Ncuti Gatwa: A Look at the Career of the New Doctor Who

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Doctor Who is nothing short of a cultural phenomenon. Since it first started airing way back in 1963, the show has become a British institution on par with the likes of The Beatles and the royal family themselves. Its popularity has also led to the role of The Doctor – the time-traveling alien from the planet Gallifrey and the show’s main character – becoming one of the most desired TV roles for actors in the UK and, indeed, around the world. Similarly to the James Bond franchise, whenever the actor that is playing The Doctor announces they are leaving the series, fans and casual viewers alike all stop to see who will be next to take on the prestigious role.


Back in May 2022, 29-year-old Ncuti Gatwa was announced as the new Doctor, following Jodie Whitaker’s decision to leave the show the previous year. Somewhat still new to the game, Gatwa is mainly known for his role as Eric Effiong in the Netflix comedy, Sex Education, a part that he played for four years between 2019 and 2023. In a departure from tradition, Gatwa’s time in the TARDIS was to be preceded by three special episodes celebrating the show’s 60th anniversary, with fan favorite David Tennant returning to the iconic role, this time as the Fourteenth Doctor instead of the Tenth.

Now, with the anniversary specials out of the way, having delivered more than a few surprises, and with Gatwa’s first full episode, “The Church on Ruby Road” just around the corner, now seems like a good time to get to know the man himself. So, here’s a look at the career of Ncuti Gatwa.

Update December 11, 2023: This article has been updated following Gatwa’s debut as the Fifteenth Doctor on Doctor Who.


Career Beginnings

Ncuti Gatwa in Sex Education
Netflix

Ncuti Gatwa was born in Rwanda in 1992, and was only two years old when he moved with his family to Scotland to escape a genocide that was happening in the country at the time. He moved to London when he was 21 to pursue a career as an actor, having studied at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. His first professional credit was in one episode of the BBC4 sitcom Bob Servant back in 2014.

Prior to landing his role on Doctor Who, Gatwa also had small parts in a handful of films. In 2019, he starred as a Roman soldier named Timidius in the family comedy Horrible Histories: The Movie – Rotten Romans, a spin-off of the popular children’s TV show. He also played the small part of Nick in the romantic feature The Last Letter from Your Lover alongside Felicity Jones, Joe Alwyn, and Shailene Woodley.

The majority of Gatwa’s credits come not from film and TV roles, but from the stage. Indeed, the actor has performed in over a dozen theater productions since 2013. Most notably, he took part in a

Bollywood version of William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which was staged at London’s famous Globe Theater. Prior to this, he played Mercutio in a 2014 production of Romeo & Juliet. Gatwa was also part of the cast of the video game, GRID Legends, where he provided both voice and motion capture performance.

Breakout Role

Ncuti Gatwa and Asa Butterfield in Sex Education
Netflix

Having spent much of his early career taking on minor roles and theater jobs, Gatwa came to wider attention in 2019 when he joined the main cast of the Netflix comedy-drama, Sex Education. He played the character of Eric Effiong, the cheerful best friend of the show’s main character, Otis (Asa Butterfield), appearing in each of the show’s 32 episodes. Gatwa’s role on the show immediately thrust him into the spotlight, with the character and actor becoming an instant favorite among audiences, who were won over by his infectious charisma and sense of humor.

Related: How Sex Education Grew Up WIth Its Audience

Throughout his time on the show, the character of Eric was involved in a number of different storylines – some comedic, some dramatic – which allowed Gatwa to bring depth to the character and showcase his ability to portray a wide range of emotions. Eric’s main story arc revolves around him being a gay man from a highly religious family, who is unwilling to hide who he is. Gatwa received acclaim for his work on the show, and went on to earn a nomination for Best Male Performance in Comedy at the British Academy Film and Television Awards (BAFTAs).

Big Screen Success

Ncuti Gatwa in Barbie
Warner Bros./Mattel

After his involvement in Doctor Who had already been announced, Gatwa found himself playing a part in what would go on to be the biggest film of 2023, Barbie. Directed by Greta Gerwig, the film stars Margot Robbie as the titular character and Ryan Gosling as Ken, as the pair leave Barbieland to go on a journey of self-discovery in the real world.

