RTD News Archive

Dr. Who 2: Sexed-Up British Intelligence

By DAVE ITZKOFF(New York Times, 5 March 2006)

WHEN the television producer Russell T. Davies was growing up in Swansea, Wales, he came to a realization about himself — one that he knew might cause others to belittle him and even shun him: he loved the British science-fiction series "Doctor Who." And he wasn't ashamed of it.

"There's very classically and traditionally a strong gay fan base for 'Doctor Who,' " said Mr. Davies, 42, in a telephone interview from his home in Manchester, England. "He is a loner and a wanderer. He doesn't represent the authority — he is a man, unlike any other, doing his own thing. I think you can see the emotional connection."

From its premiere in 1963 through its 26-year run on the BBC (spanning eight different actors in the title role) "Doctor Who," the adventures of an enigmatic time-traveler known only as the Doctor, attracted a big, intensely loyal audience of viewers young and old, male and female, gay and straight. (It also earned a cult following in America when the series was rebroadcast on PBS in the 1970's and 80's.)

But as Mr. Davies's own television career began to take off in the 90's — he was, until recently, best known in Britain as the creator of the original version of "Queer as Folk" — the "Doctor Who" franchise was stuck in a state of suspended animation: aside from a TV movie that was shown in 1996, new episodes of the program had not been produced since 1989, when its meager production values lost the battle against the megabudget space operas being made in the United States. "It was rubber monsters and plastic suits," Mr. Davies said of the show, "but it was always imaginative, even when they had five cents to make it with."

Over the years, Mr. Davies has published a "Doctor Who" novel entitled "Damaged Goods" and even devised a character for "Queer as Folk" who was himself a fan of the show. Whenever the character failed to make a romantic connection in the clubs, "he'd go home and watch an episode of 'Doctor Who,' " Mr. Davies said with a laugh. "I couldn't begin to tell you what that says about me."

So when the BBC approached Mr. Davies in late 2003 to update "Doctor Who" for the 21st century, he was already teeming with ideas. "It's a genuine love of mine," he said, "and loving a program means you're not blind to its faults."

For starters, Mr. Davies abandoned its serialized format, in which stories were generally told over three to four 30-minute episodes, in favor of stand-alone episodes of 45 minutes each. (When the new "Doctor Who" has its American debut on Sci Fi on March 17, each episode will run one hour with commercials.) He also assembled himself a dream team of writers known for creating some of Britain's most influential television series — if not necessarily for their science-fiction credentials — and charged them with updating the show's titular hero for a post-"Matrix," post-"Buffy" generation.

"It was very important to Russell that the Doctor not be posh," said Mark Gatiss, a co-star and co-creator of the quirky ensemble television comedy "The League of Gentlemen," who was recruited onto Mr. Davies's writing staff. "It's all about the Doctor being a kind of burning, firework personality that is incredibly attractive, but also slightly dangerous to be around."

To that end, Mr. Davies selected the rugged actor Christopher Eccleston, of the films "Shallow Grave" and "28 Days Later," to be the ninth actor to portray the Doctor, injecting the show with a much-needed shot of credibility. "When people would talk about who was going to be the next Doctor," Mr. Davies recalled, "they would mention celebrity chefs and magicians. And you'd read this stuff in the papers and think, 'How devalued has this property become?' " He then gave the Doctor a young, unmistakably female sidekick, played by the pop singer Billie Piper. "It was a bit like casting Britney Spears," Mr. Davies said, "and then we auditioned her and discovered she was brilliant."

In the days leading up to the premiere of the new "Doctor Who" in March 2005, the British tabloid press did its best to insinuate that Mr. Davies — who is openly gay, and proud that his "Queer as Folk" series included, in his words, "more sex than any other program ever" — might somehow be an unfit candidate to re-establish a beloved cultural icon.

The faithful, however, declined to take the bait. "The vast amount of fans out there were just elated that the show was coming back," said Shaun Lyon, editor of the "Doctor Who" fan Web site Outpost Gallifrey (www.gallifreyone.com). "Pointing out that Russell's gay, let's be honest, you can no longer get a story out of that. Gay is officially boring now."

