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Saturday, 5 July 2008

Russell T. Davies on Davros

Radio Times

RT's Benjamin Cook talks to Russell T Davies about the impact of Davros on Doctor Who – and visits the set to hear from the cast about filming such an explosive finale.

It's a Friday lunchtime in March 2008 and Davros is waving cheerily at us from across the car park. In one hand, he has a plate of chips. In the other, an orange. He's wearing tracksuit bottoms. (He has legs!) This isn't how it's supposed to be. From the top deck of the lunch bus, Rose Tyler, defender of the Earth, waves back at him.

"He looks wrecked," exclaims Laurence Fox, Billie Piper's other half, who's visiting her on set today.

"Davros has been wrecked for years," laughs Piper. "Look at him!" The return of Davros was, let's face it, one of the worst kept secrets in the history of television - (his penchant for chips and tracky bottoms less so) - but back in March, here at Cardiff's Upper Boat Studios, Davros is still talked about in whispers. The crew refers to him as "Dave" (Dave Ross - geddit?). The sign on Davros actor Julian Bleach's trailer door just says "The Enemy".

"Hello, all," says a silicone-encrusted Bleach, as he takes a seat on the bus. "I'm not as hacked off as I look," he teases, pointing to his mask, which he can't take off until it's time to go home.

"No-one's as hacked off as you look," says Piper.

But can he eat with his mask on? "A bit." He pops a slice of orange into his blackened mouth. "I like to keep in the game."

"This is a classic Davros design, faithful to the past," says Who supremo Russell T Davies. "That's not to be retro or nostalgic; it's genuinely an excellent design, which still works today. Why reinvent the wheel? We did the same with the Daleks. It's what the Art Department calls Mini Coopering - keeping something familiar while using modern techniques to bring it more in line with today. No kidding, when I get a day's rushes and see new Dalek footage, I'm as excited as a kid!"

On set in the Dalek Crucible spaceship, Daleks are gliding and sliding all over the place. "Am I going too fast?" asks Dalek operator Barnaby Edwards. "I don't want to go smacking into Davros." "I've been in this Dalek all week. Every so often, they allow us out for a couple of minutes. The rest of the time, they forget that Daleks have actors inside. We overhear all sorts of gossip. People stand right next to us and say the most outrageous things!"

Before each take, director Graeme Harper says "Loads of energy!" - even though this ensemble cast has more energy than the National Grid.

"Celebrate good times, come on!" hollers John Barrowman (Captain Jack) as Freema Agyeman (Martha) and the Daleks sing along. Everyone is in a playful mood. Each day of this shoot is like the last day of school. Hugs, kisses and hurried hellos are exchanged as former and current series regulars pass in the studio corridors, like ships in the night, on their way to record different scenes, on myriad sets. It's hard to keep track.

The next day, David Tennant and Catherine Tate arrive for a photoshoot. "Look at that," marvels Tennant, popping onto a particular set, to find his co-stars hard at work and having the time of their lives. "I'm having palpitations! So many people I've enjoyed working with over the past three years - good friends, great actors, all in Cardiff at the same time, more or less. It's like This Is Your Life! With Daleks!"

By the following week, Bleach is letting people sit in his Davros chair. "It's like the lottery machine," says Noel Clarke (Mickey), his fingers suspended over the switches.

"That's Davros's ultimate ambition," nods Bleach. "After wiping out all life in the universe, he wants to host The National Lottery!"

"What's so lovely about Davros," says Elisabeth Sladen (Sarah Jane Smith), who's filming on a set next door, "is that my character remembers him as he was when Michael Wisher played him [in 1975]. But Julian's portrayal is eerily similar, wonderfully, so this is the same guy as far as she's concerned. Sarah and Davros even recognise each other!"

"Is my neck coming off?" Bleach asks Agyeman, after a particularly energetic take.

"It's just popping out a bit," she smiles, tucking it back in for him. "That mask is ewww! I can't look him in the eye. If Davros had eyes! It gives me the creeps. And his skin is so saggy."

As the director calls "Cut!" Bleach, in his creepiest Davros voice, utters the immortal words "Am I bovvered?!" The set breaks into applause.

"After Julian said that," reveals Tate later, "he came up to me, really apologetic. He said, 'I'm so, so sorry.' 'Honestly, it's fine,' I said. 'It was very funny.' Poor Julian was really worried."

Although Russell T Davies's favourite elements of a Doctor Who series finale are "the size and the scale, and the fun of it all," really, he says, "this series belongs to the Doctor and Donna. For all the spectacle, it's about character, in the end. It's an honour to write dialogue for David and Catherine - whether I'll ever get that chance again depends on what happens in this final episode."

"It's heartbreaking," adds Tate "Russell's scripts are so clever, but really affecting. The repercussions of what Davros has done, and [what that means] for the Doctor's companions, are huge and far-reaching. It's a brave way to end the series."