Let’s change the camera angle slightly, however, and look at Russell T Davies’s career in general as of the mid-90s. He was, at the time, undoubtedly a successful television writer. He was not, however, the Russell T Davies of legend. He was a working writer, making a living entirely off of his writing, and with rising acclaim. But he was not a superstar of television yet. And perhaps more importantly, his work just isn’t up to the standard of what his later work is like. I pointed Monday to the dividing line seems to be the overdose that Davies cites as what got him working on Queer as Folk. We will, of course, do a Pop Between Realities on that show when we get to its appropriate time period in late January and look at where Davies’s work really started to feel like Russell T Davies.
What is perhaps most striking about his projects immediately prior to Queer as Folk is that they are aggressively, unrelentingly dark. Which may sound familiar, because it’s exactly what we were saying about Damaged Goods on Monday. Indeed, let’s go one further. If Damaged Goods does not read like the Doctor Who novel you’d expect the writer of Rose to write, it reads exactly like the novel you’d expect the writer of Springhill, The Grand, and a small bit of Touching Evil to write.
Let’s start with Touching Evil. The show is actually created and mostly written by Paul Abbott, who is another one of the absolute superstars of British television (and who we’re not done with either). Davies only wrote one episode of it, the first half of the first season’s finale. Mark Aldridge and Andy Murray’s T Is For Television, which has been an indispensable reference for both this and the previous entry, suggests that the episode is evidence of how well Davies could write to the specifications of someone else’s show. Aldridge and Murray suggest that the script is unrecognizable as Davies’s work, but this isn’t quite fair. If Davies is writing to spec, after all, the spec is Paul Abbott’s, one of his closest friends and collaborators. It’s not accurate to say that Davies and Abbott are indistinguishable – they’re certainly not. Abbott is more inclined towards a structure of set pieces to generate scenes of intense drama. Davies, left to his own devices, prefers to give characters sparks of intense drama in amongst otherwise low key scenes. It’s not that he eschews the set piece – quite the contrary, he loves a good set piece. But he builds to his set pieces out of character interactions. Davies’ trademark move is to give a character a soaring and triumphant monologue stemming out of relatively ordinary action. Abbott likes to crank the action up to eleven and watch the characters respond.
You can see this difference clearly enough across the two episodes of Touching Evil. Davies’s episode ends with a character confessing to another that he’s committed a vigilante murder. Abbott’s episode continues along this line of plot.…