Space Babies

Posted in Episode by - May 11, 2024
Space Babies

Aired 11 May 2024


Following the triumphant and stylish trio of David Tennant specials and Ncuti Gatwa’s energetic and confident introduction in ‘The Church on Ruby Road’ Christmas special, Doctor Who finally returns to screens with its first full series since 2021’s Flux.

Any premiere episode has a fine line to walk, needing to effectively introduce the Doctor and companion to new and returning viewers alike while establishing the energy and tone of the upcoming era. Russell T Davies is no stranger to these opening episodes, of course, and ‘Space Babies’ fairly effectively manages to delve into the long and complicated history and alien nature of the Doctor without dwelling too long on any specific continuity or going so quickly as to alienate new or more casual viewers. This is achieved through the brilliant interactions of Gatwa and Millie Gibson as new companion Ruby Sunday does her best to take everything in stride while becoming increasingly incredulous about the sights and information around her. With a surprisingly quick gag about the butterfly effect and the potential perils that time travel can hold in a stunningly-realized prehistoric setting, these opening moments are an excellent introduction to the camaraderie, energy, and utter confidence that seem sure to define this Fifteenth Doctor era and its early continued focus on babies and orphans to reflect the two travelers’ own histories.

Once the action switches to the space station in the far future, Davies is equally effective at setting the scene and presenting the mystery at hand. While noting the awful smell and the Doctor’s unexpected but instant and intense fear of the new creature stalking the corridors, these scenes primarily allow Ruby to act as a conduit for viewers to learn or be reminded of more specifics about the Doctor’s Gallifreyan nature, the TARDIS’s broken chameleon circuit, the translation matrix, and the Doctor’s continuing ability to anchor companions to their own times via phone modifications. Through it all, Gatwa imbues his Doctor with a verve for exploration with a certain cheekiness and undisputed compassion that is perfectly fitting of any incarnation of the Doctor, further establishing a thematic link with earlier incarnations while presenting a bombastic charm and charisma wholly unique to this one.

Perhaps surprisingly, however, is that the actual plot itself of ‘Space Babies’ is undoubtedly the weakest part of the story, just barely held together by the strong absurdity of its ideas to explore the babies in charge of the baby farm and the bizarre truth of the purposefully frightening Bogeyman far below the command deck. The actual presence of babies in command of this station is the type of ludicrous idea that only the breadth and scope of a franchise like Doctor Who can allow, but the visual nature of actual babies that are just barely able to move knowing and doing enough to keep this station functioning even as a building pressure elsewhere threatens its integrity is nonetheless jarring. That no real effort is made to synchronize mouth motions with the words being spoken is equally disconcerting, and while the core concept of this baby farm being abandoned due to a financial crisis but not being shut down due to a pro-life set of laws certainly presents striking links with familiar troubles and policies at various times and locations through the world in the past and present, little exploration is afforded the ramifications of such decisions at any point to truly lend this episode a greater resonance. The ship is moving again thanks to the Doctor’s intervention, but how these babies will mature and potentially integrate into any society given their nature and experiences and the societal decision that created their state of existence in the first place are all sadly neglected with the plot itself remaining very superficial as a result.

Golda Rosheuvel as the primary guest star does a good job in presenting an overly-stressed person far out of her comfort zone as the sole adult remaining on this station, and the tearful emotions she expresses at the story’s end certainly ring true to keep ‘Space Babies’ more grounded in a darker reality. However, this story is very much a conduit for Gatwa and Gibson to shine, and both instantly succeed while further bolstering their strong foundation created in ‘The Church on Ruby Road.’ Gatwa can be very human and very alien at the same time while jumping from extroverted charm to introspective contemplation, and Gibson shows that Ruby is remarkably intuitive as she pieces together the puzzle around them while showcasing the maternal instinct and compassion her life at home with fostering has developed. The mysterious snow reaching back to Ruby’s past and the continuing plot threads about superstition and fairy tales infringing on this universe due to the Doctor’s previous actions likewise create intriguing mysteries for future stories to explore as well, and so while ‘Space Babies’ is hardly an all-time classic, there are still a number of incredible strengths that just about compensate for its underwhelmingly superficial plot to create an engaging premiere experience.

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