8 Things To Know About The New Season Of Doctor Who

What can we expect from the latest iteration of the long-running fan-favorite series? Showrunner Russell T. Davies and stars Ncuti Gatwa and Millie Gibson offer an inside look.

by | May 9, 2024 | Comments


Although Doctor Whos 60-year history might seem daunting to a viewer unfamiliar with the venerable British sci-fi series, it is, in fact, very approachable. Periodic changes to the cast and production team offer ample opportunity to reset the clock and reintroduce key details to a younger or newer audience. And on May 10, the show will experience one of its most important refreshes as it joins the Disney+ constellation. When Rotten Tomatoes caught up with new stars Ncuti Gatwa (The Doctor) and Millie Gibson (Ruby Sunday), they agreed that it feels, as Gibson put it, like “a whole new era.”

“[The scripts] were so ambitious,” Gatwa added. “We’ve not seen this scale of things on British TV. So this feels like there’s a whole new energy coming through.”

But as Doctor Who fans are known for certain proprietary feelings toward the show, many are concerned about Disney’s role in bringing the energy Gatwa mentioned to The Doctor’s latest adventures. So, we’ve put together a guide to what newcomers and seasoned fans need to know about the new era of Doctor Who.

The Basics Of The Doctor

Ncuti Gatwa as the Doctor in Doctor Who (2024)

(Photo by Disney+)

Doctor Who, at its core, is about a time-traveling alien known only as The Doctor. Their name is as mysterious as their origins and why they left the planet they once called home. The Doctor travels in a capsule that’s bigger on the inside known as the TARDIS. Disguised as a 1960s British police box prop, it can go anywhere in space and time (except when it can’t). And when grievously injured, The Doctor’s body regenerates, but it also changes its appearance and alters their personality. Armed with these abilities and tools, The Doctor and a lucky human (or two) gad about and see the universe.

Of course, there are many nuances to the above brief — several of which are covered in the premiere episode of the new season, “Space Babies,” written by executive producer Russell T. Davies. When we talked to Davies, he said the elements of lore covered in the episode felt like a “natural” inclusion.

“I was obviously aware professionally that we’re on a new platform, that this would be a big launch, that Ruby Sunday is arriving as the new companion,” he explained. “I had an eye on the bigger picture, but I probably would have done it anyway.”

Ncuti Gatwa and Millie Gibson as The Doctor and Ruby Sunday in Doctor Who (2024)

(Photo by James Pardon/Bad Wolf/BBC Studios)

In various episode commentaries over the years, Davies has said one of the joys of writing Doctor Who is those scenes when The Doctor explains the basics to a new companion — the term used for the human (and occasionally alien) character who travels with The Doctor. “Space Babies” features one of the more extended and joyous versions of this exposition scene. “I don’t think that lovely Space Baby appears until 12 minutes in,” Davies said. We promise, you won’t notice that timeframe as you get to know The Doctor and Ruby, the latest human being to travel in the TARDIS.

“I think that’s a very good sign of how inventive the show is, that it keeps on inspiring me,” Davies said of how the early “Space Babies” scenes play out.

Gatwa added, “And also, as actors, we’re very good at doing exposition really well. So we’ve explained everything that needs to be explained.”

Of course, you can meet The Doctor and Ruby right now, as their debut story, the 2023 Doctor Who Christmas special “The Church on Ruby Road”,  is available on Disney+.

The Doctor Has Two Hearts

Ncuti Gatwa as The Doctor in Doctor Who (2024)

(Photo by Disney+)

Differentiating the human-looking Doctor from the bona fide humans he travels with, the character contains two heartbeats. Their bi-pulmonary system has been a feature since at least the 1970s, but Gatwa quoted it to explain why The Doctor’s empathy is so key to the character across all their incarnations. “The Doctor has two hearts and, I think, is very, very in touch with their feelings,” he said. “The Doctor, as a character, has always been really empathetic. So empathetic. That’s one of the main traits of The Doctor.”

