BBC Doctor Who’s Russell T Davies on 60th anniversary return with David Tennant ‘It’s like a big Pixar film’

All aboard the Tardis for an adventure in space and time as Doctor Who celebrates its 60th anniversary. Fan favourite David Tennant returns as the Doctor and Catherine Tate as his companion, Donna Noble, in three specials from showrunner Russell T Davies.

All three left the hit series 13 years ago, but Russell says that despite having moved on to write such series as A Very English Scandal, It’s A Sin and Nolly, he has never stopped thinking about Doctor Who.

“I’ve loved it since I was born,” he admits. “One of my first TV memories at three years old is William Hartnell regenerating into Patrick Troughton. So it’s ingrained.”

The show sees the Time Lord reunited with Donna as they stumble upon The Meep – voiced by Miriam Margolyes – a cute alien pursued by extraterrestrial hitmen.

“I wanted it to be a great big Pixar family film, like a bank holiday film with all the family watching and a lot of laughs,” Russell says. “The Meep is hilarious. Doctor Who isn’t a children’s show but I think the heart of it is an eight-year-old watching and I think a child would invent The Meep.”

As for how he persuaded David and Catherine to reprise their roles, Russell reveals it didn’t take much effort. “We did a ‘tweet-along’ in the pandemic, of Catherine’s first episode. It was Catherine who said, ‘I’ve always loved Donna Noble. Wouldn’t it be marvellous to make some more?’

“She asked David whether he’d do it and he said, ‘Oh God, in a heartbeat.’ I felt honour bound to go to the BBC and say, ‘It’s the 60th anniversary coming up and they’d love to come back.’ Simple as that. I sent off that email on 23 December – isn’t that the best Christmas present you’ve ever had?”

Thanks to the BBC’s new international distribution deal with Disney, the writer is working with a budget that’s “more than most things [he’s] made in the past 10 years added together”. So fans can expect some exciting effects.

“We all had to learn how to make a show on this budget, but it was done with so much joy,” he says. “We’re in a very interesting age of science fiction, where actually the fans rule now in terms of Marvel franchises and Star Wars. So that works in our favour. Now you can sit there with someone from Disney and say, ‘That’s from 1969 but fans will love it.’ And they say, ‘Oh, OK.’”

Although fans may wonder how the Doctor regenerated as David Tennant after being Matt Smith, Peter Capaldi and Jodie Whittaker, Russell says all will be explained. “The mystery of his face does continue over the next two specials. It’s not a huge plot, but it has a nice payoff. I just love David and Catherine together.”

The specials will feature new faces, too, from Bridgerton’s Nicola Coughlan and Brassic’s Ruth Madeley to Heartstopper star Yasmin Finney, who plays Donna’s daughter Rose, Doctor Who’s first Black transgender character.

“There are very few people we could have cast as Rose and it’s like a light came down from heaven. It was so powerfully meant to be,” Russell says. “Myself and a lot of other writers are very keen to be progressive and reflect more of society. It’s a door we’re opening further and further as much as we can, but it’s heavy and it keeps slamming shut.”

The final “completely mad” special features US actor Neil Patrick Harris as vintage villain the Toymaker, although the Gone Girl star hadn’t previously heard of Doctor Who.

“He phoned me up and said, ‘So, the Doctor’s an alien?’ He really was from scratch,” he laughs.

By Christmas Day, David’s run will be over and Sex Education’s Ncuti Gatwa will be the 15th Time Lord, with Coronation Street ’s Millie Gibson as companion Ruby Sunday.

“I can’t wait for people to see it,” Russell says. “It’s thrilling what is coming up and it’s stories we’ve never done before in a style we’ve never done before.”

Would Russell ever make an on-screen cameo himself? “Never,” he declares. “Although presenter Gethin Jones was once a Dalek in a 2008 episode – and I would have got into that one.”

Doctor Who airs Saturday 25th November at 6.30pm on BBC One.

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