The first episode of Mr. Davies's "Doctor Who," teeming with rapid edits, dark humor, and, for the first time, computer-generated special effects, drew over 10 million viewers, or about 44 percent of the potential viewing audience, something that would translate into a Super Bowl-size audience for an American broadcast.

But controversy eventually caught up with the series: four days after the premiere, the BBC published a news release in which Mr. Eccleston revealed that he would not be returning for a second season — an awkward situation made more so when he protested that the BBC had falsely attributed quotes to him and had broken an agreement to withhold the announcement until after the show's first season had ended. "I'm sure it could have been handled better," Mr. Davies said. (Mr. Eccleston declined to comment for this story.)

Some fans were also slightly mortified by an episode involving clandestine aliens whose otherworldly identities are given away by their flatulence. Yet none complained about a scene from that same show in which the British prime minister (played by a Tony Blair look-alike) is found dead in a closet, or a sequence in the following week's broadcast in which 10 Downing Street is blown up by a missile.

And few if any eyebrows were raised when later episodes of "Doctor Who" introduced a character named Jack Harkness, a starship captain from the 51st century whose roguish banter implies that he is not merely bisexual, but omnisexual. "It felt right that the James Bond of the future would bed anyone," said Steven Moffat, the creator of the BBC sitcom "Coupling" and the writer of the Captain Jack storyline. "He's far too busy saving the universe to worry about which brand of genitals is best." In fact, Captain Jack proved so popular that the character was granted his own spinoff series, "Torchwood," now in preproduction.

Though Mr. Davies's first season of "Doctor Who" has more sexuality, both submerged and overt, than the several hundred episodes that preceded it, the show's producers argue that it is Mr. Davies's creativity, and not his sexual identity, that has made their show a hit.

"You come across the occasional nutter who will talk about Russell's gay agenda — I imagine he keeps it in a pink folder in a special leopardskin safe — but this is possibly the most heterosexual Doctor we've ever had," Mr. Moffat said. "Clearly, Russell's gay agenda is to turn everyone straight."

As he prepares for the reinvigorated "Doctor Who" to begin its second season on the BBC this spring, Mr. Davies said sexuality would always have a place in his science fiction, so long as it is balanced with all the other elements that constitute human experience. "People expect me to do that visceral stuff," he said, "but I don't think it's that clever to be violent and naked onscreen all the time. There's better, more intelligent and more humane stories to tell. If you want to just get silly with it, you might as well go and see a slasher movie."

Boom boom and bust 

Basil Brush might not seem the likeliest of television characters to inspire fury and disgust, but for the writer of Queer As Folk, Russell T Davies, the glove puppet's antics are no laughing matter

 It's the new Basil Brush Show on BBC1. In Basil's local café, the old fox's latest sidekick, Mr Steve, fancies a Long-Haired Woman. Basil encourages him to chat her up, and tips the viewer a wink that something funny is about to happen. Mr Steve is nervous and shy, rehearsing his chat-up lines behind Long-Haired Woman's back. But he's so preoccupied, he fails to notice Long-Haired Woman walking out of the café and being replaced by Long-Haired Man. Can you see what's coming?

 Mr Steve taps Long-Haired Man on the shoulder and asks for a snog. He's gobsmacked when his intended turns round and reveals the awful truth. So far, so funny. The studio audience, which sounds as ,though it consists entirely of young children, laughs merrily.

And then the Long-Haired Man punches Mr Steve. He punches him. In the face. Basil laughs! The audience laughs! Boom boom! Poor Mr Steve has a black eye for the rest of the episode! It's even suggested that the fight went on out of vision, Basil happily waving his tail and telling us "You missed the punch-up!"

Why was Steve punched? Because he was gay. It's worth spelling out in all its simplicity. In the eyes of Long-Haired Man, Steve was gay, and - perhaps a worse crime in the world of long-Haired Men - he assumed Long-Haired Man to be gay also. It seems pitiful to analyse such a slender joke, but the more you consider it, the starker it becomes. There's nothing else at stake. No subtext, no lesson, no irony other than the fact that Mr Steve is, in fact, straight (this is made very clear).

Perhaps the writer could balance on a thin line of logic and defend the scene by arguing that Mr Steve is nice, Long-Haired Man is bad, and therefore violence is wrong. I could almost believe that, except for the laughter. Mr Steve brought the punch on himself, and that's what makes it funny; he deserves it. The punch is literally a punchline.

