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CHERRY THE GEEK TV: INTERVIEW- NCUTI GATWA, MILLIE GIBSON, AND RUSSELL T. DAVIES PREVIEW THE FIFTEENTH DOCTOR’S DEBUT ON DISNEY+

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Doctor Who makes it’s debut on Disney+ this week with Ncuti Gatwa taking over as The Fifteenth Doctor, Millie Gibson starring as The Doctor’s Companion Ruby Sunday, and Russell T. Davies returning as the series showrunner after a long absence.

Cherry the Geek TV sat with Davies, Gatwa, and Gibson to talk about the new season, and what we might expect to see as Doctor Who settles in on it’s new home in this soft reboot of the decades long sci-fi franchise.

QUESTION: Were there any challenges in having a shorter season (8 episodes this season) compared to the number of episodes you had had when you were previously the showrunner, or were there any benefits as well to that?

DAVIES: I think we used to make 14 a year. Blimey, we were dying. So no, this is mad, can you imagine? This is actually a more complicated show to make now so it takes longer to make than it did for the original 14. But no, I’m very glad. You cut your cloth to fit, it’s jam packed, I couldn’t think of an extra episode you could squeeze into this. But it’s my job to make things fit now. It’s a Christmas special, plus 8 episodes. I make it fit that, really. Loved it.

QUESTION: I’m just interested to know the moment you knew you were actually in Doctor Who, in the new season. And Russell for you, I know you’ve relaunched before, and been a part of it, but the moment that you sort of gleefully raised your hands in the air and said yes this is Doctor Who for me this time. 

GIBSON: I think my scene where I go around the Tardis and realize it’s bigger inside. I absolutely loved filming that, and especially watching that at the December premiere of the Christmas episode. And the soundtrack in the background was really a good moment.

GATWA: Signifying the new era. I would say the first time I had a scene at the exterior of the Tardis. My first scene I shot was from episode 5, and the Tardis, the exterior of the Tardis was in the shot, and the first time I locked eyes with it, “that’s THE blue box, gosh, that’s my house!” (all laugh)

DAVIES: I was happy from the word go, we have such a brilliant cast here, I’d choose the season finale, which you (Ncuti and Millie) haven’t seen yet. I came back partly to do the season finale, because you never get to write anything like the season finale on any other show, it’s a great big 2-parter. The first part is the Legend of Ruby Sunday, and the second is The Empire of Death. And it’s colossal. I remember as we slotted that all into place, with putting you two in so much danger, and so much bravery and so much friendship between the two of you, I thought yeah, we pulled that off. I loved that, yeah yeah  yeah, very happy. So I paced myself.

QUESTION: I’m curious to know how much of a hand did you have crafting your Doctor in terms of the characterization, the costume and all-round personality. 

GATWA: I was trusted very generously by the man on my left (Russell), trusted and encouraged to take the steering wheel in crafting the Doctor, which I remember being quite surprised by. I was always thinking like, there’s a right and a wrong and Russell would know the answer. But he was like, dude, do your thing. Which was really cool. But I’ve said this many times before, but the missing piece of my characterization came when this wee one (Millie) came into the audition room, and I thought, OK! it all kind of makes sense to me now, the personality and vibe of the Doctor and that cheekiness, that sense of adventure, and that, like, joie de vivre, love of life and I wanted to consume it all, in a good way. In terms of costume, yeah, again, I was pushed by the producers to explore and be expansive with it. And we’ve got an incredible costume director called Pam Downe who pushes all the boundaries and comes up with the coolest fits I can select from. Pam Downe is a champion.

DAVIES: We love her.

QUESTION: Since the first Eccleston episode, which supposedly happened right after the events that decimated Gallifrey, I’ve felt like the Doctor has been moving through the stages of grief. Anger, then denial, and acceptance, and I feel like now, with you, Ncuti, you’re coming into a joy we haven’t seen before. It’s almost a manic joy. It feels like the Doctor has tried to figure it out and he’s just given over to ‘this is what my life is now, and I’ve got to enjoy every minute of it.’ Have you seen it all like that, especially Russell, going through your previous tenure with the show?

DAVIES: How do you feel? I don’t know.

GATWA: Very good question. Because I hear that a lot, that that this incarnation is joyful, and of course there’s a lot of that. Of course there’s a shaking off of traumas that have gone before, but they still live with him.

DAVIES: Yes.

GATWA: But there’s still a lot of dark moments throughout.

DAVIES: To be absolutely honest, we don’t really discuss that, because it would be a very strange day on set if I sat down with Ncuti and said, ‘Right, 11 years ago, you were pretty cross, and then you got a little bit better, then the planet got destroyed again, then…’ That’s no way to approach it. That’s like yes, there’s trauma, how are you feeling now. It’s 2024 now, it’s all about how the Doctor is feeling now, which is how all of us exist in the world. We all wake up with our great big bag of story, but you kind of shake it off and live through a Thursday. So I think the Doctor is very much in the present day.

