The Coalition of Chaos

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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.


  1. VinegarMike
    December 26, 2023 @ 7:26 pm

    “there’s a shot of Gatwa rounding a flight of stairs that centers his hand on a bannister as he turns, and jumps out at me on every viewing”

    It jumps out so much that both times I thought it was trying to tell me something both times I watched it, as if I’d missed a broken bannister in the Potterville* version after Baby Ruby was stolen. But sometimes a good shot that makes you feel like you’re in a real world full of time travel and baby-stealing goblins is just a good shot.

    I hate that I didn’t make the It’s a Wonderful Life connection myself, but even if it wasn’t an intentional Christmas nod by RTD, it very much explains why I felt an additional emotional impact in those moments because I’m a sucker for that film. Gatwa is so good in those scenes in a different way than he’s good in everything else. And if we’re going to see the return of many more of Russell’s Greatest Hits, I really hope we see more of Carla because I’m already desperate to see her reaction to “where Ruby ran off to” once she learns about it.


  2. Snowmonk
    December 26, 2023 @ 7:28 pm

    “Relatedly, apparently the woman who shouts at the stage when Ruby’s band is performing is played by the same actress as the woman who talks to Isaac Newton at the beginning of Wild Blue Yonder. The actress’s name: Susan Twist”

    Adding to this, during a recent Blue Peter segment where RTD is interviewed in his office, hanging on the wall was a fake magazine cover showing an ‘iconic’ British star: and it seems to be the same actress but this time the name is Susan Triad…

    Rewatching the episode just now, a tiny moment that I think made this new Doctor/companion team instantly click for me is when The Doctor earnestly agrees with Carla that Ruby is ‘gorgeous’ and Ruby reacts with an ‘oh shut up’ eye roll. Can’t wait to see them again.


  3. Cyrano
    December 26, 2023 @ 8:56 pm

    This one didn’t quite work for me, despite the many clearly good things about the episode.

    It seemed to lack a bit of thematic or emotional resonance at times: Labyrinth, without the crucial push of the one chasing the baby having wished them away in the first place, It’s a Wonderful Life without the George Bailey character really doubting their presence in their family’s lives – or getting to see the impact of their not being around.


  4. Richard Pugree
    December 26, 2023 @ 9:04 pm

    “Davies is getting a lot of mileage out of what high-end puppetry can do. First Beep the Meep, obviously, but now the Goblin King”

    One of the things that I’m finding fascinating but also really disheartening about Unleashed is how much better Beep the Meep and the Goblins look in the behind the scene footage than they do in the episodes as aired.

    Part of that is just aesthetic preference (I’m always going to prefer a puppet that looks like a puppet), but I find it a real shame that the weird sheen that ends up covering those puppets in the final edit, once they’ve had all the layers of cgi tweaking and greenscreening, just makes it look like the whole thing is ‘cgi’ – or at least ‘not real’ in some vaguer way.

    So an unfortunate effect, for me, of Unleashed revealing of how much skill and effort has gone into everything, is my reaction of ‘why’d they bother?’. I just wish the goblins looked as good as Hoggle, you know?

    Fascinating to see RTD in a post-Moffat mode though I’m not thrilled about yet another setting up of a companion as a mystery…

    But, I mean, really what does any of that matter really when you’ve got Gatwa and Gibson doing their thing? They’re going to be SO much fun.


    • Harlequin
      December 27, 2023 @ 4:29 am

      I think you’ve nailed what’s been niggling me about the puppets. The process of tweaking aspects like their facial expressions with CG appears to result in nearly everything about them looking CG. This was also the case with the tweaked goblins who I was surprised to discover were real costumed actors. The CG passes seem to be masking the skills involved and lowering the quality of the final effect instead of positively enhancing it.


  5. Camestros Felapton
    December 26, 2023 @ 9:10 pm

    It was a very good introduction to Ruby Sunday as a character. While she has an attached mystery she doesn’t have all the ambiguity that Clara had with her intro-by-stages, or the Amelia-Amy intro in The Eleventh Hour.


