“73 Yards” is a captivating episode that blends horror elements, political commentary, and poignant character development. The story echoes Russell T Davies’ previous works while artfully navigating themes of abandonment, resilience, and standing against tyranny. All of this is against an exceptional performance from Millie Gibson as Ruby Sunday.

From the outset, “73 Yards” establishes a chilling folk-horror atmosphere. It begins with the Doctor and Ruby landing the TARDIS on a rugged Welsh coastline. As the two time-travellers marvel at the beautiful coastline, the Doctor accidentally breaks a fairy circle, causing him to vanish, leaving Ruby to fend for herself mysteriously against a spectral entity that follows her relentlessly at a distance of 73 yards—a gap that Ruby is unable to bridge herself.

Doctor Who - 73 Yards - Ruby Sunday (MILLIE GIBSON) The Doctor (NCUTI GATWA) - BBC Studios, Photo by James Pardon
Doctor Who – 73 Yards – Ruby Sunday (MILLIE GIBSON) The Doctor (NCUTI GATWA) – BBC Studios, Photo by James Pardon

As daylight begins to fade without the Doctor’s return, Ruby walks to the local pub, garnering a bed for the night and quite a bit of spooky banter from its pub-goers. After scaring Ruby half to death, one of the locals offers to talk to the mysterious spectre.  He immediately runs away from fear, blaming his fear on Ruby.  What follows for the Doctor’s companion is a similar situation as in “Turn Left,” where the absence of the Doctor pushes Ruby into the spotlight, revealing her true mettle.

The Doctor fails to return, and Ruby must return to her life on Earth.  As time passes and her life continues, she must grapple with isolation. The spectre, referred to as ‘The Woman’, drives away anyone who tries to help her, including Ruby’s mother.

Evil is only every 73 yards away in this week's Doctor Who (c) BBC/Bad Wolf
Evil is only ever 73 yards away in this week’s Doctor Who (c) BBC/Bad Wolf

The reappearance of UNIT and Kate Lethbridge-Stewart adds to Ruby’s frustration and lonely life. After first providing hope for the young woman, the Doctor’s allies on Earth also abandon Ruby.  Their failure to contain the supernatural threat and help the young woman solidifies Ruby’s fate.

Millie Gibson Stands Out as Ruby Sunday

Millie Gibson delivers a masterful performance, capturing Ruby’s evolution from confusion and fear to determined resilience.  “73 Yards” was the first episode filmed in the 15th Doctor’s era.  Due to Ncuti Gatwa’s schedule, the Christmas special and the first three episodes of Season 1 were filmed after “73 Yards.”  Hence, this episode shows Gibson’s first moments on the set of Doctor Who, delivering a nuanced and powerful performance.

Ruby’s journey through decades of isolation is depicted with a haunting realism. Her interactions, or lack thereof, with those around her, including her own mother, Carla, add a layer of tragedy to her story. The scene where Carla abandons Ruby, driven mad by her encounter with The Woman, is particularly heart-wrenching. It underscores the theme of abandonment and its profound impact on Ruby’s psyche.

Millie Gibson’s portrayal of Ruby is nothing short of spectacular. She captures the character’s vulnerability, strength, determination, and depth. The episode provides her with ample opportunity to showcase her range as an actress, from moments of quiet despair to scenes of intense confrontation and resolve. Brilliant work for an 18-year-old actor.

Doctor Who: 73 Yards: Ruby Sunday (MiLLIE GIBSON), BBC Studios Photo by Lara Cornell
Doctor Who: 73 Yards: Ruby Sunday (MiLLIE GIBSON), BBC Studios Photo by Lara Cornell

Echoes of Present-Day Political Fears

As Ruby’s life passes into her 40s, the episode takes a political turn with the introduction of Roger ap Gwilliam, a character who draws clear parallels to the authoritarian figures in Davies’ “Years & Years” and  Stephen King’s “The Dead Zone.”

Aneurin Barnard portrays ap Gwilliam as a mad, nuclear-armed Prime Minister who poses a grave threat to the safety of the world.  He is a chilling representation of modern political fears. His rise to power and the ensuing danger of nuclear war draws uncomfortable parallels to real-world political climates.

Doctor Who - 73 Yards,Roger AP Gwilliam (ANEURIN BARNARD), BBC Studios, Photo by James Pardon
Doctor Who – 73 Yards,Roger AP Gwilliam (ANEURIN BARNARD), BBC Studios, Photo by James Pardon

This threat enables Ruby to find meaning in her life as she remembers the Doctor’s comment about the threat ap Gwilliam posed to the world.  Using her cunning and patience, Ruby saves the world with The Woman to instil fear and ultimately bring about his resignation. This clever narrative device ties the episode’s supernatural and political elements together seamlessly.

Unlike “Turn Left”, the resolution of ap Gwilliam’s threat does not end Ruby’s ordeal.  She continues to live her life into old age and revisits the TARDIS.  During her dying breathes, it is revealed that the spectre following her all her life is an older Ruby.

The spectre and perhaps Ruby’s choice to stop ap Gwilliam’s role brings time into a full circle back to the beginning, restoring the Doctor’s presence in the universe.  It brings a satisfying, albeit bittersweet, resolution to Ruby’s ordeal, echoing the complex narrative layers seen in “Turn Left.” The timey-wimey elements, characteristic of Doctor Who, are employed here to excellent effect, creating a narrative that is both engaging and thought-provoking

Susan Twist and Mrs Flood

Both Susan Twist and Mrs Flood return in this episode.  But there is no resolution to these two mysterious characters’ roles in the season’s arc.  Nor does either character move the plot forward.  Another tease from the showrunner, Russell T Davies.

In Conclusion

The episode runs deliberately slow, allowing for a gradual build-up of tension and suspense. This slow-burn approach effectively immerses the audience in Ruby’s plight and heightens the impact of the more dramatic moments. The shifts in tone, from horror to political thriller to emotional drama, are handled skillfully, ensuring that the episode remains cohesive despite its complex narrative structure.

“73 Yards” is a testament to Doctor Who’s versatility and enduring appeal. The episode explores abandonment, as Ruby’s journey reflects the fear and resilience inherent in being left utterly alone. This emotional depth, combined with the political allegory of standing up to dictators, makes for a compelling watch. 73 Yards not only reaffirms the strength of the series but also sets a high bar for future episodes.

 

 

2 COMMENTS

  1. A review here that closely aligns with my initial take-away. I know a lot of folks are very much disappointed with the lack of better-explained ending, but I suspect this was a bit of world-building for our Companion…and is now setting us up for a better understanding of what Ruby is all about as we move along. I thought it was a brilliant concept, and it was the episode I’ve enjoyed the most this season (by far). I think Gibson did a wonderful job throughout. I am now looking forward to giving it another watch this week, and I do suspect this ep will be on my list of all-time favorite episodes…I truly thought it was that good.

  2. I really liked it, but I did think the audience could have used more of the menace behind Gwilliam.

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