review

Doctor Who review: Ncuti Gatwa is pure charisma in Russell T. Davies’ soft reset

Headshot of Wenlei Ma
Wenlei Ma
The Nightly
3 Min Read
Doctor Who returns for a new season with Ncuti Gatwa in the iconic role.
Doctor Who returns for a new season with Ncuti Gatwa in the iconic role. Credit: Disney

The first thing to know is that this is not Doctor Who season 14, which would’ve been the assumption since it follows 13 previous seasons of the modern era.

Instead, just as showrunner Russell T. Davies did in 2005 when he revived the iconic British sci-fi series, the Doctor Who series starting this weekend is labelled as season one. It’s a significant, symbolic move because it signals that it’s a new start. But it’s not a blank slate.

For a series now in its 61st year, there is no leaving behind its history, nor should Doctor Who see its legacy as a burden. It is undoubtedly an asset.

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But there is an awareness that in 2024, not only is there a new Doctor in Sex Education star Ncuti Gatwa, it also has a new international distributor in Disney+, which now carries the rights everywhere outside of the UK and Ireland, where it remains on the BBC.

That means in Australia, it’s the first time Doctor Who will not be on the ABC in 50 years – and the first time it’s behind a paywall. When Foxtel bought the first-run rights to BBC programs in 2013, a carve-out was made to keep Doctor Who on the ABC. No luck this time, Disney is a different beast.

Doctor Who returns for a new season with Ncuti Gatwa in the iconic role.
Ncuti Gatwa and Millie Gibson as the Doctor and Ruby Sunday. Credit: Disney

So, changes are afoot. For one thing, the injection of Disney money has seen a noticeable step-up in the production values. This Doctor Who is slick and expensive with the visual effects to match its increased budget.

And this marks the official, first full season of Gatwa’s run as the Doctor, the first black man and the first openly LGBTQI actor to take on the role. It’s a take-a-breath moment, and Gatwa’s full radiance and considerable charisma is on display in every scene.

The Doctor has had 13 main iterations previously, plus a handful of guest Doctors, and each had their own spin on the character. But if there’s a trait that binds them – at least the modern incarnations – it’s that they are energetic, sometimes mischievous, fuelled by curiosity and a thirst for adventure.

Gatwa imbues his Doctor, the 15th after David Tennant returned for a second go in the anniversary specials last year and took the moniker of the 14th, with his natural charm and confidence. He’s bold but unafraid to be vulnerable about his past and his loss, as he guides newbie companion Ruby Sunday (Millie Gibson) through the paces.

And that season one designation is important here because the first episode, Space Babies, is a reset of sorts, even though Gatwa and Gibson both headlined the Christmas special in December.

Doctor Who returns for a new season with Ncuti Gatwa in the iconic role.
Doctor Who’s second episode is set in the 1960s. Credit: Disney

For newcomers to the decades-old franchise – and Disney will be hoping there will be many – it’s easy to jump on board. The Doctor is introducing his world to the audience as much as he is to Ruby, including the rules of time-travel, which fluctuates from showrunner to showrunner.

Those first two episodes (the first with the aforementioned space babies who speak and maybe it’s not meant to be creepy but it is, the second set in the 1960s about a thief of music) are dynamic and fun, and already there’s emotional heft.

There’s a continuity to the family-friendly, earnest yet cheeky Doctor Who vibes but with a fresh face in the forever watchable and magnetic Gatwa, the franchise is in good hands.

Doctor Who is on Disney+ from Saturday, May 11.

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