Friday, June 21, 2024

Meet the new ‘Doctor Who’: Ncuti Gatwa on the political, ‘fashion forward’ time-traveling alien

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Meet the all-new “Doctor Who.” He’s still an alien, and he still travels through time and space. But this one is a sharper dresser than you might expect, a little more chaotic, and just a lot cooler than previous Doctors. And cooler than you too.

There are just effortlessly hip vibes emanating from Ncuti Gatwa, the 15th Doctor in the 60-year-old British science fiction institution, and the first person of color in the full-time role. As the kids would say, he slays.

“It does feel like a new era. Everything feels refreshed,” says Gatwa, 31, who’s familiar to American viewers as one of the Kens in last summer’s smash “Barbie,” and from Netflix comedy “Sex Education” (his name is pronounced SHOO-tee GAHT-wa). “We’re doing things a little bit differently, but it’s still the same show we know and love.”

The series has a new Doctor and companion (Millie Gibson as Ruby Sunday) and streams the new eight-episode season on Fridays at a new home, Disney+ (7 EDT/ 4 PDT), fresh off three critically acclaimed specials (also on Disney+) celebrating its 60th anniversary last November. There is an energy to the new episodes that was woefully absent in the most recent seasons on BBC America, which starred Jodie Whittaker, who’s a decade older than Gatwa. So there’s fun to be had adventuring through time and space again.

“A lot of science fiction and fantasy, in particular, can be dark, can be sinister (and) can be aggressive,” says Russell T. Davies, the writer who brought “Who” into the modern era in 2005 and has returned as executive producer. “‘Doctor Who’ can do all those things. But I think ‘Doctor Who’ uniquely can be quite mad. I wanted madness. Chaos. Nuttiness. Wildness. Fun.”

There is madness in the first few episodes, which take the Doctor and Ruby back to the Paleolithic era, a “baby farm” in the future run by actual babies and back to the 1960s, where they’re pursued by a villain played by drag queen Jinkx Monsoon.

But it’s not all fun and games. Davies is keenly aware that we live in dark, challenging times, and he wants the series to reflect that with pointed references to political topics including abortion and LGBTQ+ rights. “Attacks on drag queens … We just see the waves coming. And obviously, that’s my world,” says Davies, a gay man who frequently makes television about queer characters. “I will always have something to say about that.”

Also keeping the show grounded in the present day are Gatwa and Gibson, a young and giddy pairing giving big Gen Z energy, even if Gatwa, 31, is slightly older.

“I would hope that my Doctor is a Doctor for all generations,” Gatwa says. “Energy is what fuels the Doctor. We describe the relationship (between the Doctor and Ruby) as energetic and fast, which feels quite youthful.”

Gatwa spent years playing a teen in “Education,” a teen comedy about an amateur high school sex therapist, and has made his mark on the fashion world with bold red carpet looks, including a metal breastplate (he was shirtless underneath) at this year’s Vanity Fair Oscars party. He has a strong sense of style just like the 15th Doctor, the first Time Lord in quite a while to change costumes frequently.

“I’ve done Doctors who stayed in the same suit for years on end, and I was beginning to think, it’s odd that they never change clothes. It is surprising that I wanted that before we cast Ncuti,” Davies says. “Quite by chance, we’ve cast a man who’s one of the world’s greatest clothes horses. He looks beautiful in anything.”

Davies said he was also inspired by the fans who intricately recreate the Doctor’s costumes as cosplay at conventions. “If there’s such joy in cosplay in diving deep, let’s give them a great big swimming pool.”

Gatwa shares Davies’ enthusiasm for the Doctor’s “fashion forward” outfits – trips to the Regency era and the ’60s were his particular favorites – but says the Doctor’s onscreen looks don’t reflect his own personal style.

“I certainly share a sense of loving clothes with the Doctor. But no, our styles are very different. The Doctor is very eclectic. He can wear anything. Maybe one day there will be a Venn diagram between the pair of us, but not at the moment.”

Does that mean the Doctor will be rocking exposed midriffs and metal breastplates in the future? Cosplayers can only dream.

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