Russell T Davies (real name: Russell Davies, born April 27, 1963) is a British television producer and writer. He is best known for writing ground-breaking and sometimes controversial drama serials such as Queer as Folk and The Second Coming, and for spearheading the revival of the popular science-fiction television series Doctor Who.
In May 2007, the Independent on Sunday Pink List named him the most influential gay person in Britain from the 18th position the previous year.
Davies was born in Swansea, Wales, where he attended Olchfa School. He was then educated at Worcester College, Oxford, from which he graduated with a degree in English Literature in 1984. After initially working in the theatre back in Swansea, he joined the staff of BBC Television, working as a floor manager and production assistant before taking the in-house director’s course in the late 1980s. He briefly moved in front of the cameras to present a single episode of the BBC’s famous young children’s show Play School in 1987, before deciding that his abilities lay in production rather than presenting. It was around this point that he began adding the “T” to his name on credits — he in fact has no middle name, but decided to add the letter to distinguish himself from the well-known radio presenter Russell Davies.
Working for the children’s department at BBC Manchester from 1988 to 1992, he was a producer for summertime activity show Why Don’t You? which ironically showcased various things children could be doing rather than sitting at home watching the television. While serving as the producer of Why Don’t You? he also made his first forays into writing for television, scripting the comedy dubbed version of The Flashing Blade for the On the Waterfront Saturday morning programme (1989) and creating a children’s sketch show for early Saturday mornings on BBC One entitled Breakfast Serials (1990). In the early 1990s, Davies also wrote three episodes of the slapstick comedy children’s TV show ChuckleVision.
In 1991 he wrote his first television drama, a six-part serial for children entitled Dark Season for BBC One, which comprised two linked three-part stories based around a science-fiction / adventure theme. Davies had written the first episode — with the provisional title The Adventuresome Three — on-spec, and submitted it to the BBC’s Head of Children’s Programming Anna Home via the Corporation’s internal mail system. Home liked the script, and after initially commissioning a second episode to see if Davies could handle the scripting, she eventually commissioned the entire serial when a gap opened up in the schedule for later in the year.
The production was extremely successful, and noteworthy for showcasing the acting talents of a young Kate Winslet. Two years later he wrote another equally well-received science-fiction drama in a similar vein, entitled Century Falls. Although transmitted, as Dark Season had been, in an afternoon children’s slot, Century Falls explored more mature themes than its predecessor, and gave some indication of where Davies’ future career lay in adult television writing.
In 1992 he moved to Granada Television, producing and writing for their successful children’s hospital drama Children’s Ward, screened on the ITV network. One of the episodes Davies wrote for this series won a BAFTA Children’s Award for Best Drama in 1996. At Granada he also began to break into working for adult television, contributing an episode to the crime quiz show Cluedo, a programme based on the popular board game of the same name, in 1993, and also working on the daytime soap opera Families. He continued working on Children’s Ward until 1995, by which time he was already consolidating his position outside of children’s programming with the comedy The House of Windsor and camp, short-lived soap opera Revelations (both 1994), the latter of which he also created.
Adult television & Queer as Folk
After a brief stint as a storyliner on ITV’s flagship soap opera Coronation Street (for which he later wrote the straight-to-video spin-off Viva Las Vegas!) and contributions to Springhill in 1996, the following year he was commissioned to write for the hotel-set mainstream period drama The Grand for prime time ITV. However, the creator and main writer of the series left the production, as did another writer due to contribute, leaving Davies with the task of having to script the entire series single-handedly. This he did, winning a reputation for good writing and high audience figures. He also contributed to the first series of the acclaimed ITV drama Touching Evil, before leaving the staff at Granada and beginning his fruitful collaboration with the independent Red Production Company.
His first series for Red was the ground-breaking Queer as Folk, which caused much comment when screened on Channel 4 in early 1999. A short sequel followed in 2000 and a US version, which ran from 2000–2005, was commissioned by the Showtime cable network there. In 2001 he followed this up with another gay-themed mini-series for Red, Bob and Rose, this time screened on the mainstream ITV channel in prime time. He also contributed an episode for a Red series created by Paul Abbott, Linda Green (shown on BBC One). The same year, he was awarded Writer of the Year at the British Comedy Awards.
