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Doctor Who: Space Babies

"I’m not saying things are connected, and yet things connect."

The era of the 15th Doctor has officially begun. And you might be forgiven for finding parts of it strangely familiar.

Although we did officially get introduced to Ncuti Gatwa's 15th Doctor and Ruby Sunday last Christmas in "The Church on Ruby Road," it's clear that the new era of Doctor Who officially begins here.

You can tell, because they're re-using most of the details from the last time Russell T. Davies had to reboot the series, back in 2005. A lot of this is directly lifted from "The End of the World." That's what I'm saying.

That's not an intrinsically bad thing. This is effectively yet another 'new viewers start here' episode, so why not use the tricks that you already know work? So, we get in fairly short order:

— A brief overview of "Last of the Time Lords."
— A rigorous discussion of his name being 'The Doctor.'
— A trip to the far, far future to a stationary space station with wacky inhabitants.
— A nice long shot of staring out into space through a large viewing screen so that the companion can get properly awed.
— The nice long viewing screen shot capping off with a realization that their mum is long since dead.
— The realization that mum is long dead leading to a handy phone upgrade and quick call back in time to check in with her.
— 'I can't see it anymore without seeing it through your eyes,' or words to that effect.

None of it's done badly, and to be fair they do need to introduce all the nuts and bolts of the show to potential new viewers. I just wish there hadn't been quite so much of it that felt like a cut and paste from the earlier script. That said, "End of the World" was 19 years ago, so they pretty much get away with it. And now I feel very old.

Leaving that aside before I risk breaking a hip, there's a lot of good new stuff here as well. The concept of the 'baby farm' is intriguing and makes a lot of sense, the more I thought about it. A new colony would absolutely benefit from the influx of a lot of babies that aren't siblings or first cousins. That avoids the whole 'Adam and Eve' problem nicely. I also really enjoyed that Ruby immediately leapt to the conclusion that someone was growing the babies to eat them. That was a nice little throwback to "Church on Ruby Road" that benefitted enormously from their not feeling the need to over-explain it.

The same can't be said for the montage that they felt the need to include explaining why the Doctor would feel compelled to save the Bogeyman. 'Everyone is unique,' 'I'm the last of my kind,' 'Last of my kind,' 'Last of my kind.' OK, we get it. He's empathizing. He's also the Doctor, one of whose most ingrained characteristics is attempting to save everyone that he can, so they really didn't need to lay it on that thick. I'm hoping it wasn't added at the request of a Disney note, because Russell T. Davies' scripting isn't usually that heavy handed.

Well, not about character moments, in any case. Political commentary, on the other hand... Back in "Aliens in London" we got the mention of 'Massive weapons of destruction.' Here we get a company that's perfectly fine leaving babies to die, as well as a comment on the insanity of a group of people insisting that babies be born and then insistently doing absolutely nothing to take care of them once they have been, and a shot about refugee camps not being willing to help until you physically get there. To be clear, I don't disagree with any of those points, but they aren't exactly shining beacons of thematic subtlety, now are they. Ah, Russell. You're definitely back.

OK, that's all starting to sound more negative than I mean it to be, so let's shift gears and talk about the episode's (and – one suspects – the era's) biggest asset: Ncuti Gatwa's almost indescribable ability to radiate joy. The sheer amount of love and enthusiasm he has for every new experience is such a breath of fresh air. Millie Gibson appears to have the same ability, if to a slightly lesser extent, but I find it hard to judge if it's coming from her, or if she's just excellent at reflecting and amplifying what's coming from Ncuti. I'll need more scenes of them separated to properly judge that one, but for now it has to be said that the experience of watching them take such delight in things is simply wonderful.

I'm not entirely certain how much the 'crew' babies really make sense, if I'm being honest. But the Doctor and Ruby are having such a good time cooing at them that it doesn't bother me particularly. Similarly, the logistics of how exactly babies are born from the machine (do they automatically become crew members? Are there non-crew babies?) isn't really a problem. The situation that they have sketched in allows for the heartbreaking reveal that Nan-E, aka Jocelyn, has more or less been hiding from the babies out of shame for what the world has done to them, and that's such a powerful and moving moment that it feels churlish to go digging for details.

Certain previous Doctors would probably have taken quite a hard line with Jocelyn for attempting to kill the Bogeyman, regardless of her perfectly legitimate reasons for believing that she had to do it. It feels absolutely perfect as a mission statement for the new era that this Doctor instead forgives her. And then the babies and the monster all howl together, and it shouldn't work, but dammit, it does.

This might ring a bell

Bits and Pieces:

— The opening trip to dino-times was clearly mostly there for the sake of the butterfly sight gag so that they could include that in the trailer, but it also very subtly set up the concept of making dangerous changes to the timeline, which the Doctor circled back to in the end scene. Russell's scripts are almost always leaner than they appear to be at first glance. There's almost nothing in this one that isn't setting up something else for the future at the same time as it's forwarding the plot of the episode.

— The script laid it on pretty thick in that final scene that Ruby can never go back to the church on the night she was born, or they would all fall into a terrible paradox. So, we can pretty much all set our watches for that to happen at the end of episode seven, right?

— They didn't 100% nail the babies' mouth movements synching with the dialogue. It worked fine, but you could see the slight disconnect.