Nevertheless, joy and even fear are more acute with Gatwa’s Doctor — known among fans as the Fifteenth Doctor — than some predecessors. “Russell speaks so eloquently about how The Doctor reflects society at the time that he’s around,” Gatwa explained. “And we are in an era [when] we’re a lot more emotionally intelligent than we were, perhaps, in the ’60s. The Doctor’s a reflection of that evolution in our society.”

Davies added, “[Ncuti is] so and expressive and wears emotion on his face like no Doctor before him… You have to up the danger. You have to up the laughs and the joy.”

The Show Is Keeping Its British Voice

Ncuti Gatwa as The Doctor in Doctor Who (2024)

(Photo by Disney+)

One concern fans have expressed online — both on social media and video platforms like YouTube — is concern that the show may lose some of its distinctive Britishness as it becomes a show on a Disney platform. That flavor is key not just to its longevity, but its appeal in the United States, where fans relish the slang, local landmarks, and concerns of the country Doctor Who reveals to them.

We can confirm the voice remains true, with a plot point in “Space Babies” relating directly to the British vernacular. Of course, we won’t say the exact words (“Spoilers,” as River Song might say), but in talking to Davies about it, he confirmed the deep-cut British references and tone remain true to the program as it has existed over the decades.

“They get the British voice,” he said of the partnership with Disney. Of course, being a fan of the show in its original 1963-1989 form — he would later spearhead the series’ revival in 2005 — he sympathizes with the fans’ concerns. “That’s exactly what I would worry about if I was outside the show, and to be absolutely honest, that’s why I’m here,” he explained. “One of the reasons I’m here was to protect against that happening.”

David Tennant as The Doctor in Doctor Who (2023)

(Photo by Disney+)

At the same time, Davies was happy to see Disney on the side of The Doctor. “It’s been a really lovely process to see them falling in love with the show [while] doing the early stages of production. I would refer to an episode like ‘Blink.’ They’d all go off and watch ‘Blink,’ and then they’d all come back going, ‘Oh my God, this is the best show in the world,’” he said. “It was a real joy to see.”

But coming back to the worry about the British voice, he said growing up in the UK, he was exposed to Gilligan’s Island references thanks to imported US television despite the series itself never airing in the UK. “I do have an idea what Gilligan’s Island is because it’s been referred to so often, but I think we all quite freely cross cultures and don’t stop. When we get a reference that we don’t understand, we all think, ‘Oh, that’s a world I haven’t discovered yet,’” he said.

He also teased an upcoming episode will feature a joke “so obscure, you had to know your British television from the 1970s in order to get it.” Although he stopped a script read-through to see how many people understood the joke, it remains in the show.

The Disney Factor Can Be Seen

Ncuti Gatwa and Millie Gibson as The Doctor and Ruby Sunday in Doctor Who (2024)

(Photo by Disney+)

The partnership with Disney provides some differences, though, in terms of production. The scale, as mentioned by Gatwa and Gibson, is one element. The dinosaurs glimpsed in the trailer and a preview scene available online are just one example.

Another is the ambition of the episodes, which include a recreation of 1963 London (and Abbey Road Studios as it looked at the time) in the second episode, “The Devil’s Chord” — available alongside “Space Babies” this Friday — the Regency Era-set “Rogue,” due out in June, and a mysterious episode known as “73 Yards.” Of that one, Gibson said, “It gave me a lot of Black Mirror vibes… I knew we were in for a treat with Russell’s writing as soon as I read that.”

Yet one more aspect of the Disney factor is the roster of guest stars, which includes Neil Patrick Harris — who appeared in November’s 60th anniversary special, “The Giggle” — Jinkx Monsoon as a character called Maestro in “The Devil’s Chord,” and Jonathan Groff in “Rogue.”

“These are worldwide stars that any show would give their eye teeth to have in them,” Davies said of the guests.

