Ncuti Gatwa’s Doctor is queer and other things we learned in Doctor Who’s Christmas special

Ncuti Gatwa is the first queer Black actor to portray The Doctor in Doctor Who

Doctor Who has delivered Ncuti Gatwa’s first full episode as the 15th Doctor in Christmas Day special debut “The Church on Ruby Road” – here are five things we learned. 

Ncuti Gatwa’s 15th Doctor, companion Ruby Sunday (Millie Gibson) and Russell T Davies are ushering in a fresh era of Doctor Who. But as the old guard merges with the new, what exactly did we discover from the festive special about the new TARDIS team, and what seeds have been planted for the future?

Warning: Spoilers for Doctor Who episode “The Church on Ruby Road” follow.

Doctor Who episode “The Church on Ruby Road” charts the fateful first meeting between foundling Ruby Sunday, who was left on a church step on Chrustmas Eve many years ago, and The Doctor as they cross paths while getting down at the club. 

As Ruby embarks on a quest to find her birth family (with the help of a plucky Davina McCall), she finds herself plagued with bad luck that is down to a band of mischievous goblins who feed on babies. Soon we meet Ruby’s lively and warm-hearted adopted family, mum Carla (Michelle Greenidge) and cheeky grandma Cherry (Angela Wynte).

But when new foster baby, Lulubelle, arrives in their family home on Christmas Eve, chaos ensues as the goblins take their chance to snatch her away and feed her to the Goblin King. Cue daring goblin ship escapes, a mystery converging around Ruby’s mysterious birth and Davina McCall trying to dodge death at every corner. 

With Ncuti Gatwa’s Doctor and Millie Gibson’s Ruby Sunday set to lead the new series of Doctor Who in 2024, here’s what we know ahead of their return next year…

Ncuti’s 15th Doctor is unapologetically and vocally queer 

After David Tennant’s 14th Doctor expressed his attraction to Isaac Newton during the 60th anniversary special, we all knew it was heading this way. From the get-go, Gatwa’s 15th Doctor has proven that he is not shying away from his LGBTQ+ identity as a genderfluid, queer Time Lord.

We get our first hint during the episode when The Doctor regales Ruby with a story about having a “hot summer” with Harry Houdini.

With out actor Jonathan Groff set to make an appearance in a future episode, we wouldn’t even be surprised if the 15th Doctor gets an explicit same-sex love affair soon (beyond his undeniable sexual tension with the Master). 

Hopefully it’ll have a happier ending than the 13th Doctor’s (Jodie Whittaker) heartbreaking romance with companion Yaz (Mandip Gill), which never got a chance to fully flourish. 

The Black British community sit at the heart of the new season

Gatwa has always been clear that his iteration of The Doctor is going to be “beautifully Black” and the Christmas special made truly delivered. 

As well as making history with the first Black Doctor on the TV series, we also received brilliant representation in the form of Ruby’s family, Carla and Cherry. 

The episode includes some gorgeous scenes of the Doctor bonding with Carla and exchanging tongue-in-cheek repartee with Cherry, who is totally swooning over how hot the Doctor is (aren’t we all). 

Millie Gibson as the Doctor's companion Ruby Sunday (L0 and the Doctor (R) travel to the 60s
Millie Gibson as the Doctor’s companion Ruby Sunday (L) and the Doctor (R) travel to the 60s. (BBC/Bad Wolf)

Combined with the sneak peek we have already seen of the Doctor rocking a brilliant afro and pinstripe blue suit in a future episode, we are certain this is only the beginning of the uplifting, wholesome and integral Black representation the show will have to offer. 

Where characters can celebrate their culture and identity without being defined by the colour of their skin. 

The Timeless Child will be a key theme in the upcoming season

Moving to the mechanics of the episode, there is no doubt that showrunner Russell T Davies has planted the seeds for the overarching plot that will follow Ruby and the Doctor throughout their new season. 

During the episode, The Doctor is forced to go back to the moment Ruby was abandoned on a Church doorstep, to save her from being stolen by goblins and rewriting history. 

While he is there, he spots the person who laid her in the snow but decides to turn the other cheek, clearly implying that the identity of this elusive hooded figure will play a pivotal role in the future. 

More pertinitely, it seems that The Doctor’s own birth mystery will be explored further in the upcoming episodes. During Jodie Whittaker’s final season, we discovered that The Doctor was discovered underneath a wormhole and experimented on as a child – making them an anomaly and forcing them to question where they truly come from. 

With the Doctor and Ruby brought together by their shared confusion at their origins, Davies will hopefully delve deeper into the fascinating piece of lore created by ex-showrunner Chris Chibnall. 

First look at Millie Gibson (L) and Ncuti Gatwa (R) in Doctor Who Christmas Special
Millie Gibson (L) and Ncuti Gatwa (R) in Doctor Who Christmas Special. (Lara Cornell/BBC Studios/Bad Wolf)

Disney’s Doctor Who budget is changing the game

Doctor Who is not only back on Christmas Day but it has returned with a mega-budget with the support of major streaming platform Disney+, which airs the series outside the UK – and it is clear that they are going to put this budget to good use.

We saw a glimpse of their grand ambitions in the 60th anniversary specials and this has continued into “The Church on Ruby Road”. More money equals more camp and the episode really did say “go big or go home” with its epic “The Goblin Song” musical number.

Other perks introduced in the episode included awesome cameos from stars such as Davina McCall and Anita Dobson, the first of countless suave outfits worn by Gatwa, and CGI and prosthetics that would leave plastic Mickey with his jaw melted on the floor. 

One thing is for certain, Doctor Who‘s upcoming season will be on a scale never seen before…

Doctor Who goblins
Is she mothering though? (BBC)

Bundles of gadgets and bundles of talent 

Gone are the days of The Doctor’s rickety metal companion, K9, and in comes the era of funky new gadgets and gizmos. 

“The Church on Ruby Road” has only just scraped the surface of the new technology The Doctor will be getting his hands on. When Ruby and the Doctor are hanging off a rope ladder on top of London, he uses the opportunity to reveal a pair of weightless gloves that help you effortlessly float or fall depending on the mood. 

That’s not to say that the classics won’t be sticking around (the Doctor flashed his trusty psychic paper near the start of the episode and the sonic screwdriver remained in action, after all) but with a flashy new TARDIS, the possibilities are endless. 

Plus, The Doctor has been practicing some new skills. The episode sees Gatwa dancing in a kilt on the club dancefloor and singing to the goblins on the ship. Hopefully these won’t be the last times we see his musical expertise used in the series.

It’s mavity, not gravity!

After introducing a jokey alternate timeline in the second 60th anniversary special “Wild Blue Yonder”, where Isaac Newton mishears the word “gravity” and “mavity”, Davies is still running with it.

In what will hopefully become a running gag for the rest of time, keen-eared viewers will have heard Gatwa using “mavity” instead of “gravity” during the episode, confirming fan suspicions that this will remain in the Whoniverse vernacular for a long time to come.

Doctor Who returns in 2024 with a new season. All episodes are now available to stream on BBC iPlayer and, globally, on Disney+.

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