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HomeHealth and Lifestyle‘This Feels Like My ‘Doctor Who’: Superfans Watch the New Season

‘This Feels Like My ‘Doctor Who’: Superfans Watch the New Season

“Doctor Who,” the BBC’s beloved sci-fi series about an alien time traveler and his human companions, has had 875 episodes over 61 years. The show first ran between 1963 and 1989 on the BBC, was revived in 2005 and has been airing ever since.

As a result, the TV shows has one of the most diverse a fan bases when it comes to age. It appeals to older people who sat down to watch the first broadcast on black-and-white televisions, as well as to children watching on their iPads in 2024.

On Friday, a new season started airing, featuring Ncuti Gatwa — the 31-year-old Scottish actor who was previously best known for his role as Eric on “Sex Education” — as the latest Doctor. Russell T Davies, who was the showrunner between the reboot in 2005 and 2010, is back at the helm. The show also has a new home on Disney+, the first time the BBC has produced “Doctor Who” in partnership with another company in the show’s history.

On a recent evening, Richard Unwin, a 44-year-old writer and actor, gathered four other “Doctor Who” fans at his apartment in East London to watch the first two episodes. They were a little nervous about what the Disney influence, and the need to cater to a new, international audience, might have done to their favorite program.

“I am worried that they will Americanize it,” said George Norohna, a 61-year-old retired civil servant, who remembers the show as the first thing he ever saw on a color television. They were joined by the fantasy author Janelle McCurdy, 28, Francis Beveridge, a 27-year-old neuroscience researcher, and Beth Axford, 26, who writes for “Doctor Who Magazine,” a fan publication.

Surrounded by shelves packed with “Doctor Who” memorabilia, the fans helped themselves from a platter of vegetarian sandwiches as they watched the episodes: the first about a baby farm in space and the second about a villain who steals the world’s music. From one corner of the room, a full-size replica Dalek watched over the scene.

There was plenty of laughter and knowing nods at references to past “Doctor Who” episodes. Afterward, the five fans discussed what they had seen, the current state of the fandom and their own histories with the show.

The following conversation has been edited for length and clarity, and contains mild spoilers.

What do you make of these first two episodes?

JANELLE MCCURDY It’s a lot more goofy than what you traditionally get. I hope it’s not all just a fun-and-games kind of vibe, though. I want the serious, heart wrenching episodes as well.

FRANCIS BEVERIDGE The tone felt a lot more even than some of the episodes when Russell T Davies first did it. I think he’s always had trouble with being silly,and then suddenly being quite dark. This felt silly, but not atonal. It feels more mature.

BETH AXFORD It felt like a really good mixture of new music and new vibes, and also the classic Doctor Who vibe. And considering Millie Gibson, who plays the Doctor’s latest companion, Ruby Sunday, is so much younger than Ncuti — she’s 19 and he’s 31 — the fact that they have this much chemistry is amazing. I think they’re so good together.

MCCURDY Ncuti’s definitely going to usher in a whole new generation of “Doctor Who” fans, because there’s such warmth with his Doctor that is just so inviting.

Does the show feel different now it’s being produced with Disney?

RICHARD UNWIN They’ve catered to the American audience by going really British, with London rooftops, the Beatles. There’s a reference to the very first episode, though, from 1963.

MCCURDY It was a beautiful nod to its past.

UNWIN So there’s plenty of fan service, but hopefully not so that it alienates a new viewer.

AXFORD This feels like my “Doctor Who.” And the CGI Disney did here wouldn’t even have been attempted by the BBC.

What role has “Doctor Who” played in your life?

AXFORD I was 8 when “Doctor Who” came back in 2005. From then onward, I was just insanely obsessed. I come from a village that is very conservative. If I didn’t have “Doctor Who” as such a big part of my life, I might not be who I am. The Doctor and Captain Jack sharing a kiss at the end of the revival’s Season 1, or having Martha as a Black companion in Season 3, all of those things broadened my worldview.

UNWIN I first saw Doctor Who in 1989, when I was 9. And then it was canceled. So I grew up in the wilderness years. Then it came back in 2005. It felt like how it would be for Christians if Christ came back. It’s been a huge part of my life, to the extent that I credit “Doctor Who” with helping me get through depression and giving up drug addiction.

FRANCIS BEVERIDGE I was at my grandpa’s when I was 8 and ended up watching it. And I actually haven’t stopped since. I was less interested in it in high school because I was like, oh, I’m grown up now. But after leaving high school, I thought actually, you know what, let’s embrace this. And I’ve got a lot of lost time to make up for.

How has the fandom changed over the years?

NORONHA It does seem to be very male and white.

UNWIN Less so than it used to be, but yes. There is a group of old, white, straight men who used to be the only “Doctor Who” fans. And when it came back, and the fan base expanded, they threw their toys out the pram and decided it was just for them. But they’re dying out now.

MCCURDY I don’t see many Black women who are fans of “Doctor Who.” There’s not really an online community that feels welcoming.

UNWIN It is a weird thing that no one can really explain that there is an enormous crossover between queer people and “Doctor Who” fans. There’s not an environment like it anywhere else in the world. The fandom is like being in an asylum, but in a fun way.

BEVERIDGE What’s that Taylor Swift quote, “You wouldn’t last a day in the asylum that raised me?”

AXFORD I would say there are lots of fans who are neurodivergent as well, or who have mental health issues. I think the show has this way of looking after you. The Doctor is always there for you. That’s why it gets into so many of us.

What does casting Gatwa as the Doctor mean to you?

MCCURDY I know there’s old school Doctor Who fans who might see it as just a token thing. But it means a lot to me as a Black woman.

UNWIN It’s the first time that the Doctor talks like I do, as a gay man.

MCCURDY I feel exactly the same, he’s talking like how I talk.

BEVERIDGE The Doctor has always appealed to gay men, because he’s a nonconventional male role model. So having the doctor be more queer has allowed people to identify that bit more closely with him.

What do you think is the essence of a Doctor Who episode?

UNWIN “Doctor Who” is about a time traveler, his friends and a blue box. That’s all you need. And then you can go anywhere in time and space. That’s the joy.

AXFORD The joy for me is that every episode encapsulates a form of hope, about the world, about ourselves. That’s the one thing I think “Doctor Who” has to do for me, and always does do.

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