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‘Doctor Who’ Premiere Explained: What to Know (and What You Missed)

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[This story contains spoilers from the first two episodes of Disney+’s Doctor Who, “Space Babies” and “The Devil’s Chord.”]

The first two episodes of the BBC’s hit science-fiction series Doctor Who just dropped on Disney+, and already Whovians around the world are in a twist.

Starring Ncuti Gatwa (Barbie, Sex Education) as the Fifteenth Doctor and Millie Gibson as his traveling companion Ruby, the pair of episodes were written by returning showrunner Russell T Davies and span millions of years. Not only that, there’s The Beatles, too!

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Here’s everything you need to know about the new season’s debut, what you may have missed and answers to the some of the many questions you might have.

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What’s a “bogey” and just how did that space station move at the end of “Space Babies”?

U.S. viewers may have been slightly confused by the use of “bogey” in the season opener (a term more commonly used for aircraft). As was revealed in the denouement, the first episode villain, the monster-like creature known as “The Bogeyman,” is made of nasal mucus, nose gold or even schnoz wax. That’s right, the monster is constructed of boogers; causing many LOLs from the Time Lord (Gatwa).

And the space station — just how does that get power to move? To put it bluntly, and please excuse the language, it moves due to a gigantic fart. It was fueled by a huge build up of methane from all those space babies’ diapers. (Sustainability, we like it.)

What’s the Doctor’s name?

The Doctor, quite rightly, is asked what his name is by his new friend and, in classic Who style, he doesn’t give it up easily. He states his name is “tricky” and goes on to say he was adopted by “kinda posh” people who named themselves titles like The Bishop, The Rani and The Conquistador (we also hear the names The Pedant and The Sagi-shi later on). 

The Rani will be familiar to Whovians, as she was a renegade Time Lord who first appeared in Doctor Who in the 1980s and was played by the late actress Kate O’Mara (known in the U.S. for her role as Alexis Colby in ’80s soap Dynasty). Could this be signaling a return for the character?

Nods to the past

Fans will note that Time Lords (his people) get a mention, as does his adopted home planet, Gallifrey — both have been a staple of the show since the 1970s. And, for those who may have forgotten, the Doctor kindly reminds viewers that his people died in a genocide, as seen in the climactic events of the 2021 season, Flux. He tells Ruby that he’s the “last of the Time Lords” — which is actually something the Doctor has said before, and was incorrect. Is the Doctor wrong again

In the second episode, more of the Doctor’s history is explored when he lands in 1963 London and tells Ruby that, at this point, he’s living in Totter’s Lane in Shoreditch with his granddaughter. He’s referring to the First Doctor, as played by William Hartnell, who was in the show’s debut episode, “An Unearthly Child,” also broadcast in 1963.

Other staples of the series also return: the Doctor has two hearts; the Time Lord compares the outward appearance of the TARDIS (the Doctor’s time machine) as “like a chameleon,” a reference to the “chameleon circuit,” which allows the ship to outwardly transform — though rarely does, of course; and there’s the gifting of a TARDIS key, a rite of passage all companions must go through.

Seen that before?

In episode two “The Devil’s Chord”, Ruby says that, because she’s from 2024, she knows the world didn’t end in 1963. So the Doctor takes her forward in time to show what London in her timeline will look like, now that the Maestro (the chief antagonist in episode two, played by Jinkx Monsoon) has interfered — and it’s quite an apocalyptic sight. This evokes an iconic scene from the 1975 serial, “Pyramids of Mars,” where the Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker) took his companion Sarah Jane Smith back to her own time in 1980 from 1911 to demonstrate what would happen to her world if they didn’t intervene with machinations of a very nasty alien, Sutekh.

A more recent story that gets recalled is 2005’s “The End of the World”. Also written by showrunner Davies, it saw the Ninth Doctor (Christopher Eccleston) use his Sonic Screwdriver to enable companion Rose (Billie Piper) to call her mom on her phone, despite being thousands and thousands of years in her own future. The Fifteenth Doctor now kindly performs the same trick for Ruby, allowing her to call her mother back in 2024 while being tens of thousands of years ahead (we don’t know what cell network they’re on). We also learn, as we did in “The End of the World,” that the TARDIS has a “perception filter,” which translates all languages for those who travel in her (which is very handy for the audience, too).

Babies, again!

After all the baby-eating antics of the previous installment with the 2023 Christmas Day special “The Church on Ruby Road,” the new season is now filled with even more babies. And the Doctor, unsurprisingly, observes the cosmic coincidence.

