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'Doctor Who' writer says farewell

Russell T Davies grew up with the flashy hero on BBC.

Associated Press
Associated PressRead more

PASADENA, Calif. - The writer best known for his unique take on Doctor Who thinks it's a fate-driven partnership. "It's literally the first thing I remember from when I was 3 years old," the jovial Russell T Davies says in a quiet tearoom in a hotel here.

"I was born in 1963, so I can remember black-and-white images of Doctor Who from that age. My mother used to sit and make me watch it, she loved it so. The whole of Britain watched Doctor Who. Now it does again, fortunately. In those days, every child watched it. There was just no question, no debate. It was a show that everyone watched so a lot of people grew up and became teenagers. I just stayed with it."

Davies, who's been writing the series for six years, is parting ways with his flashy hero. "I've loved it, but it's time to move on. I wanted to get out while I still loved it before I got bored. I'm excited. I feel like I made the right decision and it's an achievement. It's been the No. 1 program in Britain. Not the No. 1 drama - the No. 1 program."

The last two of his episodes, "The End of Time," are scheduled Dec. 26 and Jan. 2 on BBC America.

As fond as he is of the character, writing is another matter. "It's hard work," he says, shaking his head, "it's never enjoyable . . . I like the end of it when something's made and I'm happy with it and I watch it. And I've watched things I've made many times, mostly because I can't believe the luck and the relief having gotten to the end of it.

"I'm building up to writing a script right now, and I'm not liking this process. It's nights of worry and torment. However, it's better than being a nurse or a teacher in an inner-city school," he says with a sigh of relief.

"Writing is like putting your brain on paper, which is not natural and not easy but in the end, it's the joy of it when it works, when it clicks. Then something magic happens."

The magic didn't happen at first. Davies grew up in South Wales and never entertained the idea of being a writer. He was good at drawing and scribbled cartoons for school papers.

"It wasn't until I was in my 20s that I looked on it as a possible job, never thinking it was possible. Then, fortunately, I met the right people and worked very hard to get the right contacts and opportunities. It took a long time to realize it was even an option," he says.

"I moved to Manchester and learned my trade there. Granada Television is based there, which is a big, old television station dating back to the 1960s, a very prestigious company. I learned so much there. I just knocked on doors begging for jobs and writing things for nothing and standing in line and waiting - well, everyone has to do that, really.

"Eventually somebody I knew moved there and they gave me a job. So it's always the way, it's always the people you know."

He started writing what he calls "properly" in 1981 and has been employed ever since. "The problem with the job is it teaches you nothing because every new script is a new set of characters, a new situation, a new story - a whole new world and every time you start from scratch," he says.

"All the experience you've built up is just worthless. You might learn the odd trick along the way, but if it's a trick, it's no good. You shouldn't use tricks. You should be more honest than that. . . . You know how much trouble people have at Christmas with a thank-you letter? You know how you put that off for days? That's what writing is, magnified by a thousand. It's writing that thank-you letter or that lengthy birthday card or that note to a friend you haven't spoken to in six months - times 6,000. It makes your brain melt."

His brain hasn't scorched too badly. Davies wrote Queer as Folk, which became a television series in the United States, and seven months ago he moved to the States to work on a new script.

He actually started as a producer and director before he had the courage to try writing. It was part of the deal that he would be executive producer and writer of Doctor Who, though the requirements of each job differ.

"Writers are people who sit in the attic and wear pajamas all day, genuinely eccentric souls who lock themselves away. You can't imagine Proust running The West Wing, can you?" he says with a laugh.

But he does both, harboring a deep appreciation for actors, whom he calls "magical people," and managing the gritty details of mounting a TV show.

Part of his stability he owes to his private life and his 11-year relationship with his companion, Andrew White. "He's a customs officer," Davies says, chuckling, "which is a great antidote to my life. He doesn't care about show business or actors or anything like that, and I go home and I barely talk about work. He has to put up with a lot from my job, the hours and things like that. I don't really go on about it. We just have a laugh together. Bless him."