Home Featured TV Shows All TV Shows Movie Reviews Book Reviews Articles Frequently Asked Questions About Us

Doctor Who: The Church on Ruby Road

"Name: The Doctor. Occupation: Not a Doctor. Current status: Just passing by. Employer: Myself. Address: That blue box over there."

Doctor Who meets Labyrinth. A bit. Although it does need to be said that if this Goblin King is meant to be the same one played by David Bowie back in the film, he's clearly let himself go quite a bit.

And so, with Christmas Day's arrival we at long last get our first complete adventure with Ncuti Gatwa's fifteenth Doctor, as well as our long-awaited introduction to his brand-new companion, Ruby Sunday. Was it worth the wait?

It was worth the wait.

The main job that this episode had was to sell us on both Ncuti Gatwa's Doctor and Millie Gibson's Ruby Sunday, and it handled both of those effortlessly. Let's take them in turn: We've seen plenty of previous Doctor's lurking in the periphery of a companion's life without them being aware for the sake of setting themselves up as a mysterious presence woven into the fabric of that companion's larger story. And let's not underestimate this skill. Ncuti Gatwa can lurk with a 'watchful and concerned' look with the best of them, as he clearly demonstrates here.

What we have not seen before is a Doctor who is equally comfortable club dancing in a kilt and tank top with what appears to be nearly inexpressible joy while he waits for an opportune moment to catch a falling glass and deliver an ominous and foreboding farewell. I'd say picture Patrick Troughton doing that, but... just don't picture Patrick Troughton doing that.

So, inside of two minutes of intro montage we get established that the Doctor is still the same as he's always been, AND that he's brand new and capable of things we've never seen before. That's essentially the job brief for a first episode of any Doctor's run, already checked off. So... What do we do for the rest of the episode?

Well, in the short term we segue to the scene that cements Ncuti as The Doctor as firmly as any scene has ever done for any Doctor. I refer of course to the conversation between The Doctor and the police officer whom, for reasons that I'll explain later on I'll be referring to as Officer Pants. After rescuing a pram full of parcels from a falling snowman sculpture, Fifteen is subjected to a post-accident interview with Officer Pants, who just happens to be near the scene. After delivering the fabulous resume line quoted at the top of this review, The Doctor is unable to resist pivoting the conversation to a discussion of how Officer Pants' girlfriend is going to say yes to his marriage proposal on Christmas Day. But not in a Paul McGann 'I just know the future' way. He knows it in a very 'Sherlock-deductive' way, right down to his perfectly defensible reasoning for why he assumed that it would be a 'she' that would be saying yes and not a 'he' – the sort of thing that the show is going to great lengths right now to avoid assuming, and power to them.

Here's to hoping that at some point in the future we get to peek in on the happily married Officer and Mrs. Pants.

It feels a little problematic to praise this scene, as wonderful as it is, since we're all now aware that it exists as a result of studio notes from Disney. And from the moment Disney acquired interest in the property we were all braced for them to start 'doing things' to it.

But honestly, in this note Disney was right. Introducing the Doctor a little earlier in the episode was a good move, and this moment was just so well executed that it's hard to complain about. Also, it's pretty likely that studio notes from Disney to Bad Wolf at this stage are very much of the 'you know what, this point in the script might benefit from X if you wanted to do that,' rather than 'Do this to the script or the Mouse will smite you!'

So, what of the episode's handling of Ruby Sunday? Well, the first thing that obviously needs to be said is that Millie Gibson just radiates an innocent delight that's hard to make come across as natural the way that she seems born to do. Her little air kiss to Cherry as she twirls past her doorway is everything you need to know about who she is as a person. She's smart without feeling the need to seem clever. She's clearly devoted to Carla and Cherry. And while it's obvious that not knowing anything about her biological family is a source of some pain for her, it's equally clear that as far as Ruby is concerned, Carla is her mother. No codicils. No caveats. No asterisk. Carla is her mum. Full stop.

It's worth taking a look at how the structure of this episode is entirely about shaping our feelings about Ruby.

What we have here is a deceptively solid three act structure. It's actually long been a hallmark of RTD scripts that their structure is a game of sleight of hand. He's good at providing a sense of freewheeling chaos, but if you look below the surface at any of his scripts there's almost always a solid and very deliberate structure being used for a specific purpose. He's good at this, these aren't accidental.