When I first saw this episode, late last year, I ranted to myself and stomped around the kitchen, reduced to Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells, despairing at the state of television today. I pay my licence fee, I paid for that punch. I wondered how many adults had worked on that show, and approved that scene. It's an independent production, so that's twice the executives. The actual shot of the punch has been edited to death, so someone somewhere had worried, but not enough.

And then, like a good armchair radical, I did nothing. I let it go. To make a formal complaint felt like the onset of middle age. It takes a while to realise that political correctness can be both political and correct.

At the same time, the urge to complain felt weird, almost self destructive. I've written drama series such as Queer As Folk for Channel 4 and The Second Coming for ITV1. Each has attracted some form of criticism, sometimes a storm. For me to complain about anything now feels rather like poacher-turned-gamekeeper, and I don't suit tweed.

And I reasoned with myself that this was one clumsy mistake. Easily done, in a market of high volume and fast turnaround. I worked for Children's BBC as a director and producer in the early 90s, and loved that department. I still enjoy watching the output; programmes with the greatest restrictions are sometimes the most imaginative. I was only watching Basil in the first place because his revival is a success. The new show is fast and sharp, beautifully lit and designed, and Mr Steve himself is a good and clever actor. Imagine complaining about that!

I had even written children's slapstick myself, when starting my career as a writer. I'm to blame for three episodes of Chucklevision, which still get repeated in Hong Kong. The Chuckle Brothers fell over and got wet and slipped on bananas, a constant tumble of harmless accidents. They're still tumbling today. But the producer of that show, Martin Hughes, had the highest standards of any man I have ever worked for, and he drilled those standards into his staff. To show pratfalls as essentially safe required massive discipline. He would never permit a blow to the head of any sort, in any context. Not even the smallest comedy frying pan. Big, foam hammers? Forbidden. Falling anvils? Not on my watch. To maintain that standard, on a slapstick show, was one hell of an achievement. As I remembered that, Basil's stupid stunt now looked more cynical, and far more dangerous. But still, I did nothing.

Then I saw the punch again. And a fortnight later, again (I admit, I was stalking Basil Brush by this point). I realised that the episodes are on a never-ending loop, on the BBC's colourful new digital service, all year round. Basil's "new" show has probably been transmitted more than a dozen times. Watch the CBBC Channel, because it'll roll around again, any day now. Ask your kids, they'll have seen it already.

In children's television, repeats aren't just a means of saving money. They are the structure of the output. When I was young, I would identify holidays by the reappearance of White Horses or The Flashing Blade. But, nowadays, the satellite channels are hungry for material, and the children's channels delight in repeats because their audience craves repetition. The Teletubbies cry "Again! Again!" by careful design. And it's worth noting that Basil has abandoned his creaky 1970s Light Entertainment format and become a fully-fledged sitcom - the genre which bears repetition more than any other. Those clever executives behind Friends give every episode a title declaring "The One With..." because they know that a lifetime of syndication lies ahead. How many kids now recognise The One With The Punch?

The repeat cycle finally got me out of my chair, because repetition is at the core of this. The reason why children's guidelines are so strict, and why I still remember them after a decade working away from that department, is that it's not only the programmes which repeat. The children repeat.

I always liked writing for children because I knew that, if I got it right, I could create a moment which could burn itself into the brain. We'll all remember our favourite kids' shows when we're 70. We might remember nothing else. But there's more than memory at stake here. The younger the audience, the more impressionable. They're learning behaviour and they learn a lot from TV. If this sounds alarmist, then consider that there will be children out there who have seen every transmission of Mr Steve's fate. The greatest volume of repeats is aimed at the audience upon whom repeats have the greatest effect.

As soon as I saw the first repeat, I complained to the BBC. This was two months ago. They've promised to investigate, and might well decide I'm talking nonsense, though I look forward to arguing the point. But in this multichannel age, the broadcasters' timetable of dealing with complaints isn't equipped to deal with the speed of mass repetition. It's too late. The punch has become a familiar scene. So familiar that in some minds, it will have become an idea. And it's a successful show - after international demand for the Teletubbies and the Tweenies, BBC Worldwide is an expert at selling children's shows abroad. How many countries have now seen that punch?