In early 2003 he wrote the religious telefantasy drama The Second Coming starring Christopher Eccleston, which cemented his position as one of the UK’s foremost writers of television drama, winning him a Royal Television Society Award.
Davies had long claimed that, independent of productions such as his episode of Linda Green aside, he would only return to working for the BBC if he could be placed in charge of their famous, but then out-of-production, science-fiction series Doctor Who, of which he had been a fan since childhood. He had in fact been sounded out for such a venture by the BBC One Controller of the time, Peter Salmon, in 1999. Although nothing came of this due to BBC Worldwide’s desire to make a film version of the programme, by late 2003 the new Controller of BBC One, Lorraine Heggessey, had persuaded Worldwide to surrender their film ambitions so that she could commission a new television version.
Davies was approached to head-up the revival by Heggessey and the BBC’s Head of Drama Jane Tranter in early September 2003, and an official announcement of the programme’s return was made on the 26th of that month. A BBC Wales production for BBC One, Davies is executive producer and chief writer of the series, which is produced in Cardiff. The new series began on March 26, 2005 and was an immediate ratings success. A second series was commissioned mere days later and a third series begun on the 31 March 2007, with a fourth series also confirmed. Davies is the first writer to clearly introduce gay characters in the series, the theme of homosexuality being one that has cropped up in a number of his works.
Davies said in an interview with BBC News in June 2005 that he was initially concerned about producing the new series of Doctor Who because he believed that, after the series’ absence from television since 1989, it was considered “a joke” with its budget special effects. However, unlike the past, they now had the budget to match the imagination of the writing. Davies has later stated that most of the new Doctor Who stories are purposely set on Earth as the cost of creating alien worlds is too high and he claims that audiences have not responded (ratings-wise) as favourably to the alien-set adventures in the series.
Davies has also defended his decision to cast Christopher Eccleston for only one season as the Doctor, and how it weighed in with the casting of his successor, David Tennant, stating that an actor of Eccleston’s calibre had salvaged new respect for the role and made it possible to attract good actors like Tennant to the part. In addition, Eccleston’s departure made it possible to present the concept of regeneration to a new generation of viewers.
Davies has garnered awards and acclaim in connection with his work on Doctor Who. In April 2006 he was given the Siân Phillips Award for Outstanding Contribution to Network Television at the BAFTA Cymru Awards, the premier industry awards for Wales. The following month, at the main UK-wide 2006 BAFTAs, Davies received the Dennis Potter Award for Outstanding Writing for Television, for his work including Doctor Who; the programme also won “Best Drama Series” and the Pioneer Audience Award, the latter voted on by members of the public. Davies was also nominated for “Best Writer” in the BAFTA Television Craft Awards, but did not win.] In the wake of the critical and popular success of Doctor Who, The Independent named Davies “the saviour of Saturday night drama”. In August 2006, Davies was named “industry player of the year” at the Edinburgh International Television Festival.
In October 2005 it was announced that Davies would write and produce a spin-off from Doctor Who for the BBC, a more adult-oriented sci-fi drama called Torchwood (an anagram of Doctor Who). The programme, whose first series has now finished airing (see List of Torchwood episodes), follows the exploits of a team of investigators sanctioned by the British government to look into alien threats, led by Jack Harkness, ex-companion of the Ninth Doctor, and is set in modern-day Cardiff. Like the new Doctor Who, the series runs for 13 45-minute episodes. Davies has described the programme as “a dark, clever, wild, sexy, British crime/sci-fi paranoid thriller cop show with a sense of humour — The X-Files meets This Life.” The series eventually premiered, amidst much hype, on digital channel BBC3 in October 2006 (with a repeat showing on BBC2 later in the week). It garnered impressive ratings for its first two episodes (which were shown on the same night), though they fell as the series progressed and reviews were mixed. The BBC announced that it had commissioned a second series to be screened in late 2007 – this time to be shown first on BBC2.
