New Doctor Who star Ncuti Gatwa set to become a force for good on and off-screen – Brian Ferguson

There is nothing quite like catching the trailer for a new film or TV series that grabs you from outset.

That was definitely the case when I caught the first glimpses of the Netflix comedy-drama Sex Education.

Drawn to it by the intriguing casting of Gillian Anderson as a sex therapist, it was the young stars of the show who shone from the outset, with one particular stand-out.

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The trailer, which has been seen an incredible 4.5 million times since the start of 2019, was my first encounter with Ncuti Gatwa, the Rwandan-Scottish actor who was virtually unknown when the series launched, but became an overnight star around the world almost overnight due to the show’s huge success.

Doctor Who and Sex Education star Ncuti Gatwa trained at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in Glasgow. Picture: Robert McFadzean

But it was only months later, when Gatwa was featured in a BBC Scotland documentary exploring what it meant to be both black and Scottish, that I realised that he had been brought up and trained as an actor in Scotland.

Now, of course, Gatwa has become one of Scotland’s most high-profile entertainers after landing the lead role in Doctor Who, an undoubted surprise appointment to the many fans of the show who had never heard of him, but a thrilling prospect for anyone familiar with his performances in Sex Education, and a huge feather in the cap for both the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in Glasgow, where he studied acting, and Dundee Rep, where he was a graduate trainee.

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It is obviously early days, but there seems little doubt that Gatwa’s tenure as the first black actor to take on one of the most coveted roles in British television will have a huge impact on the industry – a force for good on and off-screen.

Ncuti Gatwa shot to fame starring in the Netflix series Sex Education.

Gatwa is also the fourth Scot to play the Time Lord, following in the footsteps of Sylvester McCoy, David Tennant and Peter Capaldi, but it is his upbringing in Scotland that adds a significant extra element to his takeover of the role from Jodie Whittaker.

Gatwa was one of three children brought up by their mother in Edinburgh and then Fife, after the family fled the genocide in Rwanda in 1994.

Speaking in that BBC Scotland documentary, Gatwa was brutally honest about the uncertainties, anxieties and hostilities that came with growing up in Scotland.

One of the most telling excerpts from his interview was when Gatwa admitted he had had to battle to defend his “Scottishness” and often felt like he was the “only black person in the world” when he was growing up.

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He told the documentary: “Role models? There were no black Scottish role models.”

Thanks to Gatwa’s huge talent, he has become that very role model himself now – to young Scottish actors, to actors of colour in Scotland and well beyond, and to the “new Scots” growing up in a different country to the one they were born in.

The racist attitudes encountered by Gatwa during this school days are clearly far from eradicated.

But his rise to prominence, the profile of his new role and Doctor Who’s popularity with a young audience seem certain to have a positive influence on his adopted country, where ideas of “Scottishness” are fast-changing.



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