Whether it's Monsieur Steve or Signor or Herr, that episode keeps transmitting. We can argue the point, but while the debate goes on, some child is watching digital, right now. The Long-Haired Man swings his fist to hit the gay man, time and time again, and the fox and the kids are still laughing.

As queer as Dr Who? No, just Daleks in chains

UNBEKNOWN to his neighbours in the respectable Manchester suburb of Victoria Park, Russell T. Davies has shacked up with a Dalek. The antique pepper pot — a tatty, don’t-mess-with-me BBC original — crossly guards the television dramatist’s hallway, its proboscis inspecting visitors, dutifully ignoring the television simmering in the sitting room behind. Should the Dalek ever crackle into voice, it will be to threaten Davies with extermination if he messes up his coming revival of Dr Who.

“A lot of the time the actual writing process is as miserable as fuck,” says Davies, explaining why his friend from Skaro might be on his case. Miserable is not a word I’d readily associate with Davies, a gentle, cardiganed yeti — camper, as he would say, than Christmas — but he insists that he does get the glooms: bouts of writerly despair at 2am, tense breakfasts. Andrew, his boyfriend, is permitted to stay at weekends. “Otherwise, bless, he ’s banished.”

Success materialised into Davies’s life with Channel 4’s Queer as Folk in 1999, after a long apprenticeship in BBC’s children’s television and at Granada. He has since managed to outrage all sorts: the Daily Mail for the under-age gay sex in Queer as Folk, uptight homosexuals for having a gay man fall in love with a woman in Bob and Rose, and God-botherers for bringing Christ back as a video-shop worker in The Second Coming. No constituency, I suggest, however, will be as easily disgruntled as Dr Who fans.

“Absolutely, this thing will follow me for the rest of my life. But the marvellous thing about writing Dr Who is that I know when I die there are magazines that will report my death.”

While the obsessives fret over the doctor’s return next spring, we have Davies’s latest creation to enjoy on ITV1 on Thursdays. In Mine All Mine, his hymn to his hometown, Swansea emerges as a paradise of shimmering sands, lights across the bay at night and community values. The only smudge on the postcard is that it will go out against BBC1’s pleasurable seaside saga Blackpool. Davies loyally attended its screening with its writer, Peter Bowker. “The first time they broke into song, like in Dennis Potter, I was so jealous. I said, ‘You bastard, what a beautiful thing to do!’ ”

The beautiful conceit of Mine All Mine is that a local eccentric named Max Vivaldi, played with an almost convincing Welsh accent by Griff Rhys Jones, discovers he is the rightful owner of Swansea. It is a fantasy premise, but like the lottery win in At Home With the Braithwaites, it is merely a device with which to examine a family, in this case a version of the one Davies was born into 41 years ago.

If you come to it hoping for torrid revelations of Davies’s coming out, you’ll be disappointed. Leo, the Vivaldis’ teenage son, is openly referred to as “gay” by his family and he sees so little action that by the end of the fourth preview tape I even wondered if he actually was homosexual. In real life, Davies suppressed the news until he left home for Oxford University. When he did announce he was gay, his parents could not have been less shocked. There are families, he concedes, that teeter on the edge of hell, but his was not one of them. In a cosy twist, Rhian Morgan, the only girlfriend Davies ever had — when he was 13 — plays Max’s wife in the show. “A bit of a kiss, a bit of a fumble but there was something wrong even then and she knew it.”

The sunny aspect from which Davies views the Davies/Vivaldi clan is all the more interesting since the series was prompted by the death of his mother, Barbara, two years ago.

“She had cancer for about three years, didn’t tell anyone, not a soul and not one of us in the family is up in arms about that or upset,” he begins and I suddenly realise that what I am about to receive is not heartbreak but anecdote.

Not even her husband? “No, didn’t tell her best friend, didn’t tell her cousins, didn’t tell anyone because she knew we’d all stop her doing what she was doing. She never stayed still, drove everywhere, did the babysitting, shopping, just kept going. It was a blood cancer, myeloma, so you could actually keep going and she fooled us completely and I love her for this. You know, when your mother regularly goes to the hospital and says ‘I’ve got anaemia’ you just believe it. And you look back and think how stupid were we that we didn’t see it!”

