Ncuti Gatwa’s Doctor Who season ups the stakes with its new villains, and I couldn’t be happier to see it

Doctor Who
(Image credit: BBC)

I’ve loved Doctor Who my whole life, it’s one of my earliest memories – no, I won’t tell you which scene is the first I remember, but suffice to say, my fandom spans ‘Classic’, ‘Revival’ and now ‘Nu-Nu-Who’. I just made those terms up, don’t write in. 

With a new season upon us – again, don’t write in, it is season one with good reason – Doctor Who is back, brand new and completely different yet still somehow exactly the same. But better.

Given the extended amount of time (and space) I’ve been plodding around the Whoniverse there have been many highs and lows over these (long, long) decades and moments where I’ve enjoyed the series more than others. So it stands to reason that there have also been points – eras, stories – that I haven’t enjoyed quite so much. And that’s OK! Everyone stand down, you’re allowed the good with the bad, not everything can be the best thing ever all the time. Yes, sometimes I like stories that ‘The Fandom’ has deemed to not be very good. But it would be terribly boring if we all liked exactly the same things.

I mention all this so as not to get your Fezzes in a twist when I say that Doctor Who was long overdue a ‘rehaul’. Whatever your personal opinion, in the mainstream the popularity of Doctor Who had waned. Drop the sonic device! This is not uncommon – the show has been back on our screens since 2005 and all things have peaks and troughs.

Doctor Who

(Image credit: Darren Scott)

But the landscape has changed. As much as Doctor Who was responsible – and it absolutely was – for a glut of home-grown fantasy like Merlin, Primeval, Robin Hood, and such, genre entertainment has overtaken our little Blue Box Show in recent years. Finally – FINALLY!! – people seem to have got wise to just how brilliant sci-fi and fantasy is and we have a glut of television series and films in a seemingly never-ending cycle of production. That’s great for SFX, the magazine is finally mainstream after 30 years – albeit it’s harder to keep up with everything. But with constant Star Wars shows, Marvel productions, universes, world-building, multiverses and goodness knows what else, the Doctor is fighting altogether new enemies – crowded space and shorter attention spans.

That’s why I’m glad it’s found a new global home with Disney Plus – what better way to bring the show to almost 250 countries simultaneously? We know that Who’s been around the planet several times, but this is the first time that’s happened properly dubbed and subtitled all over the world at the same time. This is a VERY GOOD THING.

Yes, that means some changes to how we might access the new episodes, and yeah, the extra budget probably helps our quaint British show compete with the big boys, girls and others. Now, if you’re going to whip out an endless Twitter thread about the ‘old school charm’ of Doctor Who or something – don’t bother. Places to be, babes! Plus I can save you the time – there’s 61 years of shows available on iPlayer, DVD, Blu-ray, audio, comics, books, ice lolly wrappers etc etc. They’re still there, no one’s taking them away (well, except for one ongoing attempt but that’s a whole ‘nother story).

Doctor Who

(Image credit: BBC)

The whole point of Doctor Who is change – it’s literally hardwired into the premise. As much as I’d like to see Beryl Reid and Kate O’Mara rock up in a quarry or spaceship – and I still can, thanks to iPlayer – times change too. So the fact that this new series leans into fantasy – though you could argue that it’s always been that way inclined – is like a breath of fresh air for a franchise that could do with some slight resuscitation. 

There’s been fan speculation that the spilling of salt and invoking a superstition at the edge of the universe in Wild Blue Yonder has opened the door for a ‘bigger bad’. Showrunner Russell T Davies has spoken of a ‘pantheon of Gods’ who will face off against the Doctor – The Toymaker has already returned and seemingly been vanquished, but he looms large in the episodes ahead. 

Maestro – played by Jinkx Monsoon – also fits into this picture. Davies has previously said that Maestro is “the Doctor’s most powerful enemy yet”, and when you see their confrontation you realize that, after 60 years, the stakes need to be this high. It needs to be fantastical, the threat needs to be more than an alien invasion, the Doctor needs to be scared and not quite as all-powerful as we’ve previously seen. We’d got comfortable with the glass ceiling of invade and defeat – this cosmos-level threat takes Doctor Who as a series to a new level, and reinvents the show while still keeping it the same. How many franchises can say that? Change is good. We’re in for another fantastic(al) journey – buckle up!

For more on Ncuti Gatwa's debut season, here's our Doctor Who season 1 episode 1 and 2 review, as well as our Doctor Who season 1 release schedule.

I'm the Editor of SFX, the world's number one sci-fi, fantasy and horror magazine – available digitally and in print every four weeks since 1995. I've been editing magazines, and writing for numerous publications since before the Time War. Obviously SFX is the best one. I knew being a geek would work out fine.