Doctor Who: 73 Yards – season one episode four recap

<span>What has she unleashed? … Millie Gibson as Ruby Sunday in Doctor Who: 73 Yards.</span><span>Photograph: James Pardon/Bad Wolf/BBC Studios</span>
What has she unleashed? … Millie Gibson as Ruby Sunday in Doctor Who: 73 Yards.Photograph: James Pardon/Bad Wolf/BBC Studios

After the suspense of last week’s Boom, the new Doctor Who season cranked up to full-on horror in 73 Yards, with an episode destined to be remembered as one of the all-time great companion performances.

Once the Doctor vanishes, it is left to Millie Gibson as Ruby Sunday to unravel the mystery that then stretches through the whole of her life, morphing from creeping dread in rural Wales to a political thriller split between London and Cardiff. Aneurin Barnard cut an impressive figure as the paranoid and controlling populist politician Roger ap Gwilliam, somewhat in the mould of Emma Thompson’s Vivienne Rook in Russell T Davies’ Years and Years.

Michelle Greenidge as Ruby’s mum, Carla, was a delight, wittering on about how men go off to “potter in their sheds” and dismissively saying it was only “Welsh people” who were scared of the mysterious woman. But her delivery to a locked-out Ruby of: “Even your real mother didn’t want you” was conveyed with conviction, and abandoned or orphaned children remain a persistent theme of this run of Ncuti Gatwa episodes.

Davies’s knack of writing side characters who manage to convey a lot with very little dialogue was on display with Sophie Ablett, who gave Marti the air of someone haunted like Ruby – though in her case by the attentions of ap Gwilliam.

The highlight of the episode was without doubt the oppressive Welsh pub night-time sequence, which veered wildly between the hysterical laughter of local people enjoying pulling the leg of the gullible English tourist and the genuinely unnerving undercurrent of menace as they talked up tales of Mad Jack stalking the night.

All of this was absolutely brilliant … until the ending. There didn’t seem to be any logic or explanation of how the older Ruby had been able to appear that way to herself for decades, or spring back in time at the crucial moment to prevent the timeline being created, beyond some vague hand-waving at “the supernatural” mentioned along the way. A shame, as it was shaping up to be a stone-cold classic until older Ruby appeared and the final act faltered.

Sum it up in one sentence?

Ruby Sunday saves the world from a Welsh nuclear megalomaniac after a lifetime of running away from herself.

Life onboard the Tardis

This was a “Doctor lite” episode, a format introduced in 2006 to lessen the production schedule for the leads, first with the mostly unloved Love and Monsters, and more successfully a year later with Carey Mulligan leading Blink. In 2008, the leads each got a showcase – David Tennant helming Midnight, and Catherine Tate’s Donna the focus of Turn Left. During that Davies-penned episode, Donna lives through an alternative timeline without the Doctor and ends up saving the day to reset events. Sound familiar?

Fear factor

73 Yards went for an instantly recognisable folk-horror atmosphere with the woman first pursuing Ruby over the clifftops, though the sequence where Ruby saw her every time she looked out the train window took it to a new level. But the scariest thing was the gradual hardening of Jemma Redgrave’s face as, after an initially reassuring sudden arrival in the story to assist Ruby, Kate Lethbridge-Stewart’s heart was hardened when she and her Unit troops heard what the old lady told them.

Mysteries and questions

The obligatory appearance by Susan Twist as the hiker, her sixth different character in the last seven episodes, did finally spark some recognition. But since we were in an alternate timeline, who knows if Ruby will remember her face the next time she crops up?

Deeper into the vortex

  • The theme of being cursed and your family and friends turning against you was also explored in the Sarah Jane Adventures episode The Curse of Clyde Langer.

  • The music playing when Ruby discovered her purpose was Watch Me by Labi Siffre, a hit in 1972. It includes the lines: “Watch me when I’m on my own / See me falling like the snow.” Snow has been a recurring motif this season, and Old Ruby told her carer she used to be able to make it snow.

  • Ruby telling the mysterious figure: “We’ve got work to do” echoed Sylvester McCoy’s closing monologue in the last episode of the 1963-89 run of Doctor Who, which ended with him saying: “Come on, Ace, we’ve got work to do.”

  • The episode did not have an opening title sequence for the first time since Sleep No More in 2015, which itself was the first time it had happened during the regular series. It also did not appear to feature anything extraterrestrial or alien except for the Doctor or the Tardis. Well, perhaps, until we find out more about Susan Twist or Anita Dobson’s Mrs Flood character, who had a cameo.

  • Roger ap Gwilliam became the fourth UK prime minister whose career came to a Doctor Who-induced end, although at least he escaped with his life. Harriet Jones and Jo Patterson both got exterminated by Daleks, while the Master was shot by his wife and refused to regenerate while posing as PM Harold Saxon.

  • The pub’s name in Welsh – Y Pren Marw – translates as “the dead wood”, and the scenes were filmed at the White Cross Inn in Groeswen, which was previously used as a location for Torchwood.

  • Gatwa’s clifftop costume has come in for some criticism as being the least Doctor-ish costume the lead role has had for some time, but old habits die hard and the Doctor has a history of beanies-by-the-sea.