In this episode, the structure is – Act 1: Introduce Ruby, her friends and her family, and gradually show how the 'accidents' and 'bad luck' in her life are the result of outside forces. Act 2: Ruby jumps on the ladder to a goblin ship, is joined by the Doctor, and we get to see how the two of them work together on a mini adventure rescuing Lulubelle from a goblin airship. Act 3: Remove Ruby from time, and thereby the lives of everyone else we meet, and show what here presence in the world means by showing what things look like with it removed.

To put it more simply – 1: Introduce Ruby. 2: Show how awesome Ruby and the Doctor are together. 3: Show how not awesome things get when Ruby gets removed from the equation.

That's it. That's this episode's entire gambit. Everything else is just window dressing, or setup for later plotlines. And it really works. It helps that they deliberately kept things so small scale. We're invited to care about the fate of one baby, who might be eaten by goblins. That's it. There's no greater agenda. Eating the baby won't bring destruction to the Earth. No one is going to be invaded or explode. We're fighting for one small, defenseless life. That serves the narrative well here, and honestly, it's so refreshing to not have the fate of the world in the balance for once.

Do we really have to wait until May to see these two again?

Bits and Pieces:

-- Davina McCall was also in the episode 'Bad Wolf' back in 2005. I was aware of that, but not being British I was misremembering her as having been one of the What Not to Wear women. She was in point of fact the voice in the Big Brother segments.

-- I've never actually seen It's a Wonderful Life, but my friend Claudia assures me that there are some lovely nods to it in the third act when Ruby is gone.

-- Ropes and knot being the goblins' electricity and wires is legitimately fascinating and plausible. The strength of a rope is dependent on a variety of factors, but it can be greatly affected by what you do with it. Every time you put a rope through a bend it loses strength. Or when it crosses itself. Similarly, there are plenty of riggings you can use to increase the strength of a system. The idea that the entire goblin power structure is maintained through relative kinetic strength structures being deliberately counterpointed with other knot structures with different strength profiles has been completely occupying my mind for 48 hours now.

-- I can forgive the goblins' baby eating, but their tendency toward slant rhyme cannot by forgiven. Neither Ruby nor the Doctor had to resort to such a thing, and they were improvising.

-- Speaking of which, clearly the Doctor and Ruby have both done some show choir, because they tossed lead melody duties to one another like champs.

-- I like that Ruby plays keyboards in a band with her friends but that that isn't even remotely a defining characteristic of her life.

-- Speaking of the band, the lead singer of the band and clearly good friend of Ruby was played by trans actress Mary Malone. This led to the usual corners of Twitter to complain loudly about 'woke agendas and indoctrination being forced down our throats!!!' Amusingly, over half the replies I saw appeared to be completely bewildered by this, as they either simply hadn't noticed that the actress was trans or had noticed that the episode never mentioned any sort of gender issues at all, in any way.

-- I love Cherry Sunday and would happily watch her and the Doctor flirt all day long.

-- OK, let's talk about Mrs. Flood. They did an excellent job making us gradually aware that there was something curious going on with her, and I had only just begun to wonder if there was more to her than meets the eye when she came back for the mid-credit reveal. My understanding is that it's been announced that she's being set up as a baddie for next season. As for the debate about who she will turn out to be, I don't really have much of a horse in that race beyond hoping it's not somebody super obvious.

-- OK, let's talk about Ruby's biological mother. They're clearly setting this up as a mystery to be explored later. I like that the Doctor respected Ruby's privacy and didn't follow her to see who it was at the end. Also, exactly how slow was that woman walking? I mean, I know she's just given birth that day, but still. The Doctor took down an entire goblin ship while she made it maybe twenty feet down the road.

-- Janice is of course the female Muppet in Doctor Teeth and the Electric Mayhem. Confirming, not for the first time, the existence of Muppets in the Whoniverse.

-- Regarding Officer Pants. I usually take notes on these episodes with the closed captioning on so I can get quotes accurately. This also quite often leads to getting to see amusing captioning choices. In the scene in question, the police officer urns up to the Doctor and, being winded, starts talking to him while panting a bit. Which led to the caption, 'Officer (pants) : "Excuse me sir" or whatever his actual line was. Which led me to believe that the character's name was Officer Pants. Thus, a legend was born.


