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29 October 2014
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Doctor Who
Billie Piper and Christopher Eccleston

Doctor Who

Press pack - phase one

Russell T Davies and Julie Gardner

Persistence paid off for Russell T Davies when, after refusing to work on anything for the BBC unless it was the return of Doctor Who, his wish finally came true.


A new 13-part series of the legendary Doctor's adventures travelling through time and space was given the go ahead in late 2003, with Russell on board as lead writer and co-executive producer along with the then newly-appointed Head of Drama for BBC Wales, Julie Gardner.


One of British TV's foremost writing talents, Russell is also a life-long Doctor Who fan but admits he paused before committing himself to restoring the Doctor to prime-time on BBC ONE some 15 years after the last series.


"I actually spent three days thinking very seriously about it," he admits.


"I love Doctor Who, and part of me thought 'If you love something maybe you should leave it alone'.


"But it was three days of nonsense really, and my friends were slapping me round the head and saying 'Don't be stupid, of course you've got to do it!'."


Julie had previously worked with Russell at ITV, so when she was asked if she would like Doctor Who to be the first project she oversaw for BBC Wales, she said 'yes' and rang him straight away.


"He didn't say yes immediately," Julie confirms, "but it was so obviously the right fit for everyone that Russell was soon working on the scripts and we were in pre-production."


Russell's writing credits include award-winners such as Queer as Folk, Bob and Rose and The Second Coming - the latter starring the man who would become the new Doctor, Christopher Eccleston.


But long before Christopher was cast, along with actress Bille Piper as the Doctor's latest travelling companion, Rose, Russell knew where the new series was going.


"The key word is fun," he says. "It's funny, scary, fast-moving, adventurous but above all the new Doctor Who is fun.


"I watch a lot of other science-fiction shows and they tend to be very pious, sombre, dark, even angst-ridden, and that would just die a death on a Saturday evening.


"People want to be entertained at that time, so Doctor Who is fun, fast-paced and takes viewers on a rollercoaster ride."


Julie points to the dizzying possibilities for storytelling that Doctor Who creates as another key attraction.


"There's no story that can't be told," she declares.


"It can go anywhere in time and space, and the main characters are an alien and a human, with all the confusion that brings. I can absolutely see why that draws people in.


"But without the quality of the scripts by Russell and our other writers - Mark Gatiss, Steven Moffat, Robert Shearman and Paul Cornell - we couldn't hope to attract the likes of Simon Callow, Richard Wilson, Penelope Wilton and Simon Pegg as guest artists."


Russell still sounds surprised when he recalls how Christopher contacted him to say he was keen to be considered for the title role.


"I didn't think Christopher would be interested," he admits.


"But it's no secret that he has a very serious screen image, and I think playing the Doctor is a way of showing a different side of himself.


"There's a lot of fun and humour in his portrayal, but of course when the Doctor is angry or passionate we get that other side of Christopher, which has helped make him one of Britain's finest actors."


Christopher's leather jacket-wearing Doctor, played in his own Manchester accent, is more down-to-earth than some of his more flamboyant predecessors - "stripped down", as Russell describes him.


"The first couple of episodes were written before Christopher was cast," he says.


"But, by happy accident, my template for the character fitted him perfectly and he's also added as we've gone along."


Julie adds: "Christopher has often played very intense, dramatic, even tragic roles but the Doctor gives him the chance to still be very intense but also frivolous as well.


"He plays the part with enormous pace and energy, and there's plenty of banter between him and Rose."


Julie says once Billie auditioned to become the Doctor's new companion, it was simply no contest.


"From the moment she walked through the door, we loved her because there's something very real about her. She's got glamour, she's very beautiful and she has a spirit about her which really comes through in Rose," says Julie.


"She was absolutely perfect for the part, and she and Christopher work so well together - I think there's a real chemistry between them."


Russell believes the other key element of chemistry in the new Doctor Who lies in the relationship between its past, which has inspired loyalty and devotion in its fans for over 40 years, and the boundless potential of its present.


"The main difference between the old and the new Doctor Who is quite simply that this is a version made for 2005," he says.


"It's faithful to the old series, but at the same time it's a brand new show aimed at a new audience."


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