The family did begin to suspect when her husband phoned her during a hospital appointment and was told by staff she was visiting the local hospice. Russell checked out her symptoms with a doctor, who confirmed the outlook was grim. He wanted to confront his mother but was determined not to do so in front of the family. One night he took the milk train to Abergavenny where Barbara was housesitting for her daughter. She opened the door and one look revealed she knew she had been rumbled. The stage was set for tears and melodrama, but the gods of comedy intervened.

“There’s a Hoover on upstairs and the cleaner’s there! The most important meeting of my life and the cleaner’s there! So we had a coded conversation like, ‘Hello, what a surprise! I’ll put the kettle on’. She brought the cleaner down for a cup of tea and I was sitting there thinking, ‘I can’t say why I’m here in front of the cleaner’. My whole visit was f***ed because it was meant to be a secret and the cleaner was bound to say to my sister when she got back that her brother’s been here and she’d have flipped if she’d discovered I’d done all this secretly.”

Vacuuming eventually resumed.

“I go, ‘Look, you know why I’m here and now I’m f***ed because of the cleaner’, and my mother goes, ‘Oh, that’s all right. She’s deaf’. And she was. I could have got away with anything!”

In her final weeks, they watched plenty of daytime television together. The last thing she saw was the episode of his 2002 drama Bob and Rose in which Bob’s mother joins a gay-rights demo. She rang to say it was lovely, a chance for mothers of gay sons everywhere to get sentimental.

“In a funny way all this happening is what made me look at Swansea and my family and I ended up writing Mine All Mine. It would have been easy to go and write that very dark play about a lonely figure in a house and her son comes to visit and the truth comes out. But, actually, you end up with a family comedy, which is much more true to her.”

In its own way, for someone of our generation, reviving Dr Who is as much an act of nostalgia as writing Mine All Mine. But for it to look nostalgic or self-referential, he decided, would be fatal. The new doctor, Christopher Eccleston, the returned Christ in The Second Coming, will not, he discloses (and probably shouldn’t) be regenerated from his predecessor Paul McCann, the one-off doctor from the BBC’s 1996 TV movie. That would puzzle the children and hold back the story’s momentum.

“I keep telling everyone it’s early Saturday. We’re going to be up against Ant and Dec. You can’t be boring. You can’t sit still with it. It’s got to be emotional and it’s got to be fun at the same time and it’s got to move like s*** really, and it does.

“We’re getting there. There’s about 80 scenes per episode. It’s a massive turnover of material — and we’re telling good stories.”

We move from his austere dining room to his video-festooned sitting room where (and this he definitely shouldn’t be doing) he shows some early rushes. A golden Dalek, held in chains, harangues the doctor. Eccleston, dressed in a leather jacket, harangues him back. It could be Ralph Fiennes playing one of Hamlet’s madder scenes. This is not the series I remember.

“But 90 per cent of the time he’s walking around full of joy and glee and stuff,” Davies says, sensing my disturbance. “But he’s a brilliant actor, he can turn on a sixpence.”

So it will be fun? “Yes, it’s very funny in places. In episode two they go to space for the first time and meet loads of aliens and it’s so funny. There is a plot underneath it all and their lives end up in danger, but, my God, it’s funny.”

Who was his favourite Dr Who? “Tom Baker. David Tennant [of Blackpool fame] said in an interview that was really a case of a man and a part just meeting and the fireworks taking off. But I honestly think we’ve got that with Chris Eccleston too.”

Billie Piper, he adds, has proved his perfect assistant. And, no, there is nothing going on between them, on or off set. Dr Who, I suggest, may be the exception to his rule that the motor of all drama is sex.

“But even then there’s men after power. The man in that episode who chained the Dalek up – what was he displacing there?” And there was I trying to ignore the inference of bondage.

His theory of sexual motivation will undoubtedly be explored in his three-part Casanova, currently being filmed in Dubrovnik with Tennant in the lead role. “Best subject in the world,” he says, “men and sex.” The programme begins with the word “b***ocks” and climaxes with Casanova fretting to a friend over the possible inadequacy of his penis. It is a common worry. Davies suggests the essence of Mine All Mine may even be that Max Vivaldi enjoys a less than riotous sex life with his wife.

