Doctor Who stars break down every episode of Ncuti Gatwa's first season, from the Bridgerton episode to a "huge" finale

Doctor Who
(Image credit: BBC)

The global launch of Doctor Who season 1 has been rumbling along for quite some time. Earlier this year, SFX caught up with showrunner Russell T Davies and lead cast Ncuti Gatwa and Millie Gibson about the new season. Below, we get into all of the details about every episode of the new season, which began on May 11, and was simultaneously broadcast in nearly 250 countries at the same time. No pressure. An exciting new era awaits…

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Ncuti Gatwa as the Doctor, reaching out a hand.

(Image credit: Future)

This article first appeared in the May 2024 edition of SFX, issue 378. Subscribe to the magazine here to never miss a Doctor Who exclusive again.

SFX: First of all, can we please put the tabloid rumours about Millie to bed? 

Russell T Davies: Not leaving. Not at all. We were ordered for two years of a series off Disney, and we’re delivering two years, and the Ruby Sunday story literally spans those two years. We are planning [to] shoot the [season two] finale in which Ruby has the most magnificent scenes, and Millie, it’s some of your most challenging material yet, isn’t it? It will all make sense once you see it play out. It’s very unfortunate that these things make the papers. We’re in a very difficult position, because you can’t answer rumour, you can’t speak to rumour, we can’t try and pin it down because the internet will just run away and will either misinterpret or will decide that the Princess of Wales has been replaced by four cats in a wig. 

So it’s that you cannot begin to answer this sort of stuff. But you will see the love that we have for Millie and the extraordinary stories that Ruby’s about to go on over the next two years. I guarantee you that. 

That is a problem with shooting the second series while you’re still doing the first series. All sorts of problems can happen that way that we saw coming, but what do we do? Stop shooting? No. We’re making such a good show. I’m burning for people to see the story of Ruby Sunday. It’s amazing and has so much mileage in it. And it’s still burning. It’s wonderful. I can’t wait for you to see it.

Millie and Ncuti – you said you didn’t think being Ruby and the Doctor would sink in until the Christmas episode went out. Did that happen? 

Millie Gibson: Yeah, definitely. 

Ncuti Gatwa: Yeah! It feels good that it’s out there. People have gotten a chance to get to know us a little bit. It definitely was like it calmed both of our nerves though. Like, “it works” and it looks amazing. But of course, obviously we had Russell’s writing. So that was always going to be the case, but yeah, it calmed us down. It is slightly amping up again now with the series about to drop. 

MG: That’s how I feel. That’s why it’s weird to answer this question, because I already feel the same as when you last asked me! 

RTD: Is the feeling coming back? 

MG: Just the anticipation. We want to get to that level of the same love that the Christmas episode had. This series will get a lot of love, but yeah, it’s almost pressure to fill the shoes of the Christmas one now! 

RTD: You can never relax, can you? That was so successful. The fear is, how do we keep being successful for eight episodes in a row? It is a worry, but the worry makes it good. I really believe that. That’s why everyone, every designer, every runner on that set, every costumer, every wig maker works hard because they’re worried about it being good. 

MG: Exactly. Exactly.

Millie Gibson and Ncuti Gatwa in Doctor Who

(Image credit: BBC/Disney Plus)

Was there a moment on set where you thought, “Oh, this is where it first clicks”?

MG: Probably when I did the whole walk around the TARDIS thing. I’ve watched that TARDIS so much since I was a little girl. So I think just being the one going into it is a really surreal and important memory to have. It’s such an iconic moment to do. Thank you for giving me that little scene. 

NG: That was my best friend Patsy’s favourite bit as well. She was like, “That’s the bit where we’re about to go into a new era.” The way the camera goes onto your face, and your reaction. 

MG: It’s the music in the background I love as well. Mrs Flood going, [does impression] “Good luck, Ruby!” 

NG: I guess the scene following directly after that, scene one of “Space Babies”, where he’s got the spiel about the Rani, Conquistador, he’s talking about all the different Time Lords and he was like, I’m the Doctor. It was the first time I said it [claps hands] properly. 