  6. Lou Qualm
    December 27, 2023 @ 4:01 am

    Everything character-based in the episode chimed beautifully and Ncuti and Gibson’s chemistry resonates throughout their scenes together. It was a blast and completes a delightful 4 in a row streak of “Holy cow! Doctor Who is fun again”.

    However, here’s a story resolved through the use of magic gloves, a monumental bit of luck (or extraordinary hand to eye coordination) in nagivating a church spire through floating goblin ship into the guts of an awesome puppet king and then catching an (unscathed) infant plummeting from an enormous height. As much as this staggeringly bonkers set of circumstances delights my inner surealist it does give me pause for thought.

    Didn’t stop me from being thoroughly delighted though.


    • Harlequin
      December 27, 2023 @ 4:34 am

      I didn’t feel the gloves were any more magic than most of the Doctor’s technology and we already know how good he is at catching things. As for nailing the Goblin King with the spire, yes, that does seem to have been a remarkable… er… Coincidence 😉


  7. Richard Lyth
    December 27, 2023 @ 4:21 am

    I’m hoping Anita Dobson’s character is like the Deadpool of the Whoniverse, breaking the fourth wall every time she shows up. “Whoa, that’s a big spaceship! You can see where all the Disney money’s going!” “Do you miss the Chibnall era, Doctor? Do you miss all the repressed lesbian yearnings and planets with names like Rancid Old Bollocks?”


  8. prandeamus
    December 27, 2023 @ 7:13 am

    Miscellaneous random thoughts after a first viewing
    * Bonkers (in a good way)
    * When the Doctor says that Lulubelle is a great name, he became the Doctor for me. That child-like acceptance of things the “cool” people don’t like. If you like, his inner nine-year-old. Shades of early Matt Smith, which is a good thing in my book. Being childish sometimes is important.
    * Remarkable precision on the “wonderful life” front. We can tell that Ruby has made a difference to the lives of her adopted mother and grandmother, in a remarkably short time.
    * No one has mentioned Gremlins? And frankly, the goblins looked more like Mogwai at the start.
    * The plotting of you’ve had a lot of bad-luck recently … coincidence … therefore eat babies … was a bit fuzzy. I was watching late with a belly full of Boxing Day junk food. Maybe will look better second time around.
    * I don’t have the vocabulary to discuss colour grading in any detail, but yes, this looks much better.
    * Crack in the wall looks familiar, but then again all cracks look the same, right? I hope Ruby’s family can claim on that UNIT insurance policy. They seemed remarkably blase about having a two inch wide structural crack in a top-floor flat.
    * For all the talk about Anita Dobson’s character, what would it actually add to anyone’s enjoyment if she did turn out to be the Rani? Diddly squat. A character who turned up in two not-especially-regarded episodes in the 80s, whose only defining feature is “Master, but camper”. I hope RTD has higher expectations. A whole season without returning villains would be fantastic.
    * Generous of RTD to bring up “I’m an orphan too” stuff, I suppose. I don’t care for the Timeless Child lore very much. Funny how soon the Doctor has forgotten Yaz, though? Well, given Chibwriting, maybe that’s for the best.
    * How does this work to someone who knows nothing about the show – and one supposes there will be plenty of them in the US if Disney+ distribution means anything? There are shades of “Rose” in character introduction. Yep, “I’m the Doctor”, yep “Bigger on the inside”. Where are we with “it can go anywhere in time and space” …


  9. Annie j
    December 27, 2023 @ 7:31 am

    The only thing that really annoyed me about this episode was that once again, its set in London and it really didn’t need to be, since the Ruby Road church is in Manchester.
    But it’s as if Davies can’t comprehend that there are cities outside of London which are just as important, and it’s the one thing I really liked about the Chibnall era, though of course, Moffat did experiment with it in his last season.
    I also hope the magic gloves get destroyed in the next episode.


    • Daibhid C
      December 31, 2023 @ 10:34 am

      I was going to say that RTD did several stories in Cardiff, then I remembered that yes, he did, and the central joke was always “imagine something happening in Cardiff!”

      And it’s not like RTD is conceptually opposed to setting stories in Manchester, at least outwith Doctor Who, but he does seem to be pretty wedded to the idea the companions have to be based in London for some reason.


