Wild speculation about the new showrunner for Doctor Who was put to rest at last when the BBC declared that Russell T. Davies will return to the show after Chris Chibnall leaves. For the BBC, it means the show is back in safe hands, especially with Bad Wolf Productions onboard as partners, bringing Jane Tranter and Julie Gardner, Davies' original producers from his run, back in the game. For fans, it's a huge sigh of relief and a pleasant surprise, since Davies' run with David Tennant was the show's golden era as a ratings winner and global franchise that got the BBC over $100 million a year in foreign sales and licensing deal. Doctor Who became one of the BBC's most valuable properties that they can't afford to lose now.
So what does Davies' returns mean for the show? We have a few thoughts.
A Return to Emotional, Character-Driven Stories
Current showrunner Chris Chibnall's stories tend to be plot-driven first, then addressing the emotions that result from the plot. It's one reason many fans think his stories haven't worked as well as Steven Moffat's and Davies'. Moffat's stories were structure-driven, built around a puzzle box-like story with pieces teased and hinted, then coming together for a big plot and emotional payoff. Davies is no slouch with plots but prefers stories that put character moments and emotions upfront and lets the plot take care of itself. Given that his run was what drew so many new fans, and it's his default storytelling style, the BBC is probably hoping that his character-driven approach will draw in viewers again.
Davies will Probably Bring Back the Christmas Special
Davies was a vocal champion of the annual Doctor Who Christmas specials. He liked to stress that they felt special on a day that families and kids considered special. Chibnall's experiment with New Year's Day specials hasn't had as much impact. During Davies' run, his Christmas Specials were usually ratings winners, so it would make sense to bring them back.
Could This Mean Torchwood Might Return?
There were rumours that the BBC was considering reviving Torchwood last year, possibly as one of the flagship shows for BBC Three's return to broadcast from digital streaming. Torchwood was a ratings success when it originally launched on BBC Three back in 2006. Davies, as the creator of Torchwood, is actually the rights owner of the property in accordance to Writer's Guild of Great Britain rules the same way Terry Nation and his estate own the Daleks and Gerry Davies owns the Cybermen. Any real interest in bringing back Torchwood would require Davies' permission. Could Davies be talking to the BBC about a revival with him producing?
Christopher Eccleston Will Probably Never Come Back
Christopher Eccleston's debut as the 9th Doctor in 2005 was what started the show on its path to being a global pop franchise but production on his first and only season was troubled. Eccleston's relationship with the producers and the BBC brass grew so acrimonious that he has vowed he would never return to play the Doctor on television. Davies' return as showrunner and his producing partners being the same team that Eccleston fell out with virtually guarantees him staying way. However, Eccleston is happily playing the 9th Doctor in Big Finish audio dramas because he doesn't have to deal with anyone from the BBC end.
Casting for the Next Doctor is Now Wide Open
Picking a new Doctor is the new showrunner's prerogative now so they get to have their fresh take on the character and the show. As Rich pointed out, suddenly the odds of Olly Alexander getting picked to be the next Doctor have gone up, especially since Davies had cast him in his last drama series Years and Years, which upped Alexander's profile significantly. Davies had previously cast Christopher Eccleston and David Tennant after working with them on a previous project, Eccleston on his miniseries The Second Coming and Tennant on Casanova. Could this be a case of "third time's the charm"?
But what if there's an unexpected candidate? Lydia West has worked with Davies before, playing major roles in two of his previous miniseries Years and Years and It's a Sin. What if Davies wants to keep the Doctor female? She might be what he did with David Tennant, plucked an up-and-comer and launched them into stardom.
Let the wild speculation begin. Whoever we think it is, we're all probably wrong, but it's fun to think about.
Doctor Who, Years and Years, and It's a Sin are now streaming in the US on HBO Max.