RTD: Gallifrey! That’s the first time you say Gallifrey… NG: Gallifrey and explaining my backstory was like, of what? Oh, this character that I’m playing, which is? The Doctor… Let’s tease season one! Starting with “Space Babies”. 

MG: We pick up where we left off in the Christmas episode where Ruby is entering the TARDIS for the first time and she’s going “Who are you?” It’s that iconic companion meeting the Doctor properly, because we didn’t really meet in the Christmas episode. So it was really nice to have that moment and that click, and it’s kind of Ruby’s test to see if she’s really worthy of that role, to travel with the Doctor.

Let’s tease season one! Starting with 'Space Babies'. 

MG: We pick up where we left off in the Christmas episode where Ruby is entering the TARDIS for the first time and she’s going “Who are you?” It’s that iconic companion meeting the Doctor properly, because we didn’t really meet in the Christmas episode. So it was really nice to have that moment and that click, and it’s kind of Ruby’s test to see if she’s really worthy of that role, to travel with the Doctor 

NG: And also she wants to. 

MG: She’s just dying for adventure and dying to believe in it because she’s just in awe. It’s a fun episode. It’s fun. “Give me a year” – just to be so random about it. I love it. 

NG: The Doctor and companion’s first proper adventure, that they’ve chosen to go on together. They land on a spaceship [occupied] by babies in space where all the adults have gone and they need to get down to the bottom of that. And in the meantime, there’s a hungry foe… We face the Bogeyman! 

MG: We didn’t know what the Bogeyman was gonna look like. Remember when we were Googling it? Going, “What does it look like?” and we saw this cosy cute bear? Then the prop designer showed it to us and we were like, “Oh, good god!” 

NG: Terrifying! 

MG: No wonder the babies are scared of that. That was a really fun monster for sure. Robert Strange as that monster was incredible. 

RTD: It’s also worth saying, actually, that at the beginning, the story of Ruby’s birth continues. That’s a spine throughout the series – we saw at Christmas she was a foundling, left at the church at Ruby Road. Also the Doctor’s now a foundling, mysteriously abandoned in outer space, doesn’t know his parents either, and that’s a big connection between the two of them, it’s a real hum, a vibration between the two of them that really forges their friendship like no other Doctor and companion team ever before, and that hasn’t finished. You’re going to see that develop. Every episode stands on its own. But you want to see a running theme and a running story that’s going to build and build and build to The Most Devastating Finale. Literally, the biggest finale ever. There’s some shots of that in the trailers coming up. Oh my god, you’re gonna die.

Doctor Who

(Image credit: BBC)

'The Devil’s Chord'. 

RTD: Episode two, Jinkx Monsoon [drag star Hera Hoffer]! Open the door: Jinkx Monsoon. Welcome, hurray! 

MG: I love Jinkx. That episode is for Jinkx. There’s so many outstanding scenes where me and Ncuti were like, “Shall we just go home?” 

NG: [Growls] She’s so good! 

MG: She was insane. 

NG: Such a delicious villain. 

RTD: A huge villain. 

NG: HUGE villain. 

RTD: The like of which we’ve never seen before. Off the scale. 

You almost forget the Beatles are in it, which is iconic! 

RTD: Yeah, I know what you mean. The Beatles were an important part of it, and that was fun casting them. I mean, the chance to cast Paul and John and Ringo and George was amazing, and they’re a lovely bunch of lads. 

MG: When I was younger, my favourite episodes were when the Doctor and companion went back in time because I’m always like, “Oh, what’s the companion gonna wear?” or “Who are they going to talk to in this era?” What are Ruby and the Doctor going to be like with the Beatles? Can you imagine two best friends going to chat to the Beatles back in the day? You’d be like [screams]. Fangirling! 

RTD: And it visually shows what we’re doing. Pam Downe on costume and Claire Williams on make-up. You’ve seen the photos of these two in the 1960s. What an image, what extraordinary work. That says a lot about our intent. Big, bold. We’re not sneaking into the 1960’s, we are arriving, big time. It’s gorgeous. 

