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Doctor Who Season-Premiere Recap: Babies on Board

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Photo: Disney+

Call it déjà Who. After relaunching in 2005, Doctor Who has been reset for a second time. What would’ve been season 14 is now being billed as season one on Disney+, and Russell T. Davies is once again helming the rebrand. The first taste of Ncuti Gatwa’s season as the Fifteenth Doctor does plenty of hand-holding. To be fair, there is a lot of lore that could be intimidating to a first-time fan. The specials from last year alone introduced the first bi-generation and leaned into sci-fantasy elements. And that’s on top of the standard spiel about the Doctor having two hearts and traveling through time and space in a police box. Still, it feels like the main focus of “Space Babies” was to create opportunities for the Doctor to share exposition, using a relatively straightforward plot as the means to this end. Longtime viewers might feel a little babied during this adventure … but at least we get to see some cute babies? You can’t be too mad while watching kids ask to be hugged for the first time in their lives.

We’re picking up right after the Christmas special, so Ruby (Millie Gibson) has just boarded the TARDIS for the first time. The Doctor launches into his backstory, from his adoption by a “posh planet” to the genocide of his people. We also need to establish some of the ground rules of time travel. The question of how you can go to the past without changing the future is answered with a nod to the classic sci-fi short story “A Sound of Thunder”; Ruby turns scaly after she steps on a butterfly while dinosaurs are roaming America, reminding the Doctor to activate a switch that compensates for inadvertent ripple effects.

The bulk of the episode takes place in 21506, on a closed space station orbiting a human colony planet. Ruby and the Doctor have the misfortune of landing on the lower level, where an Alien-esque monster called the Bogeyman chases them down slippery, smelly hallways. There’s also a dangerous pressure buildup somewhere in these depths. On the upper level, Ruby gets a second to catch her breath and be awed by the fact that humanity made it to the stars, prompting the Doctor to offer a succinct explanation for why he travels with companions: “Sometimes, it looks even better through your eyes.”

The station is a baby farm being run by babies (“space babies,” as Fifteen says at least a dozen times) in motorized strollers. The adult crew left the station because of a recession-induced government shutdown. But it’s also illegal to stop the birth machine. As Ruby puts it, the planet refuses to stop babies from being born yet doesn’t look after them once they are. Real subtle allegory! Since the station can’t move, there’s no hope of getting to the nearest planet that takes in refugees.

Anyway, “Space Babies” definitely fits in thematically. We’ve got an entire crew of babies who, apart from a robotic nanny on the intercom, have been abandoned. They’re a little confused about their identity, and that’s something both Ruby and the Doctor can relate to. Ruby was left at a church as a newborn and hasn’t been able to find any information about her birth family. Meanwhile, the Doctor was found as the Timeless Child and has now lost the Time Lords who adopted him. When the Doctor assures Captain Poppy that no one grows up wrong and that being unique is a superpower, I hope he takes that to heart(s).

The feel-good moment abruptly ends once the babies are reminded of the Bogeyman, which is what they call the creature below. The Doctor annoys the nanny intercom into revealing the voice of Jocelyn (Golda Rosheuvel), an accountant-turned-makeshift-engineer who has been hiding in a separate room. There’s limited food and air, and she doesn’t want to see the babies die or have them see her die.

Before the Doctor and Ruby make it to her, they stop to chat about the mysteries around Ruby’s birth. The Doctor is thrown into a flashback of the night he was at the church, but the memory changes so that Ruby’s hooded mother turns and points at him. A grown-up Ruby also appears before we’re back at the station, which is somehow now snowing indoors. “It’s like a memory just came through from the day that you were born,” the Doctor says.

But we’ve got a different baby to worry about. Namely, Eric, who has decided to go confront the naughty “doggo” downstairs since Ruby said the Bogeyman isn’t real. Ruby and the Doctor rush down, but it’s ultimately his fellow babies who rescue him with a flamethrower. The Doctor wants Ruby to follow the babies back to safety, but she just laughs. He sure knows how to pick people who will refuse to leave his side when they’re in danger.

Ruby points out that this whole situation reeks of a children’s story coming to life. A nanny, babies, a bogeyman … it’s an interesting observation, given that Doctor Who seems to be drawing more from the realm of fairy tales, folk tales, and mythology. The Christmas special even opens with the words “once upon a time.” Fittingly, the space station’s out-of-control educational software apparently thought that, as in a good bedtime story, the babies needed a monster to be afraid of. So it created one that screams at a pitch that inspires fear. And it built it with bogeys (a.k.a. boogers), the snot collected from used tissues from above. Basically, the Bogeyman is the station’s baby, too.

Jocelyn hasn’t picked up on this, though. Her loneliness has made her fearful. From above, she traps the Bogeyman in an airlock, hoping to expel it into space. But even the babies aren’t happy to see their favorite monster in pain. Thinking about how the Bogeyman is the only one of its kind, the Doctor throws himself into the airlock to close it. On the upper level, Ruby reminds a distraught Jocelyn to “save them all.”

After the Bogeyman is safe, the Doctor realizes that the pressure buildup was actually caused by dirty diapers, so he makes the constipated space station shart itself out of orbit. Is this better or worse than the farting Slitheens? The sheer force of this cloud of poo is apparently enough to make up for the lack of an engine. Really, Doctor, you couldn’t just take them on your TARDIS? He needs to receive some sort of citation for environmental pollution.

It’s not clear what will happen to the Bogeyman and the babies when they land, but the Doctor isn’t sticking around to find out. He’s just passing by, after all. It’s time for him to make his elevator pitch to Ruby so that she can take a TARDIS key and travel aimlessly with him. He’s all on his own, and he wants her to come with him. No job, no boss, just fun — how could a 19-year-old resist? This one can’t. The Doctor’s only stipulation is that he will never take her back to the night of her birth because it will cause a paradox. But we’ve already seen Ruby stepping into his memory, so it doesn’t seem like we’re quite done with that night. Plus, snow falls in the TARDIS when he starts scanning her DNA …

I think we can rule out the possibility that Ruby is an alien, given that her DNA was already scanned in the Christmas special, and you’d think Davina McCall would’ve noticed that. For all the mystery being placed around Ruby’s birth, though, it’s nice that the show has so far emphasized that her chosen family is just as important to her. I hope that even if she learns anything about her birth parents or this magical snow, it won’t change her Christmases with Carla.

Cut for Time (Lord) 

• Poppy is a star. There’s something a little unsettling about the babies who we hear speak when their lips or facial expressions aren’t quite lining up, but she really stands out because she matches the mood of her voiceover lines, smiling and yawning in the appropriate places.

• When the TARDIS finally lands in the Sundays’ kitchen, it cracks the ceiling again. They can’t catch a break, huh?

• As a new companion, one of Ruby’s main jobs right now is to be a bit panicked and confused, asking questions so the Doctor can dole out more backstory. But she does get some opportunities to showcase her own personality in this episode, like when the Doctor says he wishes they were the space babies’ parents, and Ruby immediately makes an “uh-uh, speak for yourself” face in the background. Another personal favorite is when she gets covered in snot but finds it more disgusting that the Doctor calls her “Rubes.” Def looking forward to getting to know her better!

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Jennifer Zhan , 2024-05-10 22:18:46

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