Doctor Who Christmas special review: The Church on Ruby Road is a joyful start to Ncuti Gatwa's era

The festive special premieres on Christmas Day at 5.55pm on BBC One

Doctor Who Christmas Special 2023,25-12-2023,Christmas Special,The Doctor (Ncuti Gatwa),BBC STUDIOS 2023,James Pardon
The Doctor Who Christmas Special airs on Christmas Day on BBC One. (BBC)

Doctor Who is back where it belongs: on our telly at Christmas time, and The Church on Ruby Road marks a new era for the BBC series with Ncuti Gatwa as The Doctor after picking up the baton from David Tennant at the end of the 60th Anniversary specials.

In his first official outing, Gatwa's Fifteenth Doctor comes face-to-face with his new companion Ruby Sunday (Millie Gibson), a foster child who was left by her mother on the steps of a church as a baby and now as an adult has been plagued by bad luck from an unlikely, and cheeky source.

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The Doctor being drawn to her is not just a coincidence it is soon revealed, because the reason for Ruby's bad luck is simple: Goblins. And when her adoptive mother's new foster child is stolen by the creatures it is up to Ruby and the Time Lord to get the baby back safe and sound.

Doctor Who Christmas Special 2023,16-11-2023,Xmas preview,Xmas preview,Picture Shows: The Doctor (Ncuti Gatwa) and Ruby Sunday (Millie Gibson),**STRICTLY EMBARGOED UNTIL 28TH NOVEMBER 2023**,BBC Studios 2023,Lara Cornell
In his first official outing, Ncuti Gatwa's Fifteenth Doctor comes face-to-face with his new companion Ruby Sunday played by Millie Gibson. (BBC)

For a festive special, The Church on Ruby Road does everything you want it to. It introduces the world to a new Doctor and companion, starts with a clean slate whilst building on what came before, and it's also fun and it's full of Christmas spirit. Viewers new and old will be able to come to this episode and enjoy it.

The narrative harkens back to classic folk tales but gives it a modern twist, and while the idea of a baby being stolen for a Goblin King who, along with his subjects, enjoys a song or two may bring to mind a certain '80s classic The Church on Ruby Road is it's own, wonderfully charming story.

Doctor Who (BBC)
The festive episode sees The Doctor and Ruby Sunday try and save a child from goblins. (BBC)

Alongside the main story, viewers will also get a glimpse at Ruby's past as well as her life as a foster child who was later adopted. Through her and her mother Carla's (Michelle Greenidge) mission to keep helping foster children, viewers will be able to see a different family unit than they may be used to, one that is often unsung and under-appreciated in the public eye but deserve the recognition — and Davies does so in moving ways through this special.

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The episode's strength stems mainly from the wits and charisma of Gatwa and Gibson who, in the space of just one hour, prove they will be a delightful duo moving forward. The actors work well off of each other and Gatwa in particular delivers such charming performances that it is easy to see why it only took one audition for showrunner Russell T Davies to know he'd found the right Doctor.

Doctor Who (BBC)
Millie Gibson and Ncuti Gatwa have great chemistry together and already make for a formidable duo. (BBC)

The BBC series needed a bit of a boost and The Church on Ruby Road does just that. It capitalises on the success of the 60th anniversary specials, builds on their triumph and keeps interest in the series going even without fan favourite David Tennant there to guide it. There are enough teasers for the forthcoming season to entice viewers back, but mostly seeing Gatwa and Gibson together again will be a delight in itself.

  • 📺 Where to watch the Doctor Who Christmas special: BBC One on 25 December at 5.55pm.

  • ⭐️ Our rating: 4/5

  • 🍿 Watch it if you liked: Doctor Who, Labyrinth, Gremlins.

  • 🎭 Who's in it?: Ncuti Gatwa, Millie Gibson, Davina McCall, Michelle Greenidge, Anita Dobson, and Angela Wynter.

  • How long is it? A one hour special.

  • 📖 What’s it about? Ruby Sunday was left on the steps of a church as a baby on Christmas Day, now an adult she is plagued by bad luck that appears to come from an unlikely, and cheeky source which brings her face to face with The Doctor.

Watch the trailer for the Doctor Who Christmas special: