With his deeply moving AIDS crisis drama It’s a Sin, Russell T Davies has created the first British TV event of 2021. If you haven’t binged the whole series yet, steel yourself for tears. Swansea-born Davies will always be revered by sci-fi fans for steering the 2005 revival of Doctor Who and creating its super-grown-up spin-off series Torchwood, but they’re hardly his only career highlights. Here are five other must-watch series from the brilliant mind of ‘RTD’.
‘Queer as Folk’ (1999)
Groundbreaking and game-changing are over-used terms, but they really do apply to Russell T Davies’ landmark drama series set in Manchester’s gay village. Queer as Folk sets out its stall in episode one by including a daring sex scene that’s still spoken about reverently by gay men who watched it as teenagers. But at the same time, sex-positivity is only part of its appeal. Queer as Folk is rightly regarded as a modern classic because it portrays LGBTQ life with excitement, vitality and plenty of pride.
Watch if your favourite It’s a Sin character is… Ritchie. Queer as Folk has his lust for life and unashamed sexual appetite.
Before David Tennant joined Davies’ newly rebooted Doctor Who, he starred in the writer’s miniseries about infamous Italian adventurer Casanova. The three-parter is a romp with a revisionist agenda: Davies writes the title character not as a cruel misogynist, but as a legendary lothario who respects women as much as he fancies them. As an older Casanova looking back on his life, Peter O’Toole adds lashings of gravitas and melancholy.
Watch if your favourite It’s a Sin character is… Ash. The Pink Palace’s resident teacher would appreciate the way Davies tries to rehabilitate Casanova’s bad rep.
‘Cucumber, Banana, Tofu’ (2015)
Perhaps Davies’s most ambitious creation, this trinity of interconnected series is named after the male erection in varying stages of hardness. Cucumber centres on a gay man having the mother of a midlife crisis; Banana delves into the lives of a diverse group of younger LGBTQ characters; and Tofu is an accompanying documentary series exploring attitudes towards sex. It’s destined to be remembered less fondly than Queer as Folk and It’s a Sin – it’s more sprawling and less flawless – but the best moments are an emotional tour-de-force.
Watch if your favourite It’s a Sin character is… Roscoe. It’s easy to imagine him slotting into Banana’s bold and unselfconscious LGBTQ world.
‘A Very English Scandal’ (2018)
The ’70s sex scandal that this BBC miniseries is based on now seems quaint, but Davies brings it to life with empathy and a healthy sense of the absurd. Hugh Grant stars as Jeremy Thorpe, a talented politician whose career was ruined when the papers got wind of his affair with 21-year-old stableboy Norman Scott (Ben Whishaw). Don’t be fooled into thinking this is Davies at his cosiest: a scene showing a horny Thorpe brandishing a tub of vaseline is something only Davies could sneak into a Sunday night drama.
Watch if your favourite It’s a Sin character is… Colin. Davies writes Whishaw’s character with a similar poignant tenderness.
‘Years and Years’ (2019)
Beginning in 2019, this visionary six-part series follows a Manchester family over 15 years as the UK is rocked by massive political, social and technological changes. Davies has his say on border control and far-right populism – Emma Thompson plays a grim hybrid of Nigel Farage and Katie Hopkins – but keeps the focus on his beautifully human characters. It’s dazzling, thought-provoking and ultimately unsettling stuff.
Watch if your favourite It’s A Sin character is… Jill. Years and Years is charged with her big-hearted compassion, and the brilliant actress who plays her, Lydia West, appears in a key role.