The BIG Interview: Doctor Who’s Ncuti Gatwa, Millie Gibson and Russell T Davies

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

by Graham Kibble-White |
Updated on

We sit down with the Doctor himself, plus companion Ruby Sunday and the showrunner to talk about the new series, bringing the programme up-to-date for 2024, The Beatles, fan-moans, and launching it in the US

Ncuti Gatwa (The Doctor), Millie Gibson (Ruby Sunday) and showrunner Russell T Davies at the recent press launch for the new series
Ncuti Gatwa (The Doctor), Millie Gibson (Ruby Sunday) and showrunner Russell T Davies at the recent press launch for the new series

Hi Ncuti, Millie and Russell! How’s life been since your debuts in the Doctor Who Christmas special?

Millie: We were filled with love on all levels because of the themes we addressed in that episode. I got so much love about Ruby's foster family.

Russell: Ah, did you?

Millie: Yeah, everyone was so touched. It's such a beautiful element to have in Ruby’s character, and it helps people reach out and connect with her on a more personal level. So that was really lovely. But yeah, God, what a reaction! It was amazing, wasn’t it?

Ncuti: Oh, my God! So amazing. So, anxiety-calming. I just couldn't leave the house a week before! And it was Christmas Day as well. I called my parents and said, ‘There's no chance you're gonna see me!’ I still have the voice-note where I said to my mum, ‘I’m going to lock myself in a room, and not look at anyone!’  So egotistical! But then the episode dropped, and was like, ‘Oh, I'm glad that, it works.’ I mean, I knew all the components for the show were there in, like, strong to 100 per cent. We had amazing writing, we had an amazing crew, amazing sets, budget – everything was there. But my ego was saying, [spiteful voice], ‘You’re the problem, you’ve f****** this up for everyone. Everyone's doing good, but you!’ So it was that.

Millie: But it gelled.

Ncuti: And it works and it’s lovely.

Russell, we’ve already seen your vision for Doctor Who with last year’s special episodes – but is this series going to be the unfettered version, where you get the chance to spread out over eight instalments?

Russell: Yes, I mean, there’s a reason why we're calling it season one. It's new for the show with these two [Ncuti and Millie]. It's brand new, it's got its own energy. Now, you know me – I'm an old fan, and the series still carries all that heritage of the past. Nothing's been rebooted, nothing's been rewritten. It's still the same joyous, fantastic show. But new viewers start here – with a flavour of 2024 in it. There are things we talk about, characters, issues. There's a planet called Finetime where extraordinary things happen… There are stories you wouldn't have told in the past. Equally, it's still the same old Doctor Who – land, meet a monster, and fight it, with jokes, with joy and with chases, so that's all still intact. But I hope it buzzes with ‘now’.

What can you tell us about the two episodes we’ll see this week?

Russell: First of all, we have Space Babies – ha ha! Which is the best title for anything! There's an episode of Star Trek: Picard [titled No Win Scenario], in which Jonathan Frakes [Riker] turns around and goes, ‘Space babies’. And I was like, ‘You've just said our title!’ Ha ha! It's just weird. That's about babies in outer space. It's a baby farm run by babies. And the point is, it's a trip for Ruby to go into the future. The show is at its best when it's an open door and exploring what Doctor Who is and explaining that to a new audience. I think the old audience loves that just as much. My favourite scenes of all are when a human steps into the TARDIS for the first time and says, ‘Oh, it's bigger on the inside.’ I don’t get tired of those. You saw how Christmas ended. Ruby barely met the Doctor, he’d barely explained himself to her. So it's not a two-parter, but it’s very much the next step from that. I've always started a series by going into the future, going into the past, going to an alien planet. So, we've got all that to come and they travel to a space station which is… a baby farm run by babies. Why? How does that happen? And with how many hours of shooting with babies!? Strangely, I wasn't on set much for this!

Millie: Because they're babies, they were only allowed on set… Was it an hour a day? So, we either got ‘em right at the start of the day or right at the end, which either way wasn’t great! They didn’t know their cues, they weren’t professional…

Ncuti: Absolute divas.

Millie: It was just mad. I remember having a speech and Russell’s stage directions were that the babies were in awe of Ruby. Obviously, you couldn’t give them that note!

Ncuti: I loved it. It was so much fun. It was like cute things everywhere to have a little cuddle with. But, oh, my gosh! The stress! Imagine being in a room of 12 screaming babies and a screaming crew. It’s a bit like, everyone is just screaming! It was one of those where it was like, ‘OK, the set must come together, and we have to be as one. We must get through this day together – and we must all love each other…’

Why is it a good series opener?

Ncuti: I think because it takes the old audience along with it as well as the new. I feel like it's showing where like the programme is now going. You can see how Doctor Who has evolved and how it's grown and where it's going to go. And yet, it also has the themes and trimmings of everything that’s been. So, I just think it's the perfect opening for our new era.

Millie: I completely agree. But I think the second episode is a lot more… I want to say…

Russell: Crazy!

Millie: It’s not really been done before ever in Doctor Who. I think it's just a lovely new way to show fans where Russell has taken the series.