Picture Shows: Episode 1 The Doctor (Ncuti Gatwa)

QUESTION: In a previous interview, you spoke about found family being one of the tenets, and one of the reasons LGBTQ people connect with the Doctor. How does it feel knowing new queer fans will find that sense of found family within your doctor?

GATWA: Oh, lovely! It feels lovely. But it’s something the show has been doing for a long time, making people feel included. It’s a show you can escape with. That’s certainly  how I felt with it. Oh my gosh, I get to switch off the world around me and just tune into the show and hope into the Tardis with David Tennant, and nip off to the universe and forget my PR calling me, agent calling me, mom annoying me, everyone annoying me, and forget all my earthly troubles and all the craziness the rest of the world holds, and just spend time with the show. And to feel like, now that I’m at the helm of that, lovely. So so so great. And also, give credit to Russell. His writing is so inclusive.

DAVIES: And that’s such a compliment. I think that goes to anyone who is feeling lonely. It doesn’t have to be a sexuality type of thing. I think we all feel lonely, left out of some things, no one’s ever in that cool gang over there. and that’s what the Doctor’s there for.

QUESTION: What does it imply to have such a rare restoration where Ncuti has split bodies with David Tennant, and what does it mean for the Doctor?

DAVIES: It’s an interesting moment in The Devil’s Chord (coming this season) episode, where Ncuti is so brilliant in the scene with Millie and he says he ripped his soul in two. So it’s interesting saying things like that, it was a joyous event when it first  happened, and it’s interesting to hear Ncuti’s Doctor saying ‘ow,’ that must have hurt actually. And I’ve got to say, the show is always more looking forward, we don’t sit and discuss it as people amongst ourselves, and the Doctor doesn’t discuss it with Millie, I mean Ruby, Ruby wasn’t there, so it’s a great thing for the discourse on Twitter, but the show is much more concerned with moving on.

QUESTION: Over the three episodes of this season, and the regeneration special, reality has been torn apart in almost every one of them. Is this a theme you’re going to be running with throughout this, does it get even weirder and crazier, or will things start to calm down?

DAVIES: Oh, it will never calm down.

GATWA: What would be the point in that? Never.

DAVIES: Doctor Who will be the madman in the cupboard. It’s 2024, it’s time to rip up the rules, time to throw things out the window. We all watch so many dramas now, we all know when the third act is coming, you don’t need to look at your watch and think, ‘there’s 10 minutes to go.’ The drama’s ingrained, it’s time to rip that up and make it a bit freer, a bit wilder, madness so you don’t know what’s coming. We do have more traditional episodes, the Bridgerton episode is so glorious, it’s lovely and there are subplots and the two of you running around and meeting up together. So it’s slightly more traditional sometimes, but the whole thing is ripping up – you must feel like that, do you? What’s a normal day’s work for you, never?

GATWA: Never. Never. You’d get bored.

QUESTION: I have a fun question relating to what’s now in the Tardis, which is the jukebox. What songs do you think are in the jukebox?

GIBSON: We’ve seen some, haven’t we? Props has cleverly placed some songs in there, which was cool to see. I think a Britney song was in there.

GATWA: Was it Toxic?

DAVIES: Of course it was Toxic. Yeah.

GATWA: For me, it would be Alien Superstar. You two?

GIBSON: I’ll do Ruby Tuesday.

DAVIES: Come on! It is worth pointing out, The Devil’s Chord episode opens with the Doctor Who theme playing on the jukebox. And you can all debate forever whether that is really happening, is that what they’re really hearing? I’ve got no answers to that. You can debate that. I love that moment, though.

QUESTION: Russell, This is not only a new beginning for the Doctor, but you’re returning to the series after a bit of a sabbatical period. I want to know, looking back at your first tenure with the Doctor, how did it help you in approaching this second tenure? How did it influence this new take on you producing the Doctor?

DAVIES: In many ways! I wasn’t reinventing the wheel, I was very happy with what I had done before, and Doctor Who always keeps regenerating. But every story, and this is an anthology series, every week you’re in a different place. Every week you have a different show practically. I didn’t have to think too much about that. I mean, I was very happy with what we did in 2005. Frankly, we made it the #1 show in Britain. Not just the #1 drama, the #1 show. More of that will do, please. But I just wanted it to be 2024, to feel like 2024 with the production standards, and we cast these two. I mean, just look, there’s 2024 right there (points to Ncuti and Millie). The energy and the youth and the spirit and optimism that these two bring to it, the imagination and insight and the dexterity you two have, the comedy you have. When we cast you, we never knew how funny you’d be together. I have to say, that was a great joy. Obviously, you can do the serious stuff. And you do that brilliantly. But not many people can do comedy like you two do. That’s a really rare gift. So you know what, you cast it well, and you sit back. Some parts of my job are easy. And this, sitting here, is the easiest part of all. Happiness, truly happiness.

