‘Doctor Who’ Casting Director Responds To Criticism Of Race-Swapped Isaac Newton: “It’s Sad That We’re In A Time Where People Villainise Minorities”

Isaac Newton (Nathaniel Curtis) informs The Doctor (David Tennant) and Donna (Catherine Tate) that they've landed in England, 1666 in Doctor Who Special 302 "Wild Blue Yonder" (2023), BBC
Isaac Newton (Nathaniel Curtis) informs The Doctor (David Tennant) and Donna (Catherine Tate) that they've landed in England, 1666 in Doctor Who Special 302 "Wild Blue Yonder" (2023), BBC

According to Doctor Who casting director Andy Pryor, the backlash to the series’ race-swapping of real-world historical figure Sir Isaac Newton has nothing to do with historical accuracy or a growing exhaustion with identity-politics, but is instead based solely in – you guessed it – viewers’ own racist attitudes.

Isaac Newton (Nathaniel Curtis) speculates on the nature of the universe in Doctor Who Special 302 "Wild Blue Yonder" (2023), BBC
Isaac Newton (Nathaniel Curtis) speculates on the nature of the universe in Doctor Who Special 302 “Wild Blue Yonder” (2023), BBC

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Taking place in Wild Blue Yonder, the second of three new Doctor Who holiday specials helmed by returning showrunner Russell T Davies’ and produced in honor of the series’ 60th anniversary, the historical revisionism in question saw the real-world English physicist brought to life by half-Indian The Witcher: Blood Origin actor Nathaniel Curtis, in doing so portraying him not as the white man he provably was, but rather as someone of an unspecified ethnic descent (despite his actor’s noted heritage, the episode never specifically addresses the background of its race-swapped Newton).

Isaac Newton (Nathaniel Curtis) prepares to meet the day ahead in Doctor Who Special 302 "Wild Blue Yonder" (2023), BBC
Isaac Newton (Nathaniel Curtis) prepares to meet the day ahead in Doctor Who Special 302 “Wild Blue Yonder” (2023), BBC

Following the special’s premiere, Pryor provided insight into his subversive casting decision during an interview with Digital Spy’s David Opie.

First broaching the topic after being met with praise from Opie for how well he was able to keep Curtis’ appearance a secret, the casting director explained, “Because it’s a brief but important moment, you can get an actor in and out quite quickly, with parts like that.”

“That was Russell’s idea, actually,” Pryor added. “We had talked about trying to get Nathaniel in the show at some point and I think it’s a sort of rather cheeky, but fun interpretation of Isaac Newton. You know, it’s not a historical drama [Laughs]. Let’s just have some fun with it.”

“Nathaniel was very game,” he further recalled. “He’s a fan of the show. Such a lovely guy, and he had a great time.”

Isaac Newton (Nathaniel Curtis) discovers the crash landing of The Doctor (David Tennant) and Donna (Catherine Tate) in Doctor Who Special 302 "Wild Blue Yonder" (2023), BBC
Isaac Newton (Nathaniel Curtis) discovers the crash landing of The Doctor (David Tennant) and Donna (Catherine Tate) in Doctor Who Special 302 “Wild Blue Yonder” (2023), BBC

From there, Opie then turned their discussion to how “there’s been backlash from so-called ‘fans’ of Doctor Who in regard to these particular castings, that they’re too ‘woke’, for want of a better word,” subsequently asking the casting director, “You’ve engaged a bit with this discussion online, but I wondered if you had anything else to add on this response to castings such as these?”

In turn, Pryor asserted, “It’s sad that we’re in a time where people villainise minorities.”

“This sort of chatter, I’m very good at kind of tuning it out,” he told his host. “And I’m also very, very happy to block people on Twitter. I don’t really have any time for bigotry at all.”

Isaac Newton (Nathaniel Curtis) gives a name to the concept of 'mavity' in Doctor Who Special 302 "Wild Blue Yonder" (2023), BBC
Isaac Newton (Nathaniel Curtis) gives a name to the concept of ‘mavity’ in Doctor Who Special 302 “Wild Blue Yonder” (2023), BBC

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Proceeding to broaden his argument, Pryor continued, “It then becomes even more important to give people a voice and for people to be represented, especially for young people growing up who might be trans or from any minority. If they can see themselves on screen, then that can be a huge lifeline for some people. That can make them feel part of the world, which indeed they are.”

“Social media is a bit of a dangerous place because I think people get sucked into saying things that I don’t know that they truly believe?” he questioned. “It just becomes a game for them. Unfortunately, real life isn’t a game, and I think it’s important to stand up for people who are marginalised.”

Porträt des Isaac Newton by Godfrey Kneller
Porträt des Isaac Newton (1689), Godfrey Kneller

Pryor then declared, “Growing up as a gay man, I’m as aware as anybody else of how this stuff makes you feel when you see it. How that negativity can affect you. I don’t really think anyone should have to go through that.”

“It’s an important thing for me,” he said. “It’s an important thing for Russell and the whole Doctor Who team.There are so many ways of telling a story and the more you can introduce other ideas and other kinds of people, the more exciting it is.”

Receiving subsequent praise from Opie regarding how the “show has always been forward-thinking and progressive in that way, so it’s really nice that in 2023, Doctor Who can embody that now more than ever,” Pryor ultimately concluded, “It always has been a show about people ‘outside of the norm’. From day one, really. So, we’re just carrying that tradition on in a more modern way.”

Isaac Newton (Nathaniel Curtis) discovers gravity in Doctor Who Special 302 "Wild Blue Yonder" (2023), BBC
Isaac Newton (Nathaniel Curtis) discovers gravity in Doctor Who Special 302 “Wild Blue Yonder” (2023), BBC

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