Home Doctor Who 2024 - Season 1 Doctor Who Second Sight Review: The Legend of Ruby Sunday

Doctor Who Second Sight Review: The Legend of Ruby Sunday

Will Ruby Sunday (MILLIE GIBSON) uncover the secret of her birth? BBC STUDIOS 2023,James Pardon

The Legend of Ruby Sunday pits our new UNIT family against death itself in a darkly witty episode which plays cheekily with fan theories

 

These Second Sight reviews aim to take advantage of multiple re-watches and a week to let the episode sink in. In fact, by the time you read this, Blogtor will already be en route to the UK so he can watch it one more time, this time on the big screen, as part of the double bill with tonight’s Empire of Death. As the only two-parter this season, though, re-watches are as frustrating as they are illuminating. Every new detail you notice is also a new question. Every new nuance spotted fires up thoughts of another theory. This may just be one of the longest weeks to wait in the history of Doctor Who.

 

Kate Lethbridge Stewart (JEMMA REDGRAVE), Ruby Sunday (MILLIE GIBSON) & Rose (YASMIN FINNEY), in The Legend of Ruby Sunday ,BBC STUDIOS 2023,Alistair Heap The three stand in UNIT HQ, looking up at the screens
Kate Lethbridge Stewart (JEMMA REDGRAVE), Ruby Sunday (MILLIE GIBSON) & Rose (YASMIN FINNEY), in The Legend of Ruby Sunday ,BBC STUDIOS 2023,Alistair Heap

There’s no a moment wasted, as we get straight down to business in a breathless thrill ride of an episode

Not that there’s much waiting around in the episode itself. The Legend of Ruby Sunday begins with a shower of sparks as the TARDIS skids across the main floor of UNIT HQ before slamming to a halt. The Doctor emerges and, after a bit of a hug-fest with his old friends, is straight down to business. He’s a man on a mission, unusually. The exposition of things we already know are sped through, and met with what’s basically with that old old Harriet Jones gag “Yes, we know who she is.”

It’s an appropriate start for a story that wastes no time, its 44 minutes packed with more drama and incident that many of the episodes which run 60 or even 75 minutes long. Despite the frantic pace, the story itself doesn’t feel rushed. Every scene serves a purpose, driving the plot forward, and every line either sheds light on either characters or puzzle pieces. But each individual moment has space to land with the audience, whether its one of humour, emotion, or tension.

 

Colonel Ibrahim (ALEXANDER DEVRIENT), The Doctor (NCUTI GATWA) &
Morris Gibbons (LENNY RUSH) in The Legend of Ruby Sunday ,BBC STUDIOS 2023,Alistair Heap

We finally have a new, true UNIT Family

There’s plenty of all three in The Legend of Ruby Sunday. It’s always been one of Russell T Davies’ fortes as a scriptwriter to move smoothly from laughter to terror without any detectable shift of gears. This is probably one of the best examples of that yet. That’s in no small part to the immediate sense of family created with the UNIT setting and abundance of familiar characters.

In fact, the “UNIT Family” feels well and truly back. They haven’t felt like such a cohesive team since the 1970s if even then. Rose, Mel, Colonel Ibrahim, and Kate are all back. Just a couple of lines (“Even I got that one!”) and standing his ground like a total bad ass as everyone else ducks for cover, are all it takes to make us feel like we really know Ibrahim now. Meanwhile Mel’s tough love approach to the Doctor (“Now stop grissling and fix it!”) is just as effective. It simultaneously evokes her 1980s self while giving her more character depth than her entire two seasons back then.

New additions Morris and Harriet immediately fit in, both eager to please and full of natural warmth. Meanwhile, bringing Carla into the “Nitwit Tower” mix adds to the family feel. Even our potential antagonists, Susan Triad and Mrs. Flood, are familiar faces.

 

Susan Triad (SUSAN TWIST), has a darker secret than any fan theory BBC STUDIOS 2023, Photo: James Pardon

Russell T Davies shows himself peerless at being able to play with, and subvert, audience expectations

There’s also a fun lightness to how the first half of Legend of Ruby Sunday approaches the mysteries. Davies’ season arcs have always been about the breadcrumbs leading us up the garden path. At this stage, though, it’s such a finely honed skill he can play with his own (correct) predictions of fan guesses about where it’s all going. The Doctor dramatically unveils the revelation that S Triad is an anagram of TARDIS. But just as fans pat themselves on the collective back, UNIT burst their bubble with a “Well, obviously.”

Fan theories that the actor Susan Twist’s real name somehow hints that the twist is that she’s Susan, the Doctor’s granddaughter, get an outing. And there’s even a playful teasing of unseen adventures in which the Doctor and Ruby encountered versions of her. Unseen stories that would bring the season total up to ten. They’re literally the episodes we would have gotten in the old days.

 

Kate Lethbridge Stewart (JEMMA REDGRAVE),in The Legend of Ruby Sunday BBC Studios/Bad Wolf – Photo bySophie Mutevelian

Twelve years, and six Doctors, Jemma Redgrave is rightly adored as the successor to Nicholas Courtney’s legacy

You can almost chart the story’s progression though the brilliant performance of Jemma Redgrave as Kate Stewart. It’s now twelve years since she first joined the Doctor Who family and by now she’s truly become the successor to Nicholas Courtney’s legacy as the Brigadier. “Splendid, all of them,” she might say of the six Doctors she’s worked with. (Well, seven if we count David Tennant twice.) It lends both actor and character a certain licence to act as the Doctor’s unofficial godmother.

