'Doctor Who' star Ncuti Gatwa says his character is 'coming in hot' Gatwa is the first Black man and the first person born outside the U.K. to play The Doctor. He's candid about how his own life has influenced his take on the role — and about his critics.

New 'Doctor Who' star Ncuti Gatwa feels 'sad' for critics of show's diversity

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Actor Ncuti Gatwa is making history. He is the first Black man to play the time-traveling alien hero on the 60-year-old British science fiction TV institution "Doctor Who." Gatwa says he's playing a slightly more emotional version of the character.

NCUTI GATWA: He's coming in hot. He's a little bit cocky, my Doctor.

KELLY: NPR TV critic Eric Deggans talked to the actor last week. And today, a new season of "Doctor Who" starring Gatwa begins streaming on Disney+. Here's the story.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: Ncuti Gatwa's version of the Doctor is a bit different than the other actors who played this adventurous, long-lived alien since the show debuted way back in 1963 right down to how he explains his name and the woman who joins him on his new adventures, Ruby Sunday, played by Millie Gibson.


MILLIE GIBSON: (As Ruby Sunday) Well, hold on. I can't call you doctor. I want to know your name.

GATWA: (As the Doctor) Yeah, that's tricky because I was adopted. And the planet that took me in - they were kind of posh. They used titles like the Doctor or the Bishop. Say Doctor for a thousand years, and it becomes my name.

DEGGANS: Gatwa's character is technically the 15th Doctor, making him the 15th version of the hero to lead the long-running series. This is a doctor who's been through a lot, as he explains when Ruby asked what happened to his people, known as the Time Lords.


GATWA: (As the Doctor) They died. It was a genocide, and they died. So the one that was adopted was the only one left. I am the last of the Time Lords.

There's a huge trauma there from the genocide that he's came from. And then also, he's sort of immortal and is, like, cursed with this plight of, like, always traveling with a human companion. And he loses them constantly. He's had a lot of death and a lot of loss in his life. And he also feels responsible for that as well.

DEGGANS: It's a poignant symmetry with Gatwa's real-life story. Born in Rwanda, he came to Scotland as a child when his family fled genocide and civil war in 1994. Now, taking on the role of the Doctor, he's the first Black man and first person born outside the United Kingdom to play the character.

GATWA: It's about time. The character is a shape-shifting alien. It can be anyone. So for it to be - for there to have only been, like, one representation of the character, I think it's just quite limiting.

DEGGANS: But not everyone agrees. Some "Doctor Who" fans have criticized casting a Black man in the role. Gatwa's focusing on the positive but says he doesn't quite understand the thinking of fans who would reject "Doctor Who" just because a Black man was playing the doctor.

GATWA: I don't want to diminish, like, racial aggression at all, but for me personally, I find it fascinating that it matters so much to these people. You are going to, like, limit yourselves from a show that you love because you don't like something about someone's appearance. It's just such a sad - I think really sad for them.

DEGGANS: Gatwa, now age 31, came to prominence playing gay teen Eric on the Netflix series "Sex Education." In addition to all the other firsts listed earlier, he's also the first openly queer man to play the Doctor. And the show's new episodes, crafted by showrunner Russell T. Davies, who's also openly gay, reflect queer culture in offhand but notable ways, including a nonbinary adversary called Maestro, who corrects a person that uses him instead of their correct pronoun. Gatwa says such additions on a show that's a British TV institution are significant.

GATWA: It's one of those tricky ones where it's like, you want to celebrate, and you do celebrate the win, absolutely, because it signifies progress. But also, let's not stop here. There's lots more to go.

DEGGANS: As he notes, progress may take time, but it doesn't have to take forever, especially in the world of a Time Lord. I'm Eric Deggans.

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