When you look at doing tie-ins for BBC shows around release, have you considered a RuPaul’s Drag Race one? 

MG: [Gasps] Oh Russell, you have to do that! 

RTD: Imagine! Well not me, you two can do it! 

MG: Well I’ll do that any day! 

RTD: What was I doing? Dragging up? Can you imagine! RuT! [Roars laughing] 

MG: I would love to do that. [To Ncuti] You’ve got to do it! 

RTD: You must’ve been asked to be a judge on it, surely? 

NG: I’ve been asked a couple of times… 

MG: Why didn’t you do it?! 

NG: Because I’ve not watched it yet! I’ve never seen an episode yet. I know, I know… Everyone keeps getting on at me about it. 

MG: Just watch Jinkx’s – trust me, that’s the best season. 

RTD: Do you just not fancy it? I resisted it for a long time, actually, and now I love it. 

NG: It’s not that I’m resisting, I just don’t have time. [Laughs] Where is my time?

MG: Every single thing I’ve recommended to Ncuti he doesn’t watch. [Laughs] I made a list of things and he doesn’t watch them. He’s just a busy, busy man

doctor who boom

(Image credit: BBC)

Had you not seen Jinkx doing stuff on Drag Race? 

NG: No, never. 

MG: I showed him her best moments and we were in stitches. 

NG: What I do know is the creativity on that show, and the performance element of what they do, is just insane. I thought, just what incredible casting. 

MG: So clever. 

NG: Such a master of her craft.

RTD: And who else could have played that? 

MG: No one. 

RTD: It’s an extraordinary thing to look at that and go, “Who else would we have got?” Who else would we have gone to? Jinkx is the drag queen of drag queens. She’s the winner of the super final. 

MG: Yeah, she won her season and then she won All Stars. No drag queen’s done that. 

RTD: That’s the Olympic gold of drag queens. But then the imagination… The professionalism she brought with her was gobsmacking. 

MG: She came prepared. In that page turn [script read-through], me and Ncuti were like [drops jaw]. 

NG: I know!

Are you going to try and top the iTunes chart again? 

RTD: Yes, there is music in there. That would be nice – we haven’t got the old goblin singer but we’ve got you two singing! That’s exciting. It’s lovely. It’s hard to talk about it, it’s a very musical episode. We should be top of every chart, SFX. 

Episode three, 'Boom;. 

RTD: Written by Steven Moffat. The Doctor and Ruby open the TARDIS doors onto the surface of a war-torn world. Ruby’s first alien planet and from that point on, it’s excitement and that’s all I’m saying. Amazing episode and again, a fantastic character study for these two. The director has a lot of praise for you in this episode! NG: Oh my gosh. 

MG: That episode made us feel like we were in theatre, because we filmed it in chronological order. So all the lines felt like we were in a theatre performance. We were doing sevenminute takes and stuff like that. By the end of it, we’re like, “Oh my god, again?” 

RTD: Clever director though, clever. 

MG: It was really cool. It just adds to the whole intensity of it for sure. 

RTD: It’s tough. MG: In-between that we were flipping between “Space Babies”. [Laughs] 

NG: We were doing two [episodes] at the same time so it was a bit mad. We went from the most intense to “Space Babies” [laughs]. Gosh, mad. 

RTD: Steven Moffat at his best. Of course I asked him back, one of my first phone calls was to say “Please come and write an episode” and god it’s good.

doctor who boom

(Image credit: BBC)

Episode four, '73 Yards'. 

RTD: Episode four, I would say, is the episode most unlike any episode of Doctor Who ever before, and unlike any other piece of television. The TARDIS lands on the Welsh Coast and then you’re kind of stepping into Welsh folk horror, not a phrase I expected to be using. There are secrets. There’s legend, there’s rumours, there’s mysteries. There’s a huge mystery for Ruby to solve. We go to very unexpected places, and that’s all I’m saying. 

What’s it like when you get a script like that? 

