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Elizabeth Sandifer

Elizabeth Sandifer created Eruditorum Press. She’s not really sure why she did that, and she apologizes for the inconvenience. She currently writes Last War in Albion, a history of the magical war between Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. She used to write TARDIS Eruditorum, a history of Britain told through the lens of a ropey sci-fi series. She also wrote Neoreaction a Basilisk, writes comics these days, and has ADHD so will probably just randomly write some other shit sooner or later. Support Elizabeth on Patreon.

139 Comments

  1. William Shaw
    May 24, 2024 @ 11:42 pm

    Maybe it’s just because the era started off with an adaptation of The Star Beast, but I keep thinking of the Second Davies Era in terms of DWM comic strips. The episodes have lots of great imagery, some charming dialogue, but there’s a certain stiffness to them, and they’re prone to rushed and arbitrary feeling endings. This is one thing in ten-page monthly comics instalments, but there just isn’t the heft I tend to expect from big budget TV.

    Reply

  2. Sean Dillon
    May 24, 2024 @ 11:43 pm

    It’s interesting that you note the obvious Black Mirror parallels with next week’s episode (which was apparently pitched for Series 7 or 8) as this episode felt very much like a riff on the most recent episode of Black Mirror, Demon 79. But there, things felt like they gelled a lot better with everything building to a bleak, apocalyptic ending and the mystical aspects having a coherent logic.

    I liked the ineffability of this one, though I suspect I more accurately appreciated what it was grasping towards rather than liked what it was.

    Reply

  3. Camestros Felapton
    May 25, 2024 @ 12:19 am

    I really liked this. Easily my favourite of the series so far. The absence of sense suited the story and also was in tune with the Doctor being absent (and with the Unit intervention failing) but also the series theme of the supernatural intruding into the world.

    Reply

  4. James P
    May 25, 2024 @ 12:30 am

    I really wanted to love this. I usually love folk horror, especially in Doctor Who. But…it didn’t quite cohere. Right now what this reminds me of is Miracle Day. A fascinating premise, some brilliant individual moments, but, not quite the magic Davies is capable of.

    Reply

  5. Cyril Servant
    May 25, 2024 @ 12:48 am

    I think all your criticisms here are fair, but it still thrilled me insofar as I felt this was most skillfully-directed episode we’ve had in a long, long time.

    Reply

  6. Tobias Carroll
    May 25, 2024 @ 1:04 am

    For my money, this episode felt the most like it could play radically differently once this season is over/the mystery of Ruby’s origins is solved. Overall, I dug this one a lot — the swerve from folk horror into a riff on The Dead Zone (at least the Greg Stillson of it all) especially. But I agree that, as of now, a lot of the resolution felt arbitrary, with the why of it all not entirely clicking.

    If this turns out to be setting something up in the season’s arc, I’ll be happy to revisit that. But for all that this had a lot of propulsive narrative energy, I’d really have liked some answers to the the questions raised in the first act as well.

    Reply

    • Jeremy W
      June 21, 2024 @ 11:58 pm

      You won’t get those answers. Elizabeth Sandifer totally missed the point of this episode. And that was largely to show us that there are things that can’t be explained. We make up rules to understand the inexplicable. And this episode like many others is revealing more about Ruby. She has the power to bring back the doctor from nonexistence. He was gone and she saved him without any help. It also explored more of the abandonment of Ruby. Everyone abandoned her. She told the nurse that everyone abandoned her but she was never alone for 65 years. I believe she was referring to the mysterious woman that was always 73 yards from her. Still the need for family and support has to weighed on her. And not understanding why things didn’t reset when she stopped Mad Jack.She had to be punished for reading the note. And that required everyone abandoning her and dying alone which were her biggest fears. The doctor was punished for stepping on the fairy circle. And his biggest fear is not being able to save the day. So removing him from the picture was a fitting punishment. Even though he was never aware of the punishment. I think this episode was l more of a curse than a traditional time loop. It blends the supernatural with the scientific and let’s be honest, neither can explain what happened. I don’t think RTD was lazy this episode, but rather gave us just enough information to put the puzzle together in multiple ways. Perhaps he never fleshed out the entire story but i think he did.

      Reply

  7. homavulette
    May 25, 2024 @ 1:08 am

    Wow, I get to profoundly disagree with El–what a rare treat!

    I mentioned this on the EP discord, but this episode hit home for me in the same way a lot of my favorite Adventure Time episodes do–this made me think of the Tom Herpich episode Hall of Egress, and someone else in the discord mentioned Puhoy. Like both of these AT episodes, 73 Yards appears at first to be one thing, but the narrative continuously wrong-foots you, flipping through genres and unspooling with increasingly long time-jumps that create a feeling of being off-kilter. This off-kilter-ness contributes the dream logic, helped along by the fact that Ruby doesn’t ever really figure out what’s going on and that she and the Doctor end up never realizing what’s happening. This is brought to a superb climax when Ruby defeats the figure that seems to be the villain of the story only to discover this has had no effect whatsoever on her situation.

    Still, even so, I personally didn’t find the rules terribly hard to understand or confusing. Watcher!Ruby is positioned 73 yards on the ground, pretty much directly in Ruby’s eyeline, because she’s locked into the position she needs to be in to get Ruby to notice the fairy circle and prevent the Doctor from stepping in it. The fear reaction is presumably because Watcher!Ruby is, like the not-things from Wild Blue Yonder, steeped in Outsideness as a result of being some bizarre concoction of TARDIS energy and time travel fairy magic, and as such makes Ruby utterly impossible to accept. Kinda like how nobody in regular London can see Richard in Neverwhere once he gets Neverwhere vibes all over him.

    I’d love for all-time Eruditorum commenter Jane to take a crack at this one–this episode is rich in the kind of magical imagery that she could really feast on.

    Reply

    • Jane
      June 10, 2024 @ 6:57 am

      The Dead Wood tree is 73 yards from the Circle.

      Dead Wood — the Tree of Death, a polarity of the Tree of Life, which connects Above and Below, Past and Future, to the Here and Now. The Dead Tree goes in reverse, of course. Or Sideways. When you die, you can go back. Ruby goes back to herself.

      In fact, Ruby is haunted by herself. She is her own monster! So this is a deeply psychological fairy story, and how it should be read. May the Circle be Unbroken.

      Also, Mad Jack rhymes with Magick.

      Reply

    • Jeremy
      June 22, 2024 @ 12:07 am

      You make a good point. Ruby and the doctor didn’t know or couldn’t even explain what happened. We were never meant to fully understand the ep. “We make up rules to help us understand the unexplainable” a similar like was spoken by the head of UNIT.

      Elizabeth didn’t seem like she understood that. She was able to wonder what was going on but not creative or curious enough to try to make up her own rules and see how well they fit. But this episode was one of hardest to wrap your head around. But only because we humans think too much in linear terms and we need cause and effect and rhyme and reason to help us make sense of some things.

      Reply

  8. Jacob
    May 25, 2024 @ 2:01 am

    I’ve been thinking about Gwilliam. Is he a nameless horror bound by the fairy circle? Or is his nickname being the same as one of the names written on the fairy circle’s scrolls a coincidence, one that Ruby latched onto out of her desperation to find meaning in the old woman following her?

    It is not as if Mad Jack is the only name in the circle. We see a similar scroll addressed to “Josh.” And aside from Roger ap Gwilliam’s nickname, there is nothing to indicate that he is supernatural in any way. Nor is there anything else to connect him to the circle. He is not immune to the old woman, the old woman does not exist to play a role in defeating him, and he is mentioned by the Doctor regardless of whether or not the Doctor goes on to break the circle.

    The only one who connects him to anything is Ruby and she has little basis for seeing that connection. I can’t help but feel that her desperation for answers leading to convincing but flawed connections parallels the experience of the viewers watching the episode. I’m not sure if this was intended, nor what it would mean if it was, but it is an interesting thought.

    Reply

    • Alex B
      May 25, 2024 @ 4:43 am

      My read is absolutely that ap Gwilliam is not an eldritch horror unleashed from the fairy circle, or anything like that- he’s just a common or garden human monster, and his great misfortune was that Ruby latched onto his coincidental nickname as an excuse for taking him down.

      Reply

      • Kate Orman
        May 25, 2024 @ 7:15 pm

        My assumption is that whoever created the fairy circle included the warning about a human but monstrous “Mad Jack”, so that Ruby would know what she was supposed to do. (“Mad Jack” instantly reminded me of Maddox / “Mad Dog” Branzillo from Madeleine L’Engle’s “A Swiftly Tilting Planet”, a favourite book of my childhood which I really must re-read.)

        I wonder if the circle was a warning intended for the Doctor, and Ruby was supposed to stick a slipper in it and disappear? (I’ll bet we learn who made it in a throwaway line at some point.)

        Reply

        • Jacob Webb
          May 27, 2024 @ 6:14 pm

          I’d generally say my take is that symbolically Mad Jack represents a certain spirit of British fascism, represented first through the lens of memorial, nostalgia for a prelapsarian past, yet also bound by the forces of the subaltern until Ruby and The Doctor break said binding and are thus forefit to fix what they have unleashed.

          Second this is represented as the fear of ordinary people of a horror of their own making, the man who called the local pub his home, but whom no one wants to see back, the one who will come for the alternative youth first, but they now all know will come for the rest of them in turn.

          Lastly of course as the Blair-inflected, post-Trumpian spirit of the resurgent far right, in some sense summoned by carelessness and forgetting to be mindful of how old ways were used to bind the last Mad Jack, now Ruby’s responsibility, part of events, obliged to get close to the horror in order to bring it down from within.

          I don’t deny that for all this sets up a clear enough central mechanic the various conceits (missing Doctor, 73 yards distance, changes people with words we’ll never know, turns out to be Ruby) don’t ever explain one another or get individual explanations beyond an implicit ‘that’s how magic works this week’, which magnifies a sense of slenderness to Davies’ high impact rollercoaster approach to storytelling – but I think there are layers of symbolic richness and resonance worth crediting here, not least this is most of all a story about Ruby’s relationship with intimacy and the ways her understandably driven nature puts people in her life at a distance.

          Reply

  9. Rodolfo Piskorski
    May 25, 2024 @ 3:19 am

    “but without any other signifiers”

    But there are other signifiers: a bunch of Welsh ones, crashing with the British ones.

    Reply

    • David Cook
      May 27, 2024 @ 7:59 am

      But the Welsh are the British? The inhabitants of Britain who were pushed aside by the English immigrants who arrived after the Romans abandoned us and who give them the name “Welsh” meaning “Foreign” .

      Reply

      • Rodolfo Piskorski
        May 27, 2024 @ 10:35 am

        I think this tension is also part of the iconography. It’s just that nowadays Britishness is so so infused with Englishness that people with strong Welsh identities are not comfortable with Britishness, and that’s why Roger is such a weird, unlikely political figure.

        Reply

  10. Rodolfo Piskorski
    May 25, 2024 @ 3:23 am

    Also, the aboutness is all over: it’s about Wales and the Welsh reboot of Doctor Who.

    Reply

  11. StanEtienne
    May 25, 2024 @ 4:22 am

    Thought I’d pop into the thread to point out the real purpose of 73 Yards: as a Doctor Who sigil to affect the UK general election.

    The night the episode was released was the same that it was revealed a record breaking 78 Conservative Party MP’s have now announced, just a couple of days after the election was called, that they would not seek re-election. This is primarily out of fear that they would have a Michael Portillo moment- when, at 3.10am on May 2nd, 1997, the sitting Tory MP and contender for party leader was humiliatingly defeated and the resulting footage used as from that point on as the visual representation for sudden and significant change in political fortunes and personal indignity. The two biggest names who have so far announced they would not stand are Andrea Leadsom (who stood for party leader in 2016 and declared she would be a better leader than eventual winner being a mother meant that she was a better choice for Prime Minister than May, because the later was unable to have children for health reasons, meaning it meant that she had “a very real stake” in the future); and Michael Gove, one of the primary architects of Brexit.

    On the whole I thought it a great episode!

    Reply

    • Eric
      June 3, 2024 @ 5:25 pm

      That’s Grant Morrison talk– who I’d halfway like to see write an episode or two.

