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Doctor Who returns... and Doctor Who returns, along with it (No, that's not a spoiler)

What one longtime fan makes of the first two episodes of the new era of Doctor Who

Doctor Who
Image credit: BBC/Disney+

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Doctor Who is back.

I mean, in one sense, that much is obvious; the first episodes of the show’s much-anticipated new season drop tonight — the first full season since 2020, and the first new episodes since Christmas 2023, when Ncuti Gatwa got a chance to show off just how much fun he is as the new Doctor. (Non-spoiler: he continues to be an utter joy in the role in the new episodes; he’s such a charismatic actor, clearly having a whale of a time in the role, that it’s genuinely difficult to imagine anyone else as the Doctor right now.) Of course Doctor Who is back; you only have to look at Disney+ — or, in the UK, the BBC — to see that.

Doctor Who
Image credit: BBC/Disney+

But, on another level entirely, Doctor Who is back. Without going into spoiler territory, there’s an energy and looseness about the first two episodes of the new season, ‘Space Babies’ and ‘The Devil’s Chord,’ that have been largely missing from the show for years by this point, last year’s set of special episodes aside; a sense of delight and of possibility that was almost entirely absent through the time of the 13th Doctor, and arguably through much of the 12th Doctor’s era, as well, as much of a fan of those episodes as I may be. The show, in many ways, feels like it did in the days of David Tennant, or Matt Smith’s earlier episodes, which is likely to come as a relief to many fans.

That’s not to say that the show is entirely a retread in its current incarnation, because that’s certainly not the case. For all the things that are familiar from the past — not least of which much of the creative team behind the camera, including returning showrunner Russell T. Davies — this isn’t a desperate attempt to recapture past glories as much as it’s the show rediscovering parts of its DNA that had faded into the background in the past. There’s a silliness pushed to the forefront in a manner that will likely upset some of the show’s more conservative fans (Just wait until you get to the end of ‘The Devil’s Chord,’ friends), that feels fresh, as well as a boldness in the scale of the stories being told; again, ‘The Devil’s Chord’ feels existential in a way that Who hasn’t been in quite awhile, if ever. Davies has returned with his bag of tricks, sure, but he’s updated his inventory while he’s been away.

Related: Doctor Who: 5 episodes to revisit ahead of the show's latest generation materializes on Disney+

In many ways, Davies’ writing feels like it’s informed by some of Steven Moffat’s period as showrunner; there are moments where it feels as if the latter’s desire to use Doctor Who to answer impossible questions or come up with near-mythical threats is being handled by the cuddlier Davies, and the combination is very fun indeed. The overall tone of the new series is something that fans have already seen, not in last year’s ‘The Church at Ruby Road,’ but the special prior to that, ‘The Giggle’ — wherein Davies seemed unrestrained by his prior understanding of what Doctor Who could be, while still clearly devoted to the show’s history.

Doctor Who
Image credit: BBC/Disney+

All of this is brought to life by Gatwa, seemingly effortlessly magnetic in the title role, Millie Gibson as Ruby Tuesday, the latest in a long line of mystery girls, and a new cast that seems eager to embrace where the show is going. Jinkx Monsoon plays the villain in the second episode, and it’s a performance so out there, so camp, that it’s impossible not to hope that we’ll see her again as quickly as possible. Background characters spark with snark and throwaway lines with delightful deliveries. (The show’s ersatz Beatles are so much fun, you almost get past how much they do not resemble their real life inspirations.) Again, everything just feels… fun in a way that the weekly show hasn’t for a long, long time.

There will be some who will complain that everything feels too silly, too childish, for their tastes, as if Doctor Who hasn’t always been a show for children. Those complaints miss the point in a very real manner, however; what’s so marvelous about the show’s return and, yes, regeneration with the new Disney+ co-funding and distribution deal, and starting all over with season 1 again and all of that, is that there’s a sense of youth to Doctor Who again that there hasn’t been in far too long. Once again, a show that can go anywhere and anywhen in time and space feels as if anything is possible.

Like I said. Doctor Who is back. And everything is far better because of that.

Doctor Who
Image credit: BBC/Disney+

If you want to start watching Doctor Who and don't know where to start, check out our handy Doctor Who watch guide. Or maybe you're already finished with the show - We've got the perfect Ten shows to watch when you're done watching Doctor Who guide for you too. If you're already heads over heels for the Fifteenth Doctor and want to learn more about the actor playing him, check out what he's been in before here. Or maybe you just need to figure out how the new series numbering is going to work (Are there really gonna be two series 1s? Yes.) - if so, this is the explainer you want.