The Doctor (Ncuti Gatwa) and Ruby Sunday (Millie Gibson) in...

The Doctor (Ncuti Gatwa) and Ruby Sunday (Millie Gibson) in Disney's "Doctor Who." Credit: Bad Wolf/BBC Studios /James Pardon

WHAT “Doctor Who”

WHERE Streaming on Disney+

WHAT IT'S ABOUT The time-traveling “Time Lords” — AKA Doctor Who — have always regenerated out of the previous one going back to the first (in 1963, when the longest-running sci-fi in TV history launched). And now, for an entirely new Who: The 15th Doctor, starring Rwandan-Scottish actor, Ncuti Gatwa (most recently “Barbie”). Doctors always have companions on their TARDIS (Time and Relative Dimension in Space) travels, and this latest incarnation will be joined by Ruby Sunday (Millie Gibson), an orphan — or “foundling” — who wants to find out who her parents were. Showrunner for this season is acclaimed British screenwriter Russell T Davies who also revived the series back in 2005 after a long hiatus.


MY SAY While hardly a hardcore Whovian, I'm fairly certain the secret to “Doctor Who” over these past 60 (give or take) years has been an imagination unconstrained by rules, laws or logic, within reason of course. That's the benefit of having all of the past and all of the future as your playground.

But the one implied rule over most of this run has been that the Doctors must be white, and they must be male. Jodie Whittaker recently broke this as the first female Who, and now Gatwa has shattered it as the first Black Who (he's also queer). Those legions of Whovians in Whoville still bound to tradition may be non-plussed but they can hardly be surprised. It's a whole new TV world out there, and in fact a whole new network. Disney+ has made certain to label this “season 1,” as if the prior 38 just vanished into some TARDIS timehole. That makes this 39th, or “first,” season not only a reset but a rethink: If there are no rules, then why be tethered to notional ones like race or gender?

The clearest example is the third episode (of three offered for review), “The Devil's Chord,” starring “RuPaul's Drag Race” two-time winner Jinkx Monsoon. As arch-villain Maestro, she has drained every musical note out of the circa-1963 world by binding musicians with long, looping (and animated) musical bars. It's a thunderous, way-over-the-top, scene-stealing performance in drag and — again, not a hardcore Whovian — I'm pretty certain we haven't seen that before either.

Besides Monsoon, what's best here is the unmistakable sense that you've just stepped out of a TARDIS into a brand new but still recognizable classic TV series. Gatwa brings a degree of vitality and sheer joy not normally associated with the more austere Doctors of the past — “I am the last of the Time Lords", he tells Ruby,” and so so glad to be alive” — but he really brings a sense of style. He never wears the same outfit twice, as if during his travels he decided to amass a wardrobe to rival Iris Apfel's. Gatwa's Who also sings and dances, at least in one memorable scene in the third that channels “I'm Just Ken” and “Schmigadoon!.”

But what's also here is the unmistakable sense that a giant corporation bent on world (or streaming) domination is now looking over Who's shoulder. In an interview with EW last month, Davies recalled that BBC executives told him “we want it to be up there with 'Stranger Things' and 'Star Trek' and the 'Marvel' shows.” But to Disneyfy “Who” risks turning it into just another franchise opportunity, or endless, undifferentiated line of product (Marvel as the most cautionary example.) Davies and Gatwa have done a fine job bringing “Who” into the 21st century — now up to them to save it from the excesses of this century too.

BOTTOM LINE Fun, lively, imaginative — with a whiff of Disneyfication.


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