How Ncuti Gatwa’s Doctor Is Ushering In A Whole New Era Of Doctor Who

Ncuti Gatwa – Doctor Who

by Tom Nicholson |
Published on

Warning: Contains spoilers for Doctor Who – ‘The Giggle’

So, all’s well that ends well. After that slightly freaky bi-generation at the climax of 'The Giggle', Doctor Who’s third 60th anniversary special, the conjoined Doctors separate: David Tennant’s 14th Doctor in his thermals and waistcoat, and Ncuti Gatwa’s box-fresh 15th Doctor in shirt and underpants, not bothered in the slightest about his lack of trousers. Tennant’s iteration pops off for lunch and, presumably, onto standby for any future multi-Doctor stories while Gatwa takes over the TARDIS controls.

There’s been a lot of excitement about this new incarnation of the Doctor, in a way it’s hard to recall happening since Zoe Ball presented a slightly odd live reveal of Peter Capaldi on BBC One back in 2013. Everything in the newly-rebranded, Disney-collabing ‘Whoniverse’ – complete with Marvel-style pre-credits sting! – feels shiny and fresh and not quite as cheap as it occasionally has done in the past. It’s a happy time for Whovians. Russell T Davies is back! Tennant’s Doctor got a happy ending! Donna Noble got herself five weeks’ annual leave from her gig at UNIT! Everybody wins!

Doctor Who: The Giggle

And on top of that, Gatwa’s casting had already started re-energising the idea of who the Doctor can be even before he’d appeared on screen, mostly by pure, uncut charisma. He emanates vibes. He’s leaping up and out into a post-Sex Education career. He’s an actor on the up, joining a show which has managed to J-turn itself back into the heart of the mainstream over the course of just three hour-long specials. People want Doctor Who to be massive again, and Gatwa seems ready to break out. It’s perfect timing all round.

Gatwa’s Doctor feels confident in a way that freshly-regenerated Doctors rarely are.

And in the little time we spend with him in the finale of ‘The Giggle’ after splinching out of Tennant’s Doctor, there’s a lot to be excited about. He feels instantly Doctor-y. There’s the humanness of the Doctors played by Paul McGann and Tennant 1.0, plus the buoyant presence of Matt Smith, and a calm steeliness which nods to Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy’s runs. Gatwa’s only 31, and there’s some of the fresh-faced hopefulness which Peter Davison brought.

And yet Gatwa’s Doctor feels so very different too. He’s confident in a way that freshly-regenerated Doctors rarely are: they’re usually tottering around wondering who they are, unstable and unreliable, demanding fish fingers and custard. Let’s not forget that shortly after regenerating into Colin Baker, the Doctor decided his companion Peri was evil and tried to throttle her to death. No, the 15th Doctor knows who he is already, and doesn’t feel like he has anything to hide – I’ll refer you back to the underpants, completely unremarked upon by 15 himself. There’s an insouciance there as well, particularly when he’s kissing his teeth at the Toymaker. His physicality is interesting too: next to Tennant’s explosive, urgent expressiveness, Gatwa feels more still, more upright and authoritative. He’s still and controlled where Tennant, Smith and Whittaker were all-action dervishes.

Doctor Who: The Church On Ruby Road

Even in the brief time we’ve spent with him, most of which was spent throwing a juggling ball around, it seems like there’s a worldliness to Gatwa’s Doctor which feels both familiar and renewed. Capaldi’s Doctor, for instance, let you know that he knew how the world worked, and that it could boil over into cynicism. But with Gatwa’s Doctor that’s forged with an empathy and understanding for himself which represents a really interesting new direction. Gone, it seems, is the fury of the Time Lord, the righteous anger which saw him trap enemies in nightmarish fates worse than death as judgement for their crimes. Instead, here’s a guy whose first action is to forgive himself.

All of which is a fairly vast leap on from the Doctors we’ve seen since the 2005 reboot, all of whom have been tortured to varying degrees by surviving the Time War (Eccleston, Tennant, Matt Smith), the whole Flux thing (Jodie Whittaker, Tennant Part Two) and the high attrition rate of TARDIS companions (all of them). This Doctor, though, seems to have a little more perspective on who he’s becoming. Perhaps that’s because splitting in two gives the Doctor a rare chance to see himself as he is from the outside.

The most touching part of the whole 60th anniversary mini-season was a moment just after the gang have vanquished the Toymaker. “You can’t save everyone,” Gatwa’s Doctor tells Tennant’s. Then there’s the really interesting bit. “Come here. I’ve got you,” says Gatwa, holding Tennant. “It’s OK, I’m here.” He gives himself a little kiss on the cheek. No other Doctor would have done that, and you wouldn’t have believed them even if they had.

The little snippet of Gatwa’s Doctor in the trailer for the Christmas special points to even greater departures. That vest and kilt he wears while exulting on the dancefloor feels like a marker being laid down. Remember when Christopher Eccleston’s Doctor danced after facing down the kid in the gas mask, and he managed a slightly creaky jitterbug to Glenn Miller? Gatwa’s Doctor will not be that Doctor. In fact, between the kilt, the tan leather jacket and the moustache, there’s a level of drip on show not seen since Jon Pertwee rocked his ruffled shirt back in the early ‘70s. (And, for the avoidance of doubt, that was cool: Roger Moore’s James Bond was doing something similar at the time.) Not just that, but that dancefloor look is fairly clearly queer-coded. That could end up being the most adventurous direction Davies and Gatwa take Doctor Who in.

No longer aloof, no longer tortured, no longer freighted with his own past: it looks like we're about to see exactly how much bigger this Doctor might be on the inside.

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