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Film | Opinion

Doctor Who: Why Ncuti Gatwa is a godsend for the series

And so we have it, Doctor 14 is among us, and he’s Scottish. It’s Ncuti Gatwa, the star of the emotionally coiled Sex Education, the unflappable Eric to Asa Butterfield’s more fastidious Otis, a beacon of comedy in an industry that’s becoming dangerously drab. He is, without a doubt in my mind, a godsend for the future of Doctor Who.

In the field of the iconic BBC series, he brings youth, in an attempt to recapture the magic and flavour of the Matt Smith years. Doctor Who has always been a show based on flavour and good wit, which is likely why Gatwa will continue to bring frolic and fun to the series, a strong return to form after the dourness of the Peter Capaldi era. The best Doctors (Troughton, Baker, Smith) have imbued their iterations with a sly sense of mania, gleefully taking hold of a character stalwarts Paul McGann and Christopher Eccleston tried to turn into a rounded, Shakespearian behemoth.

Unlike James Bond, Doctor Who is a punchy character, meant to show British and Irish children the virtues of friendship, stemming from a place of enthusiasm and infection, rather than introspective paralysis. Doctor Who needs to be vibrant, as it embodies a joie de vivre that stems from its place in the serial as a whole, creating escapist adventure parents and tots can get behind. But most importantly, the show is the ultimate in craftsmanship, melding generations of hard work and graft into a series that demonstrates the changing environment through a series of striking fadeouts and cutaways.

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The series has been around for the best part of 60 years and now stands as a social history that’s as important as Michael Apted’s 7up. Indeed, the show demonstrates changes in perceptions of class, and culture, yet it also maintained a flamboyance that sidelined any immediate danger within the group. It’s to the credit of Doctor Who that the passion and perseverance emerged from a place of tremendous interest in the surroundings, whether it was catering to the audiences during a frosty, cold winter, or energising them in time for the summer ahead of the world at large. Doctor Who showed the endless possibilities of a budget in question, much of it determined to represent the Britain of the here and now.

Whether it was 1980s mainstay John Cleese appraising art with Eleanor Bron, or Timothy Dalton signalling the end of the early millennium with heft and bravura, the series has continued to fashion the country from which it emerged, keenly understanding that the country that gave its fresh start is the very same that will ensure that it carries on into the next part of its existence.

And now we have Gatwa, the first black actor to take on the mantle of the series. At 29, he’s one of the youngest to take on the role, which makes sense considering that the series is aimed at children, first and foremost. And with a youthful star leading the ship, it’s certain to pick up more fans.

And like any challenge, whether it’s positioning a banana in his mouth as one of Sex Education‘s more indelible moments or portraying the alien with the three hearts, the challenge is one Gatwa is keen to deliver. “I will endeavour my utmost to do the same,” Gatwa revealed. “Russell T. Davies is almost as iconic as the Doctor himself and being able to work with him is a dream come true. His writing is dynamic, exciting, incredibly intelligent and fizzing with danger.”

“The entire team have been so welcoming and truly give their hearts to the show,” the 14th Doctor continued. “And so as much as it’s daunting, I’m aware I’m joining a really supportive family. Unlike the Doctor, I may only have one heart but I am giving it all to this show.”

Tellingly, a show made with heart and love is the key to success, and in this instance, the show maintains an allure that shows how willing it is to go the extra mile. For Davies, the role wasn’t won based on tokenism, but on merit. “It was the most amazing audition and he was the last person to audition,” Davies said. “I thought someone else was a guaranteed hit, and then in he came, and that person will never know, sadly.”

Television, like history, needs to change and develop in order to maintain its allure to the outside world. With every chapter added, another aspect and perspective can be brought in to ensure that the essence of the show is maintained. Because it was always based on the pretext that entertainment, not gravitas, was needed to push the series along. Get ready to embrace the tardis, because Gatwa – I guarantee you – is going to rock as the Doctor.

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