Several of Russell T. Davies’ old ideas for Doctor Who episodes can now be revisited thanks to a bigger budget. Davies was previously the showrunner for Doctor Who from the series’ revival in 2005 until the end of David Tennant’s era as the Tenth Doctor in 2010’s New Year special, “The End of Time.” Back then, BBC had a tight budget for the series, meaning many ideas for episodes on a grander scale were scrapped. Now though, Davies’ return to the series, along with Sex Education star Ncuti Gatwa as the Fourteenth Doctor, means that these old episode ideas can be rehashed.
In September 2021, it was announced that the production company Bad Wolf, aptly named after the story arc for the 2005 Doctor Who season, would be co-producing the series starting with Davies’ return in 2023. A month later, the majority of Bad Wolf was acquired by Sony Pictures Television, meaning the production company was gifted a much larger budget. This means that subsequent seasons of Doctor Who could have the production value of series’ such as His Dark Materials and I Hate Suzie, both critically acclaimed series’ to come from Bad Wolf. In his 2010 book, The Writer’s Tale, Davies poses several ideas for Doctor Who episodes that were impossible to create back in David Tennant’s run as the Doctor, but perhaps a bigger budget could see these stories come to fruition.
Mark Gatiss’ Nazi Episode
Since Doctor Who’s 2005 revival, Mark Gatiss has been a staple of the series, writing nine individual episodes and even appearing in five episodes in various roles, most notably Professor Lazarus in “The Lazarus Experiment,” and the Captain in “Twice Upon a Time.” In The Writer’s Tale, Russell T. Davies notes that Gatiss has “one of the wittiest, wildest imaginations in this whole bloody country,” so it wouldn’t be surprising to see Gatiss return to write more episodes during Davies’ new run on the show. One previously unused idea penned by Gatiss that would have originally taken place during Doctor Who season 4 could be brought back into the forefront.
Simply titled “Nazis,” the episode would have been confined within the walls of the Natural History Museum in a World War II setting. As well as dealing with monsters on the loose inside the museum, the Doctor would have also had to handle the threat of a Nazi strike-force invasion. This episode, which had reportedly taken Gatiss over a year to perfect, would have certainly been an intense ride for Tennant’s Doctor and then-companion Donna Noble. Even so, Davies decided not to pursue this project, not because of budget restrictions, but because he didn’t want to produce a World War II-centered episode so soon after Christopher Eccleston’s Ninth Doctor episodes, “The Empty Child,” and “The Doctor Dances.” By the time Davies makes his return to Doctor Who, it will have been a while since wartime Britain had been seen in the series, meaning the opportunity is there for Gatwa’s Doctor to go toe-to-toe with Nazis in London.
Like Gatiss, writer Tom MacRae, best known for his work on Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, is a regular fixture in Doctor Who’s writer’s room, penning the scripts for the season 2 episodes “Rise of the Cybermen” and “The Age of Steel,” and the season 6 episode, “The Girl Who Waited.” Along with debuting the Cybermen in Doctor Who’s modern age, MacRae also penned a script titled “Century House,” an episode that would have taken place later on during Doctor Who season 4, which was eventually replaced with the thrilling episode, “Midnight.” Much like “Midnight,” “Century House” was set to see the Doctor isolated from his companion, who would be watching the events of his adventure unfold during an episode of the fictional reality TV show, Just Haunted.
It’s rare nowadays for Doctor Who to feature Doctor-centric episodes, showing action develop without the intervention of a companion, so it might be a welcome change for Davies’ new era of Doctor Who to bring back a concept such as “Century House.” It was also planned to be a stripped-back episode, with a simple storyline following the Doctor’s hunt for the ghost of the mysterious “Red Widow,” while taking inspiration from the 1950s and 60s for the production design. In recent seasons of Doctor Who, the storylines have often been world-changing (or universe-changing in the case of Flux), so it would be great to see a more grounded plot with Gatwa’s Doctor, something that Russell T. Davies was excellent at executing in his previous stint on the show.
Star Wars-Inspired Episode
This concept was the primary episode dropped due to budget restrictions, due to be created for the 2009 Doctor Who specials that formed David Tennant’s last episodes as the Doctor. Russell T. Davies described this episode in The Writer’s Tale as “something outer-spacey, wild and whizzy, spaceships and lazers. Lots of POW!” This all-out action was a rare occurrence back in Davies’ previous era of the series, though it did become more commonplace during Tennant’s final Doctor Who episodes including “Planet of the Dead” and “The Waters of Mars.” Taking inspiration from Star Wars, this episode would have seen the Doctor materialize in the midst of a huge space battle against the Chelonians (a human-sized tortoise species) and would have featured a badass female fighter pilot as the one-off companion akin to Lady Christina de Souza and Adelaide Brooke.
It can be seen from the description alone that this episode would have taken a massive budget to produce, something that the BBC simply didn’t have to hand at the time. The 2007 Christmas episode, “Voyage of the Damned,” took £128,000 to produce, which was considered £35,000 over budget at the time, so an episode on the level of the Star Wars franchise which would have featured huge space battles and even bigger stakes would have been practically impossible. Now though, with Bad Wolf and Sony Pictures Television on board, bringing a much larger budget and better production value with them, an episode of this scale could be pulled off perfectly after Davies’ return.
“The Empty Hotel”
Another episode concept laid out by Russell T. Davies in The Writer’s Tale is that of “The Empty Hotel,” a story that would have featured an older companion for the first time in the post-revival Doctor Who era. Davies expressed an interest in getting either Helen Mirren or Judi Dench for the role, who had originally been considered to be the first female Doctor before Jodie Whittaker. It seems that not being able to nab either of these high-profile names was what eventually sank this episode idea. “The Empty Hotel” would have seen the grandmotherly companion wake in a deserted hotel, only to realize that the whole of London was deserted too, with the world frozen in time so that “weird, spindly, eight-legged creatures with human torsos” could make their own personal carnival.
“The Empty Hotel” was the most clearly laid out concept that Davies posed in The Writer’s Tale, meaning that it’s entirely possible for this creepy, fairy-tale-like story to come to fruition once Davies returns to Doctor Who. Whether Mirren or Dench would still be interested in the role of a one-off companion is another question, though there are plenty of well-known actors who would fit this role perfectly. It’s still unclear who will be playing the companion opposite Ncuti Gatwa’s Fourteenth Doctor after the 60th anniversary special in 2023. Currently, Heartstopper star Yasmin Finney is billed to play a character named “Rose” in the special, but whether she will continue on as a regular companion is yet to be seen. Even so, it would be great to see some of these old episode concepts revisited in Davies’ second stint on Doctor Who, especially now that a larger budget has fallen at their feet.