Davina: "You don’t mind me using the word ‘foundling,’ do you? It’s just that some people think it’s a bit old fashioned…"
Ruby: "Oh, no no nonononono. That’s what I was. I was found. I was foundled."

The Doctor: "Health and Safety. Gin and tonic division."

Ruby: "We’re having a baby!"
Cherry: "That’s Christmas ruined."

Carla: "I’m off, Mum! I’ll just be an hour."
Cherry: "Where is my blasted tea?!?"

Ruby: "Did you just hiss at me? Was that a hiss?"

The Doctor: "Oh, it’s like a tapestry. It’s gorgeous!"

Ruby: "Yes, well if you gave me a hand!"
The Doctor: "I am learning the vocabulary of rope!"

The Doctor: "Why stop singing? Rock it, Janice!"

The Doctor: "Mmm. Cherry Sunday."
Cherry: "Like a tasty treat."

A small scale but joyous and heartfelt introduction to the new era of the Fifteenth Doctor. I can't wait for May to see more.

Thirteen out of Fifteen Doctors.

Mikey Heinrich is, among other things, a freelance writer, retired firefighter, and roughly 78% water. You can find more of his work at the 42nd Vizsla. If you'd like to see his raw notes for this and other reviews, you can find them at What Was Mikey Thinking.


  1. Both Mrs. Flood and Cherry were EastEnders alums ❤️

  2. Okay, I really loved it. Especially that it was a story about *one baby*. Important for Christmas. OMG, the baby-eating song was cringeworthily incredible. But I really love Fifteen and I get why they cast this particular actor. He's truly a great fit for the part. And so is Ruby. I warmed to both of them.

    Please, let the rest of the season be like this.

  3. I LOVED IT!!!! It was awesome!!! Mr. Mikey you did a superb job with the review! Everything you mentioned was in a nutshell what I loved about this episode. I have nothing extra to add except that I feel like 15 portrays these particular traits from a few of the other Doctors that we the audience haven't seen in a while. Trait from the 3rd Doctor, a wonderful sense of Fashion. Trait from the 4th Doctor a sense of mischievous and like you said a good deducting skill, with both Officer Pants and when he was on the goblins ships, with its whole different language in ropes. 10th Doctor when he was feeling pensive about Ruby Sunday, 11 Doctor with his almost frantic sense of motion, in terms of righting a wrong with getting first Lulubelle back and then later Ruby. Lastly his sadness and loneliness is more apparent as was shown both in 13 and 14 versions. Overall, I think the Doctor is in good hands !
    Just don't want to wait for new episodes for 5 long months!!!

  4. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I loved both the Doctor and Ruby, I even liked the baby song which was cringeworthily incredible as Billie said. Even more impressive was how Ruby and the Doctor started to sing along, which was totally unexpected.

    As for the mysteries there are now three, what happened to the Master tooth. Who is Ruby's mother (I have an idea but I'm not sure I should say it here), and what is going on with Mrs. Flood. Oh yeah, and Mavity was mentioned again.

    Can't wait until spring!

  5. Ruby seems charming, but this version of the Doctor just doesn't entertain me at all so far. I'm mildly curious about Ruby's bio-mom(assuming the person who left her at the church even IS her bio-mom) and Mrs. Flood(with a water-related name, who else immediately thought of River Song?), but probably not enough for me to keep up with this show. Though to be fair, Doctor Who hasn't felt like "appointment television" since Matt Smith left. And I all but checked out completely with the whole "Timeless Child" stuff. I was hoping a fresh start and a change of writers could bring me back, but it doesn't seem likely.

  6. "Also, exactly how slow was that woman walking? I mean, I know she's just given birth that day, but still."

    I think I saw that she was wearing a pair of Docs. I assume that they were new, and she was just breaking them in. So she was walking as quickly as she could given the terrible amount of foot pain she was dealing with.

    (This insight is brought to you by my new pair of boots, as well as the bandages and fuzzy socks I've been wearing for the past few days.)

    In a more pertinent comment: I haven't seen Who since the third episode, or so, of the Capaldi era, but I really enjoyed this episode (and the three Christmas specials that preceded it). I may keep Disney+ just to watch this when it returns in spring.


We love comments! We moderate because of spam and trolls, but don't let that stop you! It’s never too late to comment on an old show, but please don’t spoil future episodes for newbies.