      Reply

  12. Alex B
    May 25, 2024 @ 4:37 am

    Oh, I entirely disagree.

    To me, it didn’t feel like a story with no internal logic- it felt like one with a very precise and considered internal logic that, in the absence of the show’s normal mechanism for doling out the plot, we were very deliberately withheld from, to great tonal and thematic effect. The net result is some of the scariest, most striking Doctor Who we’ve seen in an awfully long time, and one that would in no way improved by dropping a pat little explanation of the whos, the whys and the wherefores.

    For me, this pays off the promise of Doctor Who engaging with the supernatural far better than the Toymaker and Maestro did, fun though those characters and their performances were. The supernatural in Doctor Who should represent the show doing stories it legitimately couldn’t do before, and engaging with the inexplicable, the uncanny and the eldritch in a way that it can’t if the solution’s a multiphase loop engineered by the Kraals’ paradox engines, or whatever other bafflegab.

    Reply

    • Daniel
      May 25, 2024 @ 7:16 am

      This^

      Reply

  13. Richard Pugree
    May 25, 2024 @ 5:24 am

    Completely agree with you.
    Oh I loved this. This was the first one of the series that for me just worked, that I keep thinking about and that I particularly want to watch again.

    (Wild Blue Yonder is the only other one of RTD2 so far, though I’ve enjoyed all the others).

    Reply

  14. Anton B
    May 25, 2024 @ 5:59 am

    Hard disagree El Sandifer.

    With this episode, the RTD2 era finally found a way to demonstrate its stated “magic and the supernatural invade the Whoniverse” premise.

    It was about the hidden, withheld information, obscured knowledge. It depended on a belief in magic. In the occult, the unknown, the thing just out of reach.

    It’s certainly what this story is challenging us as viewers to do. To believe. By not providing any coherent explanation it forces us to confront our individual fears of the unknown. Doctor Who used to excell at that.

    Because none are forthcoming, we invent our own explanations but we rely on our handwavium dismissal of magical thinking at our peril. Magic is real in this universe and it won’t be defeated easily if you don’t believe in it.

    So like last week’s episode ‘Boom’ we are asked to literally question belief.

    Fittingly it was left to UNIT in the shape of Kate Lethbridge-Stewart to provide the techno-babble explanation for those who still needed it
    “I wonder…if landing a perception filter on top of that circle has affected things.”

    Followed by

    “It’s what we do, all of us. We see something inexplicable and invent the rules to make it work.”

    Is “God was a Sontaran” any more unbelievable than “a broken magic circle nearly caused nuclear Armageddon”?

    I agree the political sub plot was simplistic but it needed to be. Mad Jack Roger Ap Gwilliam was a cardboard cut-out fascist leader defeated by magical thinking. It’s all we’ve got left isn’t it?
    Also the timing was uncanny. Rishi Sunak’s rain soaked calling of a UK election this week was a piece of delicious pathetic fallacy and chimed with alarming synchronicity with this episode’s ‘real world’.

    Themes of abandonment and loneliness versus companionship. continue to figure largely. “Fear makes companions of us all” as the Doctor once remarked.

    Reply

    • Kate Orman
      May 25, 2024 @ 7:18 pm

      omg, and then the rational, cool Kate, who has been feeding Ruby and us relief and hope for a few minutes, is hit with the unknowable voice of the figure. Science defeated on the spot by magic.

      Reply

      • Anton B
        May 26, 2024 @ 4:11 am

        Magic doesn’t defeat science it ignores it.
        However, I hope the flat earthers and climate change deniers don’t think they’re being vindicated. Alternate facts are not magic, just bad science.

        Reply

  15. Daniel
    May 25, 2024 @ 6:58 am

    This is one of the few times I’ve disagreed with your assessment which is exciting.

    I really really loved this episode.

    I don’t think reading it as a Moffat-style puzzle-box works though. It functions as a folk horror. They upset some unknown forces, they are harshly punished, they try to redeem themselves, it seems to not make a difference, and eventually they are redeemed for unspecified, unknowable reasons. I believe that the connections in the episode are actually expertly plotted. The way A will connect with C but not B. We are not owed answers because we have upset this unimaginable force, but it’s clear that it’s all connected and we have a through line with Ruby’s punishment.

    Then there are these brilliant narrative twists as we settle in for a claustrophobic horror story in a pub, but it isn’t, then a unit story, but it isn’t. Eventually, it just becomes life and there’s no ordinary doctor who narrative that can redeem this mortal trespass.

    I also think there’s a case to be made to read the spirit following Ruby as Otherness. The way the characters turn against Ruby feels pointed from a gay writer. In the Curse of Clyde Langer we had this really apparent but here I think it’s a bit more ambiguous.

    As for direction, this episode is my favourite thus far in RTD2 in terms of style. This completely blew Boom out of the water for me which I found to be great but also frustrating in terms of making the show’s most queer doctor do sincere twee lines about daddies (not in that way).

    10/10

    Reply

    • Dan
      May 25, 2024 @ 10:51 pm

      The last remark threw me a bit. I think I’ve worked out what queer – it can include straight people – means nowadays, but queer isn’t compatible with being a sincere dad? And in this era we’ve already been leaning into the notion that the Doctor is a grandfather and therefore a father. I’m willing to be educated…

      Reply

      • Daniel
        May 26, 2024 @ 6:18 am

        Let me clarify. In a Moffat episode the Doctor becomes Moffat sometimes a bit too much for me. I felt this at the climax of Boom.

        The characterisation so far of Ncuti’s Doctor has been freer and queerer than any Doctor. Didn’t have a huge problem with the “Dad to Dad, dust to dust” line on it’s own. Like that works for the Doctor overall (the Doctor is a flexible character, that’s part of the formula baked into the show). My problem isn’t treating a queer Doctor as capable of sincere parenthood, but I do think it poses a problem when the dialogue is giving unaware straight man of a certain age.

        Specifically I’m referring to the nadir of the “when daddy gets home” line at the end – that’s where I have a problem in that it’s cringe as all hell. If we go back to Space Babies, we see a discomfort with babies through RTD’s presentation of uncanny valley CGI space babies. As Dr Who fans we even question if they will be the villains of the episode (i.e. Galaxy 4 twist). When Ncuti and Millie get called “Mummy” and “Daddy” respectively, the comedy works because of their obvious discomfort but also – on a meta level – that on social media lots of young/queer fandom will be semi-ironically calling Ruby and the Doctor “mummy”/“mother” and “Daddy” in praise of their performances, aesthetics, and good looks. The characterisation of this new era feels like a breath of fresh air with our carefree and lovable 2 brain cell duo spreading queer joy, laughing their way through the cosmos.

        So in Boom, I feel like the writer is not in control how they want the audience to feel with that line. As young queer people we don’t talk like that, we wouldn’t say “daddy” unironically due to the sexual connotation. And to me, it really took me out of the episode because it felt like Moffat writing the Doctor as if he was still the dorky sitcom heterosexual 11th Doctor character (who would then of course be told to “never say that again” by his headstrong female foil). Ncuti’s Doctor isn’t dorky and he will attack that line with unabashed confidence. So we get bathos and cringe instead of the hero moment Moff was going for. Even the music seems to be trying to drown out the offending line.

        To my tastes, Boom’s characterisation of the Doctor was giving Steven Moffat and giving Steven Moffat at his most straight male parent (see Closing Time or the Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe). When every other episode so far has been explicitly queer (drag, musical numbers, non conventional families) or implicitly queer (freaky babies, the complete mother that was Janis Goblin, an episode where Carla turns against Ruby in disgust for something out of her control), it was hard to get on board with the ending of Boom on first viewing. Like any Moffat episode though, when you can prepare yourself for the cringe moments, it’s always better on repeat viewings.

        I hope this explains it a bit. This isn’t a huge criticism, just something that personally ticked me off because the era so far had been tied together with RTD’s voice, Boom really felt like it needed a pass over by a young queer person. Just as, to be fair, the Star Beast needed a pass over by specifically a trans person to rework a particular line a trans person would never unironically say (the one about “assuming” pronouns that sounds like it was taken from an anti-trans meme).

        I thought Boom was great overall, don’t get me wrong, I just feel like it was not in step with this new era, which has very much so far been broadly appealing, but also aimed at the gays and the theys and the girlies. It feels even more like an outlier now 73 yards has put us back on track and next week’s episode seems as camp as Paradise Towers.

        Reply

        • Rodolfo Piskorski
          May 27, 2024 @ 1:02 pm

          Great points made, and great explanation.

          Reply

  16. John
    May 25, 2024 @ 8:38 am

    In our household, this was a very divisive episode, and I see that fandom is split here as well. People either find “73 Yards” to be offensive and wrong, or brilliant and exciting. I’m in the latter camp, hoping against hope that we will eventually have explanations for the inexplicable events doled out here, but actually pretty okay with potentially getting zero follow-up.

    My son noted that on RTD’s Instagram post for the episode, Davies was giving lots of “hearts” to commenters expressing exasperation over what OldRuby could possibly be saying. He knows what he just did, and he’s gloating.

    Reply

  17. Kazin
    May 25, 2024 @ 9:36 am

    I adored this. It hit me just right. I watched this as soon as I could, planning to then finish my night playing videogames, but never picked up a controller because I couldn’t stop thinking about 73 Yards. I ended up just going to bed after hours of reading things online about this lol. It was unsettling the whole way through – none of the normal rules for Doctor Who applied, and you could feel that right away. It was the first use of not having the titles be done right (or at least with purpose – Sleep No More grasped at this but I feel that one didn’t quite cohere as much as this one did, as much as I liked Sleep No More. None of the Chibnall episodes that excluded the titles did anything with it, but of course Chibnall very rarely “did” anything). Someone mentioned in the Discord that it felt like the episode was just about to start but it never did because of that, and I agree. Someone also mentioned the Doctor may not have actually disappeared, but instead spoke to the old woman and like everyone else, began hating Ruby, even changing the locks on the TARDIS similar to how her mom did later in the episode (this would also work if the TARDIS itself changed its own locks, if the TARDIS heard whatever the old woman was saying). Before her mom cuts Ruby out of her life completely, she says the Doctor is pottering around in his shed, locking women out, and I think that gets at this as well. Ahhh, I loved this so much. I hope we don’t revisit this and it just sits there, inexplicable and delightfully frustrating.

    Btw my apologies to whoever said things in the Discord that I’ve cribbed from here without explicitly naming you. Part of why I rarely use Discord is because I find it an absolutely miserable app to use to actually communicate, which is unfortunate given that’s what it’s supposedly for.

    Reply

  18. John Wirenius
    May 25, 2024 @ 10:01 am

    I’m not sure to go on this but (1) The Watcher was Ruby all the time would get me a stern cuff to the head from Tom Baker; (2) Sian Phillips doing po faced comedy on Doctor Who with that silky voice of hers is enough to make me hope that she’ll be back for an Ancient Rome story; (3) Millie was fantastic in this one; and (4) Yeah, the ending was a bit pants, but, ah, well!

    Reply

  19. Doctor Memory
    May 25, 2024 @ 12:04 pm

    The haunting of Season One by the Tom Baker era continues: this time by Logopolis! What is old Ruby saying? She’s chanting the Block Transfer Algorithm, of course!

    Possibly dumb question: has anyone run this episode by a fluent ASL/BSL speaker? Old Ruby’s hand motions were very regular and very distinct.

    Reply

    • Rhy
      May 25, 2024 @ 12:25 pm

      It’s BSL and according to Unleashed, it’s:

      “Bless you. Thank you so much, That’s so kind of you. When you gave me that little thing. It was just so precious. How am i ever going to repay you? But we will think of something”

      Reply

      • Kate Orman
        May 25, 2024 @ 7:22 pm

        omfg

        Reply

      • Rhy
        May 25, 2024 @ 8:09 pm

        The other fun language thing is the name of the pub, “Y Pren Marw” means “The Dead Wood”

        Reply

      • Cyrano
        May 26, 2024 @ 3:51 am

        Well that’s put the willies right up me

        Reply

      • Anton B
        May 26, 2024 @ 7:42 am

        Well that leaves more questions than answers doesn’t it? Delightful.

