Doctor Who “73 Yards” REVIEW

    It’s official, the new season of Doctor Who is now halfway done. Doctor Who “73 Yards”, again penned by showrunner Russell T Davies, might be the strangest episode of the season yet. The adventure sees the TARDIS materialise on the coast of Wales, where the Doctor (Ncuti Gatwa) and Ruby (Millie Gibson) encounter a mysterious circle. Shortly after, the Doctor vanishes into thin air. Where did he go? Can Ruby find her way back? And who’s the mysterious woman (Hilary Hobson) who’s always off in the distance watching?

    This episode is very much a Doctor-lite episode, in the same vein as something like Love & Monsters, Blink, and Turn Left. It’s very much an opportunity to see Ruby in action on her own, trying to save the world and find her Doctor. The episode was also the first of the series produced, so we’re effectively watching Gibson settle into the role here. This adventure was directed by Dylan Holmes Williams, who also directed next week’s “Dot and Bubble”.

    WARNING – Full spoilers below for “73 Yards”

    Millie Gibson as Ruby Sunday in Doctor Who: 73 Yards (via BBC Press Office)

    Fairy Circle

    The episode opens without a cold open. Instead, the title and writer credit appear in the opening shot, with the cast following thereafter. Having an episode of Doctor Who without the opening credits is a strange decision. While it was probably designed to keep the episode moving and keep us following Ruby from the beginning, it was jarring. The opening of the episode looks divine, though. Shot beautifully over the clifftops, complete with the Doctor seeming really happy to be there. It’s his only scene in the episode and an information dump.

    He mentions the “war between the land and the sea”, which is the title of a long-rumoured spin-off series. Also set up is the politician Roger ap Gwilliam (Aneurin Barnard), who we knew would debut in this episode. It was a nice way to subtly set up the episode without giving everything away. Unfortunately, the Doctor steps on a bit of string and breaks a fairy circle. Between this and last week’s landmine, the Doctor loves stepping on things that take him out of action.

    This leaves Ruby unable to access the TARDIS, with a strange woman off in the distance. The woman follows her, always far away, never moving any closer. It’s unsettling, to say the least, especially when a hiker (Susan Twist) turns up. She’s been in every episode so far, and Ruby finally thinks she recognises her. It’s progress, even if she can’t remember her exactly yet. This is a very exciting sign. The hiker approaches the woman in the distance, and runs off screaming, with even her probably powerful character unaware of what’s going on, running scared, this is a spooky opening.

    Ncuti Gatwa as The Doctor and Millie Gibson as Ruby Sunday in Doctor Who: 73 Yards (via BBC Press Office)

    Ruby Abandoned

    This scary stuff continues into the pub, where we meet up with some of the guest stars. Most notably, Sian Phillips who plays Enid Meadows. She gets a bit of a spooky monologue in about magic, but it’s quickly revealed as a prank. Despite some close-up shots on sweet angles, the whole sequence here is a big pile of nothing. It’s a little disappointing for what was teased as a foray into folk horror, but still very well made. Ruby stays at the pub for a couple of days, but is quickly forced out after people approach the woman in the distance, get scared, and run away.

    It’s a pattern that continues even as Ruby comes back to London. Not listed in the episode’s credits were Carla (Michelle Greenidge) and Cherry (Angela Wynter), who make an appearance back in London. Soon enough, Carla also approaches the woman, gets scared, and completely abandons Ruby. Mrs Flood (Anita Dobson), another surprise character, witnesses the scene in the street and says it’s got nothing to do with her. I’m assuming we’re supposed to take that literally knowing how powerful she is.

    It’s a devastating sequence of events, showing off just how talented Gibson is even when she doesn’t even have too many lines. Even Kate Stewart (Jemma Redgrave), yet another surprise character (who I predicted would appear in our preview) can’t save Ruby. Despite a promising start, her UNIT soldiers get scared of the woman. Kate hears something over the earpiece and shuts down the whole operation. Although her talk of what UNIT does when the Doctor’s not around feels like a spin-off setup. By the end, though, Ruby’s truly alone. It’s a really devastating few scenes.

