Interview: Russell T Davies

Davies on atheism, American TV, and five decades of Doctor Who
By ROB TURBOVSKY  |  July 24, 2009

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Consider the crushing dearth of fun in the Star Wars prequels, and you'll have an idea of the success rate in reviving beloved sci-fi franchises. But, when Queer as Folk creator Russell T Davies (he added the "T" to his name, no punctuation) resurrected Doctor Who for the BBC in 2005, his sharp, funny take on the iconic time-traveler (played now by David Tennant) met with great acclaim. It soon spun off Torchwood, a show about a modern team of alien-fighters captained by the enigmatic, possibly immortal, certainly bisexual Jack Harkness (John Barrowman). Torchwood's third season airs as a five-night miniseries starting July 20 at 9 pm, while the one-hour Doctor Who: Planet of the Dead premieres July 26 at 8, both on BBC America. Both shows come out as DVDs on July 28. Davies, on the phone from Los Angeles, talked with me about atheism, American TV, and five decades of Doctor Who.

Why hasTorchwood been such a hit, while earlier attempts to launch Doctor Who in the states failed?
I wish I knew. I think there's a little bit of resistance to Doctor Who in America, because there's such an ancient history of the show. They either think it's a repeat from the '70s or that they have to have watched it all the way from the '70s to follow what's going on, which isn't true of the modern show at all. You can pick it up from scratch. We were able to make Doctor Who work in Britain partly by trading off that nostalgia, but also by rejecting it and getting a brand new audience in.

From what I can gather — I haven't been to many conventions and I don't really go online and read fan stuff because that way lies madness — the sexuality of Torchwood seems to get quite a buzz. I certainly knew from Queer as Folk that gay male stories attract a lot of women viewers. There's a side of that in Torchwood, and Captain Jack having a relationship with the second-in-command. There's a bit of a buzz about that. I don't mean in a prurient way. There's just a fun lightness and enjoyment of it.

How much of what we see inTorchwood about the randomness of existence is your worldview?
A lot. The only way I can write — whether that's good or bad — is to put my worldview into everything. I have to challenge that worldview from time to time, but in terms of the atheism of the show, I find that very powerful. When you come to episode five of this year's Torchwood, you'll really see my worldview coming out very strongly and in a very dark way. It's about how thin life is, how we've got a nice, Western world of comforts, hot water, television, phones, and food, and we think we're much more civilized than the rest of the world but actually that could just snap tomorrow.

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