The Post- and Pre-Doctor Who Career of Russell T Davies

In one of the biggest television stories of the year, Russell T Davies is returning to steer Doctor Who, over a decade after he left the show. We take a look at what he's done in the meantime.

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In one of the biggest television stories of the year, Russell T Davies is returning to steer Doctor Who, over a decade after he left the show. We take a look at what he’s done in the meantime.

Russell T. Davis with Billie Piper (L) and David Tennant (R) after winning the Dennis Potter Award for Television Writing at the 2006 BAFTAs. (Photo by Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images)

When Russell T Davies completed his first stint as the showrunner of Doctor Who, he signed off with triumph. The show that he’d rebooted and brought back to our screens in 2005 was a sensation. In fact, it’d attract half of the television-viewing audience on New Year’s Day in 2010, as David Tennant – who Davies had cast as the Time Lord – departed Who alongside him.

But by the middle of 2009 – six months before that big finale was screened – Davies had already moved to Los Angeles. The plan was to develop projects there, but he’d return to the UK just two years later to care for his partner, soon to be husband, who was diagnosed with a serious disease. This isn’t an article about his personal life though: we just acknowledge that Davies’ Years And Years is dedicated to his memory.

Davies will, in a surprise move announced last week, return to the world of Doctor Who for the show’s 60th anniversary run in 2023. He’s also set to oversee an unnamed number of seasons of the show thereafter. In the 13 years he’s been away full time from the TARDIS though, he’s cemented his position as one of the premier creatives in British television. And just looking at his body of work is testament to just what a force and risk-taker he’s been in British television. Just take a look…


The adult-themed (not like that) spin-off that Davies launched when he was knee-deep in regular Doctor Who, Torchwood was ahead of its time in experimenting in the first place. But the innovations continued. The third series, Children Of Earth, ran on five consecutive nights on BBC One (it remains arguably the peak of Torchwood). 2011’s Torchwood: Miracle Day would be in its own way a groundbreaking co-production between the US network Starz and the BBC. It brought a roaring helicopter to a beach in Wales, and a sizeable budget to the show for the first time. Yet Davies’ premature return to the UK seemed to curtail plans for further series runs.

Elisabeth Sladen in The Sarah Jane Adventures.

The Sarah Jane Adventures/Wizards Vs Aliens

The superb Who spin-off The Sarah Jane Adventures remains one of Davies’ finest creations, and only the tragic death of its star, the much-missed Elisabeth Sladen, led to it ending. In its place, along with Phil Ford, Davies developed and launched Wizards Vs Aliens, which ran for a trio of entertaining series.

Cucumber, Banana and Tofu

If there’s one show on this round-up that remains sorely, sorely underrated and underseen it’s the Channel 4 drama Cucumber.

Long before It’s A Sin won deserved acclaim, Cucumber was a tough as nails drama initially about the characters Henry and Lance, before its scope widens as their relationship fractures. Spoiler-aversion prevents more details, but with a superb cast and a masterclass in slow-build drama, Cucumber remains one of the best television dramas of the 2010s. Its eight episodes deserve to be seen a whole lot more, and it’s bizarre how quickly it appears to have been forgotten.

Going back to Davies’ mix of innovation and industry though, when Cucumber launched in 2015, it did so along two spin-offs at the same time. Banana was eight shorter episodes, running on E4 rather than Channel 4. Its story was centred around the younger LGBTQ community in Manchester, with each of the sizeable ensemble getting space in the spotlight.

Finally, there was Tofu, a web series of 11 minute episodes that put a documentary lens on the world the two other shows existed in.

The combined trio of programmes was astonishing in its ambition. Perhaps, though – when it came to getting an audience – a few years ahead of their time.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

A delightful 90 minutes this, as Davies does Shakespeare. He evolved the Bard’s story to make it more represent the world of 2016 when it was broadcast, and he clearly had no shortage of fun in making this one. It screened on the spring of that year, attracted an ensemble cast many of whom were familiar from Davies’ other work, and marked a return to the BBC. Just in time for 2018’s…

A Very English Scandal

Another adaptation, this one of John Preston’s 2016 book of the same name. The book in turn is based on the real life political scandal in the 1970s that saw Liberal leader Jeremy Thorpe standing down after a homosexual relationship was exposed in the tabloids. Davies has been open about his drive to tell gay stories in his writing, and this is another superbly told drama.

A Very English Scandal marked a co-production between the BBC and Amazon Prime, and I always thought it marked the point where many finally woke up to the gravitas of Davies’ work. Hugh Grant and Ben Whishaw starred, the latter winning an Emmy, a BAFTA and a Golden Globe for his performance. A second season is on the way, that Davies is not directly involved in.

Years And Years

A return to science fiction for Davies with a fast-moving, pretty bleak look at the 15 years in front of us, again made for the BBC. It’s framed through the eyes of a varied, sizeable bunch of characters, and the size of the ideas – and the chutzpah to pull them off – is quickly evident. There were fan calls for a second series, but Davies noted going even further into the future was going to result in flying cars and the melting of the BBC’s budget.

It’s A Sin

Upon its debut at the start of the year, some reviewers were already calling his hard stare at the 1980s AIDS crisis his masterpiece. It’s not hard to see why. A show that he envisaged as eight episodes long, and he had to haggle with Channel 4 to get the five he did, it’s as good as anything I’ve seen on a screen all year. Expect many awards, but more importantly, expect the impact of it to linger for a long, long time. Davies said he’d looked away from the AIDS crisis for years before tackling this one: nobody could fault how intensely he stared into its heart here.


Before he gets to Doctor Who, Davies has another show he’s developing for ITV – he’s teased that the BBC wouldn’t be a home for it, for a good reason – and then he’s heading back to the TARDIS. For all I know, given his level of industry, he’s got other projects on the go too.

And finally…

Doctor Who

Whilst Davies passed on the mantle of Doctor Who to Steven Moffat, he did make a brief, memorable appearance in the 50th anniversary celebrations for the show. He popped up as part of Peter Davison’s decision The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot, he’s authored a Target novelisation, took part in the lockdown Doctor Who Tweet-a-longs, and one of his stories has now been adapted by the audio play specialists Big Finish too. Even when he’s been away – and he’s given his successors space – he’s been a fervent fan. And now we get to see what he plans to do with Doctor Who again long into the future.

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