Russell T Davies back

Doctor Who 2023 – RTD on climate change and the modern audience

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Speaking to the BBC Academy, RTD looks to the future of Doctor Who and television drama in general. 

Without seeking to wish her away, Jodie Whittaker’s final story is coming very soon. ‘The Power of the Doctor’, Doctor Who‘s BBC Centenary Special airs on Sunday 23rd October.

Power of the Doctor art featuring Jodie Whittaker

However, we already know the show’s future is secure: Russell T Davies is returning as showrunner, with the show being made by Bad Wolf. Filming for the 60th Anniversary Special has already taken place, with David Tennant and Catherine Tate somehow returning, and the new 14th Doctor – Ncuti Gatwa – is waiting in the wings.

Climate Creatives 2022

Recently, as part of the BBC Academy’s Climate Creatives 2022 event, RTD was interviewed by the corporation’s Chief Content Officer, Charlotte Moore. The talk centres on how television drama can address climate issues.

The discussion begins with 2019’s prescient Years and Years. The story charted the lives of a family into a future UK, with their lives impacted by immigration, climate disasters and the rise of a chilling political regime. While loved by some, the show didn’t attract a large audience and RTD considers it a learning experience.

Years and Years Emma Thompson

Speaking about the future of television drama, he suggests that today’s children will be the ones to write compellingly about climate issues as it’s part of their daily lives.

He also promises that environmental issues will continue to feature in the new iteration of Doctor Who, considering that the Eccleston era’s brand of futuristic optimism now sounds a little naïve:

I started Doctor Who when I was writing in 2004, I was worried that children and young audiences were always being told about death and destruction. I didn’t want them to walk to school thinking, ‘Oh my God, I’m going to die.'”

Doctor Who: The End of World - Ninth Doctor and Rose

Expect his new Doctor Who scripts to contain a little more frankness…

“It’s very interesting coming to Doctor Who now in 2022 where again, I want to provide optimism for that audience, and I mean, particularly, like a six-year-old watching it. I want to write optimism, I want to provide hope, but that speech seems hopelessly naïve now. I think you have to be more detailed now. You have to be more honest to get away with that speech now. You’ve got to talk about it. You’ve got to say we’re going to flood, you’ve got to say the temperature’s going up, or you’re letting us down hugely.”

The passionate young audience

“In 2005, I was trying to care for the audience and look after them. Now I’m in a position where I have to listen to that audience because those young viewers are active. They’re engaged with this. They’re passionate. It’s their world. We’ll be dead and gone. It’s their world, and they’re much more engaged. We live in an age where it’s a vast fantasy culture. It’s The Lord of the Rings. It’s Game of Thrones. It’s Star Wars, Star Trek, it’s everything.”

He goes on to discuss how he has a theory that we’re channelling our concerns about the planet into apocalyptic dramas, saying:

“We’re channelling that anxiety to the fiction and not applying enough of that anxiety to the fact!”

Ncuti Gatwa and RTD

A second season of new RTD Doctor Who?

While still discussing environmental issues, there’s also a suggestion that RTD won’t be relinquishing his showrunner position too quickly:

“… there are stories on the way that are specifically looking at stuff like that. Not all the time, but it has to become part of the atmosphere of the whole show, because it’s true. It’s the world we’re living in now and I’m much more interested in trying to look at – I’m looking forward to season two actually – which is how we ignore these things.”

And after Doctor Who?

Tantalisingly, the conversation also alludes to a future project RTD is planning for the BBC. Possibly post-Doctor Who? He talks about working on something which will “… absolutely stare this [subject of climate change] down. We just can’t talk about it yet. It’s going to be the thing I’m most proud of.”

There’s plenty more in the interview, which runs for almost twenty minutes and can be watched here. Kudos to Adi Tantimedh of Bleeding Cool for spotting it.