— The Doctor's speech to Captain Poppy about everyone being unique and that there's no such thing as growing up 'wrong' was just wonderful.

— The running joke about the Nan-E translator editing the swearing out was arguably a bit of a cheap gag, but it still made me laugh every time.

— Why was the Doctor enjoying scaring the babies like that early on? I like that ultimately there wasn't a 'bad guy' and the bogeyman was ultimately welcomed as one of them, but we hadn't started taking that turn yet. It felt a little like the Doctor was just being cruel, although I'm sure that wasn't the intention.

— They still don't actually have a way to steer the space station, do they? Or, for that matter, stop it once it arrives at the refugee planet? Did the Doctor just chuck it in the general direction and hope?

— Gratuitous mention of the Rani early on, just to pour a little fuel on the Mrs. Flood speculation.

— I'm not a huge fan of the TARDIS sliding in to its destination like they've been doing lately. It's so much better when it materializes.

— That's the second time the Doctor's gotten Carla's ceiling trashed.

— Steven Moffat once pointed out that Russell T. Davies has a thing about using the number 57 whenever he needs a random number. There were two examples of it in this episode. It becomes impossible not to notice them once you know it's a thing. You're welcome.

— Gratuitous fanboy moment. The TARDIS key, as presented to Ruby at the end of the episode, is almost always shown these days on a black ribbon. Because that's how Susan wore her key around her neck way back in 1963, and when she got left behind and dropped that key on that ribbon to the ground and walked away, it was heartbreaking enough to still merit a visual callback 60 years later.


Quotes:

The Doctor: "Who steps on butterflies? You’d literally have to be like ‘Come ‘ere butterfly! Have it!’"

The Doctor: "It’s broken. Most of the universe is knackered, babes."

The Doctor: "What is it with you and babies?"
Ruby: "I was going to say the same thing to you."

The Doctor: "Sometimes a world is sterile. Or goes mad and bans kissing."

Ruby: "How do you keep going on?"
The Doctor: "For days like this."

Captain Poppy: "Did we grow up wrong?"
The Doctor: "Oh Poppy. Oh, Popsicle. Look at me. Nobody grows up ‘wrong’."

Ruby: "So the planet down there refuses to stop the babies being born, but once they’re born they don’t look after them."

The Doctor: "No job. No boss. Just fun."
Ruby: "We did almost die."
The Doctor: "Yes, but we lived so much, too."


This one was a lot of fun, and a good introduction to the new era, which is at long last properly underway. Despite how parts of this review have seemed, I really did enjoy it a lot.

Ten out of fifteen Doctors. I have to bring it down just a bit for all the repetition.

Mikey Heinrich is, among other things, a freelance writer, retired firefighter, and roughly 78% water. You can find more of his work at the 42nd Vizsla. If you'd like to see his raw notes for this and other reviews, you can find them at What Was Mikey Thinking.

9 comments:

  1. Space Babies!

    I didn't realize just how much echoed "The End of the World" until you pointed it out. I didn't bother me (and like you said, it's been 19 years) (oh god).

    Could have also done with the very heavy handed political jabs. Didn't need them. Wasn't thinking about them. Didn't want to think about them. Ah well.

    Loved that Nan-E was a person. The babies were very cute. Especially love our new Doctor and Ruby. Like you said, there's just this infectious joy that I adore. Ncuti Gatwa is magnetic like very very few people are. An absolute treat to watch.

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  2. I really enjoyed it, too. There was something so silly about the babies in their strollers working on the space station that it kept making me laugh.

    Ncuti is really amazing. I love him.

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    1. I just wish his last name was Mcuti, so I could make an "Mmm cookies" reference.

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  3. Doctor McCuti is really perfect in the role. He feels like they threw Whitaker, Tennent and Smith in a blender and some LGBTQ+ traits for good measure and voila you have McCuti (yes I know that isn't really right, but I've been watching entirely too much Grey's Anatomy and I've got the whole McSomething on the brain).

    I'm just as fond of Ruby already, I loved how she was empathetic and kind first, and even called out The Doctor on more than one occasion. She seems brave, and bright and a good match for this Doctor. I'm also happy that it looks like early reports were wrong and Ruby will be around for S2.

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    1. My review of The Devil's Chord will be up soon, but my favorite Ruby thing so far by a mile is a moment in that one where The Doctor bends over in exasperation at something and she gives him the world's most stoic supportive pat on the back ever. The look on her face is just priceless.

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  4. "They didn't 100% nail the babies' mouth movements synching with the dialogue."

    You don't have to tell me. I'm hard of hearing, and this was people with British accents doing baby voices, and I couldn't even read their lips. I basically understood nothing the babies said for the whole episode.

    Fun episode, but I hope we get a non-wacky one with this Doctor soon (I've already watched the next one as well).

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  5. I was left a little cold by this opener. The exposition really dragged it down I understand that all the shows basics have reexplained for a potential new audience but this was to much at least for me.

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  6. I freaking loved it. Yeah it echoed "The End of the World" but it really didn't bug me. I loved the babies. They were so cute (mostly...their CGI mouths were a little creepy). I, too, loved the Doctor's speech to Captain Poppy. Really digging Ruby. She just goes with it in a way we haven't had in a long time. I know everyone is like "she's literally Clara" but personality wise she seems more like Amy Pond to me. She and the Doctor are chaotic gay besties and I'm living for it.

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