Sunday 16 June 2024

Doctor Who: The Legend of Ruby Sunday

After a standalone episode, Rogue, we’re in the end game with the first part of the season one two-part finale.

Series showrunner Russell T Davies borrows from his playbook and conjures up Army of Ghosts. This time featuring a classic villain that stalked my childhood nightmares during the Fourth Doctor’s (Tom Baker) era.

As many fans (myself included) predicted, Sutekh (Gabriel Woolf) strikes back and the god-like alien’s cliffhanger return was foreshadowed in The Devil’s Chord. Some fans might suggest he’s a deep cut from Pyramids of Mars, but this also applies to the Celestial Toymaker (Neil Patrick Harris) who returned in The Giggle.

Pyramids of Mars is one of my all-time favourite classic Doctor Who serials and I’d urge everyone to watch the one-off Tales of the TARDIS featuring Ncuti Gatwa (Doctor Who) and Millie Gibson (Ruby Sunday) on BBC Four and BBC iPlayer on Thursday.

The TARDIS lands at UNIT HQ, which owes much to Marvel Studios’ Avengers. There’s a deeply affecting reunion between Kate Stewart (Jemma Redgrave) and the Doctor discussing her fan-favourite father, the beloved Brigadier Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courtney).

From there, it’s all about the build-up, where it almost gets derailed due to too many plot twists. From the mysteries of Mrs Flood (Anita Dobson) and Susan Triad (Susan Twist) introduced in Wild Blue Yonder to Ruby Sunday’s biological mother and the Pantheon of Discord overshadowing it all. Davies' deliberate misdirections aside (keep everyone guessing), there’s enough material for three or four seasons. Season two recently finished filming, so this may be further explored.

Someone needs to apply the TARDIS handbrake!

That said, I’m invested in this TARDIS crew and was on the edge of my seat (my younger self would have been behind the sofa hiding from Sutekh’s glowing green eyes). UNIT's Time Window explored Ruby's Christmas Eve abandonment on VHS tape with a low-resolution creepiness comparable to The Ring. The Legend of Ruby Sunday is a timey-wimey tour de force taking my Doctor Who story almost full circle!

The fly in the ointment is that a shorter season (see Marvel Studios and Star Wars spin-off series on Disney+) means not everything feels entirely earned, which is why Rogue was a left turn (I can see why Davies did this before the two-part finale). I just wanted to spend a little more time with the Doctor, Ruby and fabulous friends (old and new) before the big bad arrived with a nightmarish flourish worthy of Steven Moffat.

The Fifteenth Doctor had never met Rose Noble (Yasmin Finney) before, and this was a missed opportunity after she had met the Fourteenth Doctor (David Tennant). Also the Fourteenth Doctor and Donna Noble (Catherine Tate) are in this timeline. Will we see them again?

Oh, Sutekh’s appearance was more Scooby Doo than Doctor Who! Ultimately, it didn't detract from the refreshing audacity to eschew the Daleks or Cybermen for Fourth Doctor nostalgic chills and thrills therein.

From The Star Beast to Sutekh, what’s old is new again in the Davies Disney era. And I’m here for it sans Space Babies. The 60th anniversary celebrations aren’t over yet.

New episodes of Doctor Who stream every Friday on Disney+ outside the UK and Ireland and every Saturday on BBC One and BBC iPlayer. Season one is available for pre-order (affiliate link).

Have you watched The Legend of Ruby Sunday? What did you think? Let me know in the comments below.

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