Television

Doctor Who Season 1 Episode 4 Review: 73 Yards

There are few hard and fast rules of time travel in the Doctor Who universe, but one seems to be that you can’t cross your own timeline.

Is that what happened to Ruby on Doctor Who Season 1 Episode 4?

A story that began as a gothic horror tale turned into a journey through Ruby’s timeline, and the ending led to more questions than answers. How did this story fit into the bigger mystery surrounding Ruby’s birth?

Ruby Carried the Episode Alone

When the Doctor and a companion get separated, they usually work to find one another. This story, however, broke tradition by having Ruby travel alone for 65 years before things were restored to rights.

It’s hard to know how to feel about that. Ruby’s travels through her life and attempts to discover who the mysterious woman was were interesting, but it felt more like a spinoff short story than an episode of Doctor Who.

Ruby’s attempts to solve the problem of the apparition herself established her as a brave, confident hero who managed to keep going despite everyone abandoning her, so there was that.

Still, the episode was a bit all over the place, starting with a bunch of strange locals in a Pub and then turning into a heartbreaking journey through Ruby’s life where nobody could help her, and nobody stuck around.

The Pub Premise Was the Most Intriguing Aspect

The locals in the pub fit the tired TV trope of a bunch of weirdos connected to the supernatural, but it worked.

The old woman who spoke about fairy circles and the power of the land set up an intriguing premise for an allegorical story about the way settlers treated indigenous people and their lands worldwide.

This land is a powerful place. It’s said he walks through the gaps, the spiteful one.

Old Woman

The idea of the land fighting back because Ruby stepped on the fairy circle was intriguing, and I was looking forward to how it would play out and when the Doctor would reappear.

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The other locals were also compelling characters, but they all quickly disappeared.

After the apparition scared Josh, Ruby was kicked out of the pub and returned to her home in London, and the locals had no further role to play. What a shame!

Ruby’s Alternate Timeline

The rest of the episode dealt with Ruby’s Doctorless life, in which she constantly tried to get rid of the apparition, and the supernatural being scared everyone who wanted to help her away.

I was confused about how she knew she was in the right year to return home.

No one said it was 2024, and when Ruby asked to pay the innkeeper using her phone, I thought maybe she changed history by introducing technology too early.

This would have been a good time for a Torchwood return, as helping stranded travelers who are being followed by bizarre supernatural creatures is precisely what they do.

Instead, Kate Lethbridge-Stewart made a cameo appearance, but the apparition overwhelmed her team, so UNIT abandoned Ruby, too.

Kate: We’re the Unified Intelligence Task Force, created to investigate extraterrestials. And the supernatural. Things seem to be turning that way more and more lately.
Ruby: And you work with the Doctor?
Kate: With him, despite him, against him sometimes. And I adore him.

It was nice catching up with Kate, but what was the point of that, other than Ruby being abandoned yet again?

Will Ruby Remember Any of the Alternate Timeline?

At the end of the hour, it was revealed that a dying Ruby was somehow able to return to the scene of the crime and stop her younger self from stepping on the fairy circle.

The implication seemed to be that the apparition was the older Ruby, but that didn’t explain why everyone who encountered her ran away screaming.

 

Did it involve two versions of Ruby at the same point in space and time? That was the only thing that made sense.

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Ruby almost remembered, saying she’d been to Wales three times. Still, she forgot what she’d been talking about after she stopped the Doctor from stepping on the fairy circle, so she likely won’t remember anything else about her alternate life.

How This Could Play Into the Bigger Mystery

There were some subtle (and not-so-subtle) clues to the mystery surrounding Ruby’s birth. The most obvious was that it started snowing right after Ruby stepped on the fairy circle.

This recurring motif suggests that the snow at Ruby’s birth had a supernatural quality, though it’s still unclear what it is. It also happened during Devil’s Chord, when the Maestro tormented Ruby, and on the ship during Space Babies.

The older Ruby said it had stopped snowing, and she never found her birth parents, suggesting the Doctor’s influence is essential to Ruby finding out the truth about the circumstances of her birth.

In the alternate timeline, Ruby could not find the truth and was abandoned by everybody.

It almost felt like her worst nightmare: something different about her that made everyone who loved her run away screaming.

Maybe finding the truth means facing this fear and learning why she was abandoned.

Finally, Susan Twist appeared again as a random character, but this time, Ruby recognized her.

Of course, this was an alternate timeline, but it does suggest that there’s more to these minor characters than meets the eye and that Ruby is aware on some level that this woman keeps popping up everywhere.

Could the Older Ruby Be The One Who Waits?

Throughout the season, the mysterious One Who Waits keeps coming up, and when the Maestro was bothering Ruby they backed off because they thought The One Who Waits might have been present at her birth.

Logically, the One Who Waits and this apparition, who turned out to be the older Ruby, can’t be the same.

If The One Who Waits was present at Ruby’s birth, it can’t be Ruby… or can it?

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Anything’s possible on Doctor Who. It breaks its own rules all the time. 

If Older Ruby was present at Ruby’s birth, then Ruby’s existence is itself a paradox, which could explain all the strange goings-on.

Older Ruby couldn’t have given birth to Ruby. I’m trying to find a way to make it work, but that’s a paradox that makes my head hurt.

The apparition seemed similar to the Watcher, the classic Doctor Who character who was an in-between-regeneration version of the Doctor who helped him regenerate at the end of Logopoplis.

Something similar could be going on here. Additionally, Ruby keeps changing the timeline by stepping on things, so maybe that’s a clue that she’s a walking paradox.

Your turn, Doctor Who fanatics. What did you think of this episode? What are your theories about Ruby’s birth and how the mysterious apparition fits into her story? Hit the big, blue SHOW COMMENTS button and let us know.

Doctor Who Season 1 streams on Disney+. New episodes drop in the US on Friday evenings at 7/6c.

Jack Ori is a senior staff writer for TV Fanatic. His debut young adult novel, Reinventing Hannah, is available on Amazon. Follow him on X.

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