        Reply

      • Rodolfo Piskorski
        May 27, 2024 @ 1:04 pm

        That was definitely not BSL

        Reply

        • Rhy
          May 27, 2024 @ 1:39 pm

          Oh. my bad, I just assumed BSL over ASL.

          Unleashed doesn’t mention a sign language by name, so it could well just be signs that the actor made up based on lines she’d been given.

          Reply

  20. Greg S.
    May 25, 2024 @ 12:07 pm

    I’m afraid I don’t fall into the “offensive and wrong” or “brilliant and exciting” dichotomy. On the whole, I really enjoyed getting to see Millie Gibson stretch her acting muscles, but I mostly found the episode as a whole boring. With some exceptions, horror as a genre tends to be “not for me”. Not that I hate it or think it’s bad, but I have trouble engaging with it and it tends not to move me.

    For example, in the pub scenes, the claustrophobia and ratcheting tension were working okay for me, but when we repeatedly hit the “balloon puncturing” twists, my reaction is “Oh, everyone in this pub is just an asshole.” I understand intellectually that that is not what the narrative is going for, but that is my honest emotional reaction. It doesn’t feel like a brush with the uncanny or eldritch horror lurking at the edges, it just feels like people being unpleasant for no real reason.

    I’m glad it seems to be working for a large group of people and I always remind myself, for Doctor Who to genuinely cover a true variety of genres, there are going to be some that don’t work for me and that’s fine. I love the flexibility of Doctor Who and I’m glad it is back to ambitiously fulfilling its remit.

    Reply

    • Anton B
      May 25, 2024 @ 12:31 pm

      Mate, “Everyone in the pub is just an asshole” was exactly what the narrative was going for. Have you ever been in a British pub?

      I loved those scenes. We got the “‘The Slaughtered Lamb’ in ‘American Werewolf in London’ ” reference plus what essentially seemed to be ‘Countrycide” done well, up until Sian Phillips became the ‘wise old woman who’s done some research into witchcraft’ when it swerved toward “The Daemons” then abandoned that game for another genre entirely. It was playing with the idea that Doctor Who crashes into genres and collapses the narrative but Ruby had to take her whole life to reach the ‘Kubricks 2001’ reference to work that out.

      Reply

  21. Przemek
    May 25, 2024 @ 12:29 pm

    I was extremely confused by this episode’s ending but overall I liked it A LOT. And the more I think about it, the more I love it. Best episode of the season so far.

    Reply

  22. jsd
    May 25, 2024 @ 12:52 pm

    Loved it, brilliant. My explanation for what the old woman is saying that drives everyone mad is: nothing. It’s just the fact of her existence. She’s a time anomaly/paradox that human brains can’t make sense of. Like the aliens at the end of 2001. Unknowable, inexplicable in any human terms. Just to be near her is to go mad.

    This episode worked for me on every level. The other episodes this season have been loud, brash, breakneck, packed to the gills with “stuff”. Even Boom with its static Doctor couldn’t have the courage of its convictions and was constantly moving the camera, cutting, dramatic insert shots of a bead of sweat, music stings… It’s all just exhausting. This one was a proper slow burn. Moody, eerie, ominous, dread-ful (in the literal sense). Even Murray Gold was kept on a short leash, contributing some beautifully evocative and minimal atmosphere.

    Millie rose to the challenge perfectly. Ruby’s initial shock and panic leading into a life of loneliness, despair and isolation, finally ending with peace and acceptance. Master class.

    Good job RTD!

    Reply

    • Ross
      May 27, 2024 @ 4:14 pm

      A thought that occurred to me a little while ago is that interacting with the woman causes you to understand that you are in a closed shunt timeline that is “suspended around the event” (as Kate put it), which exists entirely as an emboitment of Ruby Sunday, and will cease to exist when she dies.
      The effect it has on people is similar (though not identical) to the effect of reading the Veritas in Extremis.

      Reply

  23. Mano
    May 25, 2024 @ 12:59 pm

    I’ll add myself to the readers disagreeing with El. Have to admit the faults she mentioned are definitely there and this is not an example for a perfect Doctor Who episode for me – but all in all I really enjoyed it.

    I think for me this episode is the closes Doctor Who has ever come to being Lovecraftian.

    We never know what semperdistans Ruby said to the people, but not to know just makes it so much scarier. And in the end we have no solution, we barely avoid the catastrophe the second time round and now know that flimsy little fairy circle is still there, that the world is a strange and horrible place where superstition and magic is now real, a place where we no longer know the rules, no longer know what is going on and where danger lurks in the most harmless seeming things.

    Also: Who build the fairy circle and left all the offerings and charms at the Tardis? Didn’t seem like it was the villagers, maybe it wasn’t done by humans?
    And like others here mentioned I’m curious if Ruby wandering back into her own timeline will be connected to the mystery of her origin and plays a role in her future story.

    Reply

  24. George
    May 25, 2024 @ 1:28 pm

    I like the imagery of the TARDIS growing old and the laying of the flowers by it…

    However, imagine if instead of the Doctor disappearing, he went to speak to the woman and was the first to turn away. Cold and bluntly entering the TARDIS, locking the door, and leaving. IMO, that would’ve been a lot more satisfying than him just straight up disappearing with no explanation.

    Reply

  25. Patman
    May 25, 2024 @ 3:25 pm

    Yeah, liked this one a lot. My read on it may change if it becomes arc significant, but it worked for me, both as a Gothic and as a character piece. (My favorite moment, in an episode full-on really strong moments, was where it looked like Ruby was going to assassinate the PM…but then didn’t. But kind of did.)

    Reply

  26. Cyrano
    May 25, 2024 @ 3:26 pm

    I read the review this morning in advance of watching the episode and I thought “I’m not going to agree with this”.

    And indeed I thought was brilliant. Haunting and horrible, and very much steeped in Britishness. British folk horror. The clash of Englishness and Welshness, the threat of impotent British Exceptionalism.

    It’s the horror of MR James. Not susceptible to working out. Even the ‘otherworldly’ classic American horror of Lovecraft that plays so much on the horror of the unknowable is actually part of a meticulously worked out cosmology and pantheon of powers. This is the full horror of the inexplicable. The unbearable haunting of the past by the future. The figure who you can’t reach but drives the people around you mad. The whistle you find in a ruin that’s not stolen or looted but still, you’re for it now mate.

    The episode is opaque not because its logic hasn’t been worked out but because its maddeningly clear it operates according to a logic that’s inaccessible to us. Possibly bigger than us, and older and worse. It’s strangely unsettling the way it’s all clear to Ruby at the end of her life: she gets what it’s all been for and what she has to do next, but she won’t share. It’s not for us. A haunted world you might fall into by mistake on a Welsh clifftop by putting a single foot out of place. Absolutely brilliant.

    Reply

    • Scurra
      May 25, 2024 @ 5:13 pm

      Yeah, that was the best Mark Gatiss/MR James story we never had – especially the denouement which wasn’t “it doesn’t matter because this never happened” but “the realisation that your whole life’s work was merely to ensure that someone didn’t step on a butterfly in the past”. I thought that was properly horrific in the right way.

      Reply

  27. James Whitaker
    May 25, 2024 @ 3:27 pm

    You’re right – parts of this are excellent. The central idea here of “what if you were haunted by a ghost that drove everyone away – are there any circumstances in which you could use that to your advantage?” is great, the horror is both abstract and visceral, the way the narrative escalates is fantastic, Gibson is terrific, the use of the regular cast members is smart… And yet it all adds up to very little! The political satire is half baked, the resolution feels arbitrary, nothing is really explained in such a way that it renders everything we’ve seen pointless. It feels like Davies had nothing here except the concept, so it just sort of ends. Really quite frustrating, doubly so because how good parts of this are!

    Reply

  28. Cyrano
    May 25, 2024 @ 3:47 pm

    “The central idea here of “what if you were haunted by a ghost that drove everyone away – are there any circumstances in which you could use that to your advantage?””

    I don’t think that is the central idea. It’s a vignette within the story, but as with the hostile locals in the pub, and UNIT’s brief appearance, it’s a detour into another genre looking for structure and meaning, but none is forthcoming. Ruby uses her haunting to dethrone a nuclear fascist and…it makes no difference. She has to live her whole life to the end to reach some kind of understanding and resolution but even then it’s not for us.

    Reply

  29. Bedlinog
    May 25, 2024 @ 5:16 pm

    Oh, I really liked this one. The answer to why the Doctor disappeared, is central to the story’s logic. The Doctor’s main ‘magic trick’ is to perform the Rumplestiltskin Principle wherever he goes (for the viewers’ benefit and for the resolution of the story). Whatever force was at play here, needed him removed immediately so that he couldn’t carry that out. And by the end of the story, for perhaps the first time in the programme’s entire history, that force won out.

    Reply

  30. James Whitaker
    May 25, 2024 @ 5:42 pm

    Sorry, but even in MR James stories it’s usually quite easy to figure out what’s going on – Casting the Runes is not a difficult narrative to follow. And yet here we have a story where things just happen for no reason, then stop happening again; it’s as if Davies, upon realising that Gatwa wouldn’t be available, just went back to basics and did the last thing he did when he didn’t have a Doctor and just wrote Turn Left again, except unlike then there’s not emotional climax or resolution, it’s just kind of random and incoherent. And it’s so frustrating – I want to like it, there’s a ton of good stuff here, but when both the supernatural stuff and the political stuff are so vapid it just feels like a shaggy dog story at the end of the day.

    Reply

    • Cyrano
      May 25, 2024 @ 5:53 pm

      With MR James there’s often some sense that hubris is being punished, but the transgression is as often accidental and the punishment is incomprehensible, disproportionate or revoked for reasons beyond understanding. Casting the Runes is quite a rare story for ‘just’ being about an evil wizard being horrible. Whistle is about someone who finds a whistle with a peculiar inscription and is monstered to insanity by a horrible indistinct figure. In the Ash Tree the protagonist commits the sin of being someone’s grandson and gets horribled to death by an indescribable something or other. The most distinctive MR James stories are about something outside the world taking an indescribable revenge on someone who did something by mistake.

      Reply

      • James Whitaker
        May 25, 2024 @ 6:11 pm

        But that’s not what’s happening here. Ruby hasn’t transgressed in any way, the Doctor has. And she isn’t being punished either – it’s just an annoying thing she learns to live with. That’s the problem here – if Ruby were being followed and hunted and directly monstered in some way it’d be far more understandable, here we just get the whole 73 yards thing which ends up being completely arbitrary. There’s no consistency in what’s happening, which makes the whole ending feel unearned, which makes the whole narrative feel like a big nothing, nobody learns anything, nothing matters, nothing changes, and then it just ends. There’s no incomprehensible punishment, because there ends up being no anything.

        Reply

        • Cyrano
          May 25, 2024 @ 6:14 pm

          She read the papers from the circle? The Doctor tells her that’s wrong at the end of the story.

          And she’s not punished? She’s haunted for entire life by a figure she can’t reach or reason with, but can make anyone including her own mother loathe her and fear her and drive her out of their lives. That’s your classic punishment haunting there.

          Reply

          • James Whitaker
            May 25, 2024 @ 6:31 pm

            It’s not really a classic punishment, it’s far too vague. If she’d just ignored the figure nobody would’ve left. And it’s all resolved in a very random way. That’s what I’m saying – there’s no coherent internal emotional logic to anything that happens, it’s just running on “magic means anything can happen!” so the end result is vapid and feels pointless.

      • Elizabeth Sandifer
        May 25, 2024 @ 6:23 pm

        There’s a truism about horror where you can usually figure out a lot about the themes by simply describing what it’s about as literally as possible. The Sunmakers is about a system that works people to death and takes everything from them for profit. The Daleks is about shouting soldiers that want to kill everything that isn’t them. Heaven Sent is about being trapped forever by your grief for someone you loved.

        I don’t think you get much of anywhere doing that with 73 Yards.

        Reply

        • Cyrano
          May 25, 2024 @ 6:35 pm

          I don’t think that’s a useful tool for all horror – to go back to MR James, who keeps being a useful example – there’s nothing particularly universal in “you find an old whistle then something chases you on a beach”. And yet the sustained response to that story tells us it’s doing something right.

