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Russell T Davies discusses skewering the cliché of “nice” gay characters

The 'It's a Sin' writer wrote his own flaws into the hit drama's central character

By Joe Goggins

Olly Alexander and Lydia West in 'It's a Sin'
'It's a Sin' is the most-binged show in All4's history. (Photo: Channel 4)

Russell T Davies has revealed that he relishes challenging the stereotype of “nice” gay characters when writing TV shows.

The acclaimed television writer was speaking to The Guardian’s Simon Hattenstone to mark his five-part drama ‘It’s a Sin’ topping the publication’s end-of-year rundown of 2021’s best TV. The show followed a group of gay friends in 1980s London as the AIDS crisis took hold, with Olly Alexander in particular receiving plaudits for his affecting portrayal of central character Ritchie Tozer.

Davies said he wrote many of his own flaws into Alexander’s characters in order to challenge the “nice gay” cliché. “His selfishness, and the fact that he thinks he’s so clever he can talk his way out of any situation. That’s me. All his worst faults are mine,” he explained of a character who is initially an AIDS denier. “People often say my lead characters are unlikable, and I think, well, I’m doing that on purpose, because we often are. Likeable is very easy to write, isn’t it?”

“There’s often a feeling that the gay character should be the nice character,” Davies went on.

“And I’m like, nobody worries about Tony Soprano, do they? But gay people have to be nice! I love ignoring that.”

At the time of its launch back in January, ‘It’s a Sin’ became the most-binged show in the history of Channel 4’s All4 platform. The show was partly based on Davies’ own experiences of the AIDS crisis, and the friends he lost to the disease in London; he spent decades putting off writing about the topic, he told Hattenstone. 

“Imagine if I’d got this wrong, if it had been rubbish,” he said. “Imagine if I’d let down all those people for whom this is a life-defining thing. We all lived with their deaths for so long, and doing it justice was an enormous weight to bear. It took me a lot longer to write the first episode than anything else I’ve ever written. I normally write it in about a month. This took about six months.”

Davies is about to return to ‘Doctor Who’ as showrunner for the first time in 11 years, and has confirmed that he has already penned a number of episodes, with the first of them set to air in November 2023 to mark the series’ 60th anniversary. Pressed on the identity of Jodie Whittaker‘s successor as the Doctor, however, he was more taciturn. Asked whether Alexander was in line to step into the Tardis, he said: “Behave! Stop it!We have genuinely not cast anyone yet. We’re just starting auditions.”