“I think men are massively motivated by sex. Is it just me but every time you go to a meeting or any new place, don’t you go ‘Who am I going to meet?’”

But he’s a happily married man, I object. He met Andrew Smith, a customs officer, at 2am in a club six years ago but it was a one-night stand that stuck.

“I am yes, indeed. Doesn’t stop you looking though.”

I have to admit, I say, that when I wrote in a review of The Second Coming in February last year that Davies was on track to becoming our next Dennis Potter, I had not imagined he would be heading for the Tardis. Casanova, which is being directed by Sheree Folkson, who shot Mine All Mine, is more like it.

“I sat here for a minute or so, only a minute, thinking, ‘Do I want to do this?” says Davies. “Is Dr Who the direction your career should be heading in?’ All that sort of stuff and the moment you start thinking about that you just want to tell yourself to shut up. Who cares what direction my career’s heading? Only me and there’s good work to be done and we are making such a good show.”

Davies knows I think he is brilliant but an objection to his work, I say, could be that it lacks a tragic sense. “It could be indeed and if my house burns down with everything in it and my boyfriend then I’ll be writing the darkest things in the world, except I don’t think I would actually, no. I think if you’re writing it’s your job to find some sort of salvation in it, some sort of hope.

“You go to a funeral. Someone cracks a joke. I mean in the end we all die and it’s a howling pit, but there’s no point in writing that because in creating fiction you’re actually creating something different, otherwise you’d be a documentary maker.

“Actually, having a laugh is a great human mechanism. I’m not saying everything has to be funny all the time, but most conversation is an effort to engage and entertain to an extent. I used to write drama as tragedy in my early jobs but I learnt that, actually, all that conversational stuff is human instinct. It’s not superficial. It’s really, really powerful.”

Anyhow, he says, television writers always write from their own character. So what does his work say about him? “Obsessed by sex and likes a laugh,” he replies without hesitation.

It is getting late now and his Dr Who duties surely beckon. He calls a cab and gets into jokey trouble with the woman from the cab firm who (rightly) suspects that he’s been favouring rival companies. He fibs, saying he’s been away making Dr Who.

One of my favourite scenes in Davies’ work concerns a cab, I say, and it turns out it was filmed at the end of his road. It’s from the opening episode of Bob and Rose when the heroine gets a ride from a dodgy minicab driver. We are prepared for something horrible to happen. Instead Rose, played by Lesley Sharp, asserts herself and gets out unharmed, psychologically prepared, perhaps, to look for a different kind of male, little suspecting, of course, that he will be gay. The seedy heterosexual drives away into the night.

“Again you’re creating a charmed world and he’s on the edge of that. There’s another drama you could tell where that taxi driver goes very wrong but by playing that scene up front you exclude that. You sort of say, ‘Look, she walks away from all that into where my drama is’.”

My cab arrives and it is time for me to leave Russell to his charmed world of dicks and Daleks. To hell, I think, with the tragic sense.

Webtalk Transcript

 

Matt Jones : Hi there!

Russell Davies : Hiyas :)

c4 chat ed : Hello chaps. Let's kick off...

Jaz : what were the initial reactions of the first people to read the script??

Matt Jones : Oh that's a good one!

Russell Davies : Gosh, I'll answer this :) The first people to read the script were Matt over there and Nicola the producer (who's ill tonight, so she couldn't make it) who liked it, both worked with me on making it better before we showed it to Channel 4. We worked on it for about three weeks and then sent it to Gub Neal, Head of Drama, and Katriona McKenzie who loved it!

worleysthebenyonsf : I liked the programme - how was it researched?

Russell Davies : Um... Well I am gay, so from my point of view it needed very little research :) Matt Jones : I'm gay too, so Russell and I spend an awful lot of time out on Canal Street drinking gin and tonic and dancing to cheap disco music. But what we did research in depth was Vince's job in the supermarket, drugs, and Doctor Who. And that took an awful lot of time :)

RobWhitmore : Do you think the programme is made for gay people or is it a lesson in being gay for straight people?