Redgrave fills every moment on screen with charm, whether raising an eyebrow of “really, Doctor?” at the Time Lord not having the Regeneration Talk with Ruby yet, ruefully admitting the Time Window is ten floors down, like a small child being found by Daddy with the puppy she was forbidden to get, throwing her hands up in exasperation at the Doctor handing out access to her top secret base to the world and Ruby’s mother.

But it also falls to Kate to signal the pivot point where things take a dark turn. The team’s attempt to use the Time Window to identify the woman who left Ruby at the church on Ruby Road starts so hopefully. The Doctor’s laughs at how rubbish UNIT’s technology is, and he and Ruby cheer in excitement as it starts up and they’re enveloped in the VHS tinged past. It ends with a man dead and Kate throwing a scythe-like glare of recrimination at the Doctor after he makes them do what he himself warned was dangerous.

Nobody laughs for the rest of the episode.

 

The Doctor (NCUTI GATWA), finally meets Susan Triad (SUSAN TWIST) in The Legend of Ruby Sunday ,BBC STUDIOS 2023,James Pardon

“It’s the wrong anagram!” may be the most RTD line in the show’s history

“It’s the wrong anagram!” If you had to sum up the Russell T Davies approach to Doctor Who hitting its highest peak in one sentence, it would be that one. The humour may have turned pitch black, but there’s a devilish playfulness to the series of reveals in the episode’s final scenes. “Did you think I was family, Doctor?” mocks Susan Triad and, in a season full of fourth wall breaks, she’s laughing at us too. “S TRIAD Technologies” signifying not “TARDIS Technologies” but “Sue-Tech” is Davies’ most audacious bit of slight of hand hidden in plain sight yet. It’s enough to make us forgive it being an abbreviation not an anagram, no matter what the Doctor says.

All the trails of breadcrumbs laid out this season lead satisfyingly in one direction: Sutekh. The woman whose image has been following them everywhere is the new Servant of Sutekh. The quest to find Ruby’s birth mother brings them instead to Sutekh. The weird groaning sound of the TARDIS: Sutekh himself.

It’s a little amusing to imagine Sutekh dreaming up the flourishes of this scheme. How long did it take him to find a tech billionaire called Sue to front his company to deliver the Sue-Tech pun? Never mind getting an H.Arbinger past UNIT’s crack HR department – possibly by yelling “Look! Over there!” as the paperwork went through.

But then again, he is the One Who Waits. He’s plainly had a lot of time to obsesses about the details. Besides, as anyone who’s seen Pyramids of Mars knows, Sutekh and his fellow Osirans love puzzles and riddles.

Morris Gibbons (LENNY RUSH), UNIT Scientific Advisor BBC STUDIOS 2023, Photo: Sophie Mutevelian

Gabriel Woolf’s tiger-like purr may have sent an instant chill up some fans’ spines, but others may have wondered “Who-tekh?”

Though that’s a key point. The climactic reveal inevitably hits differently for two different parts of the audience. For fans more familiar with the classic era, Gabriel Woolf’s tones of velvety malice were an instant thrill, a moment of anticipation before the name. For those who haven’t seen 1975 serial Pyramids of Mars, it might be more of a mystery as to why a big CGI dog has everyone quite so rattled.

However, it’s a moment the cast sell to both groups with every fibre of their being. It was rare to see Tom Baker’s Doctor scared, but Sutekh terrified him. So it’s appropriate we end The Legend of Ruby Sunday on Ncuti Gatwa’s wide eyed terror as Sutekh’s gift of death closes in…

 

Mrs Flood (ANITA DOBSON) & Cherry (ANGELA WYNTER)BBC STUDIOS 2023,James Pardon

Like any good Part One, The Legend of Ruby Sunday puts some pieces of the puzzle in place while raising more questions. It’s almost time to get the answers…

So where do we go from here? We left Cherry Sunday in the clutches of Mrs. Flood. Though, consider that in the episode’s first half, Mrs. Flood is the only character treated as sinister. Which probably means that she’s actually not, and has been there all along to keep a protective eye on the Sundays. The Doctor and Ruby will presumably escape the skeletal talons of Sue-Tekh to join up with the rest of our heroes.

But beyond that? The first time the Doctor faced Sutekh, victory came through frustrating his plan to escape. But with the near omnipotent God of Death already free, how can he possibly be stopped now? Meanwhile Kate’s “You do not question, you go!” was a nice dramatic way to cover us not knowing why the Doctor wants Ruby in the Time Window. Much more subtle, at least, than an old fashioned “I’ll explain later.” But it means we still don’t know what part that plays in the Doctor’s plan. Could the TARDIS really have betrayed her Doctor? If so, how can that wound between them be put right?

It’s time for answers.

Get your popcorn sorted. Have your jelly babies ready. Turn your mobile off (until 1934 BST tomorrow if necessary). The show’s about to start…

 

 

What awaits,Ruby (MILLIE GIBSON),in the Time Window? ,BBC STUDIOS 2023,James Pardon

Doctor Who’s 2024 season concludes with Empire of Death, dropping at midnight on iPlayer and in cinemas in the UK, and on Disney+ everywhere else except Ireland.

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