Doctor Who: Ncuti Gatwa, Millie Gibson and Russell T Davies on the new series

As Doctor Who returns to BBC One, Rachael Davis caught up with stars Ncuti Gatwa and Millie Gibson and returning showrunner Russell T Davies.

Are you ready for an adventure? How about one that traverses all of time and space, hand-in-hand with an impeccably-dressed Time Lord and his fiery, fun and hilarious human companion? Doctor Who is back, and it promises to bring sci-fi thrills like you’ve never experienced.

A new era of the BBC fan favourite was ushered in at the end of 2023, with Years and Years and It’s a Sin writer Russell T Davies, who was the original showrunner and head writer of the 2005 revival of the series, back at the helm.

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Whovians were treated to special episodes featuring previous stars David Tennant and Catherine Tate before meeting the Fifteenth Doctor – following Jodie Whittaker, from Skelmanthorpe in West Yorkshire – now played by Sex Education’s Ncuti Gatwa, and his companion Ruby Sunday, played by Coronation Street’s Millie Gibson.

The Doctor (Ncuti Gatwa). Credit: BBC Studios/Bad Wolf/James Pardon.The Doctor (Ncuti Gatwa). Credit: BBC Studios/Bad Wolf/James Pardon.
The Doctor (Ncuti Gatwa). Credit: BBC Studios/Bad Wolf/James Pardon.

Now, it’s time for the main event: a new series with eight episodes of Time Lord fun, the first since the BBC struck a deal with Disney+.

Fans got a glimpse of what Gatwa’s Doctor will be like over the festive period, but now they have the opportunity to really get to know the Fifteenth Doctor. Gatwa says that, in many ways, his portrayal honours the legacy of all those that have come before, sitting “on the shoulders of many an amazing actor that’s brought such cheekiness, eccentricity, compassion, curiosity as well”, while still having a fresh edge.

“Those are like the traits that I say my Doctor has, but then each of the Doctors has that,” says the 31-year-old Rwandan-Scottish actor.

“You bring pizzazz!” his co-star Millie Gibson, 19, grins.

The Doctor (Ncuti Gatwa) and Ruby Sunday (Millie Gibson). Picture: James Pardon/Bad Wolf/BBC Studios.The Doctor (Ncuti Gatwa) and Ruby Sunday (Millie Gibson). Picture: James Pardon/Bad Wolf/BBC Studios.
The Doctor (Ncuti Gatwa) and Ruby Sunday (Millie Gibson). Picture: James Pardon/Bad Wolf/BBC Studios.

“He’s a bit flirty,” adds Gatwa.

“He’s a flirty guy. Cheeky.”

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Gatwa has built a reputation for his fashion sense, appearing on many a red carpet dressed to the nines – a trait he’s also bringing to his incarnation of the Doctor. Over the decades, each Doctor has had their own distinct look, but Fifteen has a fantastic new outfit for each episode.

Russell T Davies, showrunner. Credit: Ray Burmiston/BBC Studios.Russell T Davies, showrunner. Credit: Ray Burmiston/BBC Studios.
Russell T Davies, showrunner. Credit: Ray Burmiston/BBC Studios.

“Look out for a banging duffel coat and a Bobby hat in Episode Four,” Gatwa teases of his favourite looks in the series.

“But yeah, fashion – the Doctor, he loves his fashion. We tried to explore a lot of subcultures of British fashion through this iconic institutional character; we thought: ‘What a good opportunity to do so’. He’s got a lot of clothes.”

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On Christmas Day 2023, in an episode titled The Church on Ruby Road, fans were introduced to the Doctor’s new companion Ruby Sunday – an orphan who was abandoned at a church on Ruby Road, hence her name. With Ruby now officially on board the Tardis, Gibson says she’s excited for fans to get to know her better.

The actress says she loves Ruby’s “fieriness, and just her will of throwing her personality headfirst into the Doctor’s world… and her relationship with the Doctor as well”.

“I think it’s not really been explored as platonic before,” she notes.

“Our kind of relationship is very special.”

While Doctor Who has always been a family sci-fi programme with varying degrees of darkness and light, Davies says that this new era leans more into levity and fun.

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“You kind of look at the world and think: What do we need now? What do I want to watch of a night, of a morning, what do I want to sit down with?” says the showrunner.

“It’s a tough world, and I wanted something lighter and funner. Doctor Who has always had a great sense of joy and humour about it, but I kind of pushed it a little bit this time, just a bit. It’s still terrifying, and running for your life and saving your life, and the stakes are high all the time.

“But I just thought, especially for children – I think you keep hearing stories about children’s mental health, and I come from a family of teachers, I kind of follow that stuff a lot – and I thought: I want somewhere where they can go and be safe and happy and fun, simply to have fun.

“So there are moments of peril, and danger, and horror, even, but it’s properly a show that puts a smile on the face. And it always was.

“I think that’s Doctor Who at its best, really.”

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Davies adds that this new incarnation of Doctor Who will be visually bigger and better than ever, thanks to a budget increase following the Disney+ deal.

But he says: “Honestly, if they took the money away tomorrow, we’d still make a lovely, lovely show, just with these brilliant actors – they’d be brilliant sitting in a dark room!”

The show’s stars say they revelled in being able to go to so many different pockets of history and corners of outer space across the series’ eight episodes, but there was one historical era that they really loved spending time in.

“Regency,” they exclaim in unison.

“The amount of layers in that episode… I love it so much – you go through so many emotions in that episode,” Gibson adds.

“The end is heartbreaking,” teases Gatwa.

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“What we’ve got coming up is the full range of adventures,” says Davies.

“We’ve got comedy stories, we’ve got music, we’ve got horror, we’ve got Welsh folk horror – that’s a very unusual territory for the show to go into. We’ve got chases, we’ve got the end of the world, and sometimes we’ve got something as simple as the end of a friendship…

“So it’s got the full emotional range. It’s got all the epic stuff, if you love that, but it’s got heart and humanity right at the centre of it.”

Doctor Who returns to BBC One on Saturday, May 11 at 6.20pm.

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