Doctor Who Review: “The Church on Ruby Road”

Doctor Who - Christmas 2023 - Picture Shows: The Doctor (Ncuti Gatwa) and Ruby Sunday (Millie Gibson)
The Doctor (Ncuti Gatwa) and Ruby Sunday (Millie Gibson). Photo courtesy DisneyPlus.

Ncuti Gatwa’s first full episode of Doctor Who, ‘The Church on Ruby Road’, is a Christmas fantasy.

The Doctor Who Christmas Special has been a tradition since 2005, when we first see David Tennant’s Doctor deal with ‘The Christmas Invasion’. We already dealt with Ncuti Gatwa’s regeneration in “The Giggle”, which also dealt with much of the trauma the Doctor has been dealing with since the show began.

So in ‘The Church on Ruby Road’, we see a happier Doctor, excited to see what’s on the horizon and dancing at the club. He keeps running into Ruby Sunday (Millie Gibson), a Christmas baby who’s having a series of bad luck incidents. Ruby’s adoptive mother is fostering another baby, which gets kidnapped by goblins. Yep – you read that right. Not aliens that look like goblins. Actual goblins, that apparently live off bad luck coincidences. Ruby teams up with the Doctor to save the baby.

Gatwa continues with the fresh energy we saw at the end of ‘The Giggle’ and takes on the role of the Doctor with glee. Davies is doing a tightrope act of trying to keep the current fans happy while leaving enough room in the plot to bring in potential new fans who might be turned off by the amount of history the show has.

We have the Doctor’s standard ‘I am the Doctor’ bit (this time to a police officer who needs to report one of the bad luck incidents that he stops, and it is wonderful), we have Ruby reacting to the TARDIS being bigger on the inside than it is on the outside, and we even have some time travel shenanigans where Ruby disappears at one point.

We also have a song. As the song had been released two weeks ago with the proceeds going to Children in Need, it’s not really a spoiler to talk about it. I’ll admit: when I heard rumors that there was going to be a musical episode, this was not what I was expecting. But the song (and the whole bit it goes with) is funny enough, and like any good musical song is important to the plot. (Calling the lead singer ‘Janis Goblin’ is a sort of 50/50 on whether it’s a good joke or a bad pun.)

But we also have a fresh start: a Doctor that is distinctively different from the others but not in the way it ‘matters’. And we have that Disney cash going to some great CGI / puppetry of the goblins (and king goblin). Finally, as with the new Doctor Who‘s pilot, ‘Rose’, Davies has the plot focus more on the companion than the Doctor: no doubt to bring in the audience, as the companion has always been the audience surrogate.

The episode leaves some questions unanswered – hopefully to be covered in the upcoming season. Who is Ruby Sunday’s mother and why did she give her up? Why did the neighbor Mrs. Flood know what a TARDIS is at the end but not recognize it earlier in the episode? (Fans are already noting that ‘Flood’ could easily be another variation of ‘Pond’ and ‘River’, but I’m not sure I agree with that one.)

I liked the episode, and felt it was a good start for our new duo. It introduced them enough to get me interested. Gatwa and Gibson will be back in May 2024, and I can’t wait to see what these two get up to. The trailer shows the return of Rose Noble, the two interacting with the Beatles, and of course the hint of Jinx Monsoon and Jonathan Groff have been teased as guest stars.

Doctor Who‘s ‘The Church on Ruby Road’ is available on Disney+ for American viewers, and on the BBC iPlayer for those of you in the UK.

Author: Angie Fiedler Sutton

Angie Fiedler Sutton is a writer, podcaster, and all-round fangirl geek. She has been published in Den of Geek, Stage Directions, LA Weekly, The Mary Sue, and others.

She also produces her own podcast, Contents May Vary, where she interviews geeky people about geeky things. You can see all her work (and social media channels) at angiefsutton.com.


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