  10. Fynn H.
    December 27, 2023 @ 9:24 am

    I wonder if the magic gloves are also anti-radiation gloves.


  11. Patman
    December 27, 2023 @ 10:32 am

    Totally disagree about the Gatwa theme, BTW. I like it, and I’m perpetually amused that it lifts an element from Coil’s ‘Anal Staircase’ song.


  12. Przemek
    December 27, 2023 @ 10:40 am

    I really enjoyed this one, it was just lovely. Not much to think about and a bit light on plot, but hey, it’s a Christmas special. And both of the main leads are just amazing. I also thought of Clara when watching Gibson and it makes me very excited.

    It’s weird to think that it’s the second time we did “the newly regenerated Doctor resolves the plot by impaling the villain with a church steeple”.


    • HelenaHermione
      December 27, 2023 @ 10:33 pm

      Callback to the 12th Doctor didn’t cross my mind until now.


  13. Rei Maruwa
    December 27, 2023 @ 10:56 am

    The club scene is so striking to me as the kind of setting we never would have seen in any previous version of Doctor Who, which is great.


    • Dan
      December 29, 2023 @ 9:57 pm

      They were in a night club in The War Machines. There were some differences though.


      • Einarr
        December 31, 2023 @ 12:46 pm

        How could anyone forget the Doctor’s fab gear?!


  14. Anton B
    December 27, 2023 @ 12:15 pm

    In RTD’s first revival of Doctor Who he crashed a British soap sensibility into Sci-Fi. In his second go round he seems to be pulling the same trick but this time it’s a madly farcical kit hen sink drama crashed into a fairy-tale fantasy. Indeed I’ll bet ‘Fantasy’ was the hashtag at the tone meeting. So, the Goblin song…happened, relying heavily on the post Xmas lunch goodwill of the viewers and a plot-point that was best not examined too closely, that new companion Ruby Sunday was the accident-prone victim of aggressive, baby snatching goblins. The detail to latch on to here is that these were not Space Goblins from the planet Gob. These are proper magical beings with unknowable powers and technology powered by ropes. This is what cunning old RTD was setting up in his trilogy with Tennant and Tate. The Doctor, sprinkling a superstitious line of salt at the edge of the universe, has opened a portal, not only to the Toymaker but to any number of as yet unknown fantastical entities.

    I loved Ncuti Gatwa’s ‘Rizz’ Doctor, literally “learning the ropes” assessing the situation, solving the puzzles and generally sorting everything out with a sprinkling of Disney fairy dust. Super grip gloves? Okay, even the sonic and the psychic paper seemed a little more magical this time. As well as flirting with everyone and bonding with Ruby, the Doctor seemed a little too intrigued with old bed-ridden granny, Cherry Sunday, I think we’ll meet her again, in the past.

    Oh and “Susan Twist”? You’re kidding me!


  15. dmd
    December 27, 2023 @ 1:01 pm

    I really hope we’re not headed for a big reveal that the hooded woman is an older Ruby, and she had to abandon her-self as a baby. Because that would be directly cribbing off of Red Dwarf’s Ouroboros episode. But as long as we’re speculating wildly, maybe the way to fix the timeless child would be to say that there are countless timeless children, Ruby being one of them, being deposited in Manchester by a being from another dimension (or Tecteun). That would make the Doctor less a super-special and unique brooding loner and more an adoptee in search of lost siblings.


  16. Corey Klemow
    December 27, 2023 @ 9:07 pm

    I think the default assumption I’m going to take for any Mysterious Character is that they’re Iris Wildthyme until definitively stated otherwise. I enjoyed thinking Jinx Monsoon might be Iris Wildthyme so now I’m going to think Mrs. Flood is Iris Wildthyme, but I’m also going to stubbornly cling to the idea that there’s still a chance that Jinx Monsoon might also be Iris Wildthyme. Somebody has to be Iris Wildthyme eventually. And if they can’t, then nobody can. Or everybody. (See the 61st anniversary special, “The Infinity Irises.”) [IRIS OUT]


  17. Jane
    December 28, 2023 @ 1:58 am

    Okay, I’ll buy that Mrs. Flood is Susan.

