Almost a full year after Jodie Whittaker announced that she was quitting Doctor Who, a replacement was finally confirmed yesterday (May 8).
Ncuti Gatwa, best known for an often scene-stealing role as Eric in Netflix (opens in new tab)’s beloved comedy Sex Education (opens in new tab), revealed that he will be stepping into the Tardis to become the 14th Doctor, with his debut in the role set to come in 2023.
Unlike when it was announced that Whittaker would become the first woman to play the role and quite a few grown men lost their minds, Gatwa’s casting has almost been universally greeted with joy and excitement.
But, make no mistake, Gatwa’s tenure in the role will only be a success if the show uses his arrival to really start afresh.
Before Gatwa’s casting was confirmed, the names linked with replacing Whittaker were big, established types, with Hugh Grant, (opens in new tab) Michael Sheen and a returning David Tennant all in the frame at one or time another. But the choice of Gatwa makes perfect sense. Doctor Who is in desperate need of a refresh and it needs to stop growing old with its audience.
Showrunner Chris Chibnall’s four-year run had begun to feel beleaguered and tired. Chibnall, whose involvement with Doctor Who dates all the way back to 2007, will likely mostly be remembered for his ‘Timeless Child’ twist, a plot twist about the origins of the character which seemed to retcon a good deal of Doctor Who's history and which angered many long-time fans.
As his tenure has gone on, ratings have plummeted (opens in new tab) and the buzz that had been generated by Russell T. Davies’ initial revival of the show and a few of Steven Moffat’s better episodes had died down. Whittaker’s run in the role has felt cosy and too reverential, the villains have been too tame and the tropes have felt recycled. Gatwa needs to bring a freshness and excitement to it.
Judging by his turn in Sex Education, Gatwa is more than capable of bringing the vibrancy the show needs. His gift for a one-liner and charisma seem perfect for the role and his youth has the potential to introduce a whole new generation of fans to the show, which is essential if it wants to survive in television's cutthroat battle for viewers.
Before Gatwa’s arrival, changes were already afoot for Doctor Who. It had been announced, all the way back in the autumn of 2021, that Davies, the man who revived Doctor Who back in 2005, was returning to become showrunner once again.
Davies has been on a roll in recent years. He launched A Very British Scandal to great fanfare, before penning the dystopian Years and Years and last year’s phenomenal It’s A Sin (opens in new tab), and the news he had been tempted back came as a surprise. It’s A Sin and Years and Years had both been hits on HBO Max (opens in new tab) as well as in the UK and you might have expected to see Davies heading Stateside to continue his work.
At the same time as his return was announced, it was also confirmed that Bad Wolf, the production company which has overseen the likes of His Dark Materials (opens in new tab), Industry and A Discovery Of Witches (opens in new tab), would be taking over production of Doctor Who from the BBC. It’s a welcome change, because Doctor Who, while always imaginative, ambitious and wide-eyed in its storytelling, had begun to feel left behind in recent years, especially in terms of its budgets.
Whittaker's predecessor in the role, Peter Capaldi, has opined at length about the show's limited resources (opens in new tab), with the Thick Of It man going as far as to say "everything on Doctor Who falls to pieces, all of the props fall to pieces and the costumes have to be stuck together with duct tape and Velcro and stuff", and, while the show is light years away from the tin foil and school play esque daleks of yesteryear, it is not in the same league as many of today's sci-fi dramas.
Before he confirmed his return, Davies had lamented the missed opportunity Doctor Who represented. During his tenure, the show proved so successful that two spin-offs, Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures, were launched, putting Davies way ahead of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (opens in new tab), when it came to running shows alongside each other with frequent crossover. Ultimately, none of it lasted, which Davies came to lament.
"There should be a Doctor Who channel now”, he told the Radio Times (opens in new tab), “You look at those Disney announcements, of all those new Star Wars and Marvel shows, you think, we should be sitting here announcing The Nyssa Adventures or The Return of Donna Noble, and you should have the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors together in a 10-part series. Genuinely."
Now with Bad Wolf, which is largely owned by Sony, Davies will have the scope to pull off that kind of vision and launch the much-discussed ‘Whoniverse’. He can enjoy much bigger budgets and turn Doctor Who into event viewing once again.
In fact, in the reports that linked Grant with the role, it was suggested that taking on the MCU is very much in the producers' plans, and why not? Though it has a 55-year history, the Doctor Who universe has very, very few hard and fast rules. Davies, now one of the biggest beasts in TV, has the chance to really be ambitious and to put the show in a place where it can stand up alongside Marvel (opens in new tab)and DC (opens in new tab)’s television offerings and build a whole new audience.
Gatwa can grow with the show and win new fans along the way. He and Davies will be able to build something new together. And, after years of interest slowly being lost in Doctor Who, it is beginning to feel exciting once again.
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