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New ‘Doctor Who’ Star, Ncuti Gatwa Expresses Empathy For Critics Of Show’s Diversity


This is the question I’ve been eager to pose to Ncuti Gatwa, the newest addition to the iconic British science fiction series, Doctor Who: Who exactly embodies The Doctor this time?

Doctor Who’s lead character, The Doctor, is a time-traveling alien with a lifespan spanning thousands of years, periodically undergoing a “regeneration” into a new form. Consequently, the show can introduce a new actor to offer a fresh interpretation of a character that has captivated audiences since its debut in 1963.

Gatwa steps into the role of the 15th Doctor, portraying a vibrant character adorned in bright attire, exuding excitement, and displaying a depth of emotion not always seen in previous iterations of The Doctor.

A Reimagining of a Classic Sci-Fi Series
The latest episodes mark a significant reboot for Doctor Who, particularly with Disney+ funding, resulting in a more expansive and meticulously produced rendition of the series. This enables the show to intricately unravel its backstory for viewers new to the series, simplifying complex narratives through compelling exchanges between The Doctor and his human companion, Ruby Sunday (Millie Gibson).

Immediately, the series delves into an essential explanation for The Doctor’s wanderlust and reluctance to divulge his past: a desire to evade the emotional burdens of profound tragedies.

Parallel Journeys: Fiction Meets Reality
The Doctor’s narrative mirrors Gatwa’s own life journey. Hailing from Rwanda, Gatwa migrated to Scotland as a child amid the turmoil of genocide and civil unrest in 1994. Now embodying The Doctor, Gatwa becomes the first Black man and the first non-UK-born individual to assume the iconic role.

Doctor Who has a history of reflecting contemporary issues through its casting choices. In line with societal shifts, the show featured Jon Pertwee as a suave Doctor during the James Bond era of the 1970s, followed by Matt Smith as a Doctor tailored for millennials in 2010, and Jodie Whittaker as the series’ first female lead in 2018.

For Gatwa, casting a person of color as the show’s lead sends a powerful message: anyone, regardless of background, can embody The Doctor.

Navigating Criticism and Progress

Nevertheless, not all Doctor Who enthusiasts have embraced these changes. Some have criticized the show’s perceived “wokeness,” citing the inclusion of transgender characters in its 60th-anniversary specials and Gatwa’s casting as the first openly queer man to portray The Doctor. (However, such objections overlook the series’ longstanding inclusion of LGBTQ+ characters and politically charged storylines.)

The new episodes, overseen by openly gay showrunner Russell T. Davies, subtly integrate queer culture into the narrative. One episode features a nonbinary adversary for The Doctor named Maestro, correcting others’ use of pronouns.

Gatwa acknowledges the mixed reception but focuses on the support he receives from fans, emphasizing the positivity outweighing the negativity. He also highlights that he’s not alone in facing discrimination; fellow non-white actors like Halle Bailey and Moses Ingram encounter racism and misogyny in the entertainment industry.

Gatwa, now 31, gained prominence portraying the gay teen Eric Effiong in the acclaimed Netflix series Sex Education. He has since appeared in various projects, including the Barbie movie and Masters of the Air on Apple TV+, and is set to star in a revival of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest at London’s National Theatre later this year.

In Doctor Who, Gatwa injects an infectious enthusiasm, leading Ruby on thrilling adventures, from aiding “Space Babies” on an orbiting station to traversing 1960s London to witness The Beatles’ creative process.

The series strikes a delicate balance, honoring its roots as a children’s show while crafting narratives that resonate with adult viewers who have followed the series for decades.

Gatwa underscores the importance of diversity on a show deeply ingrained in British TV history.

Even within the realm of Time Lords, progress takes time. Nevertheless, Gatwa finds solace in knowing that young Black children can now envision themselves as The Doctor, viewing it as both a tremendous responsibility and a heartwarming opportunity for representation.

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