Doctor Who’s Ncuti Gatwa ‘never thought’ he’d land role of the Doctor as a Black man
Doctor Who star Ncuti Gatwa, who set to take over the TARDIS in December, has admitted he was shocked to land the coveted role of the Time Lord role, given his identity as a Black man.
As the British sci-fi series celebrates its 60th anniversary this November, the flagship BBC show is also marking another major milestone after casting its first queer Black actor to play the Doctor.
Sex Education star Gatwa – whose casting was announced by returning showrunner Russell T Davies in May 2022 – is the latest in a long line of British actors to take up the time-honoured mantle, the majority of whom have been white men.
His predecessor, Jodie Whittaker, who played the 13th Doctor, made Doctor Who history in her own right after becoming the first ever woman to star in the role.
In an interview with GQ magazine on Wednesday (8 November), Gatwa opened up about his surprise at becoming the next face of the series that many have dubbed a British institution.
“I almost forgot about [the audition] as soon as I left the room, because there was just no way,” Gatwa said as he recounted the fateful day he auditioned in front of Davies. “Because there’s life and then there’s life.
“I’m a good actor [but] this is a 60-year-long British institution and I’m a Black man, so I never thought that I’d be chosen to front something that is basically the heart of the BBC.”
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Gatwa defined his “existence as a marginalised person” as “political”, adding that “you, and the world, are aware of that, and people make decisions accordingly.”
In the end, however, his audition managed to steal the hearts of everyone who saw him and established him s the frontrunner to become the 15th Doctor (following David Tennant’s reprisal as the 14th Doctor in the 60th anniversary specials).
“My industry is not a meritocracy. So yeah, I was like… I don’t think I’ll get it,” he explained, pointing to the talented actors still waiting for their big break. “And then I did, and I thought ‘Wow… Oh s**t…. Oh sh**! What have I done?!’. And then once the shock of it all left my system, it was a no-brainer.”
When pushed to give a hint at what his incarnation Doctor is like, Gatwa simply teased: “I would describe the Doctor as a Black man.”
The decision to cast Gatwa was also a no-brainer for returning showrunner Davies, who has previously spoken about his scene-stealing audition.
“I’d watched him onscreen, and thought I had the measure of him, until he walked into the room for Doctor Who audition. Bang! Thunderbolt,” he said when Gatwa was honoured in the 2022 TIME 100 list. “And bear in mind, for UK TV, the part of the Doctor is the Crown Jewels, it’s history, it’s tradition.He’s conquered the world. Now all of time and space is his.”
In October last year, during the rollout of Disney+’s major distribution deal with Doctor Who, Gatwa spoke about the power of bringing Rwandan disapora representation to the screen.
“[The role] is so deep in British culture and the fabric of Britishness that as a Rwandan immigrant to the country, it just feels really powerful,” Gatwa said in his speech.
“[Doctor Who] matters for people of colour, for marginalised people who really gravitate towards the show because it’s about friendship and it’s about adventure and its about union and unity.”
The 31-year-old actor follows in the footsteps of Jo Martin, the first Black British actor to star as the Time Lord in her limited role as the Fugitive Doctor. They first appeared in the show in 2020 and has starred in four episodes so far.
Ncuti Gatwa’s first adventure in space-and-time will air on 25 December on BBC One and BBC iPlayer. It will stream on Disney+ globally.
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