          Here…well you can’t boil it down to “literally a bloodsucking aristocrat”, but there’s much that is horrible in the figure as a stalker. In the dramatisation of Ruby’s childhood abandonment into this figure that makes everyone abandon her. In the idea that there’s something someone could say to your friends, your family, your own mother that would make them fear and hate you and avoid you for the rest of your life. I suspect the Russell T Davies who wrote It’s a Sin had a hand on the keyboard there.

          Reply

        • Alex B
          May 25, 2024 @ 7:32 pm

          You can easily do that here, though, and it snaps into place in the climax.

          The cumulative weight of a young adoptee’s abandonment repels everyone she loves, leaving her ever more horribly isolated and alone.

          Reply

          • Cyrano
            May 26, 2024 @ 2:45 am

            Ah, nice one, thanks!

          • Patman
            May 26, 2024 @ 10:37 am

            Brilliant comment. (I hope I’m not out of turn by suggesting that Our Hostess doesn’t vibe with horror, and so bounces off of this one and its horror logic? Is there writing she’s done here, ever, about any piece of horror media? I’d be fascinated to read it.)

        • Jacob
          May 26, 2024 @ 1:51 pm

          I disagree.

          73 Yards is about a foundling, scared of abandonment, living her entire life. A life in which everyone she loves abandons her for no reason and she’s unable to form new, meaningful connections.

          73 Yards exposes Ruby to a whole life’s worth of her fears. Whether it does this well or not is up for debate.

          Reply

        • Jane
          June 10, 2024 @ 6:47 am

          73 Yards is about a Changeling who demonstrates an innate ability to discern the rules of Magick and manipulate them for her own ends — even though she doesn’t have a clue about why the rules are the way they are.

          In the end, she sacrifices herself via magickal time-travel to change one tiny thread from being pulled (echoing Church on Ruby Road) so as to save her friend. Which is frankly all rather Doctorish.

          Reply

  31. Cyrano
    May 25, 2024 @ 6:24 pm

    I don’t want to be rude but I feel like describing the haunting as “an annoying thing she learns to live with” is genuinely ignoring the episode to justify not liking it.

    I’m not saying you should like it – your reaction is your reaction and all of this chat is just people justifying an initial, instinctual yes or no with lots of spilt ink.

    But the story showed Ruby’s mother rejecting her, changing the locks to keep her out and throwing her adoption back in her face because of the woman. It turns UNIT, Doctor Who’s cavalry against her. And we see the secondary effects of being unable to maintain a relationship when you’re being haunted by an incomprehensible terror from outside time. At the end of her life she says “everyone I’ve ever known has abandoned me”.

    That is not learning to live with an inconvenience.

    Reply

  32. WeslePryce
    May 25, 2024 @ 6:45 pm

    I think for me, the most damning part of this episode isn’t the lack of internal logic. I’m fine with fairy tale logic and unexplained plot events, as long as they’re a part of a story that actually conveys a feeling. Many movies are this—most recently I watched “I Saw the TV Glow,” which is that on crack; other movies that come to mind are “Personal Shopper” or “Black Swan”. In the presence of sufficiently arresting emotional content, the mechanics of plot become unimportant. For instance, I would not care that it’s never explained why or how Ruby smears herself across her own timeline, on the condition that the episode actually did anything engaging with its fundamental premise. Unfortunately, this episode does not do that. Instead, it just riffs, and riffs, and riffs. What if there was a creepy old lady and Welsh people told you it was an ancient demon, but then they were fucking with you? What if there was a creepy old lady that scared your mom away forever? What if even Kate Stewart (a character that literally only has in-text value and 0 emotional weight) was scared away by the old lady? What if I used the old lady to scare a fascist? What if I was the old lady and I went back in time to stop myself from ever dealing with the old lady?

    The episode never slows down to actually be about anything, always rushing to be about the next thing.

    What do we actually really learn about Ruby from this episode? All of her conflict is driven by a creepy old woman staring at her, which has no real commentary on our emotional or internal lives. It could be made to provide commentary, but Russel isn’t particularly interested in that. So here’s what we do learn about Ruby Sunday:

    “Ruby Sunday is the type of person who would get really upset and not be able to sustain a relationship if there was an old woman constantly stalking her.” Wow, brilliant characterization.

    If there was a supernatural entity that scared away your family, it would scare away Ruby Sunday’s family and make her feel bad.” Wow, truly deep stuff.

    “Ruby Sunday would scare away an ill defined fascist/rapist using her magic old woman powers.” Thrilling.

    “If everyone in Ruby Sunday’s life abandoned her, she would indicate that she struggles with abandonment.”

    When you tell a story that sacrifices internal logic or does away with formalized story structure, you also need to actually capture an emotional reality with your story. There’s so much interesting stuff here—the old woman could have been a symbol of aging, or of a burden we carry that causes us to distance ourselves from others, or a Book of Gob style vehicle for endless suffering. But instead, we get a bunch of half assed poorly developed stuff that achieves no emotional catharsis or resolution. The idea of your family or a loved one suddenly abandoning you is haunting and an entire movie could be made about it (see: Banshees of Inshierin); here it gets like 4 minutes and then is dropped for the next thing. RTD had a choice: do good character work or write a good plot. Good character work could have outweighed bad plot. Actual narrative logic could have outweighed the vapidness of the character-work. Instead he chose to do neither of these things.

    Also, a fascist politician whose obsessed with dropping nukes somewhere as a part of their official platform… the funniest fucking satire imaginable. It’s like a 10 year old writing their political satire. This whole thing felt like a TV writer who really wanted to write a good pretentious movie into the premise of Doctor Who, but neither understood Doctor Who (thrives in formalized plot structure and a dash of guns/frocks) or good pretentious movies (thrives in taking an emotion and making it linger).

    When something is mediocre in its premise and mediocre in its execution (Space Babies), I’m kind of okay with that. Disappointed but ultimately okay with it. When something is really great in its premise but systematically wastes that premise in its execution, I get pissed. I predict this will easily be the season’s worst.

    Reply

    • TheHwkOgre
      May 25, 2024 @ 7:11 pm

      Thank you for providing the words that I did not have to perfectly encapsulate why I found this episode particularly frustrating.

      Reply

    • Alex B
      May 25, 2024 @ 7:53 pm

      I think this is a pretty fundamental under-reading of what the woman represents.

      I mean, it’s textual- she’s Ruby, at the end of her life, and bearing the weight of all of her abandonment and rejection. Always distant, because that’s what her experiences have made of her, driving people away both in her old woman guise and in terms of what her impact is on her younger self (hence all of the boyfriends being pushed away by younger Ruby without any intercession from Old Ruby).

      As Max Kashevsky pointed out on Twitter, the folk horror and the political thriller and all the rest of it is a shell game- this is a deeply personal and character-led story about abandonment and cumulative trauma, and it’s all the better for it.

      Reply

      • WeslePryce
        May 25, 2024 @ 8:37 pm

        I think our disagreement is not over whether episode is about abandonment, but rather about how emotionally resonant those abandonment themes are.

        This definitely is an episode about abandonment in some key ways. It’s primarily about the moment of abandonment, and every abandonment in it is supernatural and/or directly stated. The Doctor suddenly vanishes, the mother turns on Ruby suddenly and violently, we see the sudden end of four different boyfriends who we are told were pushed away by Ruby (we noticeably don’t see the start/middle of these relationships or Ruby actually pushing them away), and then at the very end Ruby comments on how everyone has abandoned her. All of these moments are all sledgehammers instead of subtle fraying. We are directly told what is happening instead of feeling it.

        But in spite of the episode clearly being about abandonment, it’s never goes past the surface level. We see the word “abandonment,” but not really the feelings of it. We see the moment of complete violent separation replayed over and over again, but rarely get to see the more subtle psychology behind it and the feelings generated by it. The Doctor poofs away, Ruby’s mother does a creepy stare and then disowns her, Kate vanishes, the boyfriends break up with her. All these are played back to back as vignettes without connective tissue. But we don’t really get to sit with the emotions Ruby feels about this in the long term, instead jumping violently to the next cathartic moment of abandonment, with a sort of out-of-place interlude to the politics guy.

        In 5 episodes, the main thing we’ve found out about Ruby is that she has a complex about being adopted from unknown birth parents. We don’t really get to see how this affects her besides her desperately wanting to know who her biological parents are. Oh, we also know she loves music and expresses emotion with it. That simply isn’t that great characterization; it’s a very superficial characterization that uses the idea of abandonment as a shortcut. The thing about being abandoned is that it’s a lingering feeling that manifests in multiple ways, not just wanting to know who your mum and dad are. Abandonment makes you seek people out who abandon you (fun fact: the doctor is actually exactly the flighty inconsistent sort of person a confused person would seek attachment from, but that doesn’t really come up because Gatwa’s doctor is defined as wholesome), it makes you more likely to be flighty yourself, it makes you fundamentally insecure in your attachments. We do not actually see these things in Ruby, with the exception of the boyfriends scene, where it is explicitly stated in therapeutic language instead of actually shown in real-life action. And even in that scene, where the boyfriends talk about Ruby’s emotional distance, the focus is not on the emotional content of what they’re saying, but on the looming, literalized old woman. The text is aggressively literal, unsubtle, and untrue to the emotional reality of what it feels like to be abandoned. Being abandoned is not just your mom kubrick staring at you and then driving away. It’s your mom slowly increasing the distance for plausible reasons then one day you look around and you haven’t heard from her; it’s your mom moving away for whatever reason and not keeping contact. The sheer supernaturalness and bluntness of the abandonment Ruby suffers in this episode steers it away from anything resembling the actual emotional reality of abandonment, and when an episode is entirely dedicated to vibes and emotions, that is a critical point of failure. As I said, this is trying to be a pretentious movie, but it fails to understand what makes those work: a thorough exploration of things. All we see here is the same idea riffed on in slightly different genre contexts, all while providing very little new information about Ruby as a character.

        To use an example of a story about abandonment that works well, look at Banshees of Inisherin. That is a movie that actually makes my stomach churn, and it’s not even a horror movie: it’s a movie that thoroughly explores being abandoned. SPOILERS FOR BANSHEES OF INISHERIN: What if one day your best friend decided he just thought you were boring and not worthwhile? What if they were right about you being boring? What if the most important person in your life moved to the mainland and lost contact with you and it wasn’t even personal, they just wanted to go for their own reasons? What if the one person who wanted you was a loser who you find boring yourself and then even when you come to accept them, they die? The movie thoroughly and devastatingly explores all sorts of aspects of being abandoned, and it makes me sick to my stomach. It introduces new ideas about abandonment and the way it might feel for the entire duration of its run time. It does this without even using a convenient horror-movie type metaphor, like this episode does.

        Also, last minute note, one key aspect of psychological horror (which this episode clearly is evoking) is plausible deniability. “Am I actually just this unlikeable or is there a super natural curse on me?” is a great horror premise, but it flounders when the answer is so flagrantly supernatural. Everyone sees Old Ruby all the time, every abandonment is aggressively unnatural and inhuman, the emotions this creates are pretty much 95% unexplored. Imagine if “The Monkey’s Paw” had the monkey’s paw directly confirm “yeah I killed your son and then brought him back wrong because I am a supernatural object.” It would be a much worse story! The fact that the woman in the story is literal and visible from the very beginning of the story is a bad choice for an episode that’s meant to be a psychological horror story! Imagine if Ruby’s mother and the Doctor had weirdly plausible reasons for abandoning her that actually hurt to hear, and we actually saw Ruby seek comfort in her boyfriends and then push them away. Imagine the horror of “is this actually happening or is this supernatural?” That would reflect the emotional reality of abandonment much more than this drivel that thinks its deep (obviously subjective but the point of these discussions is to be hyperbolic and operate from the position that everything is our opinion that we’re advocating for).

        Reply

        • Ziggy
          May 26, 2024 @ 12:23 am

          Oh well very well written critique and I think this actually stems from the same pattern RTD displayed in Star Beast, conflating the binary/non-binary thing with time lord power, conflating getting bullied, othered because they feel special and different, due to real-life gender non-conformity or due to the fact they have time lord energy? RTD wants to have his cake and eat it too within the confines of doing everything in a 45 minute mainstream family show…

          Reply

        • Cyrano
          May 26, 2024 @ 4:04 am

          I don’t know. We see all those birthdays (which are also Christmases) alone on her flat, raising a glass to the trauma that’s her only constant companion.

