Ncuti Gatwa and Millie Gibson on Doctor Who’s Lonely Heroes, and Being Embraced by Fans

Ncuti Gatwa and Millie Gibson on Doctor Who’s Lonely Heroes, and Being Embraced by Fans

There are few more intimidating things in the world of Doctor Who than introducing something new. Despite the series’ enduring themes of change over the last 60 years, its fandom is one that is, more often than not, hesitant to adapt to change at first—and will let you know it. That makes bringing in new stars, inherent to that theme of change, a challenge sometimes… but its new heroes have taken that challenge running.

Doctor Who of course introduced Ncuti Gatwa and Millie Gibson’s 15th Doctor and Ruby Sunday this past Christmas—and Gatwa earlier still in a barnstorming performance for the final episode of the show’s 60th anniversary celebrations—but there’s something different still in launching a new season of the show, as the duo prepare to do this evening, when Doctor Who returns for a buzzy new era on Disney+ and the BBC iPlayer. But part of what has made that transition so effortless for Gatwa and Gibson alike is that the series, much like the Doctor and Ruby themselves, hits the ground running.

“Oh my god, they’re like ducks to water,” Gatwa recently told io9 over Zoom, of the Doctor and Ruby’s relationship heading into the new season—a highlight that carries its first two episodes (“Ducks! To! The Water!” Gibson added, for confirmation). “They come together so quickly. They have this shared experience of having both being adopted, they don’t know where they come from. And they met [at Christmas]—crisis was afoot, already. Ruby’s jumping onto a ladder, into the sky, to the goblin ship. Something like that haunts you. You go from an experience like that—you’ll be bonded by that experience. An experience like that just grows and grows and grows. I think they see a lot of themselves in each other. So that’s good.”

Part of what immediately drew the Doctor and Ruby together in the first place was a kinship—they’re not just mysteries to one another, a strange alien and a girl seemingly touched by unknown forces of fate, but they’re both figures of loss. The Doctor has once more lost their people, the last of a kind that, it turns out, they’d helped create in the first place. Ruby, an orphan desperately in search of answers about her birth parents, finds a relatability in that struggle.
“It’s a theme through the whole season, I’d say—they’re both puzzles to one another, even though they both love and protect and care for each other,” Gibson said of the dynamic Ruby and the Doctor share. “They still don’t really know the extent of the person they’re travelling with. Which I think is interesting.”

Image: BBC

That quickness of ease the Doctor and Ruby feel in each other’s orbits is felt similarly by Gatwa and Gibson’s arrival in Doctor Who itself—a confidence in fandom’s quick embrace of them coming into Christmas that has perhaps reflected in the show in turn. “Any sci-fi show comes with a fandom, a very, very strong fandom. Passionate. It’s very nice to be embraced in this world, and welcomed in by the Whovians,” Gatwa said.

“These are such iconic roles, so people trusting you with them so willingly and easily is such a credit to the Whovians, as you call them,” Gibson added. “They would defend me with their lives! They haven’t even gotten to know me. So, it’s just so beautiful that they’re so committed and passionate about Ruby Sunday, even though they haven’t seen much of her. The show’s nothing without the fans.”

The Doctor and Ruby even already have favorites. One benefit of the series filming so far in advance (they’re currently filming their second season, alongside Andor’s Varada Sethuas an incoming second companion) is that both actors have already gotten to know fans who appear and watch filming regularly. “I want to give a shout out to Doctor Who Positivity on Twitter, Tom,” Gatwa said, abuzz talking about the series’ fandom. “The way that they defend us? It’s beautiful! I’m obsessed with the Whovians. I love them so much. And all the artwork that started before even a trailer. Or even a special came out.”

“By casting announcement, they were like, ‘on it.’ It was so beautiful to see,” Gibson added. “They’d have put their life on the line.”

It’s a stark contrast to perhaps what many would’ve expected back when Gatwa in particular was cast in the lead role, breaking boundaries for the series as its first openly queer, Black male lead. But his effusiveness for the series, as well as the people that love it, has overcome barriers already—and even that typical Whovian hesitance that always comes with trying to figure out what a new Doctor will be like. “A lot gets said about sci-fi fandoms and how toxic they can sometimes be, but there’s also such beauty,” Gatwa mused. “It’s a community of people, who become friends with one another. And to have a show like that… I’m so grateful.”

Doctor Who returns globally with a three-episode premiere on Disney+, available to watch now.

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