Doctor Who review: Ncuti Gatwa is already the most cartoonishly exuberant Time Lord ever

What’s the best thing about the new Doctor Who? Is it the whizz-bang special-effects purchased with Disney’s millions, rendering the early episodes with their shoogly balsa wood sets as belonging to distant aeons?

The FX are undoubtedly impressive but, no, I reckon it’s Ncuti Gatwa’s accent. This keeps the show grounded and that ground is in Edinburgh’s Oxgangs, with a bit of Dunfermline as phonetic topsoil.

“Butturfly,” he says in Space Babies, the debut adventure of his first series. “Toma-oes.” Then, confirming where his childhood was spent as a refugee from East Africa: “It’s leaving behind some sort of stoor.” The “it” is a ferocious monster roaming a stricken space station full of tots in buggies - a critical situation but Gatwa feels the need to pause and savour what he’s just said. “Stoor … man, that’s a good word!”

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Scripted by Russell T. Davies, the episode starts out silly, babyish (quite literally), weird and slightly creepy. The sprogs, though still in nappies, can talk and have enquiring minds. “Am I growing up wrong?” one asks our Time Lord. He replies in a very Who-ish manner: “Nobody grows up wrong. You are what you are and that’s magnificent!”

Our first double-bill! Ncuti Gatwa and Millie Gibson.Our first double-bill! Ncuti Gatwa and Millie Gibson.
Our first double-bill! Ncuti Gatwa and Millie Gibson.

Government cutbacks - boo, hiss, but they have them in 2150, too - have closed what appears to be a baby farm, the adults abandoning it. Doesn’t Childline still function in 2150? No matter, the Doctor’s here, and Gatwa - already seeming like the most cartoonishly exuberant Doctor there’s ever been - has the power to banish cynicism and scepticism, and I love that the buggies have flame-throwers. Alas, the one for my kids only came with a cup-holder.

Davies works in a line about refugees which must chime with his Rwanda-born star, whose family fled a genocide to begin new lives in Scotland. And what saves the day and the babies? Spoiler, or rather soiler, alert - poo. The Doctor works out that a zillion metric tonnes of methane from cast-off nappies can shoot the space station to a hopefully welcoming planet.

The second of the double-bill, The Devil’s Chord also by Davies, has the Tardis whooshing back to 1963 because assistant Ruby Tuesday (Millie Gibson) wants to witness the Beatles record their debut LP - but a diabolical camp villain has killed all music, no one sings or even whistles and the Fab Four are sounding terrible.

It’s over for them before it’s begun. “What we’re doing today is the last gasp,” admits Paul. “Just making a bit of money out of some cheap old rhymes.”

This is cataclysmic. “Without music the human race goes sour,” says the Doctor. “Without any way to express a broken heart we will go to war not even knowing why.”

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Come on Paul, come on John - and come on Doctor: help these guys find the lost chord, the big, doomy one which a few years hence, in maybe their greatest composition, close “A Day in the Life”.

There’s a grave risk, of course. Saving music will ultimately let in Coldplay and Mumford & Sons, but them’s the breaks.

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