Doctor Who: even the haters will find it impossible to resist Ncuti Gatwa

by 24britishtvMay 11, 2024, 7 a.m. 21
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Doctor Who is back and there’s a new Doctor and a new assistant and Russell T Davies is back doing it and there’s a new Tardis and there’s a new Sonic Screwdriver, too. This information is either the most important thing you’ve received in five years or it means absolutely nothing to you. You are either a Doctor Who person or you are not, and that is OK. Here’s a word I gleaned from the first episode and checked through the many, many embargoes to ensure I am allowed to say it in print: “Gallifrey”. Did that mean anything to you? If “yes”, you’re going to have a very exciting weekend.

I want to be cynical about Doctor Who (11 May, 6.20pm, BBC One), I want to ruin my next week by receiving really long emails from the people who watch it (“Dear Sir, Ncuti Gatwa is in fact the Fifteenth Doctor, not – as stated in your laughable screed dated 11 May! – the Fourteenth. David Tennant’s three-episode reappearance was as a separate incarnation of the Doctor to the Tenth he played for 47 episodes between 2005 and 2010.”). I want to say mean things like: “Doctor Who is a series I would show to my dog if I was trying to make him smarter.” But, sadly, I sat down with a big bowl of cereal and my nice headphones on, watched the first two episodes of the new series and was dreadfully, inevitably, embarrassingly charmed by it.

We should start with Ncuti Gatwa, who is possibly the most charismatic person on the planet. I have been trying to think of a more perfect casting than the Sex Education alum and come up with absolutely nothing. He’s magnetic as the Doctor, constantly turning round really quickly mid-conversation, flashing a great knowing smile, holding people by the shoulders and explaining whole strands of sci-fi nonsense quickly and elegantly, grabbing a hand and running from room to room. His new companion, Ruby Sunday (Millie Gibson), is the perfect foil – watching them together is like playtime; they’re always spinning around and tapping frantically at spaceship controls and wiping their brows dramatically and not quite knowing what an alien is.

The first story, Space Babies, is all right: it’s one of those episodes they have to have now and again, where someone goes: “So hold on, what? You’re just called the Doctor?” And the Doctor smiles, then goes sad, then goes: “I am the last of the Time Lords, all of my people were killed,” and the other person skips over the people being killed part and says: “Cool, can we go and see some dinosaurs?” There’s, like, 20 minutes of that, and then some silly adventure thing (the dog liked it), and, sure, fine.

The second episode, The Devil’s Chord, I infinitely preferred: a 60s-set whizzabout where the Doctor and Ruby go and meet the Beatles (four actors cast by someone who has never seen even one photograph of the Beatles before) and then something goes wrong and blah blah blah they’ve got 45 minutes of epic music playing over scenes of them realising things to solve it. The episode is layered with those threads of season-long intrigue that make Doctor Who something more than a caper-of-the-week format (and, in Jinkx Monsoon, elevated by an amazing scene-chomping villain), so if you’re the type of Doctor Who fan who likes noticing little details then going on forums to say you’ve noticed them – anyone? – then you’ll love this one.

But mostly, come on, everyone’s just having so much fun. The injection of Disney cash has definitely helped – the new series looks utterly, hugely epic, but without sliding into the “CGI on top of another layer of CGI” thing that could ruin a still pleasingly British-feeling series like this – and the casting of the two new leads is inspired. If it first came out now, a show like Doctor Who – an infinite number of universes and possible monsters and possible problems and possible ancient villains – would be easy to mess up, push it so it’s too sci-fi, forget to ever come back down to Earth, have Gatwa trapped in a studio for a few months acting opposite a tennis ball. But you’ve got 60 years of lore and an army of fans guarding it and ready to email you if you mess with it too much, and I honestly think that probably helps keep Doctor Who honest. I’ll see you for the Christmas special this year. I think I’ve been converted.

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