Matt Jones : It's a drama for everybody. We hope that gay people will love it because it's about three fantastic gay men. But we also hope that straight people will love the emotions, the characters and the stories.

SimonMCR : Congrats on handling of Angela Mason (in Right to Reply on Saturday) - which do you feel more surprised aout - the reaction of gay people or the horror of staright?

Matt Jones : I'll answer that on Nicola's behalf. The answer is we're not making representational drama, we're not interested in doing a worthy or political piece of drama. It's an authorial piece, and it comes from Russell's heart.

JohnHarrow : hello, first of all great program. I'm sure most gay men will recognise a lot of themselves in the characters. One question I have though is why make Nathan 15? were you doing this to deliberately provoke the tabloids. Why not make him 16 instead?

Russell Davies : We made him 15 *not* to provoke, because I'm sure there are a lot of people turning off because he's 15, and I always knew that would be the case. He's 15 because at 15 you're *powerless*. If he were 16 he could leave home and find his own life. Whereas Nathan is trapped, but at the same time, inspired. The fact that he can't leave home creates many of the stories we've got to come.

TurtleMeister : How did you cast the characters...I mean were you looking for anything in particular?

Russell Davies : We were looking for good actors. As it happens, as far as I know, all the actors are straight that is because Red Production Company will never operate a policy of asking any potential employee what their sexuality is.

MattArno : Have you had many complaints???

Russell Davies : Um... Yes, we've had many complaints. But for the first time ever, an equal number of people have phoned Channel 4 to give their praise! *grins*. I'd ask anyone who likes it to keep phoning it so that the homophobic lobby doesn't win. Keep phoning and keep emailing!

Nick : as the straight brother of a gay man, I loved the show. have you received much support from the heterosexual community?

Matt Jones : Yes, we have received a lot of support from the heterosexual community. One of the notable ones is an email sent to Channel 4 where a gay teenager came out to his best friend after watching the show, and his best friend, a straight teenager, took him out for the night to a gay bar for his first night out on the gay scene. We love that friend!

ryanthepoo : I was wondering whether you ever felt that the programme was too risque? I personally think that it is fine but did Channel 4 or the ITC challenge you on anything?

Matt Jones : Channel 4 wanted us to be honest. We obeyed all the guidelines from the ITC. However, at a late stage we were asked to change one sex scene - we were asked to remove one-and-a-half rhythmic strokes which we were happy to do. Russell Davies chuckles.

QAF_Ian : Were you aiming to make the character of Stuart less likeable than the other two or did it just happen that way? It may make people think a lot of us are tarts. Which we may be, mind you I'm only 18.. Wish I could have had a Nathan at his age. Do you think you'll help more kids to come out?

Russell Davies : Hi Ian. If you stick with the series, I *promise* you that Stuart is not less likeable than the others. Through the things he learns from Nathan and from Vince, he becomes an absolute hero. I'm not just flannelling, I swear that comes true *grin*. As to whether kids come out because of this, that's their own personal choice, but I just hope that lonely, sad, isolated teenage gay boys will see this and realise that there's a whole world they can claim as their own.

Neil T : I found it interesting that R2R showed complaints from a gay man, saying the show was unrepresentative, how would you balance this? if at all?

Russell Davies : He maintained that he knew of no gay men that took drugs or had one-night stands. He must live in Narnia!

Staedy : Although gay life is rarely shown on TV, do you feel that there's enough material left to make a second or parallel series as sucessful?

Matt Jones : Channel 4 have commissioned two hour-long scripts in preparation for the possibility of a second series. And we're struggling to fit all the material we want to into those two episodes. The stories for Nathan, Vince and Stuart should be... will be, very different, funny, sexy and edgy. But I can't tell you more without ruining the end of series one.

Gogs99 : why is the series centred on the commercial scene? Don't you think this relates only to middle class men with an income?

Russell Davies : The series isn't just centered on the commercial scene. We filmed for 80 days, and only ten days of that was spent on Canal St. As the series develops, you'll see more of their ordinary home lives, ordinary jobs and ordinary everyday fascinating stories. Again, the series is *not* representational. Even if these three characters do have an income, a good drama, about good characters, should be interesting to anyone. Fingers crossed :)

Pink Panther : I'd like to know why the programme didn't show any bullying or harrassment of nathan when in school as I find this part a bit unrealistic, or is it included later on?