It’s also worth noting that, just like these babies, both the Doctor and Ruby were abandoned. Is this something else that might pay off?

The “butterfly effect” in full effect

Chaos theory — yes, we’re getting in deep here — suggests that the flapping of a butterfly’s wings could, theoretically, cause a hurricane some weeks later. Well, Doctor Who is keen to point to the interconnectedness of all things, especially through space and time, and we should have expected it as soon as these words were uttered: “Who steps on butterflies?” While visiting dinosaurs some 150 million years ago, a butterfly is stepped on causing the human race to evolve into insectoid creatures, as is witnessed by Ruby’s instant transformation. Thankfully, the Doctor is on hand to revert his companion’s misstep and brings the butterfly back to life, thus restoring his companion to her original human form.

But, is this also recalling the Fourteenth Doctor’s accidental interference with Isaac Newton in 2023 special “Wild Blue Yonder,” causing the word “gravity” to be changed to “mavity” for the human race? As far as we know, this error hasn’t been reversed…

Hello, Wyoming!

After materializing in prehistoric times, the Doctor reveals the actual spot they’ve landed upon will eventually be the city Green River in Wyoming in many years to come. The state has been mentioned previously in Doctor Who; in the 2016 Christmas special, “The Return of Doctor Mysterio.” Set in New York, it starred Canadian actor Justin Chatwin (Showtime’s Shameless, Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds).

Can the Doctor visit Star Trek?

New companion Ruby mentions a matter of transport used in another popular, long-running sci-fi television series, Star Trek. “We gotta visit them one day!” comes the Doctor’s response. Star Trek has been boldly alluded to and discussed numerous times, so it’s not clear if the Doctor wants to visit them while filming the show, or if the world of Captain Kirk & Co. is now a reality in the Whoniverse. That would be some crossover.

“Not monsters, just creatures you haven’t met yet!”

Did the Doctor inspire the quote, “There are no strangers here; only friends you haven’t yet met,” from Irish poet W.B. Yeats? Quite possibly, he does get around.

Familiar Face

Susan Twist, who has already appeared in the 2023 Doctor Who specials, turns up as a former member of the space station team, Gina Scalzi. Twist also pops up as a tea lady in “The Devil’s Chord” discussing the merits of actress Margaret Lockwood in the 1945 Leslie Arliss-directed, The Wicked Lady. We’ll keep an eye out for her in future episodes.

What does the TARDIS DNA scan reveal about Ruby?

The Doctor must be slightly suspicious of his new companion and her heritage, as he subjects her to a DNA scan in his ship. What does it reveal? Well, not much. Currently it states she is a 19-year-old homo sapien.

“Allons-y!” redux

David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor (and Fourteenth) was keen on the French expression, “Allons-y!” According to him, it was a phrase of great power and wisdom, and consolation to the soul in times of need. However, the new Doctor has gone for a similar phrase, this time it’s in Turkish. He can be heard declaring joyously, “Haydi ama!”

When speaking to The Hollywood Reporter in a recent chat, Fifteenth Doctor actor Gatwa said there was originally a line of dialogue that referenced this: “I used to say, ‘Allons-y!’ If I can’t say that, I’m going to say, ‘Haydi ama!’” But, this was removed.

What is “the Devil’s chord” and is it real?

Don’t be scared, but it is. Its official title, the tritone, was a chord or interval of notes that was dubbed Diabolus in musica (devil in music) due to its evil sounding harmony. Although it’s stated in the episode, by music teacher Timothy Drake, that it was banned by the church, there’s no evidence to suggest that it actually was forbidden.

Despite its satanic nature, the sound can be heard in the opening theme tune to Fox’s The Simpsons. Jimi Hendrix also memorably used it in the opening bars of his classic track, “Purple Haze.” Speaking of musical legends…

Have The Beatles been in Doctor Who before?

Yes. Their first appearance came in the second season of the series’ first run in the ’60s. In the 1964 story “The Chase,” the First Doctor (William Hartnell) uses his “Time-Space Visualiser” (basically an intergalactic streaming service where he can see all of time and space) to watch the Fab Four on the legendary BBC chart music show, Top of the Pops (they’re playing smash hit “Ticket To Ride”). Since then, the mop-top chart-toppers have been mentioned on numerous occasions, and have even had more of their hits played on the show.

