Monday 13 May 2024

Doctor Who: Space Babies

The Disney era of Doctor Who begins with a double episode on BBC One, BBC iPlayer and Disney+ outside the UK and Ireland. You can read my initial impressions here.

Following on from The Church on Ruby Road, Nick Smith, our US-based veteran Whovian, discovers a space station full of Jelly Babies, I mean Space Babies.

Guest post by Nick Smith

Babies are adorable, aren’t they? As a human race with an inkling of interest in our survival, we are programmed to love them and find them fascinating. But can a gag about babies running a space station sustain an episode of Doctor Who? Yes, it can.

Ah, Doctor Who, the 61-year-old sci-fi series that can be anything: a historical drama, a dystopian morality tale, a horror story, a musical, or a gross-out comedy. Space Babies, the first regular episode of season one, is the latter. It will appeal primarily to children who enjoy snotty comedy; for adults, there is an on-the-nose social commentary about pro-life politics, a flaming hot topic in the home country of Disney+.

The scatological humour is reminiscent of kid-friendly, fun ideas like the Slitheen in showrunner Russell T Davies’ first season of Doctor Who (billed as series one. Yes, the new episodes are being marketed as season one. Stay with me, it’s a time travel show).

Space Babies develops a manifesto that Davies initiated in last year’s Children in Need skit, Destination: Skaro. His credo, don’t take this episodic fantasy too seriously, can be liberating. It’s understandable; Davies just wants to have fun, taking the crayon box of Doctor Who’s past and adding new colours by sublimating the science and incorporating concepts of myth and magic. If classic Doctor Who can include bizarre ideas like a cosmic toymaker or a psychotic Bertie Bassett, why not pop in some talking babies and a mucus monster?

Davies and director Julie Anne Robinson focus on the new Doctor, Ncuti Gatwa, with vivid closeups to help imprint him on viewers like the first face a baby sees. Gatwa is a good actor, handling action, comedy, tons of exposition (about his character’s past, the TARDIS, and the space station he materializes in), and a potentially annoying habit of saying ‘space’ over and over. In Gatwa’s hands – or mouth – every scene is believable and entertaining.

The babies speak with uncanny lip movements (telepathy would have been less distracting) and there’s at least one glitch in the footage as Robinson gets the babies to do what they have to do to move the story forward. But since the Fifteenth Doctor’s era is in its infancy, these little hiccups can be forgiven.

The monster design is fascinating, and the homage to Alien is clever, subverting what we expect to happen, as all the best tributes do.

Best of all, the Doctor and his companion, Ruby Sunday (Millie Gibson), run up and down lots of corridors; it’s good to see that no matter how glossy, expensive and revamped Doctor Who gets, the tropes remain the same.

New episodes of Doctor Who stream every Friday on Disney+ outside the UK and Ireland and every Saturday on BBC One and BBC iPlayer. Season one is available for pre-order (affiliate link).

Have you watched Space Babies? What did you think? Let me know in the comments below.

Nick Smith's new audiobook, Undead on Arrival, is available from Amazon (affiliate link).

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