QUESTION: I wanted to ask what your favorite episode of the season is, and if you  have a personal favorite episode in general, maybe one that you wrote, Russell, or one that someone else wrote?

DAVIES: (laughs) Doesn’t have to be one of mine.

GIBSON: There’s two that have special places in my  heart. One is 73 Yards (coming this season) and the second is Rose. for sure. They’re my two.

GATWA: Rose. Regency, I think was my favorite (coming this season).

DAVIES: So much fun.

GATWA: And I do love three – Boom (coming this season). Ooooohhhhh! Soooooo clever.

DAVIES: I can’t, listen, I’ve worked with all the people who’ve worked on these, I can’t go ‘I loved this one,’ all the directors and producers and stuff like that… In terms of in the old show, I could. I was lucky enough to be the producer when Steven Moffatt wrote Blink. Which is a show starring Carey Mulligan. She’s gone around the world. That is so good. Steven himself says he gave away a movie franchise with that one. We’d be in the movies watching Blink 10 by now if he hadn’t, but he gave it to Doctor Who, and I’m still honored to have worked on that.

GIBSON: Blink was so good. DON’T Blink.

DAVIES: We had long debates whether it was Blink or Don’t Blink.

GIBSON: Ahhhh!!

DAVIES: I think that my one contribution to that was to decide, just call it Blink.

QUESTION: We’re in this new era of Doctor Who, where I want to say, there’s more fantasy storybook, within the science fiction. What is the balance you want to keep between those two now?

DAVIES: A good healthy balance, doing it some weeks. You’ve seen the opening episodes, that’s immediately followed by the episode Ncuti just referenced, Boom, written by Steven Moffatt, the brilliant Steven Moffatt, which is very hard science fiction, very down to earth, the physical rules apply to that. Rock solid. I think as long as you keep moving it, changing it… I think the program has always done this, way back in the ’60s, when the Doctor first met the celestial Toymaker, who lived in the fantasy realm and played games with him. There’s a marvelous Patrick Troughton story from 1968 called The Mind Robber, where they get lost in a world of fairy tales. They meet Rapunzel. They meet Gulliver. They meet superheroes, it’s completely bonkers. So it’s not a particularly  new thing, I do love pumping it up, because when you’re up against someone like Jinkx Monsoon (from The Devil’s Chord), all rules are off, you can’t stand there and talk Maestro down, can you. You can’t fight Maestro, you can’t push a button on the computer that stops Maestro, so it makes the two of you act your hearts out in defeating Maestro. So I think that’s how you end up with a great show. Keep that balance going.

Picture Shows: Episode 2 The Doctor (Ncuti Gatwa) and Ruby Sunday (Millie Gibson)

QUESTION: Ncuti’s new Doctor seems to me to be much more emotionally open, in what he shares with his companion, he has abandoned a lot of the trauma from before; which to me, being a writer, seems to work well with this being a reboot in a way, because he’s telling her things about himself that we need to know. He’s not hiding it in ways that perhaps he might have drawn out a bit in your first run in the show. I think we didn’t hear Gallifrey until the second episode. Was that a deliberate choice on how open he is?

DAVIES: It was a choice, I was already thinking that. It’s 2024, what do we do with people now, we say the number one thing now, if you’re feeling sad, say so. If you’re feeling joyous, say so. A lot of people on TikTok are celebrating the chicken wing. They’re dancing. If they want to have a dance, they do it. It’s like we’re in a more emotionally intelligent and expressive age, so I already wanted the Doctor to do more of that. And then magically, we cast Ncuti who wears those emotions so wildly and beautifully. You can do emotions on an epic scale, and then intimate. You can do envy, you can do fear, you can do comedy, you can do joy. So the two things, I think that’s why we’ve got a magical show, frankly. Because my wishes and your wishes and your genius came together – and Millie as well, bringing the heart and soul of Ruby Sunday into it. The nice thing is, that secrecy about the Doctor is still there. On the rooftop in The Devil’s Chord, where Ruby is asking about your family, the Doctor clams up like he always did. And doesn’t take that hug and keeps secrets.

GATWA: He’s still tightly held.

DAVIES: There’s a nice line in The Legend of Ruby Sunday, where the Doctor tells Kate, Gemma Redgrave, he says I’m still trying to shake that off, but I can’t. So we get to play all attributes. I’m very lucky.

QUESTION: Are we going to meet the Master? And if you got to meet the fugitive Doctor, Doctor Ruth, what would you say to her?

DAVIES: About the Master, nope. We have lots of new villains coming up, and there’s no room for that lovely old character. So maybe one day, but no plans yet.

GATWA: What would I say? Ncuti to Jo (Martin), or 15 to Fugitive? Ncuti to Jo, honor, honor to me, for breaking those barriers. 15 to Fugitive, how do I work this button on the Tardis?

Season One of Doctor Who is available to stream on Disney+ starting May 10th.

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