Gatwa plays Artist Ken, one of the numerous versions of the Ken doll that inhabit Barbieland. The film also saw Gatwa reunited with fellow Sex Education stars Emma Mackey and Connor Swindells, both of whom had supporting roles in the movie. Upon being released, Barbie was met with critical acclaim and ended its run in theaters having made over $1.4 billion at the worldwide box office, making it the highest-grossing movie of the year.

The Fifteenth Doctor

Ncuti Gatwa as the Fifteenth Doctor in Doctor Who-1
BBC

It was a surprise when Gatwa, whose resume was on the rather short side, was able to clinch one of the most prestigious roles on TV. However, it’s not the first time a young actor with only a handful of screen credits has taken on the role, after all, Matt Smith was a relatively unknown name when he was announced as the Eleventh Doctor in 2009. Gatwa will, however, be the first Doctor who was born in Africa, as well as the first Black actor (not including Jo Martin’s fleeting appearance as the Fugitive Doctor) to play the role of television’s most famous time traveler. Sadly, this meant that a small but vocal minority of fans were unhappy with Gatwa’s casting, with some describing it as an example of the show pandering to a “woke” audience. On the whole, though, the decision to cast Gatwa in the lead role was met with praise, enthusiasm, and excitement.

Gatwa made his first appearance as the Fifteenth Doctor, not in an episode of the main show, but in a TV movie about how Doctor Who was first conceived. Written by actor and frequent Doctor Who contributor, Mark Gatiss, An Adventure in Space and Time is a biographical drama that depicts events surrounding the creation of the sci-fi series and its early years on air. It was originally made to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the show in 2013 and initially featured a scene towards the end that included the then-current Doctor, Matt Smith. However, when the film was repeated on TV in 2023 to coincide with the show’s 60th anniversary celebrations, this scene was swapped out for one featuring Gatwa as the Fifteenth Doctor. It’s a nice touch and something that can be replicated every time the film is shown.

Related: Doctor Who: New Era Regenerations, Ranked

The actor was next seen in character as the Fifteenth Doctor in the third episode of the 60th Anniversary Specials, titled “The Giggle”, which premiered on BBC One and Disney+ on December 9th, 2023. The episode’s plot saw David Tennant’s Fourteenth Doctor and his companion Donna Noble (Catherine Tate) come up against an old adversary known as the Toymaker, who first appeared way back in 1966 and this time was played by all-round showman Neil Patrick Harris.

“The Giggle” also acted as a regeneration episode, where one Doctor passes the gauntlet onto the next. Traditionally, this involves the current Doctor succumbing to injuries/ailments in the episode’s closing minutes, then regenerating into a new person, who the audiences normally only get a quick glimpse of. Doctor Who showrunner Russell T. Davies was keen to mix things up on this occasion, though and, as such, viewers were treated to the show’s first ever bi–generation, which saw the Doctor split into two – Tennant’s Fourteenth Doctor and Gatwa’s Fifteenth Doctor – meaning both were on-screen at the same time. With the power of two Doctors proving too much for the Toymaker to compete with, the villain was defeated, and fans were treated to a larger glimpse of the incoming Doctor that they are used to.

What’s Next for Ncuti Gatwa?

Ncuti Gatwa in Masters of the Air
AppleTV+

2024 looks set to be another big year for the actor. He’s one of several young talents who have signed on to appear in the new Apple TV+ miniseries, Masters of Air, which is set to have a budget of $250 million. The series is based on the actions of the Eight Air Force of the US during the Second World War and will co-star, Austin Butler, Callum Turner, Anthony Boyle, and Barry Keoghan. It’s set to premiere on January 26.

Meanwhile, Gatwa will return as the Fifteenth Doctor in this year’s Doctor Who Christmas special, “The Church on Ruby Road”, which is scheduled to air on Christmas Day. Following that, he will be back for an eight-episode run in spring 2024. Until then, check out this teaser for the upcoming holiday special.

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