Russell T. Davies: Unfairly Criticised?
Guest contributor Lewis Hurst examines the more popular criticisms of the Russell T. Davies era.
Russell T. Davies is an excellent writer. See no further than Queer As Folk, or his many episodes on Doctor Who. He brought the show back from its almost permanent hiatus. Surely that deserved our respect? Apparently for some, this wasn’t enough. In this article I will examine the more popular criticisms of Russell T. Davies and see if they are valid, or if they’re just evidence of a fanbase that loves complaining.
Note: For simplicity purposes, this article will not cover Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures
The Companion Love Story
A common theme of Russell’s era on Doctor Who is the effect the Doctor has upon his companions. Specifically how damaging he can be on the young women he travels through the stars with. Remember, Rose was 19 when she first met the Doctor, a time when Rose would be very easily influenced. And it’s shown remarkably well when Rose never really forgets about him. She becomes almost obsessed in her devotion which is perfectly shown throughout Series 1 and Series 2. When the Doctor sends her home in The Parting Of The Ways, Rose risks her very life to return and save him, absorbing the Time Vortex in the process. When the Doctor even tells her she’s going to die, she simply replies “I want you safe”. She repeats this in Doomsday, when the Doctor sends her to Pete’s world with her mother, Rose just comes back knowing she’ll never see her mother again just to stay with The Doctor. So when the two are finally separated, it’s no surprise that when Rose returns in Series 4 we learn that she never moved on and instead devoted her time trying to find a way back to The Doctor. When Rose gets her human duplicate of the Doctor, it can be taken as seeing Rose let go of her ideal of “Her Doctor” and instead moving on (with a duplicate of the guy she’s letting go of sure but it still works).
In Series 3, we see that the Doctor himself hadn’t moved on, even with the indeterminate amount of time between The Runaway Bride and Smith And Jones. Throughout Series 3, Martha pines after the Doctor, with him not really noticing as he’s still caught up about Rose. It’s the type of relationship you see in the real world and is one of the most real relationships put on screen during Russell’s time on the show. Some fans like to complain that the Doctor never gets over Rose, but the entirety of Series 3 sees the Doctor getting over her. Consider how many times he mentions her early on in the series compared to later on, Martha effectively helps him to move on, without her realising it. It’s a nice touch of Series 3 that is often overlooked. Martha’s unrequited love for the Doctor is resolved when Martha tells him quite clearly (disguised as a story about one of her friends) that she did love him, he never noticed and she’s moved on, but needs to leave for a while in order to fully let go.
So are the love stories as big an issue that some fans seem to think it is? No not really. They are well written, believable and are used to show real character growth.
Deus ex Machina
A Deus ex Machina is when something happens in a story that is a bit contrived and unexpected (e.g. doesn’t make much sense). It’s a very common complaint about Russell T. Davies and it’s definitely one I agree with. There are times when it works well (The Parting of the Ways, Journey’s End) and then there are times where it just doesn’t work. Last of the Time Lords is a prime example. The whole “everyone prays for the Doctor and he gets better” thing is just a bit too contrived for my liking and I can see why many others agree. Sure, Last of the Time Lords is still a good episode, but it could have been much better if Russell had found another way out. I think it’s an issue that Russell believes that every finale has to be bigger and better than the last. Consider his thinking, How can you beat Daleks? Daleks and Cybermen! How do you beat Daleks and Cybermen? The Master conquering the Earth and making the Doctor an old man! How do you top that? Davros and more Daleks trying to destroy reality! How to top that? The Master is back and turning every human into him and the Time Lords are back too and they’re trying to blow up time! It’s something that Steven Moffat has certainly improved upon since his take over. The big evil plan doesn’t have to be bigger than the last, but the personal stakes for the Doctor can certainly be higher.
So yes, Deus ex Machinas are a problem for me a little and I do think it is a valid criticism, but it’s probably born from Russell trying to go “too big” every year and him struggling to get out of it believably in a way that works well within the story. So you can forgive him a little for often finding the easiest way out of the corners he writes himself into, even if it’s the worst possible one.
The “Gay agenda”
Oh ho ho. This one is a tricky one. Indeed, it’s an entirely invented criticism that several of Russell’s critics tossed around before it was picked up by certain corners of the fanbase. Certain dark corners of the fanbase. It probably really started when Russell was first announced as Showrunner on Doctor Who. With his most famous pre-Who writing credits being Queer as Folk and Bob & Rose, TV shows both featuring prominent gay characters and Russell being gay himself certainly raised concerns from critics that he would “gay up the TARDIS” so to speak. And Russell has introduced gay characters to Doctor Who. But, their sexuality is never brought into full focus. Instead, it’s treated as “They’re gay, deal with it”. And it is surprising as to how many characters are or hinted to be gay. Cassandra is implied to be transsexual, Sky from Midnight is running from and ex-girlfriend, Roger enjoys a “close” relationship with his manservant in The Unicorn And The Wasp, Alonso Frame hooks up with Captain Jack and certain lines of dialogue in The Idiot’s Lantern and Daleks in Manhattan/Evolution of the Daleks seem to suggest that Tommy and Frank may not be entirely straight and Captain Jack himself tries to “get lucky” with everything that has legs. And probably things without legs.
But is this all part of a gay agenda? No. Not really. And indeed, it shows that times are changing. Gay people are being more accepted and there’s less of a stigma to “coming out”. As Doctor Who is primarily a children’s show, having gay characters be accepted within the show and showcased as being no different from anyone else can only be beneficial long term. It can help children and teenagers questioning their sexuality and teach that there’s always someone who will accept them even if their families may not. And at the end of the day, isn’t Doctor Who all about accepting people regardless of their gender, race, orientation or species and becoming “the best of humanity” by doing so? Russell was perfectly right in introducing gay characters and he was very clever to do so in the way he did.
So Russell T. Davies is a great writer apart from those few issues regarding plots. But he is still fantastic and we, the Doctor Who fandom, should be grateful that he chose to write for Doctor Who. Not just because he brought it back, but because he approached some very real issues and did his part to advance social issues and approached in a way that’s suitable and appropriate for today’s children. Russell T. Davies is an amazing writer and has helped advance Doctor Who into the television masterpiece and must see programme is it today.