‘Doctor Who’ Stars Ncuti Gatwa and Millie Gibson Reflect on the ‘Cultural British Institution’: ‘It Means a Lot to People in Our Land’

They also share their idea for a Rat Pack-centered episode

Ncuti Gatwa and Millie Gibson
Ncuti Gatwa as the Fifteenth Doctor and Millie Gibson as Ruby Sunday(CREDIT: BBC)

“Doctor Who” is in.

The beloved British sci-fi series, which began back in 1963, is returning after some lovely Christmas episodes at the end of last year. We’ve got a new Doctor (in the form of Ncuti Gatwa from “Sex Education” and “Barbie”), a new companion (Millie Gibson) and a new financial partner in Disney+, who is now a coproducer on the show and where American audiences will be able to stream these new episodes. How about that?

We spoke with the Doctor himself, as well as Gibson, who plays Ruby Sunday — a mysterious new companion with a murky past. (Disney only showed us two new episodes, beyond the Christmas special “The Church on Ruby Road,” which is technically the first episode of this batch.)

We talked with Gatwa and Gibson about their relationship to the series before signing on, what it was like working with veteran “Who” writers Russell T. Davies and Steven Moffat and where they would travel back in time.

What did “Doctor Who” mean to you before signing on?

Ncuti Gatwa: I mean, “Doctor Who” in the U.K. is like a piece of furniture in your house – it’s something that we’ve all grown up with, that we all love. It’s a cultural British institution that means a lot to people in our land. And that hasn’t changed now.

Millie Gibson: It’s a show that moves with generations of family. For me, it’s the nostalgic purpose. It’s always reminded me of my dad, because this is the thing that my dad used to watch. So it was like, Oh, how cool to be part of something like that.

Was there any trepidation about signing on to something that means so much to so many people?

Gatwa: No, it felt like a no-brainer.

Gibson: Yeah. Totally.

Gatwa: It was such an opportunity. And it’s such an incredible honor to get to play these roles. And, of course, all you want to do is honor the weight of that 60 years.

Gibson: Even though it’s a lot of pressure, it was also the biggest thrill and opportunity. It was like, OK, I’ll deal with that later on. But this is what I need to commit to in priority.

This is obviously a very different Doctor. But did you look at any of the previous performances for inspiration?

Gatwa: I think it would be wrong to say he’s going to be totally new. I definitely looked at the other Doctors. Because there’s a throughline in this character that you need to look at. This character has been evolving and regenerating for 60 years. And so there’s definitely an element of looking at what each actor brought. Each actor has been unmistakably the Doctor and also very much different.

You’ve got to look at that and see what kind of energy they’ve all brought in order to form your own. That’s what I wanted to do. So yeah, I was definitely inspired by, I’d say all the other Doctors. I wouldn’t say that there’s a specific one, I’d say like all of them. Because they’ve all played the character that I’m playing now. This me, there’s nothing different between me and [original Doctor Who] William Hartnell.

They’ve only showed us two episodes, so what can you tease about this season?

Gibson: Totally new monsters.

Gatwa: Totally new monsters. It’s so much fun traveling to different time periods on Earth, which presents a whole new level.

Gibson: Those were always my favorites episodes, watching “Doctor Who,” going back in time and seeing what the companion would wear. It’s so much fun being a part of those types of episodes. Lots of different eras, different cameos, really exciting people that are a part of the season.

Gatwa: And also figuring out the mystery of this one — the mystery of Ruby Sunday drives the season. It’s such a huge element in their connection with one another, they’ve bonded over the fact that they have been adopted. And the Doctor is desperate to get to the bottom of this mystery.

In one of the new episodes, Ruby wants to go visit the Beatles. If you could go back to some historic juncture, what would that be?

Gibson: Oh my gosh, you go!

Gatwa: Where would I go? Where did you say you want to go the other day? The 1920s?

Gibson: Yeah, I want to go to the 1920s to a jazz bar, and we’d get into some mischief.

Gatwa: Yes, cool.

Gibson: I’m in a flapper dress.

Gatwa: And I’m in some cool spats.

Gibson: With a hat! And you go up and do a band.

Gatwa: And then we perform with the Rat Pack. And then we find out that the Rat Pack is the big monster. They’re a big rat!

Can you talk about working with Russell? Talk about someone who has had a long history with this franchise. And Steven Moffat is back this season too.

Gatwa: It was so nice to engage with Steven’s writing. What an incredible writer.

Gibson: And you can really distinguish the two writers. When we read his script it was like, Oh, different.

Gatwa: It’s very exciting to work with writers with such distinct styles. Working with one of the best of our generation, what more could you want?

I’m assuming that Russell is an encyclopedia. If you have any question about “Doctor Who,” do you go to him?

Gatwa: Absolutely.

Gibson: He’s on it. Every day he’s messaging us about the scene we’ve just done and gives us praise and gives us extra info. That man’s brain doesn’t switch off.

Gatwa: He’s definitely an encyclopedia of all things “Doctor Who.” You can ask him about anything.

Are you already getting enthusiastic “Doctor Who” fans approaching you on the street?

Gibson: It’s not been too bad. I think it’s because the show has not come out. For me personally, it’s cool seeing everyone’s theories online of what Ruby Sunday might be like. It’s so beautiful to see how passionate and how much love they have for the show.

Ncuti, you’re coming off of the success of “Barbie.” You’re the new “Doctor Who.” What’s the next mountain for you to climb?

Gatwa: I don’t know. Well, I’m making a return to the theater. I’m at the National doing “The Importance of Being Earnest.” I’m very much looking forward to making a return to theater. But also, I haven’t finished climbing this mountain, this “Who”-niverse mountain. I will be climbing it for a while.

“Doctor Who” is on Disney+ now.

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