Taking on the central role in Doctor Who is one of the most prestigious but expectation-laden jobs in British TV. Not only is the show an absolute institution, now in its 60th year, but stepping into the shoes of the Time Lord who travels through infinite galaxies and endless eras brings with it all kinds of choices and questions: how do you follow in the footsteps of the Doctors who came before you, while bringing your own spin? How do you convey a being who’s experienced as much as the Doctor has? How do you keep that connective tissue with the long-running saga, while standing out in the pantheon of TARDIS travellers? With Ncuti Gatwa taking over the keys to the time (and space) machine, he’s likely wrestled with all that – but when he first got the role, Jodie Whittaker had some all-important advice for him.
Speaking to Empire in the Kingdom Of The Planet Of The Apes issue – on sale Thursday 21 December – Gatwa said that previous TARDIS owners Whittaker and David Tennant gave him a congratulatory call when he was announced. And Whittaker in particular had one major tip to offer: “Embrace the madness.” Gatwa was thrilled to have had the baton handed to him by the duo. “Thank God for that call on that day,” he says. “Because it was such a huge day for me, and they just wrapped me up in warmth like a welcome blanket.”
While audiences are finally now meeting Gatwa’s 15th Doctor – who manifested towards the end of recent special ‘The Giggle’, and will begin his own adventures in Christmas episode ‘The Church On Ruby Road’ – the actor’s journey with the character is actually well underway. His first full series is in the can, and he’s already filming his second run. “When I started filming Season 1, I was wracked with nerves and anxiety,” he explains. “I was very, very nervous and questioned everything I did. I’d always want another take.” But after “building up stamina” in his first run, he’s in a groove on his second batch of episodes. “Season 2 feels very fun, very enjoyable, very like it’s in my body,” he says. “I’m far less stressed. I’m enjoying it now. Oh my God. This is actually the most fun role in the world!” It’s like Whittaker said: embrace the madness.
Read Empire’s full Doctor Who story – speaking to Ncuti Gatwa as he takes over the TARDIS – in the February 2024 issue, on sale Thursday 21 December. Pre-order a copy online here. ‘The Church On Ruby Road’ comes to BBC One and iPlayer on 25 December.