    But with a name like Flood, I’d say Susan is also descended from River Song.


  18. Ric Crossman
    December 28, 2023 @ 3:40 am

    “Anyway, that’s how you can tell Mrs. Flood is Susan.”

    Another clue, perhaps, is the decision to break the fourth wall at Christmas.


  19. Aylwin
    December 28, 2023 @ 10:39 am

    Something else that feels very Clara-coded in the writing is the deviousness and emtional ruthlessness of deflecting Carla from the whole Lulubelle/goblin question by bringing up the Davina phone-call. (OK, I also thought of Cersei Lannister and “making an honest emotion serve a dishonest purpose”.) It’s a nice touch to then have her try to refuse the hug, insisting that she’s all right now really, presumably because she feels guilty about the manipulation, so that the character doesn’t come across as too ruthless.


    • Aylwin
      December 28, 2023 @ 12:03 pm

      In the context of Clara comparisons, it’s also quite funny that Carla’s name is a very close anagram of Clara, and Ruby is her daughter.


      • Jane
        December 30, 2023 @ 2:28 am

        A fun little game is to identify the coincidences between the show and your own life.

        For example, I saw Labyrinth for the very first time this past Thanksgiving (gobble gobble) on a plane ride to California. It was therefore rather gratifying to see it in my quasi-sentient Doctor Who for Christmas. Especially as on the plane ride back a couple weeks ago I happened to watch It’s A Wonderful Life for the first time in ages. And it too shows up in my Doctor Who. Go figure.

        Did anything jump out at you?


        • Sean Dillon
          January 1, 2024 @ 11:02 am

          Equally, I was talking with a friend about my rather disquieting relationship with riffs on the last half hour of It’s A Wonderful Life just a few days prior to Christmas. And the contrast between those riffs and The Church on Ruby Road is startling.


  20. Aylwin
    December 28, 2023 @ 11:22 am

    I find something kind of interesting about juxtaposing the brashness with which the episode centres unabashed fantasy elements, without a murmur of Classic Who-style science-fictionalising, with the awkward handwaving around the degree to which the non-fantastical setting of the story is still a TV fantasyland rather than the real world of 2023 (Polaroids, huge London flat). Unsurprisingly, RTD feels the pull of fidelity to social realism more strongly than genre constraints, but not strongly enough to actually not to the unlikely things rather than just acknowledging their improbability.

    The elision of large chunks of the traditional new companion’s introduction to the Tardis and invitation to travel, implicitly treating it as a given that the audience know how this all works, is also interesting in the context of the effort to revive flagging audiences, Disney, “season 1” etc. It’s a surprising refusal to include some of the most obvious components for making it an easy jumping-on point. It has been suggested that some of this is being held back for the start of the season and that that is envisioned as the big moment for grabbing new viewers. If so, the awkwardness of it really underlines the degree to which this story, as well as the anniversary specials, has been defined by the unplanned context of RTD’s return (the timing of the 60th anniversary, the fact that the Tennant-Tate nostalgia special idea was running before that of bringing Davies back as showrunner), rather than by what he might have chosen to do if simply handed the post-Chibnall mess and the brief of sorting things out.


    • Aylwin
      December 28, 2023 @ 11:25 am

      *actually not do the unlikely things


    • prandeamus
      December 28, 2023 @ 11:50 am

      I thought the London flat was disproportionally large for a family on apparently modest earnings. Then again, there was a throwaway line — about not moving because it was on a social rate, or something of that kind. I found myself wondering if it was shot in the same place as the Temple-Noble house. In the Star Beast, they go crashing through loft walls. In TCORR the Doctor is seen jumping along the roof.

      To your Disney comment, I agree that it does not feel quite like a traditional “new companion discovering the Doctor for the first time” story. And let’s face it, RTD is very capable of writing exactly such an episode (exhibit 1: Rose, exhibit 2: Smith and Jones.). Moffatt and Chibnall can do it perfectly well. If this episode is marketed as a jumping on point for new viewers, there was a lot left unsaid. It doesn’t seem like an unforced error he’d make under normal circumstances. Having said that, I’m not RTD so what would I know? Time will tell.


