The Best Doctor Who Showrunner Broke Into The Franchise A Decade Earlier

By Chris Snellgrove | Published

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While some fans prefer Steven Moffat, it’s fair to say that Russel T. Davies is the most influential Doctor Who showrunner of all time. Not only did he usher in the modern era of the franchise and bring us David Tennant’s iconic adventures as the Doctor, but he recently returned to bring the latest Doctor’s adventures to life for streaming on Disney+. Because Davies has made franchise history in so many ways, most fans overlook one of his more surprising accomplishments: being the first Doctor Who spinoff fiction writer to ever write for the actual show.

Russel T. Davies Wrote A Doctor Who Spin-Off

To understand how this happened, we need to look at what was effectively a dark time for Doctor Who, back when there was no showrunner because there was no show. In 1989, the Doctor faced an enemy even scarier than the Daleks: bored audiences. Fewer people were watching the show, and those who did weren’t enjoying these darker new adventures, which led to the series getting unceremoniously canceled.

Keeping The Franchise Alive Without A Show

In order to keep the brand alive, Virgin Books began releasing official spinoff books labeled Virgin New Adventures beginning in 1991. This was an important time for the franchise: we wouldn’t get new onscreen Doctor Who until the disastrous 1996 TV movie, and Russel T. Davies wouldn’t take over as showrunner of a new series until 2005. These books were one of the key ways to keep fans happy and the brand alive during this dark time for the franchise; weirdly enough, Davies was already doing his part to keep Doctor Who a going concern.

A Novel About The Seventh Doctor

Davies wrote Damaged Goods, a 1996 novel featuring the Seventh Doctor. The book is a 1987 period piece set in Margaret Thatcher’s Britain,  and the mystery begins with a drug dealer mysteriously returning from the dead. It turns out his return is tied to an ancient Gallifreyan weapon, and the Doctor must figure out how to shut it down before countless people are killed.

It sounds like a standard Doctor Who adventure, though future showrunner Davies added some weird quirks to the narrative. For example, there’s a major plot point involving cocaine helping power the mysterious weapon. Oh, and the Doctor has to do some cocaine to shut the weapon down (good luck getting Disney to stream that kind of plot today, Davies).

From Official Fan Fiction To Saving The Franchise

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When Davies became the Doctor Who showrunner and head writer in 2005, one of the things that made his new title notable was that he was the first writer of spinoff fiction to end up writing for the main series. He wouldn’t be the last, though other writers of spinoff books and Big Finish audio productions like Steven Moffat, Gareth Roberts, and Mark Gatiss would go on to write for the modern Doctor Who.

Doctor Who Is Bigger Than Ever

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Fitting enough for Doctor Who, everything came full circle for both showrunner Davies and the book line he once wrote for. These days, Davies is back in the big chair for the newest incarnation of the show, and after Virgin Books lost the license in 1999, Big Finish (these days known more for their original audio productions) ended up creating audiobooks of several Virgin New Adventures. This includes Damaged Goods, so fans can now experience Davies’ first foray as a Doctor Who writer no matter where their own adventures take them.