Doctor Who Christmas special review: Ncuti Gatwa ushers in a wild and exciting new era

First look at Millie Gibson (L) and Ncuti Gatwa (R) in Doctor Who Christmas Special

Doctor Who triumphantly returns to Christmas Day imbued with a whimsical festive spirit as The Doctor (Ncuti Gatwa) meets the enigmatic Ruby Sunday (Millie Gibson) – here’s our review.

For many years, Christmas Day saw families across the UK gather around the TV to watch the latest incarnation of The Doctor whip up some holiday magic with their extraterrestrial shenanigans – and previous Doctor Who specials have created some truly iconic moments in the show’s history.

From Donna Noble (Catherine Tate) stirring up such a sassy storm in 2006’s “The Runaway Bride” that she simply had to come back as a full time companion to Australian pop icon Kylie Minogue gripping audiences with her heart-wrenching role as Astrid in 2007’s Titanic-inspired episode “Voyage of the Damned”. 

We’ve had cameos from the likes of Michael Gambon and David Bradley, wept through dramatic regeneration scenes and encountered season-defining threats – need I go on? But all this ended in 2017, when the last Doctor Who Christmas special “Twice Upon a Time” aired. 

Six years on – and with showrunner Russell T Davies at the helm again – the pressure is on for Gatwa’s 15th Doctor and Ruby Sunday to bring back the festive magic we all know and love in their debut adventure, “The Church on Ruby Road”. And, boy, do they deliver.

It’s Davies’ return-to-roots storytelling that make it so special. Does anything scream Doctor Who Christmas special more than a badass CGI goblin absolutely serving while singing a belting musical number about eating babies? Not really.

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As Davies teased in a prior interview, we also see Gatwa try his own hand at singing, flexing a new muscle for The Doctor and showing off yet another of the actor’s seemingly endless skills (following his effortless one-handed kart wheel in “The Giggle”).

The absolute silliness, corridor-running escapades and hilarious cameos from Davina McCall and EastEnders‘ Anita Dobson are all perfectly balanced by the immediate, and surprisingly heartfelt, chemistry between Ruby Sunday and The Doctor, who first meet after locking eyes in the club. 

Ncuti Gatwa is the first queer Black actor to portray The Doctor in Doctor Who
Ncuti Gatwa as The Doctor in Doctor Who. (BBC Studios/Bad Wolf)

One thing is clear, Gatwa is bringing his all to one of British TV’s most cherished roles, immaculately juggling light-hearted fun with the more serious moments that the role demands. Vitally, it’s all infused with his own unique take on the character, whether he’s donning a kilt as a nod to his Scottish roots or carrying a sonic screwdriver which is engraved with a Rwandan proverb.

Meanwhile, Ruby seamlessly fits into The Doctor’s life as though she has always been there, with the two riffing on one another magnificently onscreen. 

Of course, it wouldn’t be Doctor Who without a mysterious all-season arc for viewers to get hooked on ahead of the show’s return in 2024, and 2023’s Christmas special obliges with the introduction of a quintessential timey-wimey mystery. We have no doubt that by the time the credits roll, new fans and old-timers alike will be left on the edge of their seats and counting down the days to the new season.

The Doctor Who Christmas special, “The Church on Ruby Road”, will air at 5:55pm on Christmas Day on BBC One and BBC iPlayer. It will stream globally on Disney+.

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