Next time: Dot and Bubble

The trailer suggests we might be about to get a hyperreal morality tale about the dangers of social media and cancel culture …

Season 1

Episodes 1 & 2: Space Babies / The Devil's Chord

Episode 3: Boom

Episode 4: 73 Yards

Episode 5: Dot and Bubble

Episode 6: Rogue

Episode 7: The Legend of Ruby Sunday

Episode 8: Empire of Death

Christmas special: Joy to the World

60th anniversary specials

Special 1: The Star Beast
Special 2: Wild Blue Yonder
Special 3: The Giggle
Christmas special: The Church on Ruby Road

Flux / Series 13

Chapter one: The Halloween Apocalypse
Chapter two: War of the Sontarans
Chapter three: Once, Upon Time
Chapter four: Village of the Angels
Chapter five: Survivors of the Flux
Chapter six: The Vanquishers
New Year's Special: Eve of the Daleks
Spring special: Legend of the Sea Devils
BBC centenary special: The Power of the Doctor

Series 12

Episode 1: Spyfall part one
Episode 2: Spyfall part two
Episode 3: Orphan 55
Episode 4: Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror
Episode 5: Fugitive of the Judoon
Episode 6: Praxeus
Episode 7: Can You Hear Me?
Episode 8: The Haunting of Villa Diodati
Episode 9: Ascension of the Cybermen
Episode 10: The Timeless Children
New Year's special: Revolution of the Daleks

Series 11

Episode 1: The Woman Who Fell to Earth
Episode 2: The Ghost Monument
Episode 3: Rosa
Episode 4: Arachnids in the UK
Episode 5: The Tsuangra Condundrum
Episode 6: Demons of the Punjab
Episode 7: Kerblam!
Episode 8: The Witchfinders
Episode 9: It Takes You Away
Episode 10: The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos
New Year's special: Resolution

Series 10

Episode 1: The Pilot
Episode 2: Smile
Episode 3: Thin Ice
Episode 4: Knock Knock
Episode 5: Oxygen
Episode 6: Extremis
Episode 7: The Pyramid at the End of the World
Episode 8: The Lie of the Land
Episode 9: Empress of Mars
Episode 10: The Eaters of Light
Episode 11: World Enough and Time
Episode 12: The Doctor Falls
2017 Christmas special: Twice Upon A Time

Series 9

Episode 1: The Magician's Apprentice
Episode 2: The Witch's Familiar
Episode 3: Under The Lake
Episode 4: Before The Flood
Episode 5: The Girl Who Died
Episode 6: The Woman Who Lived
Episode 7: The Zygon Invasion
Episode 8: The Zygon Inversion
Episode 9: Sleep No More
Episode 10: Face The Raven
Episode 11: Heaven Sent
Episode 12: Hell Bent
2015 Christmas special: The Husbands of River Song
2016 Christmas special: The Return of Doctor Mysterio

Series 8

Episode 1: Deep Breath
Episode 2: Into The Dalek
Episode 3: Robot of Sherwood
Episode 4: Listen
Episode 5: Time Heist
Episode 6: The Caretaker
Episode 7: Kill The Moon
Episode 8: Mummy on the Orient Express
Episode 9: Flatline
Episode 10: In the Forest of the Night
Episode 11: Dark Water
Episode 12: Death In Heaven
2014 Christmas special: Last Christmas

Series 7

Episode 1: Asylum of the Daleks
Episode 2: Dinosaurs on a Spaceship
Episode 3: A Town Called Mercy
Episode 4: The Power of Three
Episode 5: The Angels Take Manhatten
2012 Christmas special: The Snowmen
Episode 6: The Bells of Saint John
Episode 7: The Rings of Akhaten
Episode 8: Cold War
Episode 9: Hide
Episode 10: Journey to the Centre of the Tardis
Episode 11: The Crimson Horror
Episode 12: Nightmare in Silver
Episode 13: The Name of the Doctor
50th Anniversary special: The Day of the Doctor
2013 Christmas special: The Time of the Doctor

Series 6

Episode 1: The Impossible Astronaut
Episode 2: Day of the Moon
Episode 3: The Curse of the Black Spot
Episode 4: The Doctor's Wife
Episode 5: The Rebel Flesh
Episode 6: The Almost People
Episode 7: A Good Man Goes To War
Episode 8: Let's Kill Hitler
Episode 9: Night Terrors
Episode 10: The Girl Who Waited
Episode 11: The God Complex
Episode 12: Closing Time
Episode 13: The Wedding of River Song
2011 Christmas special: The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe

Series 5

Episode 1: The Eleventh Hour
Episode 2: The Beast Below
Episode 3: Victory of the Daleks
Episode 4: The Time of Angels
Episode 5: Flesh and Stone
Episode 6: The Vampires of Venice
Episode 7: Amy's Choice
Episode 8: The Hungry Earth
Episode 9: Cold Blood
Episode 10: Vincent and the Doctor
Episode 11: The Lodger
Episode 12: The Pandorica Opens
Episode 13: The Big Bang
2010 Christmas special: A Christmas Carol