Now you’ve intrigued us – so tell us about that second episode, The Devil’s Chord

Russell: It’s The Beatles one. The Doctor says to Ruby, ‘Where do you want to go in time and space?’ She replies, ‘I want to see The Beatles recording their very first album,’ which a friend of mine suggested to me, when I got the job back on Doctor Who. I was saying this to Ncuti yesterday, but I knew at the same time you cannot use Beatles music on television. You can't afford it. You simply cannot get the copyright to do it, which is a major fault, I think, may I say, of The Beatles Estate. What a mad thing to do! So having someone suggest a Beatles episode and knowing you couldn't use their music suggested the whole show.  Into that we cast Jinkx Monsoon as Maestro. Over to you [Millie and Ncuti]…

Millie: With this Sixties episode, Russell's incorporated whole new themes and layers and just… I mean, you have to watch. Even the ending… Ha ha!
Russell: The rules are off!

Millie: The rules are off for sure.

Ncuti: Jinkx was amazing.She absolutely owns that episode. The torque of her energy when she came in on the first day was like, ‘Oh, this is going to be something special.’ She eats up that role for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It’s delicious to watch.

Russell, tell us about casting her…

Russell: We definitely want to bring a younger audience to the show, and she’s not your classical name who’d be on an ITV drama at nine o’clock. Although, we’ll have those people too, thank you very much. She’s someone I absolutely knew could act. We’d never cast someone who can't – you've got to be very careful about that. Genuinely, we can't let you two [Ncuti and Millie] down. I knew also that she'd spent a long time watching Doctor Who. I used to get texts off Michael, her husband, saying, ‘Oh, I love Donna Noble!’ So, I realised we didn't have to explain Doctor Who to her from scratch.

The challenge of featuring The Beatles, of course, is that not only do you have Doctor Who fans scrutinsing everything that you do, but now Beatles fans also! We've already heard grumbles about the accuracy of Ringo's drum kit.

Russell: He he he!

Do you care?

Russell: Oh, absolutely not. No, I think we've lost that argument already! Someone sent me a tweet with someone saying, ‘John Lennon’s strap around his guitar is two inches too low’. ‘Well done!’ I say! What you must remember is when someone points out something like that, they're happy. That's a moment of happiness for them. They really enjoy it when they’re experts. They can revel in it. They can correct us. Joy! Don't take anyone's joy away from them! The f******! Ha ha ha!

And did you anticipate fans moaning when it was announced the show would premiere on BBC iPlayer at midnight?

Russell: Oh, we absolutely anticipated that. I know fandom well enough to know what their reactions will be. Let's face it, if we gave Millie a new hat they’d be up in arms! But you can't complain about the monster you've created. And I know the show does unashamedly have a great big online voice. People at the BBC have done research and our reach in terms of #DoctorWho, and it’s astonishing. It's making other franchises look like they’re in the playground. It's marvellous!

Millie, how do you deal with all the scrutiny?

Millie: I think it just comes with the job, and we were prepared for that. It's the way of the industry. People complain about anything. It's all… it’s clickbait, innit?

What about you, Ncuti?

Ncuti: Well… It depends on what type of scrutiny. People are allowed to say, ‘Why are you playing the Doctor?’ I feel like you’re not important if you don't have haters! Ha ha!

Russell: He literally did a hair-flick there!

Ncuti: You’re no one if you don’t have haters, so welcome! Welcome! I guess the only thing I've ever been confused about is when storylines get leaked. I used to struggle with that, because I thought, ‘Why would you not want it to be a surprise?’

Millie: Peopleget a buzz out of spoiling something.

Ncuti: Entire scripts end up on Twitter, and you're like, ‘How? How?’ And that used to really annoy me. But now I think I see how it all works. It all feeds into each other. It’s all just feeding the beast.

Russell: What is very difficult about our situation is when something's leaked – whether it's a lie, or whether it's true or a spoiler – we’re demanded to comment. And it's like you're trying to hit a moving target. The more you comment, the more you will increase the debate, the more you will give validity to something that isn't true. So, I think most of the time, silence is the right reaction. I know that’s tough, sometimes, but otherwise… Also, when you do comment, let's not pretend this is an online world in which what you say is understood. It's completely misunderstood. They run away with it, they come up with a new theory. It's like a runaway train that’s hurtled off over the mountains, and you’re left at the microphone and the crowd is gone, because they’ve run on to the next disaster.

You’re all now heading off to launch the series in the US – how are you feeling about that?

Millie: Oh my gosh. I mean, I've just gone from Coronation Street – which is really big in Canada… Ha ha ha! So [sarcastically] I’m used to it! It’s nothing really! Ha ha! But, no, it's crazy. I think because Doctor Who's such a British drama, it's very much like, ‘Oh my God, taking it to the US is just a whole other level.’

Ncuti: It’sexciting. I feel like there's a lot of hunger for Doctor Who Stateside. But they haven’t had the access for it, which is what's great about Disney coming on board [as co-producers]. And, yeah, a lot of Americans I've spoken to have all been fans of the show. There’s an awareness of it there, and so it makes sense to do it. Exciting. It’s good for the show.

Thank you so much, Ncuti, Millie and Russell!

[They all applaud]

Oh, are you applauding our interview questions?

Russell: No, we’re applauding for next year’s finale, which is so brilliant…

Doctor Who returns to TV on BBC iPlayer and BBC1 on Saturday 11 May

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