Davies and Gareth Roberts have co-written another Doctor Who spin-off for CBBC, starring Elisabeth Sladen as investigative reporter Sarah Jane Smith. This programme, The Sarah Jane Adventures, debuted with a 60-minute special on 1st January 2007, and a full series is to follow later this year. Davies has written the following episodes of Doctor Who:
- The End of the World
- Aliens of London
- World War Three
- The Long Game
- Boom Town
- Bad Wolf
- The Parting of the Ways
- The Christmas Invasion
- New Earth
- Tooth and Claw
- Love & Monsters
- Army of Ghosts
- The Runaway Bride
- Smith and Jones
- The Sound of Drums
- Last of the Time Lords
His most recent work before moving on to Doctor Who was another Red mini-series for ITV, Mine All Mine, screened in November and December 2004. Set in Davies’ home town of Swansea, it was an attempt to bring a portrayal of Welsh family life to a mass audience, and although the black comedy / drama was well-received by critics, viewing figures were unspectacular.
Other recent projects include Casanova (also starring David Tennant), a Red production for BBC Wales in association with Granada, for whom it was originally commissioned before Davies took it to the BBC. This was broadcast on BBC Three in March 2005, with a showing on BBC One a few weeks later. In 2003, Davies had been announced as writing the screenplay for a film version of the Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? cheating scandal involving Charles Ingram, but this project has yet to materialise.
Davies has referred to his next project after Doctor Who and Torchwood as “MGM (More Gay Men)”. This will be a “big gay series”, revisiting some of the themes of Queer as Folk, but “a bit more 40-year-old”.
In July 2004, in a poll of industry experts conducted by Radio Times magazine, he was voted the 17th Most Powerful Person in Television Drama. In December 2005, Davies came in at #1 as “the clear winner” in The Stage magazine’s Top Ten list for artists working in British television. Said The Stage, “The triumphant return of the Time Lord and the gloriously camp Casanova to boot, has cemented Davies’ position at the head of the holy trinity of British scriptwriters alongside Paul Abbott and Jimmy McGovern.”
Outside of television and film, his prose work has included the novelisation of Dark Season for BBC Books in 1991 and an original Doctor Who novel, Damaged Goods, for Virgin Publishing’s Doctor Who New Adventures range in 1996.
Repeated names and themes
Davies has a tendency to reuse names in his work. Century Falls and The Grand both featured characters named Esme Harkness, while Jack Harkness first appeared in Doctor Who; characters with the surname Tyler appear in Revelations, Damaged Goods, Queer as Folk, The Second Coming and Doctor Who, and the female protagonists of Bob and Rose and Doctor Who share the first name Rose. The character of Tricia Delaney is mentioned in Doctor Who and Philip Delaney appeared in Queer as Folk. The town of Ipswich is another favourite, being casually referenced in Dark Season, Doctor Who (in an identical line of dialogue in these two) and Queer as Folk. Gareth David-Lloyd plays Ianto Jones in Torchwood, after playing Yanto Jones in Davies’ 2004 comedy/drama Mine All Mine. Jones is also the surname of Doctor Who companion Martha Jones, as well as the prime minister for the first and second series of the show Harriet Jones and Queer as Folk’s Stuart Alan Jones. Davies has said that the reuse of names helps him get a grip on the blank page. He took the surname “Harkness” from Agatha Harkness, a supporting character in the Fantastic Four comic book series.
Davies’ work also contains some repeated moments and themes: for example Damaged Goods featured a character’s meal being laced with poison, which was also featured in The Second Coming. The theme of personal sacrifice and criticism of religion (he is an atheist) also feature in his other works. Davies himself identified the juxtaposition of grand, impossible events and everyday human life as a recurring theme in his work: “I like taking big, high-concept ideas and pulling them down and making them real. The impossible can become very believable. Every story is ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. Even if you take falling in love, which, although it’s very common, feels extraordinary when it happens to you.”
Davies is 6 feet 6 inches (1.98 m) tall. He divides his time between his home in Manchester, England and a flat in Cardiff Bay, where he stays while Doctor Who is filming. He has been with partner Andrew Smith, a customs officer, for several years.
He is also a Patron of the Cardiff-Wales Mardi Gras.