          There’s a world of weary resignation in the last breakup (“what’s the word this time?” or whatever that line was). There’s a kind of horror in her ability to distance herself from that other campaign worker’s clear trauma.

          And of course at the end she dies alone, cared for but not loved or understood, telling stories of an extraordinary life to someone who doesn’t understand what they’re hearing.

          It’s not histrionic, we don’t see Ruby weeping into her pillow or throwing things at the wall (except, oh we do in the Kate Stewart scene). But we do absolutely see the consuming sadness of a life lived alone.

          Reply

          • WeslePryce
            May 26, 2024 @ 9:34 am

            We see boyfriends breaking up with her for being distant, and we see birthdays spent alone, but I don’t really feel that we get to sit with the anxiety that drove those moments; it felt more like a writer going “and here’s signifiers that she’s all alone and sad as a result of the old woman” than actually exploring her mindset. Another issue is that these things don’t feel that true to the vague outline of the Ruby character we’ve met in previous episodes. The Ruby we (barely) know is fun, loud, goes out all the time, and has a lot of friends; it makes sense she would have trouble with boyfriends and friends given the old woman, but the complete lack of friends or anyone to spend her birthday with just feels… out of character tbh. This is a woman who can walk in to a campaign office and get a job proximal to her target; she can’t find people to hang with on her birthday? In reality, she could, but the episode needs to paint her as wholly alone, so she doesn’t.

            I think honestly, one of the biggest failures of the episode is that outside of this episode, Ruby’s life is painted as idyllic with the singular exception of her being left as a baby—her mom and grandma are comically loving and nice people, she’s surrounded by friends and bandmates, she’s the type of corny happy-go-lucky MFer who writes songs for her friends’ breakups. An episode like this would work a lot better with Rose—her mom’s a bit uppity and simple, her boyfriend is a bore, her job is a bore, she doesn’t appear to have many friends. Watching Rose’s life slip away into nothingness without the Doctor would be very upsetting, and importantly, believable—with Ruby (as there would be with Martha) there’s a distinct “eh I’m not sure I buy it.” There just wasn’t enough pre-existing tension in the Ruby character for this episode imo.

            I think after sitting on it, writing this all out, and sleeping on it, I am less hard on this episode. I’ve come to see what it was going for, and it kinda missed the mark for me, but not in a way that makes it a 0/10. “Old woman whose always 73 yards away from you that you can’t make go away or make sense of” is a solid “oh spooky” premise, even if I felt disappointed by the execution of it. I think it’s settled down to a solid 5/10 in my books that I’ll note as a failed experiment, similar to “Sleep No More” or “The Lie of a the Land”. (The Lie of the Land is particularly relevant here, as that episode ALSO ditches the idea “what if the Doctor abandoned you wholly” in favor of uninteresting political satire).

      • Ross
        May 25, 2024 @ 11:44 pm

        I didn’t really think they did enough to sell us on the abandonment as horror for Ruby. There’s horror at the beginning, and pain at the rejection from her mother, but basically from the 25th birthday on, she seems almost bizarrely at peace with it. Yes, they show us twice that she fails to establish close relationships, but she doesn’t even seem especially bothered by that. She keeps trying, she seems upbeat about it. She’s not even bitter at the end. And it kinda saves the episode for me a little, because it’s frankly novel. This isn’t a stiff upper lip thing – it appears to be just who Ruby Sunday is that however much decades of abandonment and lack of connection might bother her, they DON’T take away her basic hopeful optimism.

        It felt like what was missing though was her having any sort of strong reaction when, after having brought down a Prime Minister, she still wasn’t free of it.

        It was just the end of the episode that didn’t work for me. I liked the bulk of it, the story of Ruby being able to manage despite the way her life fell apart (Okay, though, it would have been cool if Kate had managed to avoid the curse – like, clevered her way into some kind of “We can be exactly THIS friendly to Ruby and no more so as not to trigger the curse.”), of her spending six decades living with this haunting, and a kinda clever take on The Dead Zone.

        But then at the end it’s, “The Watcher. So she was Ruby Sunday all along.” How? Why? Because. Why 73 yards? Because. Why could she approach her at the end when she was dying? Because. Why did she repel anyone who came near her? Because. Why did she have to stop the Doctor breaking the fairy circle? Because. Why did the Doctor disappear? Because. Why anything?

        But really I guess it’s not even exactly an explanation I needed out of it, more… Closure?
        They sort of dangle the possibility that breaking the fairy circle “released Mad Jack”, which Ruby had to “set right” by defeating Roger ap Gwilliam, except that turned out to be a red herring? Or not? I don’t even know if it was. Did that matter? I don’t know.

        If this were Modern Star Trek – or RTD’s first era, I might expect a twist like this: breaking the circle and releasing Mad Jack created a parallel universe, and Ruby had to “defeat” him, BUT in a shocking third act twist, SHE is now stopping this defunct timeline from closing down and being reclaimed, so she has to die to “close the loop” (The Star Trek version would have some explanation about conservation of energy or some similar nonsense). There isn’t a resolution though. It’s just this sort of “Oh yeah it was her all along she can go back in time but only to scare people and stay 73 yards away”. Like, the story just kind of throws up its hands at the end and gives up rather than building to anything.

        I guess… Unless this is a Occurance at Owl Creek sort of thing and none of this really happened at all – it was just a kind of time-hallucination brought on by the Doctor mentioning Roger ap Gwilliam? Makes as much sense as anything else.

        Reply

        • Richard Pugree
          May 26, 2024 @ 9:59 am

          “it appears to be just who Ruby Sunday is”

          Exactly. This episode did a bunch of character development for me – or rather, if not ‘development’, then character demonstration.

          There’s a particular way she has of dealing with things which really does feel distinct from other characters. It’s not quite a making do or soldiering on, it’s not bitter resignation, it’s not acceptance or closure – much as it isn’t with her sense of abandonment more generally.

          I don’t quite know how to describe it but it feels a particularly Ruby way of responding to situations.

          The ‘oh is this what you do then’ moment at the beginning when the doctor has disappeared, her reactions in the pub when the regulars keep shifting what the premise is, and all of the other ones you describe. It’s not flashy, it’s odd, and I find it really compelling.

          Likewise, her apology to Marti, which Elizabeth mentions and which I think is one of the best parts of the episode: the behaviour she’s apologising for definitely feels like it comes from the same person who strategically deployed her (genuine) upset (caused by the Davina Mc phone Call telling her there was no trace of her parents), to distract from the (other) truth of the goblins and baby snatching in Church on Ruby Road.

          Reply

        • WeslePryce
          May 26, 2024 @ 10:00 am

          I broadly agree with this—the episode is pretty neat, but it does not have the gravitas to get away with the general lack of narrative logic, especially the ending. This is an episode that says “I’m ditching narrative logic for the purpose of touching on something deeper” and then doesn’t do that much deep with it, so it ends up feeling incomplete. A dash of in world narrative logic or more attempts to sell us on Ruby’s specific emotional state would have gone a long way imo.

          I agree with you that the choice to avoid showing Ruby breakdown completely is a strangely good choice that captures some odd emotional reality. Her keeping it together even as everything goes wrong is one of the few ways I think the episode does define Ruby. I still don’t think it explores her that much on a deeper level or properly uses abandonment, but I do like that she seems to stay mostly stable.

          Reply

    • Dan
      May 25, 2024 @ 11:17 pm

      The political part doesn’t feel meant to be satire to me. It’s SF with present day resonance, and since it’s fulfilling a role in the story that has about five or ten minutes to work as that, on a family show, it doesn’t need to be that sophisticated or worked up.

      Reply

      • Cyrano
        May 26, 2024 @ 3:13 am

        Again, I think the lack of answers is an important feature of the genre, and whether you receive that as a frustrating “why? Because!” “Did that matter? I don’t know” or as a deeply creepy revelation that the world is operating to rules we can’t understand and you might tread on a supernatural landmine at any moment…depends. It’s taste, it’s expectation, it’s ‘have you read O Whistle and I’ll Come to You, My Lad?’.

        But the unhappening of the story at the end is the cherry on top for me. Ruby’s life was destroyed for reasons she never understood, in a haunting and punishment that defies sense and proportion, and in the end even the fact of it is hidden from her. She doesn’t know about this 70 years of inexplicable experience she’s had. That really resonates with me somehow.

        Reply

        • Richard Pugree
          May 26, 2024 @ 10:04 am

          She doesn’t fully know about those 70 years – but they have affected her, and they leave traces – which is why at the end she says she’s been there 3 times, rather than 2. Which seems to be hugely resonant with her experiences of childhood abandonment. She doesn’t remember it, and in most ways she’s fine. But it still has traces and effects, some recognised, some not, some bad some good…

          Reply

  33. Kate Orman
    May 25, 2024 @ 7:34 pm

    For me, the most powerful scene in the story takes place in the hospital room. We kind of know instinctively there’s going to be some sort of revelation of the figure at the moment of Ruby’s death, so that’s not a shock, even though that whole bit made my hair stand up, which if you know my hair is quite the sight.

    But what really got me was that kind nurse who responds sweetly to Ruby’s crazy tales, and reassures her that she’s not alone and she, the nurse, is just down the hall if she needs anything. The opposite of the figure, someone gracious and kind who’s always close by even if they’re not seen. Your mum when she’s put you to bed, I suppose.

    I dunno, my social media and the news are filled with cries for help from the sick; this was a picture of what care is supposed to look like.

    Reply

  34. Alex B
    May 25, 2024 @ 7:42 pm

    I will say- while I’m happy to acknowledge most of the criticisms you lay out here, I will take exception to the idea that this is something Davies just dropped out there as an easy job like Planet of the Dead, playing the hits because he can’t be bothered to write anything deeper, because I think that unfairly underplays quite how radical the things the episode are attempting are.

    I think Davies is absolutely straining every sinew with this one, pushing himself and the programme alike FAR out of their comfort zone. Indeed, the most pleasing thing about this era thus far is the absence of the Doctor Who standards (not a single alien invasion to speak of yet, give or take a Star Beast) – as you pointed out way back in the Wild Blue Yonder review, and as only become more true since, he’s not done the safe or marketable decision at basically any point since he came back, and I would have 73 Yards as the culmination of that, not as an exception.

    Reply

  35. cirkus
    May 25, 2024 @ 8:28 pm

    Hi, big fan of the site but first time commenting here, because I’ve been thinking about this episode since I watched it a few hours ago and it just won’t leave my head.

    I thought it was damn near flawless for the first half/two thirds. Ruby still hasn’t been hugely fleshed out beyond typical companion stuff and “afraid of abandonment,” but I think Millie Gibson’s been excellent, and she sells Ruby’s slow realisation of just how fucked things are, but moreso the dawning realisation of “oh, this is just what my life is like now,” with this inexplicable thing following her and everybody she relies on leaving. I’m not a Kate Stewart fan, but her face gave me legit chills. The horror of this unknowable thing following you, driving everyone away, and then getting used to it? Treating it like a weird dog or something that won’t leave you alone? Wonderful. I’ve seen it theorised that it’s a metaphor for anxiety or something, which makes sense to me.

    Then Roger ap Gwilliam shows up, and the whole thing sort of… staggers. I think the criticisms of the satire are unfounded, because there just… is no satire. It’s “oh wouldn’t it be fucked up if there was a guy who really wanted to nuke something,” there’s no actual depth there. For better or for worse he’s just a villain, in the same way the Rosa Space Racist was. But it’s a bizarre left-field turn that’s totally out-of-kilter with the main horror vibe, even if it is unpleasant in other ways.

    I agree that not ageing Gibson is a bit weird, but oddly enough I think that actually helps the vibe. Everything after Kate leaves and the timeskips start in earnest just doesn’t feel quite real, in a way I’m struggling to articulate. Her playing a forty-odd-year-old woman, the bizarre sketching of Gwilliam, the whole end thing. It’s all so compressed, too, but not in the “this episode overran by ten minutes” sense of the other RTD eps of the era so far, it feels a tad more intentional, but honestly I don’t know.