      • Einarr
        December 28, 2023 @ 1:43 pm

        It’s the same Bad Wolf Studios interior set as Donna’s house, yes.

        The general consensus from RTD, Jane Tranter, etc is that the really big Disney+ push is in May for “Series 1”. I agree with Aylwin above that an extra Christmas special in between the 60th anniversary knees-up and this big relaunch is a touch awkward (it was added in after the initial commission of 3×60 for 2023 + 8-ep season for 2024), but I suspect 14.1 (or the first episode of the new season, however you want to refer to it) will be done in such a way that it works as an intro.


  21. Annie J
    December 28, 2023 @ 11:40 am

    Just an odd thought I had, but does anyone else think the nightclub scene is actually the 15th doctor travelling back in Time from some point after he’s met Ruby, she tells him she’s clumsy, and he says it’s worse than that, but at that point, he doesn’t know about the goblins does he?


    • Scurra
      December 28, 2023 @ 8:40 pm

      There was the specific comment about him suddenly being next to her after she was clearly looking down on him on the dance floor, which suggested to me that he was indeed ‘dropping in’ on her in the past after he had met her properly later. Which felt a bit like a call-back to Smith & Jones. (And that makes me wonder if there were other call-backs to ‘first companion’ episodes beyond, say, the crack. After all, that’s the sort of thing that Davies clearly enjoys doing.)


  22. Dan
    December 29, 2023 @ 10:00 pm

    I think the reason the goblins couldn’t go back further is surely because the goblin king was staked through the heart like a vampire with a church spire. It was a very religious resolution.


    • Jane
      December 30, 2023 @ 2:43 am

      “So fiercely did they cling to life they’d be impossible to kill, save by the use of bowships. Swift vessels that fire mighty bolts of steel, transfixing monsters through the heart. For only if the heart be destroyed will a vampire die.” Ancient mythology.

      I wonder if the TARDIS is also the Church on Ruby Road.


  23. Joni Smith
    December 30, 2023 @ 3:11 pm

    Glad to see the series follow up on one of the most noticeable missed opportunities of The Shakespeare Code. The ‘different form of physics, a /language/’ is almost a direct reference to that idea. 🙂

    On the other hand, considering the antagonists of an episode as beings with their own lives and perspectives was a /good/ thing about Doctor Who’s occasional sci-fi-ness and drive to explain things. Sincerely hope the goblins in this episode aren’t part of a trend of ‘simpler’ villains, but it’s just that focusing on this would have been /too much stuff/ to stuff in a Christmas special that already has a lot of other wonderful nuanced storylines. (On the other hand, both The Christmas Invasion and The Runaway Bride had an acknowledgement of something similar (or, at least, ‘killing them all would be bad’) as a core part of their respective narratives, so…)

    I mean, Doctor Who has never had a shortage of /sci-fi/ pure evil and straightforward ‘monsters’, but it seems to me that it’s easier for an audience to accept that a /mythological being/ is essentially evil by definition than a creature that /just exists/ in a sciencey world.

    And the goblins don’t even represent an interesting idea to fight against, they just eat babies. If they did represent one, the thing I’m complaining about /just might/ still work, in a more symbolic way. I’m not seeing that so far, though


  24. Daibhid C
    December 31, 2023 @ 10:38 am

    I am so looking forward to a proper technobabble scene where the Doctor has to talk about mavitation, mavimetrics and mavitons…


    • Einarr
      December 31, 2023 @ 12:48 pm

      I hope Frontios’ bad guy has been rechristened Mavis…


  25. Ribbet
    December 31, 2023 @ 6:43 pm

    My first thought was “Oooooh, I like this Doctor”. Cool, eloquent, thoughtful & enthusiastic.
    My second was “Fantasy, Magic Realism… I’d really like to know what Lawrence Miles makes of this”. Does missing his reviews of the show make me a bad person?


    • Aquanafrahudy
      January 1, 2024 @ 5:10 am

      He did post about it on Twitter, and, surprisingly, liked it, for the most part.


