With something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue, Doctor Who gets us to The Church On Ruby Road on time

Christmas is a time for treats – and also, on TV, repeats – so it’s little wonder that Russell T Davies usher’s in Ncuti Gatwa’s era with a bit of razzle dazzle to cover up for some of the more familiar elements. In keeping with all of his previous festive specials, Christmas is a backdrop for the story to unfold against (Moffat was the master of making Christmas intrinsic to the advent action) but doesn’t really impact the story of THE CHURCH ON RUBY ROAD.

Something Old

Doctor Who The Church On Ruby Road Review

After an opening monologue that feels like it just might be more about setting up the forthcoming season’s arc than necessarily giving us the abridged version of the new companion’s origin, THE CHURCH ON RUBY ROAD opens in much the same way as ROSE did way back in 2005, dropping us in to the day-to-day life of Ruby Tuesday (Millie Gibson). Ruby’s life is a little more free-spirited and glamourous than that of Rose Tyler, including an appearance on a TV programme hosted by none other than Davina McCall dedicated to reuniting foundlings with their long-lost families. This time, though, the Doctor’s intervention is more overt than his surprise appearance in Rose’s life. The Doctor is surveilling Ruby. She’s already caught his eye as surely as he’s caught her about to be spilled drink.

Something New

Doctor Who The Church On Ruby Road Review

This is the first time we’re really getting to see Ncuti Gatwa’s Doctor in action and there’s a real sense of freshness abounding. Alluding to the comment at the end of THE GIGGLE about “doing therapy out of order”, this Doctor feels liberated, unburdened by the storied past and mischievously curious about the future. He’s back to pootling around the universe, following things that pique his interest and – something I’m not sure we’ve ever seen before – just enjoying himself. Likewise, our introduction to Ruby Tuesday brings us energy, a bubbly personality and likeability in spades. She’s at ease with herself and doesn’t hesitate to throw herself into the fray when the occasion demands, before she’s even met the Doctor.

Ruby’s unconventional family set-up is a great too and I hope this introductory episode isn’t the last time we see her adopted mum Carla Sunday (Michelle Greenridge) and her gran Cherry Sunday (Angela Wynter) although if RTD stays true to form it certainly won’t be. We also have a new sonic “screwdriver”, artfully reconfigured this time to more resemble the twenty-first centuries most ubiquitous artefact: the mobile phone. But the fun invention is surely the mavity-inverting (still not loving that running gag) power gloves. I hope we see them as often as we do the psychic paper and the new sonic smartphone. The other notably new thing is, after showing us the Doctor Dances, he now sings as well with a full-blown musical number erupting in the middle of the action – more successfully than, say, in RETURN OF THE JEDI or THE MARVELS – and the Doctor and Ruby signing a reprise (and who can blame them? The Goblin Song is a bop) as they escape the clutches of The Goblin King. Speaking of which…

Something Borrowed

Doctor Who The Church On Ruby Road Review

Davies is a fantastically skilled writer in his own right, but he’s also wise enough to beg, borrow and steal ideas from elsewhere to infuse into his take on Doctor Who. I’ve covered before his liberal homages from BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER and the MCU but here he borrows from another festive favourite: GREMLINS. A horde of giggling creatures running around unseen, tinkering and sabotaging things so they go wrong and cause accidents is straight out of Joe Dante’s 1985 classic only of course here the twist is those accidents are seasoning to improve the nutritional content of the goblin’s favourite food: babies. THE CHURCH ON RUBY ROAD’s Goblin King, on the other hand, is far more THE HOBBIT than it is LABYRINTH and perhaps we should be thankful for that small mercy. The Goblins are another of Nu-Who’s they’ve-always-been-there-we-just-haven’t-come-across-them before monsters although their ability to manipulate the timelines could account for their going undetected for so long feeding on babies. Their unusual culture (aside from its grisly culinary aspects) is another opportunity to see this Doctor in action, his delight in encountering a new lexicon in the language of rope is a facet of the character that’s been missing for too long. Perhaps not since Matt Smith’s hyperactive eleventh Doctor have we had a Time Lord so bewitched, bothered and bewildered by the universe’s infinite diversity (if, of course, the universe even is infinite anymore).

Something Blue

Doctor Who The Church On Ruby Road Review

This is an easy one, isn’t it? It’s the TARDIS. And while we don’t get a host of scenes set in its roomy environs it’s pretty important to the plot as the Doctor travels back in time to undo the Goblin’s meddling with Ruby’s timeline. It adds a veneer of gravitas to Ruby’s foundling story, a dash of predestination that harkens back to Clara Oswald’s portentous beginnings. That there’s more to Ruby’s story is obvious, how it will unfold is genuinely tantalising. Perhaps we should be paying too much attention to the TARDIS anyway. Certainly the surprisingly inscrutable Mrs Flood (Anita Dobson) doesn’t think so. As far as she’s concerned, the Gallifreyan time machines are ten a penny, a sentiment she shares in a mid-credit’s stinger (another borrow, Russell?) that packs a mischievous punch and makes May 2024 seem like an eternity away.

Overall, there’s nothing groundbreaking about THE CHURCH ON RUBY ROAD save perhaps as a post-regeneration story, it echoes ROSE’s ditching of the post-regeneration malaise that became one of the series’ hallmarks. The fifteenth Doctor is here and he’s firing on all cylinders in a frothy, fun-filled launch to his own era. If the lingering presence of an unwanted Tennant is casting a shadow over the series, Gatwa’s sunny personality has more than enough to outshine it. The fifteenth Doctor and Ruby Sunday already feel like a winning combination – and with the lurking menace of The One Who Waits ahead of them, perhaps that’s just as well.

DOCTOR WHO is back, and it feels like it’s ready to focus on the future once again instead of navel-gazing into its own tangled past.

The Church On Ruby Road Review
Score 8

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