I'm given these shows to see the world as I see it.”

So just like the show, Davros — whose redesign makes an appearance in this new era of Doctor Who in a supplementary “Children in Need” video with Tennant’s 14th Doctor — changed with the times. It’s the kind of change that Davies thinks is necessary for a show that’s built on reinvention like Doctor Who. “It's just the nature of being a progressive show,” he says. “That's the nature of being a show that's broadcasting in 2024. And I'm really proud of not just me, but the support of an entire team.”

Back to Basics

Russell T Davies imagines a crossover between Doctor Who and any other sci-fi franchise. “I would love nothing more than the Doctor to open the TARDIS doors and R2D2 to glide in along with K-9.”


For Davies, reintroducing Doctor Who for a new generation is simple. All you need to do is maintain the basics: the Doctor travels in time and space with a human companion, he has two hearts, and he fights monsters. It’s why Davies chooses to condense 60 years of canon into a few bursts of exposition, and why he chooses to turn some of the more controversial new retcons into important character traits for the Doctor.

“You start to look at humanizing science fiction concepts and saying, ‘What does that mean to me? What does that mean to you?’ And then it's great, it's wonderful to write, and gives the Doctor so much depth and resonance, so I love that,” Davies says.

It’s pretty impressive that Davies turns a concept as divisive as the Timeless Child — which reveals that the Doctor is not just a regular old Time Lord, but the source of his whole society’s regenerative properties — into a source of angst for the Doctor. It’s similar to how Davies introduced the idea of the Time War for Eccleston’s Doctor back in 2005, but somehow more elegant, since he’s taking an idea that another showrunner, Chris Chibnall, introduced. “I'm happy to carry on traditions that showrunners before me have introduced. I think I'd have to be pretty ruthless and cold if I just ditched them. I'd never do that,” Davies says.

It’s Davies’ strength: to simply a big sci-fi concept into its purest form. To him, the Timeless Child is not a new take on the “chosen one” trope that undercuts the Doctor’s whole ethos, but the connective tissue between the Doctor and new companion Ruby Sunday (Millie Gibson), an orphan searching for her family. “It simply means that the Doctor was an orphan, was a foundling,” Davies says. “All of us are in search for a family in some shape or form.”

To The Future (And Back Again)

Millie Gibson and Ncuti Gatwa strike a pose.

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Davies doesn’t want to think about Ncuti Gatwa leaving the role. “I suppose we're all wondering what'll happen when Ncuti decides to leave, but I can't bear to think about that day,” Davies says. “Let's never think about a day that might never happen. He might stay for life and I would happily accompany him along the way.”

And for what it’s worth, Gatwa and Gibson don’t seem to plan on leaving anytime soon. They’re already shooting their next season alongside new cast member Varada Sethu (Andor), who will be a companion alongside Gibson. “I'm in the full season,” Gibson confirms to Inverse, shutting down reports that Gibson would be replaced in the next season by Sethu. “Absolutely. All the way, right to the end season,” Gatwa adds.

But what could the next season entail? Gatwa and Gibson were pretty mum, but they do have a dream episode concept: “Hang on, I'm going to go crazy here and say a live episode,” Gibson says.

“Film it live! Stream it live!” Gatwa adds.

Why not? The duo’s first episode already featured a musical sequence in which the two of them burst into song, and coming episodes tease inspirations like Black Mirror and Hitchcock. Davies didn’t offer many more details about the next season, but he does tease that we’ll “explore bi-generation again.”

“I suppose we're all wondering what'll happen when Ncuti decides to leave, but I can't bear to think about that day.”

“You will have a couple more lines about it. It's not never mentioned,” Davies says. “There's some interesting stuff to say about it, but stay tuned, I would say.”

But Davies isn’t too concerned about pulling off canon rewrites or gimmicks to keep viewers watching. “It's a program that's lived for many years, so it keeps on literally regenerating itself even when the Doctor regenerates,” he says. But when I asked him whether he would consider bringing back his old dream of crossing Doctor Who over with Star Trek, he gets wistful. “I wish we could do that. I wish the walls would come down. But one day, maybe when all the copyrights are gone. Do you know one day those copyrights will be gone? Was it a hundred years?”

When I remark that Doctor Who will definitely still be on when that happens, he agrees — even if he won’t be the one at the helm when that happens.

“We'll still be on, yes,” Davies says. “The others, I can't promise, but us, yes.”

Doctor Who Season 1 premieres on Disney+ on May 10.

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