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‘Doctor Who’ Boss Russell T Davies Talks Space Babies, The Beatles and Cameos Ahead of Disney+ Debut

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Doctor Who is set to make its first-ever new-season release simultaneously worldwide when the beloved, long-running BBC series launches on Disney+ Friday.

And the Whoniverse has been buzzing to see new star Ncuti Gatwa (Barbie, Sex Education) officially step into the Doctor role. The Fifteenth Doctor made his entrance into the Whovian franchise with last year’s Christmas Day special “The Church on Ruby Road,” which also introduced his new companion Ruby Sunday, played by Millie Gibson.

Doctor Who originally ran from 1963 to 1989 and was relaunched in 2005. In his review for The Hollywood Reporter, chief TV critic Daniel Fienberg praised the new season refresh, which is also being billed as season one in a bid to attract new viewers via the streamer. “Gatwa is a thoroughly likable addition to the franchise,” said Fienberg, calling the star a “lively burst of energy, bringing back some of the wide-eyed, loopy enthusiasm that I enjoyed in [Matt] Smith’s take on the role.”

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Below, THR caught up with returning showrunner Russell T Davies to discuss all things Who and, in particular, the opening two installments of the eight-episode season. There are no spoilers here, but do come back on Saturday for a deep dive into the specifics of “Space Babies” and “The Devil’s Chord.”


Where will you be when the episodes release? Will you be watching at midnight (when it debuts in the U.K.)?

No. I fly into Britain possibly around about midnight. I arrive on Saturday, and I’ve got a stay in London because it’s the BAFTAs the next day! Helena Bonham-Carter is nominated for Nolly [in Russell’s 2023 PBS Masterpiece miniseries]. So, am I going to be sitting in a lonely hotel watching it on Saturday night? (Laughs.) And there is also Eurovision [the annual Song Contest, a competition featuring European artists]. I watch Eurovision every year because my husband loved Eurovision; he’s passed away, but I always watch in his honor.

So, I’m a little bit nonplussed to find myself sitting in a Holiday Inn, watching this great moment in history, and that probably sums up my life in many ways (laughs).

So, you won’t be monitoring the response on social media?

Are you mad? (Laughs uproariously.) As if I’d come out of that alive! (Still laughing.) No, stop, stop!       

The opening two episodes of the new season are fairly light in tone. Can you talk about the use of humor in Doctor Who?

I think the chance to do jokes — jokes like that on a bigger scale — is enormous fun. And let’s face it, the freedom that I’m given and the trust I’m given by the BBC and by Disney+ is glorious. I think it’s the things we might think are “junior” [humor] are actually for the seniors. I’m 61 years old. If it makes me laugh out loud, that’ll do!

Can you share some examples and expand on that?

It’s brand new territory for a new audience that’s setting the goalposts of the show so widely, so bravely, so boldly. It’s wonderful. It’s really exciting. I work very hard at this stuff, and I know when I put these things down on paper that I have to make a production team in Cardiff work night and day to get it right. So there’s no way you do that simply for a quick gag. It’s genuinely, passionately important that the range of the show and the range of its sense of humor is widened and welcomes everyone in. One or two people might tut, but I don’t think a tut ever stopped you from watching the next episode!

At the same time, Doctor Who has basic staples that bear repeating. I’m the oldest fan you could possibly find, and I love it every single time a new companion walks into the TARDIS. I get a real joy from those moments, and I wait for it to happen. I waited with Clara [the Eleventh Doctor companion], I waited with Bill [the Twelfth Doctor companion], I waited with Graham [the Thirteenth Doctor companion], I waited with all those characters to see that moment. It’s like Christmas rolling around every year, or your birthday. It’s a lovely, communal thing.

I think the most amazing thing about Doctor Who is that we’ve seen that scene happen 20 times. They always say something slightly different. That scene has never actually repeated itself. It’s always brand new. So I like that there’s always something new to say.

Yes, like the Doctor handing over the TARDIS key to the new companion.

Ncuti Gatwa and Millie Gibson play that beautifully, don’t they? That’s quite an ordinary script. Those two are really quite sensational, they’re very brilliant. They sizzle! I’m glad because they deserve it.

This is hard work. And you can see that in the show. It’s like, I mean, we never cut away from them, do we? The camera is on them constantly. There are many scenes of them just chatting. I think I’ve always been a little bit more plot-based. It takes 12 minutes for a space baby to appear. That’s 12 minutes of getting to know each other and exploring the parameters of each other, and of the show. And I felt very relaxed about that. Believe me, if it hadn’t worked, we would have cut that down and gotten to the monster much quicker. But, there we are.

We’re kind of luxuriated because, as a production, we have the confidence to know that works. These two are really working together. The camera just adores them, so we keep it on them all the time. I love it. I’m very proud to show off those two.

In “The Devil’s Chord” (the second episode of the new season featuring The Beatles), was there a temptation to do lots of gags with song titles?

There was an entire sequence in which they spoke to the Beatles, using puns of other song titles. And in the end, the script was too long. That’s almost like a 50-minute episode, so sadly they got cut.

That’s a shame.

I know, I loved that.

Though Ruby does actually say to John, “You Can’t Do That” (the title of a Lennon-penned ditty from the A Hard Day’s Night album).

Oh… that’s me not even knowing that’s a Beatles song title! You got me. You be might surprised to know I’m not actually a Beatles person! (Laughs.)

Back in the Noughties, Doctor Who season finales were known for the wonderful and unexpected celeb cameos, and you pack a few in alongside The Beatles — will there be even more in the finale?

More happens in the finale. There’s a few surprises to come. There are a couple of cast members we haven’t announced.

There’s one great, great actor who appeared in the very last episode that we haven’t credited anywhere yet. That’s not a celebrity cameo, but just a phenomenal actor stepping forward and delivering the most brilliant scene you’ve ever seen.

So there’s a few surprises on the way. But they wouldn’t be surprises if I talked about them too much.

Doctor Who streams Friday, May 10, at 7 p.m. on Disney+

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