    I think part of it is how much you feel you need to know. I don’t think the link between RaG and Mad Jack needed explaining, MJ as a broad entity of evil somehow manifesting in this guy works well enough (although I like the idea I’ve seen espoused that the two actually have nothing to do with each other and Ruby’s just drawing connections). I don’t personally need to know what Old!Ruby was saying to all those people, but ideally I’d hope RTD knew, and I’m not sure he does. It strikes me as odd that she’s trying to drive everyone away from her past self, but maybe that’s the nightmare logic at play. This whole episode does just feel like a weird, sick dream, never quite making sense, not really hanging together in the slightest, but disconcerting enough to still grab you (or to grab me, at least). Maybe it’s best viewed through that lens. Maybe not. Honestly, I still don’t know what to make of it, but I certainly won’t be forgetting it in a hurry.

    Reply

    • prandeamus
      May 26, 2024 @ 1:34 pm

      ” Treating it like a weird dog or something that won’t leave you alone? Wonderful. I’ve seen it theorised that it’s a metaphor for anxiety or something, which makes sense to me.”

      It’s maybe something meta – if she doesn’t point out its existence to anyone, no one notices. It’s like carrying around secret memory in your own head. Something you fear will make people hate you. If you admit it, if you discuss it with a friend, the fear is your friend will run away. If you bottle it up and never mention it, you can hold down a job, still function in society, infiltrate a fascist corporation/company, get social care at the end of your life.

      We’ll see if this ever resolves properly at the end of season – I’m 50/50 about this.

      Reply

      • Ross
        May 26, 2024 @ 2:34 pm

        But, critically, if you bottle it up and never mention it, you can do all those things, but the thing you can’t do is have a secure, connected, vulnerable, lasting relationship with another person.

        Yeah, damn, metaphor for anxiety. That tracks WAY too well.

        Reply

        • Aylwin
          May 27, 2024 @ 4:33 pm

          It’s been remarked that it’s also legible in similar terms as a queer metaphor, and looked at in that light it does make perfect sense that all Ruby’s failed relationships that she’s not really emotionally present for are with men.

          Though as with so much else here, I think that may break down if you try to make it cohere too much. Because it doesn’t sit well with the fact that the positive resolution in the story is to skip the whole thing, which in the metaphor would seem to correspond with not becoming aware of anything out of the ordinary about you at all. But it may be more reconcilable if one views the aborted timeline as a worst-case world of fears made real rather than a model of life.

          Reply

      • Przemek
        May 27, 2024 @ 11:19 am

        Oh, that’s brilliant. Thank you.

        Reply

      • cirkus
        May 27, 2024 @ 2:58 pm

        This and Ross’s comment is fantastic, I think I’m sold.

        Reply

  36. Bat Masterson
    May 25, 2024 @ 8:32 pm

    “Remember that time Doctor Who landed in Twin Peaks, but they had to use the Welsh coastline instead of Douglas Firs?”
    “Aye.”
    “That was a good one.”
    “Aye.”
    “Mind you, people didn’t much care for the end of Twin Peaks, either.”
    “Oh, aye.”
    “Or the middle.”

    Reply

    • Anton B
      May 26, 2024 @ 4:33 am

      I made the Twin Peaks connection too.

      David Lynch as an artist often examines traumatic stress through the lens of Expressionism. Russel T Davies as a writer sometimes examines emotional trauma through the lens of resonant metaphor.

      I think it helps to parse both shows as abstraction rather than straight allegory.

      I’m getting real “what’s it supposed to be? My six year old could have painted that!” vibes from the nay sayers.

      Reply

  37. Ed
    May 25, 2024 @ 10:12 pm

    Like some others, I was extremely charmed by this episode and (like fewer, perhaps) would probably rank it among RTD’s best work.

    Reply

  38. Jesse S
    May 25, 2024 @ 11:23 pm

    This was a flawed episode, no doubt, and at the end of it I had mixed feelings that although it was beautifully filmed (the production team was truly firing on all cylinders on this one) it felt somewhat hollow with too many things left unexplained. But after sleeping on it and thinking about it much of today, it has grown on me a lot.

    As Alex B said way back up there, this was basically the first time the premise of “an irrational and inexplicable universe is bleeding into ours” has been used in a way that fulfills that premise. It’s not just “The villain can do magic things now” or “There are goblins that fly on a pirate ship and eat babies”. It’s about the very narrative structure of Doctor Who breaking down and collapsing. It’s a ghost story in the M.R. James mold about coming face-to-face with the uncanny, about unwittingly transgressing some unspoken taboo and being haunted for the rest of your life. The explanations aren’t forthcoming because gothic ghost stories don’t explain themselves. The ghost is an intrusion into the Apollonian world of reason and logic; it can’t be explained using those tools.

    That’s why the Doctor can’t exist in this timeline. Ruby is cut off from the usual way that the companion (and by extension, the audience) is allowed to understand the mysteries that the usual alien incursions pose. When Kate Stewart arrives, there is a moment where we think she is going to stand in for the Doctor, with her technobabble “explanations” about perception filters and “This timeline might be suspended along your event”, but then even she is defeated by the incomprehensible nature of the ghost. It’s a deconstruction of not just the “Doctor-lite” question of “What happens when the Doctor isn’t there to save the day?” but of a more fundamental question of “What happens when the usual means for understanding what’s happening on the show are useless?”

    I definitely wouldn’t want every Doctor Who episode to be like this, and I can certainly see the flaws that have been pointed out here as well as elsewhere, but for me this was a bold and memorable change of pace. My favorite episode so far this series, by quite a bit.

    Reply

  39. Corey Klemow
    May 26, 2024 @ 12:17 am

    You’ve said what you want from Doctor Who is something you haven’t seen before. For better or worse, this is not something Doctor Who has ever done before.

    People are talking in the comments above about how it’s like a gothic ghost story. I also see echoes of Japanese horror films, which are also full of irrational events and inexplicable horrors with unexplained motivations. I’m still not sure how well this worked for me – on first watch I was very much expecting some sort of explanation to tie it all together at the end, and I’m still re-processing it as the irrational thing it was; I very much appreciate all the commentary here, both pro and con. But I was very much hypnotized by it and on board for the ride. RTD took a big, big swing here that clearly landed for some people in a way that belies your “will this do?” dismissal.

    Reply

  40. Cyrano
    May 26, 2024 @ 3:28 am

    Thinking about the satire of Roger ap Gwilliam. It’s quickly and broadly sketched no doubt but I do think it’s better and more coherent than people are giving it credit for.

    He’s basically one of the people in the pub in the first act. Welsh nationalism (any nationalism) as grumpy, spiteful resentment. They were not ‘nice’ characters. They’re so possessed of England’s history of mistreatment of Wales, so used to being unfairly thought of as backward they bully a clearly distraught young woman who stumbles into their pub in a storm bearing them no grudge. They mock her for being wound up by their stories, she asks to pay by phone before they wrong foot her. It’s cruel, and it assumes cruelty on Ruby’s part where there is none.

    Cut to Roger ap Gwilliam, a fascist and rapist who’s all about his Welsh identity, obsessed with not being overlooked or underestimated to the extent that he turns the entire country into rogue nuclear power. Nationalism as towering overcompensation, little man syndrome writ large.

    It works for me, especially as that’s increasingly the flavour of nationalism that’s overtaking politics in the UK. Vainglorious about nothingness, so obviously insecurity in jackboots.

    It also works for me as tonal exploration for Davies, who’s previously been enormously positive about Wales to explore the flip side of that.

    I feel like this episode frustrates some by putting its sense of logic beyond the story and lacking a classically Who-y resolution, and this maybe makes them overlook the ways in which it does explain itself, or imply explanations.

    Reply

    • Ross
      May 26, 2024 @ 11:50 am

      It’s weird how apparently a huge percentage of English fascists were willing to vote for a Welsh fascist. But given that his political platform seems to be “If elected, I will start a nuclear war. Not even saying with whom,” there’s some really cutting satire there. That a dude ran for office on the platform of “I really wanna nuke someone” and the response was not “That’s insane” or even “Wait, who?” but “Yeah that does sound cool.”

      Reply

      • Citizen Alan
        May 27, 2024 @ 12:37 am

        I genuinely wonder what percentage of American voters will vote for The Beast in November specifically because they expect and want him to nuke some other country just for the lulz.

        Reply

  41. Christopher Brown
    May 26, 2024 @ 11:32 am

    I wanted to like this, but – absent any significance later in the season – I feel like I should have just caught up with Years and Years instead, as it seems likely that that series handles the basic idea much better than a 45-minute narrative reset possibly could. Some nice ingredients in a stew of weaksauce.

    Reply

    • Cyrano
      May 26, 2024 @ 11:50 am

      I think it’s a misread to see him as ‘the point’ of the episode. It’s a vignette, a microplot, one of several the story goes into trying to make sense of the haunting and failing.

      It’s not An American Werewolf in London, it’s not ‘plucky companion and family figures out the mystery in the Doctor’s absence’, it’s not UNIT sweeping in to save the day, or a Moffat-esque puzzle box where the solution to the story has been smuggled in as something else.

      It’s a senseless, lifelong haunting. Resistant to logic and only understood by Ruby (and not us) after a full, long, terrible, sad life.

      I’m sort of surprised Sandifer didn’t pick up more on this as she’s normally so attuned to narrative substitution.

      Reply

      • Dan
        May 26, 2024 @ 8:43 pm

        Very much agree.

        Reply

      • Christopher Brown
        May 27, 2024 @ 12:24 am

        I wasn’t referring to Roger ap Gwilliam, but the entire story – living out an ordinary life in a world where seismic political changes are a backdrop that occasionally becomes the foreground. I got the sense that that was what Years and Years is about? My point is that a show that has multiple episodes to flesh out the steps of that journey would theoretically be a much better container for it than one episode, where I can see and appreciate what the commentators here take away from the beats, but found the substance of them too insubstantial to have any lasting emotional or intellectual impact on me personally.

        (Come to think of it, the middle two episodes of Big Finish’s A Death in the Family handle variations on the episode’s basic story much better than it did, and that’s with flaws of their own.)

        Reply

        • Cyrano
          May 27, 2024 @ 8:17 am

          Again I don’t think that was the story. It’s not about “ordinary life in a world where seismic political changes are a backdrop that occasionally becomes the foreground”. The political bit is confined entirely to the ap Gwilliam section. The episode is asking, Ruby is asking, is this a story about an ordinary person who uses their brush with the supernatural as a weapon against an extremist government?

          And it turns out no. That’s not the point of the haunting. Nothing is ‘the point’ of the haunting.

          Reply

  42. prandeamus
    May 26, 2024 @ 1:27 pm

    I enjoyed this a lot more than Boom, even if I find to articulate why that should be. Possibly because of its internal tonal shift from Welsh horror to domestic rejection to the UNIT bit to “beat the fascist” and so on. It does feel for a while that the purpose of the alternate timeline is somehow to let Ruby be the hero and make ap Gwilliam scarper, but then it goes to Ruby’s final years. But fixing ap Gwilliam in an alternative timeline doesn’t fix anything in the “real” timeline, does it? (Shades of Inferno).

    I did twitch a bit when somehow the semperdistans becomes steerable in the direction of fascists. In mathematical terms the 73 yards was presented as a scalar quantity then somehow becomes a vector quantity. Not sure about that.

    Oh, I I just mis-typed 73 Yards as 73 YEARS. The age of alt-Ruby’s death is not made explicit, but if it’s beyond that “40 years later” segment as it must be to some extent … oh I dunno.

    Anyway it doesn’t make total sense but I enjoyed it. Not deep critical thinking, but I was curious enough to want a re-watch that I have not felt after Boom.

    Reply

    • Ross
      May 26, 2024 @ 1:52 pm

      Just linguistic sloppiness, I think; she’s always 73 yards in the direction Ruby is looking

      Reply

    • Ross
      May 26, 2024 @ 2:01 pm

      I’m not even sure of Roger ap Gwilliam is meant to be a thing outside of the little pocket timeline of this episode – the narrative clearly wants us to believe (without saying it outright) that he, or at least his rise to power, is the product of Ruby releasing Mad Jack, and if that were the case, then he’s not an issue in the revised timeline. There’s a remaining oddity of the Doctor mentioning him before breaking the fairy circle, but this could be understood as the product of the doctor’s “timey wimey” relationship with causality.
      But of course, it’s not clear that this is the right interpretation – the fact that Ruby continues to be haunted another forty years probably implies that she was simply wrong about Mad Jack, and she unleashed supernatural horror on someone who was just your ordinary garden variety sociopath.
      But the show doesn’t end up taking a firm stand one way or the other, which leaves some of us with the unsatisfied feeling you get from the worse kind of “reset button” episodes rather than the better kind.

