Doctor Who is a sci-fi institution. The series is officially, according to the organization behind Guinness World Records, the longest-running science-fiction television series in the world, and the most successful science-fiction series of all time, based on its overall broadcast ratings, DVD, book, and other merchandise sales. So it is kind of a big deal.

After a long break, it came back in 2005 for a relaunch, and since then it has regained its place in popular culture. When it hit something of a bumpy patch in the last couple of years, things changed massively.

First, they brought back Russell T. Davies as showrunner. He was the man who relaunched the show in 2005. It also secured a global broadcast partner in the form of Disney who injected cash in return for their distribution network via Disney+. It should be a match made in heaven.

Doctor-Who

As the Doctor can regenerate, a new Doctor was cast for Davies’ return in the form of Ncuti Gatwa, taking on the role of the fifteenth incarnation of the famous Time Lord. After a pretty fun debut as the character in the 60th anniversary specials, and a similarly fun outing in a Christmas Special, it was time for him to settle into the show properly with the first in the new series of Doctor Who that was released today.

Then, things started to get a little troublesome. Ncuti Gatwa is the first black actor to play the Doctor. He is also the first openly gay actor to play the Doctor. Personally, I don’t care about the color of somebody’s skin or who they decide to get smoochy with, but this was always going to cause comments out there in the world of the internet and fandom.

This is where the usual happened. Pushing back, portions of fandom were tarred with the same brush as “racist” and “homophobic” and comments were made by both Gatwa and Davies that threw yet another spark into the gasoline-soaked tinderbox of the ongoing culture wars.

Firing up this week’s episode and knowing I was going to have to review it, I was determined to separate the art from the artists.

I will remain neutral…

I will remain neutral…

The comments were not helpful, but I shut that noise off and just watched it. So… how was it?

Allons-y

Even after the relaunch in 2005, this has been badged as Season 1 / Episode 1. The plan is to make it accessible to people who have never seen it before to appeal to the new, wider audience from the Disney link-up. It succeeds in this. There is plenty of exposition around the myth and the legend of the Doctor.

What is good? Well, it was classically stupid, very silly, fun, and frivolous while being inventive. New companion Ruby learns the Doctor’s amazing secrets when he takes her to the far future. There, they find a baby farm run by babies. But can they be saved from the terrifying bogeyman?

So far, so Doctor Who. In the basic set-up and telling of the story, it was also classic Russell T. Davies and his approach to Doctor Who back from his early days in his last stint as showrunner.

The “Space Babies” of the title are pretty hilarious, with their CGI mouths. The lead baby – Eric – has a very distinctive look and when he goes off alone to “be brave” then any parent will get it.

Doctor-Who

The Disney money is evident and fits well. It has potential. I watched it with my 5-year-old, he was riveted, the same as I was when I first watched Tom Baker’s Doctor with my dad 40 years ago. He reacted to the monster the same way I reacted to the Daleks. Box ticked.

The now-expected mystery arc starts to be laid out via the Doctor’s new companion, Ruby Sunday. Millie Gibson continues where she left off in the Christmas Special and is fun in the role.

I’m The Doctor

Of course, the most important thing is the new Doctor. There is a new Doctor Who, and the whole show will stand or fall on their shoulders. Gatwa throws himself into things with confidence and effort. You want to like him in the role… but…

I will remain neutral…

I will remain neutral…

There is no way to say this nicely and without violating my previous statement about not caring about anybody’s sexuality. You simply can’t escape the fact that he’s a bit… mincey. He just is. There are times when he is brilliant and you think “This guy gets it!” about what makes a good Doctor. Then he just flames off mince-ily to the point where you can almost hear Davies behind the camera yelling “Do that again, just more camp!”

The problem might be me. After a while, am I looking for it?

It is when you notice this that you also start to see some other problems developing.

Doctor-Who

The literal Bogeyman is a good concept given the nature of the show, and the quite nice twist that gets to the heart of who the Doctor really is threatens to be satisfying. But then, a few times Davies can’t help himself, and “The Message” bleeds through so unsubtly you feel like you have been hit in the face by the progressive hammer, like when a description of the nature of refugees comes out of nowhere.

Then, when you have been watching the show for a while, you start to realize that outside of this preening, it all starts to feel a bit boring, like you have seen it all before.

Thinking back to Ecclestone’s man with a dark recent past, Tennant’s troubled soul, Matt Smith’s Doctor who always felt on the edge of doing something terrible, and Peter Capaldi’s version who was clearly hiding behind a new face, you find yourself wondering when this new Doctor will do something other than… well… mince a bit.

Doctor-Who

Don’t get me wrong, there is potential here as far as Doctor Who goes. Outside of his comments to the press, when he’s in character he’s likable and energetic, but he’s going to need to do something more than let Russell T. Davies’ writing simply let him define himself as the first gay, black Doctor.

In summary, it was interesting and fun enough, but it needs somebody to put their foot on Davies and his preaching and let Gatwa do his thing.

 

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