MG: That was the first script I read. I remember it was on the way home from my first visit in Cardiff and I’d had my first fitting there, and then on the way home Vicki Delow, the producer, was like, “Oh, by the way, here’s your first script”. I was like, “Oh my god, really? Written by Russell T Davies, oh my god.” So that kept me occupied for the three-hour journey back home. But yeah, I was gobsmacked. As soon as I finished it, I read it again. 

RTD: You sent me the loveliest text. 

MG: I texted you straight away. I was like, that is some episode! It’s a really cool episode. 

RTD: Mad. 

MG: Great ending. 

RTD: Dame Siân Phillips is in that one. We can say that, it’ll be out by then. Ninety years old and an astonishing woman. It’s amazing she hasn’t been in Doctor Who before. What an honour to be in a read-through with her, it was amazing. Scary! 

What was the episode like for you, Ncuti? 

NG: Umm, it was… Cold! [Laughs] It was cold. 

MG: That was our first scene! 

NG: It was our fi… [Looks quizzically] No? 

MG: We filmed our first scene in that episode! 

RTD: I thought that was the barrage… Was it not the barrage? MG: Oh, sorry, I’ve wiped the barrage out of my head [Laughs] 

NG: Yeah, it was the barrage! Second, then? One of. 

MG: First leaving the TARDIS scene, going “Where are we?” So that was our first experience doing that. 

NG: It was amazing. Got to see Millie shine, and it was a delight. 

What’s the barrage? 

RTD: Oh! Well, let’s move on to episode five…

Episode five, 'Dot And Bubble'. 

RTD: There’s a barrage in Cardiff down by the bay. That made a very good location for Doctor Who. That’s all. That’s quite spoilery but its existence is fine. Also very nice and enclosed where no one could find us filming, that was a nice secret shoot.

How would you sum up episode five? 

MG: I feel like that’s quite… can I say it’s quite [puts hand over face and mouths to Russell]. 

RTD: I’m rubbish at this! Don’t ask me to lip read again! [Laughs] 

MG: I think that’s quite Black Mirror, that one. 

RTD: Yes. It’s an alien planet. It’s a colony. [Millie and Ncuti roll their eyes and laugh] 

MG: He just tells everything! We’re trying to keep it vague!

RTD: There’s trailers going out this week, you’ll see alien colonies! So a very Black Mirror-y story with a lot to say about our world, and on this world, it’s running out of control. Good stuff. Callie Cook is the leader. She’s absolutely wonderful. She’s phenomenal, a phenomenal guest star and is stunning in this episode. It’s a difficult one – this episode there’ll be more to say about afterwards than any other. Possibly.

doctor who rogue

(Image credit: BBC)

Episode six, 'Rogue'. 

RTD: Travel with us, SFX, to 1813. [Millie squeals and claps] The Bridgerton episode, let’s just say it. 

MG: We had to learn the waltz! 

NG: The waltz and the fandango. 

MG: You had to learn the… 

NG: I had to learn the tango! Getting to do period stuff twice, with wigs and costume, what’s that been like? 

MG: Oh my god. Bridgerton I had the most fun filming. I just was floating around in my princess dress like I was the queen or something. I was just taking myself off – we were filming in the most beautiful manors. We filmed in three different manors. It was like when I used to play dress-up when I was younger. I was like, “This is the real thing and I’ve got my own castle” [Ncuti laughs hard]. Ncuti wasn’t there, because we didn’t have that many scenes, so I’m just roaming around… [Ncuti in hysterics]. I actually have a video of me next to this waterfall and Jack the runner was trying to find me, because I just wandered off and was taking pictures like I was Snow White in the forest or something. I was loving it [both Russell and Ncuti are in hysterics]. It was great. All the runners were like, “Has anyone seen Millie?” 

RTD: She’s just walked into the forest! 