Russell Davies : It does show bullying, in episode four. But frankly I'm sick of seeing gay men and gay boys as victims in a permanent states of passive suffering. To be honest, you can find those plots in soap operas. I'm trying to do something different. Nathan is a survivor, an optimist, and he's the opposite of what you'd expect the gay schoolboy to be.

markmike : it makes a change for a program to be set in manchester rather than London, what made you set the drama here

Russell Davies : Nicola, Matt and I all live in Manchester. So there was no decision to be made. We love this city! Can I just say apologies from Nicola, she's tired and a bit ill, so we've taken over :)

Jaz : Now that the age of consent bill has been sent to the House of Lords, do you think the programme will have any influence on their voting? And was the timing of the programme deliberate?

Russell Davies : The timing of the programme was never deliberate and if it's lost us even one vote in our favour then I'm very sorry. However, if any MP is stupid enough to change their mind on the strength of one late-night Channel 4 drama, then they should have their vote taken away from them!!

Simon Brunger : How much convincing did Channel 4 need to show the series? Did they think it was a bit too much too soon or were they happy to show it from the outset??

Russell Davies : From the moment I showed them episode one, they were happy.

2CUTE2BSTR8 : how are u going to deal with the problems of HIV & AIDS, which have yet to surface in the program

Russell Davies : HIV and AIDS is never centre stage in this drama, Although they are constantly mentioned throughout. Frankly that virus is bad enough, and strong enough, to gain prominence in practically every other gay drama I've seen. I refuse to give it that authority, it's not welcome on my computer.

studmufin : Fantastic series, its about time somthing positive was put on about gay people, do you feel this is the start of better quality dramas for gay people?

Matt Jones : We hope so. We hope that Queer as Folk shows that you can make quality drama about gay people that everyone will enjoy. Both of us would love to see more gay dramas on television, and we look forward to watching them advertised in the Radio Times.

AJC : Did you have any problems getting the cast to kiss and caress each other?

Matt Jones chuckles. Both our fabulous directors are straight. The only times when they turned to me and asked me to choreograph a scene was during the sex scenes, because they didn't know how to do it. Me, the script editor, and our fabulous makeup assistant acted out gay sex on Stuart's bed to show the straight boys how it was done. The actors watched, naked but for dressing gowns, and once they knew how to do gay sex, they approached it as the professionals that they are. Sex scenes on television traditionally are embarassing and awkward for actors to do, such was the camaraderie and respect that was the hallmark of Queer as Folk filming that everyone had a laugh, and enjoyed the day.

Graeme : How did the team of writers/producers get together? At last a show features gay people as real people - both good and bad. It's slick!

Russell Davies : Channel 4 put me and Nicola together - in the past we both worked at Granada but only met socially and at the same time, socially, I met Matt... who turned out to be a genius. I introduced him to Nicola, all three of us got on like a house on fire, and the result is now on your screens :)

james27 : russell - have you got any work in progress - any hints of what's to come ?

Russell Davies : Oh bless James27. At the moment I'm just waiting to hear from Channel 4 whether they want a second series of this because quite frankly I can't imagine working on anything else at the moment. So if you like the show, seriously, phone and email Channel 4. Don't let those who hate it get a voice. The support we've had so far is tremendous and I can't thank everyone enough.

c4chat ed : Thanks Matt, thanks Russell, and thanks everyone who joined in. I'm sorry that there wasn't more time. Matt and Russell have agreed to do another chat with us at the end of the series. You can email us at dot4@channel4.com or viewer_enquiries@channel4.co.uk

For those of you who asked, both the video and a selection of music are going to be released in April, music is on Almighty records and the video is on the Channel 4 label.

fac52 : thank you for what you have done for gay people - its inspiring

Neil T : I've enjoyed what I've seen so far and love the format

lawrence : goodnight and congratulations on a really successful show for a community long ignored.

Duncan : Lets have more!!!

Andii : Thank you for everything you are doing for te gay community worldwide

Ash : It enspired me to tell people! I hope to see more programs like this!

Andii : Keep up the good work, channel 4. I support you all the way on this one

And on and on into the night...


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