'Doctor Who' star Ncuti Gatwa ushers in a 'wilder, madder and funner' era of the series, showrunner says

Season 14 of the beloved series is "a bit more chaotic" than its predecessors, Russell T. Davies said.

Millie Gibson and Ncuti Gatwa as Ruby Sunday and Doctor Who. (Lara Cornell/Disney+/BBC America/Courtesy of Everett Collection)
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When Ncuti Gatwa was named the new Time Lord on Doctor Who in May 2022, it marked a historic moment for the popular British sci-fi series launched more than six decades ago.

The Sex Education star, who was born in Rwanda and raised in Scotland, is the first openly queer Black actor to take on the beloved titular character. He made his debut as the 15th Doctor during the franchise’s 60th anniversary specials in December when predecessor David Tennant officially handed Gatwa the reins.

“It’s lovely,” Russell T. Davies, who returned as showrunner of Doctor Who after overseeing the series from 2005 to 2010, told Yahoo Entertainment of Gatwa’s groundbreaking introduction. “Except if you’re 6 years old, I think you just don’t care. You just want the Doctor to step out of the TARDIS and fight the next monster. Equally, if you’re a 6-year-old Black kid in a London state school, you’d think that ‘maybe that could be me.’

“We’re very much aware of having been a largely white world that we’re trying to make reparations for and trying our best to increase the visibility and diversity across the board,” Davies continued. “My entire career, I’ve tried to be more inclusive and more diverse on all sorts of platforms, in all sorts of ways. It’s a fight that I believe in.”

Doctor Who fans, who are collectively referred to as Whovians, caught a first glimpse of Gatwa as the Doctor in the well-received 2023 Christmas special “The Church on Ruby Road,” which also introduced the newest companion, Ruby Sunday (Millie Gibson). The installment was the stepping stone for the upcoming 14th season, which Davies described as “wilder, madder and funner — a bit more chaotic” than previous iterations.

Ncuti Gatwa, as Doctor Who, looks off into the distance.
Ncuti Gatwa as Doctor Who. (Disney+/BBC America/Courtesy of Everett Collection)

That palpable onscreen energy is largely due to Gatwa and Gibson’s chemistry as Doctor and companion, two characters who have a lot more in common than initially thought.

“We’ve really got an irresistible combination,” Davies said of his leads, whose connection was “immediate” during the audition process. “They’re funny. They’ve got the banter. They’ve got the jokes. They’ve got the fun. They’ve got the joy of it. It’s really rare to see. This is what television should be like. It’s a very surprising comic energy from the two of them.”

Gatwa credited casting director Andy Pryor for bringing together “two people who you knew the chemistry would sizzle.”

“You can’t really know where you’re going to take the character until you know who you’re going to be sharing [the experience] with,” he told Yahoo Entertainment.

The moment Gibson walked in the room, everything began to crystallize for Gatwa. “I was just like, ‘I know exactly where I want to take this.’ [She] just put so much in it that it was so easy to bounce off of.”

“I winged [the chemistry read],” Gibson told Yahoo Entertainment. “I had a thought in my head and then as soon as I met [Gatwa], I was like, ‘We’re doing it this way now.’ As the episodes progress, our relationship does too, like just all of the adventures we went on.”

Both the Doctor and Ruby are foundlings, the former revealed to have been abandoned on his home planet in a controversial 2020 plot twist, while the latter was left as a baby on a snowy Christmas Eve and later adopted. Their parallel journeys present a unique connective thread as they try to find answers to their true origins, all while embarking on Doctor Who’s weekly time-travel adventures.

“The Doctor certainly sees a lot of himself in Ruby or he sees a lot of similarities,” Gatwa said, singling out “her bravery, her compassion and her selflessness” as traits that make her “the perfect companion.”

“[They’re] two twin flames who have found one another in their hunt to find themselves,” Gibson said. “They’re very connected in the way that they both don’t know where they come from. They’re two lost souls and I think that’s why they feel love for each other straight away because they feel very protective, particularly the Doctor over Ruby.”

The Ruby Sunday arc is “an unusually strong story for a companion,” Davies said, hinting that the mystery may continue beyond the new season.

“Companions tend to be living ordinary lives who step onto the TARDIS and that becomes their life. Ruby’s got more to it. There are secrets to be discovered about her birth. You are left wondering, ‘What is the secret of that person? Who is her mother? Who is her father?’ At the same time, the Doctor discovered he was a foundling. It gives them a tremendous simpatico [relationship] binding them together, and I’ve loved leaning into that.”

Earlier Doctors have often worn the same outfit or similar versions of it, creating a signature look for any given Doctor Who era. That changes with Gatwa’s 15th Doctor, an intentional decision made by Davies, who acknowledged that the actor’s penchant for fashionable outfits and red carpet statements helped propel the Time Lord’s various episode-specific looks.

“Before casting Ncuti, I was considering breaking out of that brick jacket the Doctor always wears," Davies said. "The world of cosplay is so detailed where you know someone will research outfits the Doctor wears for one scene. There’s an episode where the Doctor’s in jeans, a duffle coat and a beanie hat, and every child going to school, if it’s a snowy day, that child can put on a big pair of boots and pretend that they’re adopted [like the Doctor]. It releases it beyond the cosplay world into the imagination [of everyone].”

There’s a line in an early Season 14 episode where the Doctor tells Ruby, “There is no one like me in the world. It’s not a problem, it’s a superpower.”

That piece of dialogue, Gatwa said, sums up who the Doctor is and what he has represented for years.

“I think that line encapsulates the Doctor, but certainly the show as well. There isn’t a show like Doctor Who out there and there’s not a show out there that has themes that Doctor Who has,” he explained.

Themes like friendship, motherhood, compassion for one another, a curiosity about the world and others, and misunderstood monsters are all explored in the new season.

And “fighting for the underdog,” Gatwa said. “Everything that the show has ever stood for is continuing now — just even harder.”

The first two episodes of Doctor Who start streaming on Disney+ on May 10 at 7 p.m. ET.