Doctor Who is back – bigger, brighter, and bolder than ever before

Adam Fresco previews the 14th series of Doctor Who – with the 15th incarnation of The Doctor setting the TARDIS coordinates for outrageously camp, gloriously silly, family-friendly fun.

Since 1963, BBCs Television’s Doctor Who has been a mainstay of British popular culture. Following a bit of a dip in the 1990s, the sci-fi stalwart surged back to mainstream popularity in 2005 when some bright-spark handed the showrunner reins over to Russell T Davies. The Welsh writer had a host of popular children’s TV shows to his credit, before hitting the big time (and huge controversy in the UK tabloids) with the very adult (and very funny) drama Queer as Folk—a brilliant, ground-breaking series which placed gay characters front and centre in mainstream TV. Shocking, delightful, and entertaining in equal measure, the brilliant drama proved a watershed moment for UK television.

So, when it was announced that Davies was taking on family favourite Doctor Who, it caused quite a stir. But Davies brought The Doctor back big time, first with Christopher Eccleston in the lead, and then David Tennant, both supported by a star-making turn by Billie Piper as Rose.

Under Davies’ guidance, the hugely popular show took off in the US but, after Davies left, Doctor Who wobbled, as first Matt Smith, then Peter Capaldi, then Jodie Whittaker took on the titular role. 2023 saw Davies return to helm the show, bringing back David Tennant as the Time Lord for a special run, before he (literally) split, introducing a brand-new Doctor, in the form of Ncuti Gatwa (star of the series Sex Education, and Artist Ken in box office behemoth Barbie).

Gatwa kicked off the new Doctor’s first solo outing in a Christmas special. Wearing a kilt, tight yellow vest, and leather jacket, the new Doctor danced joyously at a nightclub amongst a multicultural, multiracial, multigendered crowd of happy extras, reflecting the myriad makeup of modern British society, and proudly stating, in no uncertain terms, that this is a big, bright, bold children’s sci-fi aimed at a markedly modern family.

The Christmas special saw the new Doctor meet the wonderfully named Ruby Sunday (played by an effervescent Millie Gibson), a 19-year-old who was left at a church as a baby, before being adopted by Carla, a loving foster mother. Seeking her biological family, Ruby appeared on a TV show, hosted by presenter Davina McCall, playing herself. Ruby hopes her DNA will uncover her mysterious heritage (which becomes the big mystery hanging over the new season).

It didn’t take long for The Doctor and Ruby to team up on their first adventure, battling time-twisting, baby-snatching goblins who turned out to be behind Ruby’s run of bad luck, which includes a giant snowman, hanging from a London shop, nearly crushing her when those naughty goblins cut its cables.

The first episode of the new season finds The Doctor and Ruby onboard a spaceship, in a tale featuring rubber-monsters, time-twisting loops, talking babies and, ultimately, a big, cheesy dollop of hope. The next instalment plunges our protagonists into an alternate history of British music, in which splendidly over-the-top villain Maestro, played with obvious relish by Jinkx Monsoon, turns The Beatles into a band so bland that, when we first meet them in 1963 at the EMI Recording Studios on Abbey Road, they are performing a dismally dull song about a pet dog, with the opening Lennon-McCartney lyric: “I’ve got a dog, he’s called Fred, my dog is alive, he’s not dead.” It’s pretty bad, and very fun, as is hearing a young Cilla Black singing the equally bland: “I love you, you love me, we are two, we are not three.”

It’s a delightful episode, featuring a scene in the recoding studio’s café with John Lennon chatting to Ruby as The Doctor interrogates Paul McCartney. It all builds to a colour-splashed song-and-dance scene reminiscent of the opening of La La Land, and a final shot of The Doctor and Ruby dancing across the famous Abbey Road-crossing, as it lights-up like the giant piano-keyboard Tom Hanks danced across in Big. It’s a joyous, fun adventure that sets up this new incarnation of The Doctor as a bright and breezy character, not a million light-years away from Willy Wonka (the smiley, happy Timothée Chalamet one, not the fun-but-scary Gene Wilder, or kooky-but-creepy Johnny Depp version).

Having seen and enjoyed the 2023 Christmas Special, titled ‘The Church on Ruby Road’, and the first two adventures in this new series (‘Space Babies’ and ‘The Devil’s Chord’), I’m left with a big-kid grin on my kisser, because Doctor Who is back—bigger, brighter, and bolder than ever before, in an gloriously silly, modern family-friendly fresh season of an old show about a new Time Lord that’s well worth your time.