The Doctor Revels In Mysteries

Millie Gibson as Ruby Sunday in Doctor Who (2024)

(Photo by Disney+)

Starting from its debut episode in 1963, Doctor Who has always featured mysteries — including The Doctor’s true name (hence the show’s title). When Davies brought the program back in 2005 (after other producers made a failed attempt in 1996 with a TV movie starring Paul McGann as The Doctor), he made a season-long mystery a feature of the format. His successors, showrunners Steven Moffat and Chris Chibnall, carried on the tradition to varying degrees, but in returning to the show for its 60th Anniversary last year, Davies amped the mysteries into overdrive with more than a few on display in the new season.

He said the inclusion of more mysteries came as a result of Disney loving the questions left at the end of “The Church on Ruby Road” regarding Ruby’s parents. “It’s my job to leap up and listen when an executive says that,” he said. In terms of creating a television show, Davies felt the mysteries are part-and-parcel with streaming programs, as they keep the viewer invested in an overall tale even as each episode of Doctor Who tells a complete adventure.

“If you want to drop in and watch any random episode, you won’t be left behind by the complications of the plot,” he added. “But there’s a lot going on.” We’ll dive a little deeper into those mysteries next week.

And as for older mysteries like The Doctor’s name? Don’t worry about those. Part of Doctor Who’s appeal is the questions that will never be answered.

The Introduction Of The Supernatural

Goblin in Doctor Who (2023)

(Photo by Disney+)

Although Doctor Who has always played with ideas like ghosts, vampires, and gods, they’ve generally been revealed as suitably advanced technology or aliens gearing up for an invasion. But with “The Church on Ruby Road,” legit goblins invaded the show’s reality and, as Davies has mentioned here and there, it will lead to a full-on exploration of the supernatural as supernatural.

“You have to make the threats so great that [The Doctor] shows terror,” Davies explained to us. “I thought these fantasy [things] were simply the best way to do that. I also love writing it. You start to bend the laws of reality and The Doctor has to fight very hard to win. Suddenly, he can’t press that button on that computer that saves the day.”

But if less fantastical sci-fi is to your liking, Davies said the third episode of the year, “Boom!” — written by Moffat — is “proper, hard science fiction that obeys strict physical rules.”

He also mentioned that the show’s ability to move between grounded sci-fi and flights of fancy allows it to be “the best of both worlds.”

And Then There’s The Running

Ncuti Gatwa and Millie Gibson as The Doctor and Ruby Sunday in Doctor Who (2024)

(Photo by Disney+)

If there’s one thing you need to know about Doctor Who it is this: everybody runs.

“What’s the longest you think we ran?” Gibson asked of Gatwa when we inquired if they did extra cardio in preparation to film the season.

“It’s not even the length… It’s to sprint straight away and then take, take, take, take. So it’s short bursts of running for about an hour,” Gatwa said.

“Running in my ’60s boots was hard,” Gibson added.

Gatwa is somewhat worried about his running form, as The Doctor is always on the move, but we imagine fans old and new will enjoy his stride.

The 60-Year History

Tom Baker as The Doctor in Doctor Who (1963-1989)

(Photo by Everett Collection)

One of the other delights found within Doctor Who is the discovery of its past. While many episodes serve as great entry points — 1970’s “Spearhead from Space,” 2005’s “Rose,” and 2010’s “The Eleventh Hour” among them — each treat the past as something you can learn about, but do not necessarily need to enjoy the show. That said, each story (even the less successful ones) offer some interesting shade, clue, or concept.

And since the classic series is available in the US on BritBox, and the 2005-2022 series is over on Max, it is possible to spend a long time with the previous Doctors. “When the season finishes, if you are missing it and [want to] feel whole, then just binge 60 years,” Gibson said.

“[There is] 60 years of magical TV that they can catch up on,” Gatwa said. “Get your big bag of Doritos and your big super can of Coke.”

Of course, for those who are somehow still unfamiliar with The Doctor, the new season is the current best place to start.

Doctor Who: Season 1 (2024) debuts on Friday, May 10, 2024 on Disney+ and midnight Saturday, May 11 in the UK and Ireland on BBC iPlayer.

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