In “The Devil’s Chord,” the Doctor takes Ruby, as requested, to Feb. 11, 1963 to watch The Beatles record their very first album. However, this isn’t the Liverpudlian lads that we know and love. Instead we see them recording a song featuring the lyric, “I’ve got a dog, he’s called Fred.” They indeed wrote a song of this nature, though fans of comedic country singer Ray Stevens will note he recorded a ditty called “Fred,” which was all about a dog called Fred in 1984.

Those expecting lots of Beatles song titles crammed into the script will be left disappointed, however (writer Davies told THR such a scene did exist, but was cut for time). Though bat-eared viewers will spot that Ruby does say, “You Can’t Do That” (the title of a track from their A Hard Day’s Night album). However, as Davies also told THR, this was unintentional.

During the episode, this version of Paul McCartney talks about imagining music, much like the real Macca famously dreamed the melody to the hit “Yesterday.”

Wait, was the Doctor Who theme tune playing on the TARDIS juke box?!

As the opening credits close, they cut to the TARDIS and find that the juke box appears to be playing the iconic theme tune of the series. When asked by THR if this was indeed the case, writer Davies said, “I’m just not going to answer the question. I put things like that in knowing that people will discuss that for the next 60 years.” It’s an example of non-diegetic music becoming diegetic — something that also happens later in the same episode (and is commented on by the Doctor).

To confuse matters, the theme tune is actually begun by the Maestro playing the opening notes on a piano; not unlike Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor playing guitar leading into the theme tune in 2015’s “Before The Flood.”

Cameos!

During the musical finale in “The Devil’s Chord,” there are a number of cameos viewers may have missed. Most notably, especially for those watching in the U.K., Strictly Come Dancing’s Shirley Ballas and Johannes Radebe feature in the spectacular song and dance finale. (For those unaware, ABC’s Dancing With The Stars is the American version of BBC’s Strictly.) Ballas is one of the show’s judges and Radebe is one of the professional dancers. Coincidentally, new companion Ruby mentions the show earlier in the episode.

Other cameos include: Doctor Who composer Murray Gold who, curiously, according to the credits is playing “Himself,” which means he’s looking very good for his age (Gold also appeared in the 2007 Christmas Day special “Voyage of the Damned”); June Hudson, who was a costume designer for Doctor Who in the 1970s; and, while not an actual cameo, English Sixties pop starlet Cilla Black is portrayed in the studio adjacent to The Beatles singing a similarly bad song (Black had numerous hit singles in the ’60s, but turned to television presenting for the rest of her career).

All about the Maestro

The Doctor is almost immediately fearful of this new foe, describing him as a “God” and part of the Pantheon (a vast power beyond the universe). This could be a reference to the Pantheon of Discord, which Tenth Doctor Tennant mentioned in his appearance in spinoff show The Sarah Jane Adventures when he met a malevolent creature called The Trickster. The Time Lord was aware of their legends, since he was a young boy and claimed they only existed to wreak havoc. The MO seems to fit Maestro and, indeed, the Toymaker (last seen in the 2023 special, “The Giggle” and played by Neil Patrick Harris) who we learn is their father.

Speaking of whom, Maestro repeats a line that the Toymaker said: “My legions are coming!” Are these legions the Pantheon?

And, is Mrs. Flood part of these enemies? Flood, played by Anita Dobson in “The Church on Ruby Road,” turned to the camera and winked after revealing she knew what the TARDIS was. Maestro also winks directly down the lens — maybe this is just a cool thing the Pantheon do?

And the young boy receiving piano lessons is Henry Arbinger, son of the Maestro, and is believed to have been destroyed in the episodes opening moments. However, during the dance number, Henry appears at a door. Is this the twist at the end?

“The one who waits is almost here!”

This line is spoken by Maestro and during “The Giggle” we discovered that the Toymaker didn’t dare face them. Are they part of the Pantheon, or is this another foe for the Doctor to worry about? Maestro also mentions “The Oldest One” has great powers. Could they be the same? The Oldest One probably has done a bit of waiting in their time.

Will it snow in every episode?

Unsurprisingly, the aforementioned 2023 Christmas Day episode featured a lot of snow. But both episodes since have included snowy scenes. In “Space Babies,” it snows in the space station and the Doctor thinks this is a warning not to take Ruby back the church when she was found. Unbeknownst to the duo, it also snows in the TARDIS. And, in the follow-up episode, it snows again when viewers hear “Carol of the Bells.” Well, snow far, snow good.

“Space Babies” and “The Devil’s Chord” are currently available to stream on Disney+ (excluding U.K. and Ireland). New episodes debut weekly.

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