      Reply

      • Camestros Felapton
        May 26, 2024 @ 3:11 pm

        The Doctor mentions him both times before reaching the circle, so the implication is that Roger ap Gwilliam is a future-historical figure regardless who brings things close to a nuclear war. Within the circular timeline, Ruby only deals with him once he has become Prime Minister and when he is on the verge of being able to start a nuclear war. So events around Roger ap Gwilliam are consistent with the circle being broken or not.

        I don’t think that Ruby continued to be haunted implies she was wrong about Mad Jack. If we assume that the 73 yards lady is always Ruby’s ghost then it makes sense they don’t meet until Ruby dies. That isn’t at odds with the “purpose” of the ghost being stopping Mad Jack from nuking the world.

        I think the Mad Jack element fits with the politics of Roger ap Gwilliam. His fascism is a means to an end, what he actually wants is to fire nuclear weapons (not that isn’t fascist, just that his goal is a bit more single-minded than ‘fascist’ suggests).

        Reply

        • Dan
          May 26, 2024 @ 8:49 pm

          I think it’s much neater if he is just a sub-plot. I could see why Ruby might latch onto him as the purpose, but would have been very surprised if that helped her much or made any difference. Like Cyrano says above, it was another type of possible Doctor Who story – following a number of others that didn’t either – that made no impact on the central problem. And at that point, while it gave her some satisfaction, she was fresh out of ideas.

          (If it had been me, I’d have tried to understand the sign language and some point, and go from there.)

          Reply

          • Camestros Felapton
            May 27, 2024 @ 3:18 pm

            I think he is both a subplot and intrinsic to the circle – it is Ruby reading the scroll that makes him Mad Jack and it is Ruby reading “I miss you” that makes the Doctor vanish. In the non-fairy circle timeline Roger ap Gwilliam is a mundane nationalist Welsh politician who brings the UK to the brink of nuclear war. In the fairy circle timeline Roger ap Gwilliam is a demonic nationalist Welsh politician who brings the UK to the brink of nuclear war.

        • Daibhid C
          May 28, 2024 @ 8:14 am

          The Doctor mentions him both times before reaching the circle

          True, but the second time round the Doctor doesn’t mention him after reaching the circle. He’s halfway through the sentence and he never gets back to it. My interpretation was that “The Doctor breaks the circle, releases Mad Jack, vanishes” was the “original” timeline, and Future!Ruby changes that in the final scene.

          Otherwise, of course, we’ve got “Ruby prevented nuclear armageddon, then went back and stopped herself from doing so.” Which is … a choice.

          (Actually, the more I think about it, the less convinced I am that the Doctor really has a clear idea of what happens in this timeline where mavity is a thing and there was no music between 1926 and 1963. Maybe Mad Jack only became Roger ap Gwilliam because the Doctor was talking about him…)

          Reply

    • Aylwin
      May 27, 2024 @ 4:58 pm

      The obvious answer to his being “fixed” in the “real” timeline without Ruby’s intervention would be that the Doctor’s presence there enables it in one way or another, whether or not they are directly responsible. Thus it becomes an echo of Turn Left in a direct, diegetic sense, where the Doctor’s companions and associates have to step up to resolve, less perfectly, problems dealt with by the Doctor in the main timeline. (That is to say, in addition to the extradiegetic way the whole episode echoes Turn Left and its Doctor-light ilk as alluded to by Jesse S, the removal of the Doctor removing the means by which what is going on is explained to the audience and events shaped into a story).

      (On a different tack, there’s a Donnie Darko resonance to this side of things – protagonist who sees uncanny things brings down sexual predator with apocalyptic overtones in a timeline which they subsequent prevent from occurring.)

      Reply

  43. Richard Pugree
    May 26, 2024 @ 2:41 pm

    “Genuinely surprised to see Ruby’s dates all being men.”

    I was too. This actually really heightened the uncanniness for me – in what was in many ways the queerest episode so far, we get this sudden disconcerting ‘heterosexuality’. Fabulous.

    & it’s nice and important given that it feels generationally honest that a ‘straight’ (if that’s where we land up) woman Gibson’s age can have the friendship group she does.

    Reply

    • Przemek
      May 27, 2024 @ 11:53 am

      Could you elaborate on what makes this episode “queerest so far”? I don’t see it.

      Reply

      • Richard Pugree
        May 27, 2024 @ 5:36 pm

        It’s not a hill I’d die on, but I suppose some of the things I had in mind were:

        it’s definitely the queerest in all the weird/odd/strange/uncanny senses of that word (which I don’t think are fully separable from other uses).

        Penda’s Fen seemed to be a really resonant intertext for me here, so it’s probably true that that film’s queerness is probably doing a lot of the heavy lifting in my own response (though I’d be staggered if RTD hasn’t seen it.)
        having your family discover something about you, kick you out, and cut you out of their lives, as Ruby does here, is hugely resonant from a queer perspective.
        queer approaches to time and narrative and meaning, which often involve critiques of linear end-oriented narrativity, where endings provide closure mastery and self-knowledge, tend to be really interested in the kinds of games this episode is up to. (Which is not to say that all such approaches are themselves necessarily queer, just that they’re things a queer reading is likely to emphasise)
        queerness is about interrogating the construction of identity, understands it as fluid, contingent and relational, emphasises the unfixing of subject positions, and explores different (im)possible forms of relationality and intimacy. So the way the episode deploys a figure who is literally fixed in a specific position in relation to Ruby, whose identity is unclear, unseeable and never finally resolved or resolvable is fascinating from that perspective. And it impacts Ruby’s whole life, relationships, self. She even literally becomes a different person by being recast at the end. And then old Ruby and the woman are not the same! There’s this ungraspable multiplicity, and identity is unfixable.

        It’s not that ‘queer’ is the only way to read those things – but there are a whole load of resonances and affinities which I find compelling, particularly as written by RTD. Whereas Moffat write loads of stuff which is as (or more) interested in fucking with time and narrative etc, but does so in a way which, as Daniel says above, tends to be pretty ‘straight’.

        Reply

        • Richard Pugree
          May 28, 2024 @ 6:27 am

          Oh, and all the stuff about boundaries, borders, thresholds, liminal spaces etc.
          Again, not in and of themselves necessarily queer, but very available for and resonant with a queer perspective.

          So when she’s only shown going out with men, it’s kind of startling.

          But up until now all we’ve actually known of Ruby’s sexuality is that she was kind of checking the doctor out when she first saw him (but not necessarily), and has a diverse friendship group/band.

          Nothing actually to tell us that she isn’t straight. So in many ways it shouldn’t be surprising if she is. But what this episode does is make (apparent) straightness just feel wrong. Which is a pretty queer thing to do.

          Reply

        • Rupert
          June 2, 2024 @ 7:31 am

          Thanks for mentioning Penda’s Fen. Old enough to have watched it on first broadcast and will try and rewatch.

          For me this also resonated with Garner’s The Owl Service a story I still don’t understand but features fraught English-Welsh relationships (personal and national) and a story in which time is cyclic. Will rewatch and reread!

          https://youtu.be/uh_Olq_W_Ww?si=V-FoaGn5DrpOu3ZH

          Reply

  44. Richard Pugree
    May 27, 2024 @ 9:23 am

    “I mean, shit, why does the Doctor disappear in the first place?”

    Undergoing his own punishment loop? (which, like Ruby, he won’t quite remember but which leaves traces).
    The circle was broken, the words were read, so they very possibly both needed to live out a cycle of their own to restore it. But we don’t get to see his own loop, because that’s just an episode of Doctor Who, and the narrative logic of Doctor Who has been broken.

    Reply

  45. Sarah Grace
    May 27, 2024 @ 7:04 pm

    I was also surprised that all her dates were with men. Especially after the Doctor’s description of Ruby as “Playing lovesick songs for heartbroken lesbians.” I had the idea of her running around with the Doctor as wlw/mlm solidarity.

    I have seen someone who really appreciated the episode because they saw a queer allegory in the making peace with the monster following you who chases people away from you, but that falls flat with me because Ruby is cis-het and it didn’t actually seem to connect with anything else in her character.

    The mini arc with Marti felt super gross. The way the scene was framed where Ruby tells Mad Jack her name makes it really clear what’s going to happen to her, and thus makes it feel like Ruby is complicit in it in a way that the show appears to not have intended.

    Plus the show gave me the impression that she was actually intending to help him get elected, and then had a change of heart when she heard he was buying nuclear weapons. If the show was trying to demonstrate the lengths she had to go to to get within 73 yards of him, it failed to make me believe it was that hard, especially since it had her talking directly to him.

    And the problem with the twist of swerving from the haunting of the pub story to the time-jump story is that the haunted pub was set up in a way that felt like it would be really compelling, and the time-jump story ended up not being so.

    Reply

    • Christopher Brown
      May 28, 2024 @ 1:11 am

      That’s a really good point about the bit with Marti.

      Reply

    • Einarr
      May 28, 2024 @ 2:03 am

      Re: Marti – all discussion of whether this was an appropriate or tasteful inclusion aside, I do think the show intended to show Ruby as complicit here. Which is astonishingly dark stuff, but I think that’s what the episode leans into. The available evidence: she looks on rather grimly as he goes to introduce himself to Marti, in a way that at least suggests she has an inkling what might be about to happen. Later Marti tells her he is a “monster”. When he asks for her to join his Saturday night party by name, Ruby gives her a comforting touch of the arm, and then apologises for not having acted sooner to stop Gwilliam or done anything to help Marti. The implication that she feels complicit in what has happened seems pretty clear, and as such it doesn’t seem a stretch that she deserves our judgment for telling Roger about who Marti is (rather than it being an innocent action that unwittingly enables something awful).

      The next question is why the episode chooses to do this. I don’t think this material is there purely to show that Gwilliam is an evil bastard. I think it’s active intent to be about Ruby’s character, and the ways that her ‘semper distans’ relationship to the world around her is capable of having horrible side effects; and/or that she is so bound up in the logic of “turning this into a regular Doctor Who episode where I get to save the world” that she is too hell bent on her ‘mission’ to bring Gwilliam down at the right moment, and loses some capacity for human empathy in doing so. The episode does want us to judge her for this, I think.

      Reply

  46. Christopher Brown
    May 28, 2024 @ 1:16 am

    If there’s a midpoint view to the two divergent strands on here, then it’s potentially an exciting one: RTD is stretching himself to write a new way for Doctor Who to be, he just hasn’t figured out how to actually make it work yet. Much like Moffat during Series 6B and 7.

    If Doctor Who history mirrors itself, that suggests that if/when RTD’s grasp catches up to his reach in terms of how to do magical realism/fantasy stories in Doctor Who, we might be in for the equivalent of a Series 8 and 9 from him. And that’s an exciting thought.

    (I used “exciting” at the beginning and end of my comment, mirroring the structure of the episode.)

    Reply

  47. Einarr
    May 28, 2024 @ 1:51 am

    Putting the script to one side*, on pure craft/production terms, this is simply one of the best directed episodes of Doctor Who ever made. It’s an art house A24 horror film: every shot is dripping with meaning. Staggering that the director is only 31 but already doing work that knocks that of elder & more experienced directors into a cocked hat.

    *not entirely fair, ofc, since scripts like this & The Devil’s Chord are clearly calling for more innovative camerawork than Space Babies.

    Reply

    • Josh Mc
      May 28, 2024 @ 4:25 am

      Hey, no-one forced Space Babies to use that one security camera PoV shot all those times.

      Reply

  48. Cyrano
    May 28, 2024 @ 2:29 am

    I think there’s maybe some misreading going on here. I think the show absolutely intends for Ruby’s behaviour with Marti to read as questionable. She neglects the ‘little people’ and pursues a role as a sci-fi hero to try and make sense of her haunting. We’re not meant to like it.

