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Doctor Who: Space Babies and The Devil’s Chord – season one opening recap
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Doctor Who: Space Babies and The Devil’s Chord – season one opening recap

At last we get to see the big bold reimagining we’ve been promised since May 2022 when Ncuti Gatwa was unveiled as the new Doctor. There were a lot of knowing echoes of the last time Russell T Davies reset Doctor Who – and not just in the self-conscious recap of the show’s whole premise that took up a large chunk of Space Babies. We also had a time-travelling phonecall back to mum, a monster made of snot and a spaceship powered by the collective methane of a bunch of space nappies, which called to mind the burping bin and farting Slitheen of the 2005 revival.

Space Babies wore its politics on its sleeve as well, cramming in references to the US abortion debate, immigration and asylum seekers, and with the destruction of the Time Lords and Gallifrey now firmly labelled a genocide.

It isn’t a full continuity-chucking “reboot” of the Whoniverse – the events of An Unearthly Child in 1963 got a specific call-out – but it is certainly hard to imagine, say, Jon Pertwee delivering the line “most of the universe is knackered, babes”. Fans who were concerned about the potential “Disneyfication” of Who will not have been reassured by talking babies and a song and dance number featuring cameos from Strictly Come Dancing stars.

The internet had tremendous fun laughing at the not exactly visually convincing casting of the Fab Four for The Devil’s Chord, but as many suspected, they were more backdrop than main players, and we were in an alternate timeline anyway. However, that gave us an odd mix of pedantic accuracy – the Doctor pointing out to Ruby Sunday (Millie Gibson) that Abbey Road studio didn’t yet go by that name in 1963 – and the anachronistic, with somebody presumably deciding “John Lennon” should wear his later trademark circular specs to be more recognisable.

From L-R Paul McCartney (George Caple), George Harrison (Philip Davies) and an anachronistically bespectacled John Lennon (Chris Mason).View image in fullscreen

The challenge the BBC – and Disney – face is trying to keep the existing fandom on board, while also appealing to a whole new family audience in a streaming era where it seems like only global drama franchises can financially thrive. Appealing to all ages is hard work. The talking babies may have been silly, but it will have been hard for real-life parents not to have felt their heartstrings tugged watching their anguish at being abandoned.

Sum it up in one sentence?

It was a double bill of “What if Doctor Who did Alien but it had incredibly cute babies in it?” and “What if Doctor Who did the swinging sixties but nobody was swinging?”

Life aboard the Tardis

Ruby Sunday (Millie Gibson) and the Doctor (Ncuti Gatwa).View image in fullscreen

We were cruelly denied a glimpse into the Tardis wardrobe as they got ready for the sixties, but between them Gatwa and Gibson have an infectious chemistry as a pairing, and sailed through two episodes that probably won’t end up being seen as the best their era has to offer.

Fear factor

It was more “cute factor” than “fear factor” in Space Babies, although the Bogeyman was an effective enough minor monster-of-the-week, and there was just a little moment where you thought surely they are not going to start killing these babies off?

Timothy Drake (Jeremy Limb) and Maestro (Jinkx Monsoon) in the 1920s, setting up the premise for the not-Beatles.View image in fullscreen

Jinkx Monsoon as Maestro in The Devil’s Chord, on the other hand, was a genuinely fun scenery-chewing turn that 1980s Doctor Who producer John Nathan-Turner would have adored to have in an episode. There may even be some kids eyeing the piano in their next lesson with some suspicion. But the true villain of the piece was surely the songs that “the Beatles”, “Cilla Black” and that orchestra were given to play.

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Mysteries and questions

The Doctor referred to a pantheon of higher beings that his encounter with the Toymaker may have allowed to leak into the universe, and we were clearly sign-posted again that “the one who waits” is the forthcoming uber-villain. We were also assured that the one place the Doctor can never take Ruby Sunday is back to the moment where she was left at the church on Ruby Road. It seems nailed on with those flashbacks of the mysterious woman that we will end up back there before long.

Deeper into the vortex

  • The throwaway butterfly effect skit illustrated to new viewers the potential downsides of time travel. The Twelfth Doctor teased Bill in Thin Ice when she once asked what would happen if she stepped on a butterfly, telling her “That’s what happened to Pete. Your friend, Pete. He was standing there a moment ago, but he stepped on a butterfly and now you don’t even remember him.”

  • The Beatles appeared as themselves in William Hartnell story The Chase using a clip from Top of the Pops. They also featured in one of the questions Martha had to answer in David Tennant-era story 42.

  • Yes, that was Tom Baker-era costume designer June Hudson with a cameo as the old lady being murdered after she began playing her piano.

  • Russell T Davies said not a note of Beatles music was used in the episode for rights and costs reasons. The chord John and Paul played that banished Maestro hinted at both the long-debated opening chord of A Hard Day’s Night and the drawn out crashing chord ending of A Day in the Life, but appeared to actually be neither.

  • The Rani got a namedrop. Kate O’Mara played the Rani on TV in two stories in the 1980s and in the 1993 Children in Need crossover with EastEnders, Dimensions in Time. A Doctor Who fandom tradition is everybody suspects a new mysterious female character will later be revealed to be the Rani, yet it never is. But the mysterious Mrs Flood, who we already know recognises a Tardis, is played by Anita Dobson, who used to be Angie Watts in EastEnders. It couldn’t be, could it? After all … there’s always a twist in the end.

Next time: Boom

Well, well, well, if it isn’t Steven Moffat with what looks like another entry into his list of very creepy Doctor Who stories with short titles like Blink, Hide and Listen. This one appears to be written around the single horrible idea of stepping on a landmine …

A little bit of housekeeping

We will stick to publishing the recaps when episodes finish airing on BBC One in the UK, giving everyone an even playing field in the comments. And despite it being arguably season 40 or series 14 depending when you start counting from, we are going to adopt the season one labelling that the show is using for its branding this year.

Source: theguardian.com