Doctor Who Season 14: ‘Space Babies’ review — Disappointing opener plays it safe

Jessica Cullen
Doctor Who Season 14 Space Babies review: The Doctor and Ruby Sunday stand in the TARDIS and look at the camera

As Doctor Who Season 14 begins in earnest, its first episode ‘Space Babies’ is a lighthearted affair that does its leads wrong by not taking a bigger risk.

The 2024 iteration of Doctor Who takes many forms, much like its titular Time Lord. It’s been referred to as Season 14, though it’s been dubbed Season 1 by the BBC, all the while technically serving as the 40th season in the series since its inception in 1963. It’s a great analogy for the opening episode post-Christmas special — this version of Doctor Who doesn’t really know what it is… yet.

‘Space Babies’ sees Ncuti Gatwa’s Doctor and Millie Gibson’s Ruby Sunday as they take their first adventure together, landing on an abandoned space station. But it’s not just any old space station, it’s also a still-functioning baby farm, where the infants in question have come to run things.

It’s not unusual for the new Doctor’s first episode to be a one-and-done scenario, typically putting aside a more opulent adventure for a simple quest that allows both new and returning viewers to be reminded of how things work. But in ‘Space Babies’, the lack of plot does not necessarily equate to a stronger entrance for both the Doctor and Ruby, which is partly why it’s, at best, a little underwhelming, and at worst, an undercooked nightmare.

Little space baby demons

As you would guess, the majority of the episode revolves around the space babies in question. There are a number of ways in which this could have been approached, and many probably wouldn’t have been against seeing the Doctor and Ruby defend a ship full of little love-starved babies.

But what we get is a CGI nightmare that’s closer to Baby Geniuses than anything else. The uncanny valley-esque use of the babies means that hammy dialogue is thrown our way while their little mouths move wildly off-kilter, all while the Doctor and Ruby coo and squeal at the “cuteness”.

Doctor Who Season 14 Space Babies review: The space babies crowd in front of The Doctor and Ruby

When there are moments of attempted sincerity (which Doctor Who is known for doing extremely well at times), it’s a little off-putting, since it’s being delivered to these babies who I’d like very much not to be looking at. It’s a shame because it doesn’t result in much other than distraction, when the attention should really be on the Doctor and Ruby and their developing partnership.

On paper, this is a tactical opening episode. Doctor Who is not above sticking its characters in space stations and calling it a day and the idea of a baby farm that’s been abandoned due to budget cuts is a clever (if not slightly obvious) real-world metaphor. The problem is that the characters don’t thrive in even this simplistic set-up.

The Doctor will see you now

Ncuti Gatwa’s Time Lord definitely has potential. It’s fair to say that not every Doctor pulls it out of the bag straight away, but earlier seasons do a good job of establishing who this version of the Doctor is. His motivations, approach, and the consequences he imparts on those he meets are important factors that’ll dictate whether we’re happily going along for the ride with him.

The Fifteenth Doctor has a swaggering energy that’s undeniably charming, but that’s about it in terms of what’s revealed about him in ‘Space Babies’. We get the usual spiel about the Time War and his species’ extinction, though it’s rather surface-level, and doesn’t give us any sort of clue as to who Fifteen is, what he thinks, or how he feels. There’s every likelihood that he will develop slowly and strongly — there’s just no hint of it in ‘Space Babies’.

Ruby screaming Sunday

Less successful than Ncuti Gatwa’s Doctor is Millie Gibson’s Ruby Sunday. As a companion, she’s entirely serviceable, but a little grating if we’re being honest. Credit where credit’s due: Gibson does match Gatwa’s pace and energy, but there’s not much more here to convince us that she’s a companion worth falling in love with.

Doctor Who Season 14 Space Babies review: The Doctor and Ruby stand together and look out the space station window

Ruby does plenty of running around, talking fast, and squealing in the first episode, which aren’t very enjoyable qualities when the episode itself is already causing sensory overload. Her character traits are merely that she’s…okay, maybe her character traits aren’t entirely obvious yet. We’ll get there! Maybe!

Doctor Who Season 14 ‘Space Babies’ verdict: 2/5

What perhaps is one of the most irritating parts of the first episode is how over-explained everything is. There’s exposition around every corner as we’re rushed through the Doctor’s usual accompaniments (sonic screwdriver, the TARDIS translation circuit, etc.) and yet the actual ins and outs of the space station and the story are rushed through or abandoned altogether.

There’s no cause and effect, no working things out. Everything just happens, which means it’s difficult to trust or fall in love with the Doctor and Ruby.

‘Space Babies’ is an easy episode that’ll serve as a decent intro to newcomers, but for a Doctor Who regular, it’s not doing much. If Ncuti Gatwa’s tenure goes well, then this will be one of the weakest episodes of his run, thanks to a low-stakes concept and an atmosphere that’s somehow both dull and a little too much.

‘Space Babies’ will premiere on Disney+ on May 10 7pm ET, and on BBC iPlayer on May 11.

For more, check out all the best new TV shows to stream right now, and find out why the best Doctor Who episode doesn’t star David Tennant.

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