    On the other hand, I don’t think the show at any point is trying to communicate that she’s actually trying to get ap Gwilliam elected and changes her mind. It clearly depicts her hearing the name of the Prime Minister the Doctor describes as the worst in the opening and the name from the scroll in the circle and going to do something about it.

    Reply

    • Daibhid C
      May 28, 2024 @ 8:01 am

      Yep, she just takes a really long time to think “Okay, he really is doing the thing the Doctor said he was going to do and he’s shown every sign of doing, time to make my move.”

      Reply

      • Benthesquid
        June 10, 2024 @ 12:22 pm

        I did wonder what she meant about only getting one chance. Best I can figure is that she needed to (or felt she needed to) drop the semperdistans next to him at a moment of maximal political triumph to ensure that he fled from that rather than just taking out a restraining order on Ruby.

        Which doesn’t quite track with how we’ve seen it operate otherwise, unfortunately, but then, we don’t see too much of anyone else after they abandon Ruby. Did the Welsh guy ever go back to the pub once she was gone? Is her mother still taking in fosters? Did the UNIT agents all quit?

        Reply

  49. Daibhid C
    May 28, 2024 @ 8:03 am

    As far as the lack of explanations go, I just figured “Eh, it’s folk horror, you don’t get any.” (Note that I am not actually a fan of folk horror, so this was resigned acceptance rather than approval). WeslePryce’s point that, if anything, it’s too straightforward in what’s going on is an interesting one.

    I’ve got to admit, I’m still not sold on “the supernatural is entering the Whoniverse” as even being a meaningful thing. Creatures from folklore are entering the world? Goblins, fey… What’s next, werewolves? Vampires? Goat-legged demons that can animate gargoyles with a thought? Crone-like witches that can reshape reality with their words? Ooh, how about skull with a pentagram on it that’s vulnerable to UNIT’s new salt-weapons?

    Reply

    • Christopher Brown
      May 28, 2024 @ 10:05 am

      I get what you mean, but I feel like the shift is more of a matter of tone. Frankly, I’m relieved that the show has more space to deal with goblins and fey without recourse to lines about how actually the mini-hominids are using tripliphysics to power their airship so that the show can keep up the pretense of being “rationalist”. At the very least, it could spare us from having to deal with guff about “it’s supernatural vs. it’s aliens” such as El examines in her essay on The Eternity Trap (a story I quite like, actually, but one very much redeemed by the direction rather than the script).

      Reply

    • Cyrano
      May 28, 2024 @ 10:52 am

      It seems fairly clear that it’s magic in the sense of…magic, not “Science, Miss Hawthorne!”.

      The Goblins are actually eating coincidence, not “absorbing temporal energy”. The Toymaker and Maestro are Gods not Time Lords from the next universe but one or whatever the extended universe said.

      And of course Doctor Who does have this strand. Fenric. The Gods of Ragnorak, The Toymaker. But I think it’s as much a marketing thing as an actual thing to make a big fuss about saying “this is what we’re doing now”

      Reply

      • Anton B
        May 28, 2024 @ 3:11 pm

        “The Goblins are actually eating coincidence, not “absorbing temporal energy”.”

        It’s just semantics isn’t it? I mean there’s never been much, if any, actual science in Doctor Who and what there was was wrong more often than not. The classic series didn’t know it’s solar systems from its galaxies and Nu Who relied all too often on handwavium and motor-mouthed techno-babble.
        Drilling down on the magic spells is just more honest isn’t it?

        Oh and before anyone claims “there must be rules or it won’t make sense”. Doctor Who’s anarchic credentials are well established. Moffat’s much lauded “rules monsters” soon broke their own parameters if they got the chance to return. Remember the Silence? (Oh, sorry! Of course you don’t). I mean, what the hell was the Confession Dial?

        Personally I’d rather have an arty mood piece that defied logic while creating intriguing drama than any number of time glitches, bootstrap paradoxes or block transfer computations.

        Reply

  50. Anthony Bernacchi
    May 28, 2024 @ 12:30 pm

    The regular commenters here are all much smarter than I am, but I wanted to make two points:

    I’m surprised no one has brought up the possibility that Roger ap Gwilliam is the “Minister of War” mentioned in “Before the Flood,” a theory which I think is already the subject of at least one YouTube video.

    Also, while the story’s overall structure in terms of how it presses the reset button is reminiscent of DS9: “The Visitor” (and therefore also, more distantly, of SJA: “The Mad Woman in the Attic”), another potential influence that occurred to me was the classic short story “The Mysterious Card” by Cleveland Moffett. It’s available on Moffett’s Wikisource page, along with its far inferior sequel, “The Mysterious Card Unveiled,” which retroactively ruins the original story.

    Reply

    • Elizabeth Sandifer
      May 28, 2024 @ 1:22 pm

      I’d have had to remember there was a Minister of War in Before the Flood.

      Reply

  51. Chris Wuchte
    May 28, 2024 @ 1:41 pm

    Really wanted to like this, and I did enjoy the direction and the concept. It just falls apart when you try to make sense of it. The equivalent of someone in a writing class submitting something interesting but incomprehensible, and then arguing that your interpretation is more important than what it’s about, which means they don’t actually know what it’s about.

    I don’t know why The Doctor disappeared. I don’t know why there was a time loop. I don’t know how a bar filled with patrons wouldn’t at least wonder why there was a strange woman waiting outside. I don’t know if the fairy circle really was a fairy circle, or how it caused any of this.

    Also, a Doctor-lite episode in a season with only eight episodes? With this much lead time, they couldn’t delay filming by a few weeks?

    Still enjoying the new season, but I feel like by the end we still won’t have much of a sense of this Doctor and where things are heading. It just doesn’t seem to be building towards a finale at the right pace.

    Reply

    • Einarr
      May 29, 2024 @ 3:57 am

      The massive lead time is because post production takes so long now, so I don’t think that sort of delay would have been feasible. It’s actually a result of Sex Education S4 shooting overrunning, otherwise there would’ve been no issues. Hence Gatwa’s absence here and the next episode being more structured around a guest lead with the Doctor & Ruby popping in every so often. Not ideal with only 8 episodes, but on the other hand it can lead to creative experimentation and different story shapes, and it won’t be the case next year (when of course we will still have plenty of Gatwa but less Gibson, another reason this episode is welcome in terms of her showing off what she can do).

      Reply

  52. Andy
    May 29, 2024 @ 11:12 am

    I’m gonna say the name of a movie right now, and that movie is called “Donnie Darko.”

    Discuss.

    Reply

  53. Loz
    May 29, 2024 @ 1:31 pm

    About the one thing I like about Chibnall and Rusty’s second era is the redevelopment of the character of Kate Stewart away from Moffat’s take of ‘how can I use the excuse of defeating the monster of the week to justify blowing up some or all of the planet?’

    I do wonder whether a throwaway comment of hers may be more important towards the development of the season, namely that ‘time is out of sync’. What if it’s not just for this episode, which I didn’t care for, but the season in general? After all, we had the Toymaker and the Maestro active at exactly the same time where they both have different and mutually exclusive effects on the world and which Prisoner of Mars rules don’t actually explain.

    Reply

  54. John G Wood
    May 31, 2024 @ 1:19 pm

    Arriving here a bit late, but just wanted to add that the questions “why did the Doctor disappear?” and “why does the woman make people afraid?” both have the same answer: because Ruby’s punishment is to experience eternal abandonment, which is her greatest fear taken to extremes. It’s ghost story logic – she needs to lose the Doctor, her mum, Kate, because she didn’t respect the circle. If the Doctor were still there it would be an adventure, not purgatory. And trying to work out the mechanics is like asking why the moon is an egg.

    I watched this with a loved one who was given away as a baby and then rejected by the people who were supposed to adopt her because of suspected flat feet. She spent some time after that with foster carers, not all of whom treated her well, before finally finding a place in a loving family. Unsurprisingly, she has a Thing about abandonment. It definitely affects my feelings about the story, but this is my favourite so far this season.

    Reply

  55. kenziie bee
    June 20, 2024 @ 4:29 pm

    for me this is entirely a story about Ruby and her deepest anxieties, right down to it becoming a faded memory at the end. what’s been fascinating to me about her story this season is that its not just about her personal abandonment, its the existential void, of feeling like you’re all alone in the world somehow — the closest a companion has gotten to relating to the Doctor as Last of the Time Lords. See also stuff like the glitching “next of kin– next of kin–” from the Ambulance in Boom and Ruby’s feverish dying demand to know who her next of kin is, or the repeated emphasis (e.g. Davina’s mccall to her in Church on Ruby Road on not just her mother but NO ONE in her family is to exist on Earth.

    So here she’s forced into a timeline that’s the worst case scenario. Some little thing goes wrong and her relationships fall apart one by one, rippling out from the Doctor and the TARDIS to UNIT and her own family, leaving her fully cut off from meaningful relationships for her WHOLE LIFE. and in the end it’s just another disappeared life she didn’t really get to live, another void left imprinted on her; maybe not at the front of her mind, but like any trauma, never really going away. Like a twisted version of Turn Left except there’s no world saving sacrifice — just a lonely woman desperately trying to stop one little domino from tipping over.

    Fucking loved it. it’s ironic considering how much i adore Ncuti that my fav episodes this season have been the DoctorLites, hope he gets to be front and center in something this enchanting next year!!

    Reply

    • kenziie bee
      June 20, 2024 @ 9:00 pm

      soz thought of an “edit”, hope the late comments aren’t too annoying: its also extra heartbreaking, and telling of Ruby’s character, that she reacts so resignedly to the whole thing. She doesn’t break down, she doesn’t rage at the heavens (or, more probably, we skip the many years where she had time to do that); she just quietly goes “yeah, that’s me. This is what I have to live with.” it’s so, god its so upsetting

      Reply

      • kenziie bee
        June 20, 2024 @ 9:08 pm

        like the most resonant moment in the 2023 specials imo was Donna quietly saying “but I’m no one” and the Doctor nearly cracking with pain crying “NO YOU ARE NOT!!” back at her. 73 Yards is one long lifetime of Ruby Sunday feeling like no one and not having the Doctor there to tell her how wrong it is that she’s come to feel that way. aughh my heart!! like seriously it’s (metaphorically i dont know the man personally) RTD redoing Turn Left after tearing up at Heaven Sent and The Girl Who Waited. What would a fucked up timeline experience like that do to someone emotionally?

        Reply

      • Ross
        June 21, 2024 @ 8:54 am

        Yeah, I was expecting her to break down and rage at the heavens if nowhere else, then when she “defeated” Roger ap Gwilliam and that still didn’t “fix” her situation. But she doesn’t, and that’s really emotionally moving.

        But I think I liked it even better a little while later when I slotted it back in with the rest of the series and noticed that this is a very strong pattern with Ruby: she rolls with things. If you go back to the Church on Ruby Road, she doesn’t resist her encounter with The Strange – she doesn’t spend ten minutes insisting that goblins can’t be real or a blue box can’t have an infinitely large space ship inside or this flamboyant dude on the rooftop can’t be an alien or that gloves can’t negate mavity. She just rolls with it. Heck, the Doctor improvs a jazzy musical number in front of a horde of baby-eating goblins on a flying boat powered by knots, and Ruby just rolls with it.

        It’s not a character we’ve had in Doctor Who – it’s barely a character we’ve had in anything ever, one who’s defined foremost by her ability to just take life as it comes. And I notice that even here, it’s not like she’s consigned to a life of constant misery – her lot is not great; she can’t make deep connections. But she’s… Kinda okay? I don’t mean to downplay the heartbreaking tragedy of her situation, but rather, it’s a sort of un-hyperbolic kind of tragedy. She’s not crushed by constant sadness and despair, it’s not an unceasing torture. It just sort of “is”, and that’s STILL very sad and heartbreaking.

        Reminds me of something I told my therapist once: The one and only good thing about capitalism is that even if things go the worst they are reasonably likely to go, if my wife leaves me and my children hate me and my parents die, and I am sad and lonely for the rest of my life… I still got to get up and go to work in the morning so there’s eight hours right there where I have a purpose and a direction and I can be reasonably assured of at least the most absolutely mininal kind of success and acceptance, and I don’t have to think about how much my life sucks.

        Reply

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