‘Doctor Who’ TV Review: New Season Sees New Time Lord, New Disney Partnership, The Beatles & A Lot Of Joy In The Tardis

Disney and the BBC really don’t want any spoilers revealed for today’s debut of the latest season of Doctor Who. Fair enough, but I’m here to tell you that you will hear some of the worst music ever in these opening episodes of Ncuti Gatwa’s hopefully long run as the famed Time Lord.

Crossing timelines and absent granddaughters aside, that’s the point.

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Since Rwandan-born Gatwa’s debut in December last year, his Doctor Who has already flipped a lot of scripts on what the Tardis travelling Doctor is and should be. Yes, the Fifteenth Doctor is the first Black and the first openly Queer incarnation of the Gallifreyan since the iconic British series debuted in 1963, as well as the first person not born in the UK to play the Time Lord Both those representations are long overdue and wonderful, but the real thing about this Doctor Who is how much joy it exudes.

Jinkx Monsoon as Maestro
Jinkx Monsoon as Maestro

That  effervescent point is made clear in the (kinda) Beatles co-starring “Devil’s Chord,” one of two episodes that will drop on Disney+ on May 10 at 4 p.m. PT, as the Doctor and companion Ruby Sunday (Millie Gibson) take on the powerful Maestro (played by RuPaul Drag Race Season 5 winner Jinkx Monsoon) to return fun and some boogie woogie to a dank world.

Following some Years & Years, A Very British Scandal and It’s A Sin, Russell T. Davis’ has returned as showrunner to the legendary franchise that he resurrected in 2005. With the added cash and cache of a Mouse House partnership and platform, the result matches Davies’ talent to ring a bit of alt-history nuclear winter, a dash of Beckett, a pivotal Fab Four, a lot of babies, some song and dance and an ambitious narrative canvas.

Having been introduced to the show with Tom Baker’s fourth Doctor and a lot of trips to the famed BBC quarry as an alien landscape stand-in, I can say the production value of this Disney enhanced 14th series is a main character unto itself, for the handful of episodes I’ve seen so far. On a historical note, the greater visual depth and scope has the added benefit of floodlighting just how much Doctor Who did with so little over the decades and how deftly Davies, Gatwa, Gibson and team are stepping it up by not losing any of the charm and smarts of the show.

(L-R) Ruby Sunday (Millie Gibson) & The Doctor (Ncuti Gatwa)
(L-R) Ruby Sunday (Millie Gibson) & The Doctor (Ncuti Gatwa)

With all that, if you are a dedicated Doctor Who fan, I’m warning you now the Davies’ penned ‘Space Babies’ first episode of this new run really plays to the fact that the show is theoretically being introduced to a vast new audience via  Disney+. Which means what we have at the start is essentially an full-length origin story that weaves in the generations, regenerations and lore of the good Doctor for the uninitiated. Which is just fine for getting this iteration from A to B and off the launch pad early on.

Also, by the time we get to the second of the two episodes showing up on Disney+ Friday, and John, Paul, George and Ringo show up as does primary villain Maestro, you’re armed with a way to navigate yourself in a suddenly very, very different type of timeline.

In another nod to the struggling BBC’s newish deep pocket partnership with Disney on Doctor Who, you may notice Sex Education alum Gatwa’s Doctor is a little bit more family friendly, or certainly family forward than previous interpretations over the past 20 years.  Distinctly, Christopher Eccleston, Peter Capaldi and the first David Tennant personification had some very, very dark stories were borderline horror in their manifestations.

Now this is still Doctor Who, so there’s still evil and foreboding in the timeline of the Fifteenth Time Lord, for sure. At the same time, this Doctor, who will see Andor‘s Varada Sethu onboard the Tardis as a second companion in the next season, exists in a universe that is simply much brighter and cheeky – which is a welcome throwback of sorts to the wide Me Decade lapels of Jon Pertwee in the Third Doctor’s 1970 – 1974 stint.

Over both the 1963 – 1989 series and the 2005 revived series, a trio of Doctors have stood out for me. The Fourth Doctor, Tom Baker, who was my little kid OG and because you never forget your first. The Twelfth Doctor, Capaldi, who was just so diabolically wickedly acerbic. The Thirteenth Doctor, Jodie Whittaker, who as well as breaking the Whovian glass ceiling was just simply amazing in her measured intensity.

It’s early days, which might be a misnomer when discussing a Time Lord, but sure appears that trio of faves will become a quartet.

Rollicking, jumping into the fray with swagger and a sense of personal and global legacy, Gatwa’s Doctor is very much of his time, but intriguingly not of this place. In the pantheon of small screen 1960s originating show, Star Trek has always been about equality and justice. Doctor Who, on the other hand, has veered more towards the messiness of life and the power of curiosity and resilience.

The latter values may be out of fashion at this stage of dumpster fire 21st century, but they may have found new life in a more emotionally engaged Time Lord who can not only express himself throughout the galaxy and all of history itself, but also with the universally beloved traits of a ready wink, a nod and a smile.

Title: Doctor Who
Network: Disney+ (USA)/BBC (UK)
Premiere date: May 10, 2024 (two episode premeire, with new episodes every week until June 21, 2024 on Disney+)/May 11, 2024 (UK)
Showrunner/writer/executive producer: Russell T Davies  
Directors: Mark Tonderai, Julie Anne Robinson, Ben Chessell, Dylan Holmes Williams 
EPs: Russell T. Davies, Phil Collinson, Joel Collins, Julie Gardner and Jane Trante
Cast:  Ncuti Gatwa, Millie Gibson, Jinkx Monsoon, Jonathan Groff, Indira Varma, Paul Forman, Anita Dobson, and Michelle Denise Greenidge
Rating: TV-PG

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