While previous announcements have been given quite a lot of pomp and circumstance, the choice for announcing the new Doctor Who took place with a different and subdued time and space. While some fans had suspected that the incarnation of the next Doctor would take place at the BAFTA TV awards on Sunday night, a revealing and teasing online pull back of the curtain appeared via social media just as the actor hit the red carpet and confirmed the news. Actor Ncuti Gatwa posted a single Instagram post showing two hearts and a blue box emoji that was immediately liked by incoming showrunner Russell T Davies… and so eager fans quickly put the facts together before the formal announcement appeared on the BBC News.
The casting of the next Doctor was always going to be a bit tricky. Jodie Whittaker’s incarnation immediately got pushback from some more narrow-minded fans who said that a shape-shifting alien could never shapeshift into the form of a woman. However even those who liked Whittaker’s previous work and were open to giving her the chance to take on the role were not necessarily won over by the seasons that followed. Show-runner Chris Chibnall made a lot of changes – the titles, the night of broadcast, increasing the amount of Doctor’s fellow travellers, introducing a contradictory new mythology to the long-running show (which admittedly had already contradicted itself several times over its near-sixty year run) and a tone that was arguably more simplistic than Steven Moffat’s tenure – and the result divided the fanbase, losing some of the party-faithful.
The idea that the next Doctor could return to the traditional ‘middle-aged white male’ performer would have wider implications, suggesting to some that making the Doctor female was a failed experiment (where in fact, any real fault could be argued to lie elsewhere) so the casting of Ncuti Gatwa, a black man sends a strong signal that the series wants to show the diversity that a shape-changing alien still has, while still keeping that aspect fluid. (Technically, we’ve seen Jo Martin, a black female actor as the ‘Fugitive Doctor’ already). For those who don’t know Ncuti Gatwa’s work (and against some expectations of a possible ‘big’ name coming aboard), the actor is not that well known yet, but about to be. Born in Rwanda and raised in Scotland, he’s a respected Shakespearian actor, having performed at The Globe but may have been seen by many as the character Eric Effiong in cult hit Sex Education. He has already won a Scottish Bafta and a Rose d’Or Award for that series.
“It feels really amazing. It’s a true honour. This role is an institution and it’s so iconic,” the actor said and noted that the role “…means a lot to so many people, including myself. I feel very grateful to have had the baton handed over and I’m going to try to do my best.”
Speaking of working with Russell T Davies, Gatwa said: “His writing is dynamic, exciting, incredibly intelligent and fizzing with danger – an actor’s metaphorical playground. The entire team have been so welcoming and truly give their hearts to the show. 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.”
Davies said that the challenge to get the right person for the role had been interesting, noting: “It was our last audition. It was our very last one. We thought we had someone, and then in he came and stole it. I’m properly, properly thrilled. It’s going to be a blazing future.”