    Millie Gibson as Ruby Sunday in Doctor Who: 73 Yards (via BBC Press Office)

    Fascism Averted

    We see the years quickly pass for Ruby. She turns 25, then 30, then 40. The fact that Millie Gibson could pass for 40 is the most unbelievable thing in this episode. I didn’t buy it for a second. Despite the fact this sequence in 2046 was my favourite thing in the episode, her age was a glaring fault. Still, it’s the companion singlehandedly stopping a fascist Prime Minister hellbent on nuclear destruction. That’s kind of awesome. Roger ap Gwilliam, despite the Doctor’s warning, is still a very scary man.

    He’s scarily charismatic, trying to make himself relatable to the concerns of the working class. Talking vaguely about needing to “save” the country, border security, cost of living. I know the UK announced a general election only a couple of days ago, which makes this scarily well timed. Although he does seem to be based more on leaders across the pond, hellbent on overturning social order and destroying the world as we know it. Even if it’s set 20 years from now, the issues Davies is touching on still feel very current.

    There’s even nuclear panic, going independent from NATO, too. His relationship with Marti (Sophie Ablett) is especially concerning, he seemed attracted to her, and she calls him a monster. I dread to imagine what happened there. Truly dark stuff. How someone like that gets elected is beyond me. Ruby cleverly infiltrates, volunteering with the party to try and take it down from the inside. She gets exactly 73 yards away from him, having him screaming and running away from the woman, after which he resigns from office. Cool, badass, although I do wonder why didn’t she do that way earlier?

    Aneurin Barnard as Roger ap Gwilliam in Doctor Who: 73 Yards (via BBC Press Office)

    Time Loop

    Despite stopping the most destructive Prime Minister in history, the timeline still doesn’t reset itself. Ruby wonders what it is she has to do, as she spends the next 40 years still being followed by that woman. The TARDIS, still on the clifftops, has grown into the landscape, and become a memorial site. It’s adorned with flowers, although nobody’s quite sure why. The Doctor’s still nowhere to be seen, and Ruby’s now a much older woman (Amanda Walker). I’m most grateful they didn’t try to pass Millie Gibson for an 80 year old, to be perfectly honest.

    Some time later, she lays dying in a futuristic hospital, lamenting the fact that she’s alone and yet still being followed. After the nurse leaves, the woman appears much closer than 73 yards away. Under the shroud of darkness, she approaches Ruby, before the ultimate reveal that old Ruby was the woman the whole time. Not sure how this reveal fits in with people getting scared and abandoning Ruby. It’s simultaneously predictable but nonsensical at the same time, with the episode coming full circle.

    Old Ruby tries to commune with her younger self, who’s just arrived on the coast of Wales. She manages to stop the Doctor from breaking the circle, deleting the episode’s timeline from existence. Sure, it’s supernatural, but the whole thing feels like a handwave. Why did the Doctor disappear when the circle was broken? Are we going to see Gwilliam again? Knowing Ruby remembers none of this, what was the point of the episode? A great character piece, with some great political commentary, but a lot of questions left unanswered.

    Hilary Hobson as The Woman in Doctor Who: 73 Yards (via BBC Press Office)


    “73 Yards” was an interesting piece of television. Sweeping through so many locations and decades, it creates a “full” life for Ruby. But by the end, the whole timeline’s erased and it feels like this episode has no purpose. The episode was saved by a great lead performance, seriously showing off Gibson’s talent. The fascist Gwilliam was well done too, a scary villain I wish they did more with. But this episode, despite all that, seemingly had no impact on the Ruby we’ll be following for the rest of the series. An episode that was great in parts, but the whole thing gets hand waved away at the end.

    I don’t know where the show’s going here. Ruby’s met Kate, seemed to recognise Susan Twist’s recurring character. This timeline’s been erased though, meaning we’ll see that faint recognition again. I assume that Ruby will also need to meet Kate again in the finale. It’s just a strange, and annoying, ending to an otherwise great character piece. Next episode, “Dot and Bubble” looks like another experimental piece. A digital world, with people hunted by slugs. Sounds interesting, and I’m excited to see how Davies tackles this increasingly digital age.

    Doctor Who started its new era on Christmas Day 2023 with “The Church on Ruby Road.” The episode saw Ncuti Gatwa and Millie Gibson debut as the 15th Doctor and Ruby Sunday. Doctor Who premiered at midnight on Saturday, May 11th, on BBC iPlayer with a double-episode bill. The episodes will stream internationally on Disney+, Doctor Who‘s exclusive home outside the UK and Ireland, giving audiences a simultaneous global launch. Episodes will also air on BBC One each week in a primetime slot on Saturday evening.

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