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Doctor Who’s Space Babies definitely went to an Educate Together school

Patrick Freyne: Doctor Who allows adults to enjoy swashbuckling adventures without feeling patronised and allows children to access something dark and weird while feeling safe

In the first episode of the new Doctor Who (Saturday, BBC One and Disney+) the Doctor and his companion arrive on a spooky old space station and are quickly surrounded by a group of creepy, wheely, strangely voiced space beings. “Oh no, Doctor, it’s your ancient enemy the Daleks!” I shout. “Fight them! Go somewhere with stairs! Smush them! Destroy those weird, wheely, chubby-cheeked, big-eyed, cute li’l freaks!”

Okay, it’s possible that they’re not Daleks. It’s possible these are babies. The episode is, now that I think of it, called Space Babies. That’s worse than Daleks! “Resist them, Doctor!” I cry. “Fight them! They’ll dribble on your stuff, sap your energy and ultimately replace you because they’re happy to be paid in rusks!”

Instead, the Doctor and his new companion Ruby, start cosseting, cradling and generally soothing these verbose, advanced-for-their-age (they went to an Educate Together school) space babies who skitter about in motorised space chairs while speaking with uncanny-valley baby lips. The space station, as the Doctor explains to Ruby, is a baby farm. (We pass a bunch of even stranger babies in big test tubes.) Ruby takes in this terrifying information in a very chilled-out manner. It’s a bit of a pattern in the new series, Ruby responding to space grotesquerie with the jaded acceptance of a generation frazzled by TikTok.

The baby farm has been abandoned, so it’s now falling apart and being run by the babies (a metaphor for Brexit, probably). There’s one nanny to barely protect them (Labour), and in the basement is a big scary monster made of literal snot (the Tories). I like the snot monster. He tells it like it is and says what we’re all thinking (“Raaaaaar!”). The Doctor and companion instantly run away, which is one of the Doctor’s main strategies. Luckily, these are brave can-do-it-ive babies – not like the thuggish oafs you’re more familiar with (your own babies) – and they help the Doctor out in his battle with the Snot Beast.


Some backstory: The Doctor is a space alien who insists on being called the Doctor even though, as far as I can see, he isn’t a medical doctor, and could well have a PhD in business studies or ceramics. He is the last of his kind (academics?), so there are no more Doctor whens, whats, hows or heretofores. Thankfully, he has a machine with which he can travel through time and space, and he can also live forever thanks to the show creators’ ability to change his head every time an actor quibbles with their contract.

The Doctor has a snazzy new head for this series, courtesy of the excellent Ncuti Gatwa, and a glossy new companion, Ruby Sunday (Millie Gibson). Gatwa makes for a likably charismatic Doctor, though he is in the bubbly-children’s-presenter mould rather than the weird-aloof-alien mould. Ruby is another magical lady with a mysterious origin. (If you’re a heterosexual teenage boy or a romantic poet, that’s all ladies.) Doctor Who history is filled with them. Anyway, this inventively odd scenario is wrapped up with barely a rise in heart rate. They were never going to endanger babies, even space babies. On reflection, I’d have preferred if the babies were the baddies. I’d love to have seen the Doctor fight off a bunch of bad babies with their gummy biting jaws and chubby graspers. Bad babies are the best babies.

In the second episode of the series Ruby tells the Doctor she would like to go back in time to see Jive Bunny and the Mastermixers ... sorry, I mean The Beatles, because, as you know, there is so little content about The Beatles out there. Wanting to see The Beatles is a strange choice for someone born in 2004 until you remember that today’s young people are trapped in a recursive cultural loop (the internet) created by baby boomers angry at death. For context, Ruby asking to see The Beatles is the equivalent of twentysomething me asking to go to see George Formby perform When I’m Cleaning Windows. (Formby had his flaws – When I’m Cleaning Windows, for example – but he didn’t hold youth culture in a stranglehold forever.)

At the end of the episode there is sequence in which the Doctor and Ruby and a load of extras sing and dance to the worst song I have ever heard on television. It’s unclear why it’s happening

Ruby and the Doctor cosplay as 1960s people and go to see the aforementioned Liverpudlians recording at Abbey Road. (They look like they were cast by Mick Jagger out of spite.) But something is awry: their breezy pop is now atonal and lyrically banal, much like John Lennon’s solo stuff or the songs Ringo sings. It turns out that a scenery-chewing, fourth-wall-breaking drag queen (Jinkx Monsoon) chomped their way out of a piano in 1925 and sucked all the good music from the world and that’s going to lead to the apocalypse. I mean, that’s obviously the reason when you think about it.

Russell T Davies is frequently a great writer. It’s a Sin was magisterially good. And he has written some very inventive Doctor Who stories. But he’s not a hard-sci-fi guy. His version of the Doctor frequently eschews scientific explanations (though it’s possible that having a vaudevillian smash their way out of a piano in 1925 is how Davies thinks electricity works or something), preferring mystical woo. Plots are often resolved because a character miraculously intuits something or has some previously unknown power. In this episode the baddy is banished and music returns to the world with the help of Lennon and McCartney playing a “lost chord”.

When Doctor Who is at its best it treads a fine line. It allows adults to enjoy swashbuckling adventures without feeling patronised and allows children to access something dark and weird while feeling safe (though occasionally scarring them for life). The first episodes of the new Disney-distributed iteration, despite the brilliant new star, skews towards the kids, specifically scaredy space babies who hate tension. (The first episode was a thesis statement.)

At the end of the episode there is sequence in which the Doctor and Ruby and a load of extras sing and dance to the worst song I have ever heard on television. It’s unclear why it’s happening. If they never say plainly, “We don’t have the rights to any of The Beatles’ actual songs”, this performance makes that fact clear. I had to sit alone in a dark room for a while afterwards. “We have put music back into the world!” the Doctor seems to be saying. “Bad, bad music.”

Over on Dark Matter, Apple TV+’s multiversal romp, a physics professor called Jason Dessen (Joel Edgerton) outlines a scenario in which a radioactive substance, a vial of poison and a cat are placed in a box. This isn’t just a fun way to spend an afternoon, it’s also a thought experiment about indeterminate quantum states devised by famous nerd and cat-hater Erwin Schrödinger. Unlike Doctor Who, Dark Matter pays lip service to actual science that conceivably allows our heroic boffin to jump dimensions. It’s an interesting start, but the multiverse is a commonplace fictional device now, so I’m not sure how much patience I’ll ultimately have for Jason as he morosely slips away across the multiverse. Hey, I know a song about that! Sadly, I don’t have the rights, so I’ll just have to sing the song from Doctor Who (“Raaaaaar!”).