RTD on Torchwood

EXCLUSIVE! The creator of the Doctor Who spin-off talks about his plans for the show, returning in 2011

When Russell T Davies relocated to sunny Los Angeles after handing on the Doctor Who torch to Steven Moffat, we kinda expected his next project to be something outside our genre – perhaps something in the vein of Queer As Folk? Wrong! Turns out he’s been beavering away on yet another new permutation of Torchwood. When the series returns to our screens in 2011 for a new adventure (one long story, consisting of 10 episodes), it will have a very American flavour. Most of it will be shot and set in the States (or other foreign countries), and round about now, a writers’ room of American TV scribes are starting work. It’s all happening thanks to a co-production deal struck between US network Starz, BBC Wales and BBC Worldwide (the BBC’s commercial arm).

So, did you always know you’d be doing more Torchwood?
“Well it was always possible. I remember when Children Of Earth launched, you always get asked, ‘Is this is the end or will it continue?’ and there’s no true answer to that because you’re always in a state of suspension – if it ends, it ends and if it carries on, it carries on. It’s too soon to give away the story, but I’ve always had this story in mind, and the whole existence of season four will make sense once you know what the story is. I’d already moved out here, and it’d sort of been half in development, and then once those viewing figures came in it went into proper development. Actually, Jane Tranter [head of BBC Worldwide's American arm] planned this more than I ever did. For many years she was going to move out here and do this job, and she’s always wanted dramas that could move onto that sort of scale and be funded in this way, so it all fitted with her plan really – it all just sort of naturally fell into place. And if no-one had ever bought it I’d now be telling you it was naturally dead!”

So tell us about the co-production deal – this is a very different way of doing things.
“It’s a new model for the future, of BBC Worldwide actually becoming a production partner and making stuff for themselves. Their big thing in America is Dancing With The Stars, which is the American Strictly Come Dancing. They sell that format all over the world, but they actually make that for American television and it’s hugely successful, more successful than Strictly is – this year it overtook American Idol for the first time ever. So that’s part of building up a production base here, of taking British ideas – and new ideas – and making them on a worldwide scale. It’s a really good ambition, I think, and it’s going to have to be the case more and more. If you look at things like Dickens adaptations and Cranford, they haven’t been able to afford themselves for decades – they’re all made with money from Boston and stuff like that. Co-partner funding has been the future for decades now.”

I seem to remember the first series of Doctor Who was a co-production with Canada...
“That was different – there are different levels of it. There was no collaboration whatsoever with Canada – if they hadn’t liked a plot or some casting it wouldn’t have mattered at all. This is the next stage, which is just another partner, where they do have a say and they’re providing a lot of money and a lot of input. So it’s interesting. I think it”ll happen a lot more, especially when you’re looking at a licence fee that’s not going up with inflation now – and it’s bound to get frozen any day now with those stupid bastards in charge of the country! So this is the way forward! We are the future!”

Of course, as soon as it was announced that Starz was involved, everyone on the net started talking about Torchwood turning into Spartacus: Blood And Sand!
“Have you stuck with Spartacus? Because I was a bit off-put by the first two episodes, and then it turns into one of the most marvellous dramas you’ve ever seen.”

To be honest, all I saw was Charlie Brooker slagging it off on telly..
“I know, but he’s just another white middle-aged man on the internet – bless him, but he is! Stick with that show, you’ll be really surprised. It takes three episodes to find its feet and then it becomes amazing. ”

You’re working with a “writers’ room” for the first time with this. That’s a very different way of working isn’t it, the American system?
“Well, it’s all writers sitting at a keyboard in the end. When everyone talks about the British system and the American system,  no-one ever factors in the evening soap operas that we have in Britain, which are run in exactly that way, with a writers’ room and a commissioning process. We’ve been doing it since 1960, so it’s really nothing new. And I’ve worked in that, so to sit in a room with people doing this is nothing new to me.  It’s just we can’t normally afford to do it in Britain, whereas here because they’re in constant production, there’s constant money paying for that system to keep people permanently on board. We’ve some great names coming along -  though I can’t say them yet – so it’s very exciting.”

You’ve written the first episode. Will you be writing more?
“That’s still TBC, to be honest. I’d love to write more, but we’ve got a lot of interest from other writers, and I’m happy showrunning the whole thing, so… depends how it pans out, really! Plenty of time to decide.”

Children Of Earth went some very dark places…
“Do you think?! Actually, this story is also very dark.  I think with that, Torchwood found its feet. People found something very compelling and very chilling about it. I love the way people got on their high horse saying, ‘Oh, he killed his grandson!’ Hello! He saved every single child in the world! If you would fail to do that then you’re the monster, frankly. It’s this extraordinary treatment that only science fiction heroes get You find that. If ever a word is said out of place by the Doctor or Captain Jack, or even by Sarah Jane sometimes,  people throw their hands up in horror, whereas in any other drama any character is capable of any thing at any time. That’s the only way to write, and it’s the same for these people as well.  I thought it was fascinating and challenging what he did there, but hard – it was so hard. I do think with the whole of Children Of Earth we found a new heartland for Torchwood.

So this new series will feel consistent with that?
“It does. For faithful viewers you’ll see the same people in the same world, following on. Though it also starts from scratch, because there’s a brand new Starz audience there sitting waiting to be scooped up, new viewers coming to it. But I restarted Doctor Who in 2005 from scratch, so I know what I’m doing. I did it with Children Of Earth, actually – that practically tripled Torchwood‘s audience, and noone said to me that they were lost. So it’s a new starting point and yet… as a faithful viewer you do get that awful feeling when something reboots or revamps that you’re not comfortable anymore, and there’s none of that. It’s still Gwen, it’s still Jack, and hopefully more. You’ll feel very comfortable with it. And there’s great new American characters coming into it. Bear in mind, of course, Captain Jack, he’s American as well, so it doesn’t seem quite as alien, I think, as if you suddenly introduced American characters into Emmerdale or something!”

Ian Berriman

You can read more about the next series of Torchwood in SFX 199 – it’s the cover feature! It’s on sale from Wednesday 28 July.