  26. Mark Tonderai
    January 1, 2024 @ 8:28 am

    Hello my name is Mark Tonderai and I just wanted to reach out and say thank you for noticing my bannister shot! Playing with focal points and using movement are just two of the brush strokes I like to use. But again thank you for noticing.

    On to your next point about me being black directing both Rosa and Ncuti. The truth is was I reached out to the show not the other way around. I am usually the only black person on the floor and I knew Ncuti would be. I also knew he would be under extreme pressure. I wanted to help is all I wanted to do. Just be there help find the doctor together. One of the first things I did was take in a series of 6 posters done by my friend Marcus Stamps (I would love to share them as they’re wonderful) of Ncuti as the doctor to illustrate the point: he was the doctor. The look on his face was priceless as it hit home. I also loved what he says next ‘my mum will love this!’

    I think Millie and him are incredible truth tellers which is what I call people who transcend acting.

    Look the truth is I feel so humbled to have done this because of WHEN it went out. Christmas Day, on the one day people have lots of unconditional love in their homes, after a lovely Christmas meal that’s filled you up, folks invited us into their homes to watch our show. I can not begin to tell you how special and how such a gift that is.


    • Elizabeth Sandifer
      January 1, 2024 @ 1:59 pm

      Ah, well, hello and welcome to the site! I’m relieved to hear that you approached Chibnall and Davies and not the other way around. Hopefully Davies will be proactive in finding other Black voices to work on the show behind the camera. Although I’d certainly be delighted to see your work on the show again.


  27. Fynn H.
    January 8, 2024 @ 5:44 am

    Is this just my brain seeing patterns that aren’t there or might the character of Carla be a conscious effort by RTD to counterbalance his depiction of a foster mom as the villain in “Partners in Crime”?

    On a different note, I agree with a previous commenter that the moral simplicity of the goblins is potentially worrying if it becomes a habit for villains in the Gatwa era, but I have to say that I really enjoy the lack of moralistic speeches by the Doctor in this episode – he just gets the job done in the climax without ever berating the Goblin king about how bad it is to eat babies. I mean, it’s obvious why he doesn’t do that – it would be ridiculous because eating babies is so obviously evil that it doesn’t need to be explained to anyone – but I hope it’s emblematic of his future behaviour, in the sense that he will only give these kinds of speeches if it’s absolutely inevitable.


    • Ross
      January 8, 2024 @ 7:05 am

      When one’s villain has just done an elaborate musical number about how much they enjoy eating babies, a big moralizing speech about it being wrong to eat babies might seem like just a bit Too Much.


      • Fynn H.
        January 8, 2024 @ 7:11 am

        Yes, but I honestly wouldn‘t have put it past the Tenth and maybe even the Fourteenth Doctor to still do it.


        • Fynn H.
          January 8, 2024 @ 7:31 am

          By which I‘m not saying that Davies would actually write such an idiotic speech, but that it would feel more in-character for (most) previous New Who Doctors than for Gatwa to hold it. But maybe there is no actual evidence in the writing so far that Fifteen is different in this respect and I‘m just projecting my hopes onto him, because for my money it would be a good thing if the Doctor was doing less moral grandstanding (while nevertheless acting morally, of course).


          • Ross
            January 8, 2024 @ 11:20 am

            I rather like that, in spite of the seriousness of the situation, both the Doctor and Ruby are clearly having an absolute ball with this – they dispense utterly with the usual “Companion has to be dragged kicking and screaming into the plot because this is all quite mad and people don’t want to do mad things”. Ruby rolls with EVERYTHING this plot throws at her, and it’s got to be a deliberate contrast to Rose, who at first rejects the Doctor, only to turn back when the temptation becomes too great, that Ruby doesn’t even have to be asked: once she puts it together, she goes running out into the street to find the Doctor.

            Anyway, it kind of brought to mind the Simpsons episode that’s a 101 Dalmatians pastiche, where Lisa turns back from seeing Mr. Burns’s evil plan revealed to find that Bart is humming along to the “Be our Guest” parody, because the song about three-digit-puppy-murder is, after all, quite a catchy little tune.

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