NG: [Laughing] I’ve got my own castle! That one was so much fun for me. I had all my scenes with Jonathan [Groff ] and what a wonderful energy to sweep through our show and a wonderful voice as well. It stands out. He’s such a deep actor. MG: [Brandishing phone] Sorry, that’s it… [Shows photo of her in full costume, in sunglasses, by a fountain surrounded by greenery] I’m in my own fairy tale… 

RTD: Can we have the cover of SFX with that? [Millie and Ncuti are falling about laughing] 

MG: I was throwing pebbles… This is what I was doing when you were working with Jonathan. 

You were doing night shoots and Ncuti was at Beyoncé with Jonathan… 

[Ncuti howls with laughter] 

MG: How the other half live. I was covering for Ncuti so he could live his Beyoncé dream. 

NG: Jonathan took me to Beyoncé, yes. [Laughs] That was amazing. He had that in his contract [Bursts out laughing again] Incredible. Incredible. 

What was it like working with Indira Varma? 

NG: Exceptional. She’s HIL-arious. 

MG: So funny. I could talk to that woman for hours and just be entranced by her. But her level of quick wit and improvisation in the scenes that we were doing… I think I’m quick but I was talking to Indira and I was like, “I can’t keep up with this woman!” Oh my god, the humour, she’s just hilarious. I had so much fun. 

NG: You could see her just eating that role up. It was like, this is just so much fun [laughs]. You are fun. 

RTD: A good old-fashioned Doctor Who villain. 

NG: [Laughing] She’s the sort of actor that can make the ridiculous sublime. She’s just exceptional. What a skill. 

MG: She committed to it, so skilled. 

RTD: I’ve got to say, also, about these two, that they work so hard. One day you’re flying on wires, the next day you’re running away from a monster – in amongst all that, in amongst the busiest schedule in the world, they had to learn all that choreography. It’s a proper Bridgerton episode with dances and waltzes. That’s a lot of work and you must have packed that into your spare time on your Saturdays. You worked so hard. 

MG: Can I say about… 

RTD: The psychic earrings? Yes. 

MG: I said to Ncuti, it’s fine, because we’re not from this era, it doesn’t have to be accurate we’ll be fine not being amazing at the waltz, and he went, “No, we have psychic earrings that we can switch so we can do whatever we need in the best way.” 

NG: Like, literally we have to be perfect. [Laughs] 

RTD: The psychic earrings beam the choreography into your head, that’s scene one. So let go of that dream! MG: I’d better get learning! 

Episodes seven and eight, 'The Legend Of Ruby Sunday' and 'Empire Of Death'. 

RTD: That’s a two-parter, it’s a great big series finale. You will have seen this, it’s back to Earth, back to UNIT HQ, that great big tower in the middle of London. Kate’s back, played by Jemma Redgrave, Bonnie Langford’s back, hurray, hurray, hurray. Lenny Rush is in it as Morris, the scientific advisor at UNIT, who was delightful. Alexander Devrient as Colonel Ibrahim is back. So that’s just the start again, that’s scene one, back to the ops room at UNIT, and a huge finale, a huge finale, all the threads that have been drawn throughout the series coming together. Explosive reveals. I just hope we can get from here to transmission without things being spoiled, because things do get spoiled. And things get spoiled to an extraordinary degree. We found one script – I’m going to say this – we found one script on an open server in Brazil. It’s nuts. That’s what happens. 

NG: [Looking ill] I was going to say, oh my god – I was in Brazil. 

RTD: It wasn’t you! [Laughs] If you can reach this finale without spoilers, it’s stunning. Things we discover about you [looks at Millie] and about you [looks at Ncuti] and about the Doctor and Ruby, it’s life changing. Honestly, you will have the best time if you watch this finale unspoiled, it’s shocking. So please do that, honestly.

Doctor Who is streaming weekly on BBC iPlayer and BBC One in the UK and Disney Plus in the US. For more, check out the Doctor Who release schedule.

For more Who, check out the latest issue of SFX magazine too, which features more exclusive insight into the show.

I'm the Editor of SFX, the world's number one sci-fi, fantasy and horror magazine – available digitally and in print every four weeks since 1995. I've been editing magazines, and writing for numerous publications since before the Time War. Obviously SFX is the best one. I knew being a geek would work out fine.