Doctor Who Christmas Special (2023): The Church on Ruby Road

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Given my recent (typing) hand injury on the Friday before Christmas, I think I’m probably the last Whovian to watch this episode and then review it. It’s Saturday, the 30th – almost a week later, and I’ve managed to avoid any Reviews, anywhere. Phew! ๐Ÿ˜•.

Forgive the odd typo – this took about four hours to write! โ˜น๏ธ

Synopsis

“Long ago, on Christmas Eve, a baby was abandoned in the snow. Today, Ruby Sunday meets the Doctor, goblins, stolen babies and, perhaps, the secret of her birth.

Doctor Who on Christmas Day!

There hasn’t been a Christmas ‘Who’ Special since 2017 and with the three Specials in November, we Whovians are being spoilt!

News that Who is to evolve from Sci-Fi to Sci-Fantasy, tonight’s first foray for the 15th Doctor was definitely the latter style and thus, more of a fairy tale. For newcomers to the ‘world of Who’, it was, thankfully, also a far simpler story than any of the previous three ’60th Anniversary’ Specials – and one that was suitable for the whole family.

There’s been some vigorous debate online about whether, going forward, with a ‘new Who’ this is all just a continuation of the Who franchise – ie series 14; whether it’s a reboot (of the 2005 reboot!) or whether this series starts again – as series 1. Showrunner, Russell T Davies has confirmed this is most definitely ‘series 1’ (and with new global audiences out there, courtesy of the House of Mouse distribution, I can see the logic). See more details about the thinking behind this HERE.

Yes, I know, where’s the EIGHTH? Only Whovians know the answer! ๐Ÿ˜‰

Any good?

Series 14: Episode 1: This is the one where the Doctor (Ncuti Gatwa) meets his new ‘companion’ Ruby Sunday (Millie Gibson) for the first time. With the new Doctor having appeared in Special 3, a few weeks back, he arrived fully immersed in the role and therefore no time was needed for a scene – or even an episode – of him settling into his new persona.

I’ll deal with this episode in a number of ways…. ‘the story itself’, then the ‘characters’ and finally, ‘anything else’ Before all that though, I must say that the SFX (Special Effects) looked superb! The higher budget courtesy of Disney really shows, and my guess is that this ‘shinier’ version of Who is going to pick up some new fans simply because of the whole ‘look’ of it.

The Story

I should begin by commenting that it’s ALL very (VERY!) different! If you don’t like change with Who, you’ll be counting the ways with this one! If, at that point, your head is about to explode, you’ll be relieved to hear that, at least, it wasn’t the most complex of storylines! In so many ways, this was NOT a typical Who tale, and where I assume that this one was more about being a ‘crowd pleaser’ than some of the darker and deeper storylines of say, the Moffatt era. The ‘monsters’ were scary in their own way, but not in the same league as say Cybermen, Sea-Devils, Weeping Angels or the iconic Daleks. In some respects, the main plot about ‘eating babies’ makes one wonder how it ever got past the draft script version – but they pulled it off! Overall, it’s all a tad silly in places and there is a musical number too, but RTD’s scripting kept it moving along and where the final act gave us maybe a taste of Who-to-come.

There’s a reference to a massive rewrite of the Doctor’s back story from the previous era, which will delight some, but will irritate others.

Characters

Let’s talk about the characters. There’s a clear chemistry between the two leads and that helped the story hang together. NG played the role with ease and looked like he’d been doing it for years! Consequently, there was certainly something very watchable about the new Doctor and I can’t wait to see his character evolve. MG gave a very credible performance as the companion, but I’m amazed at how confident, fearless and generally ‘gung-ho’ she was, given everything that was happening!

‘Who’ has always been about believable characters and there were plenty of other faces (apart from the two leads), known and unknown, helping to give this yarn a fully rounded feel. There are also a couple of characters (at the beginning and towards the end) where there’s definitely potential to reveal more about them in the future.

Anything else?

๐Ÿ“Œ A suitable opening voice-over by the new Doctor to set the scene! It worked well!

๐Ÿ“Œ Most new Doctors share a trait with a previous incarnation – for me, this all felt very Jon Pertwee, with an emphasis (tonight, at least) on action. Personally, I’m not sure about the wisdom of a musical number and it did seem a bit weird that both our stars were able to spontaneously perform ‘the song’ considering they’d never heard it before!

๐Ÿ“Œ Loved all the music! You can’t go wrong with Murray Gold on song-writing duties.

๐Ÿ“Œ As is customary, there’s a new variation on the main theme tune too!

๐Ÿ“Œ And what about the new sonic screwdriver? Weird ehh?? Not sure I like it! ๐Ÿค”

๐Ÿ“Œ Make sure you stick with the end credits, otherwise you’ll miss a short additional scene

Did it work?

It’s an open secret that ratings have been on the slide for a few years now – so a lot was riding on this opening episode. The distribution partnership with the mighty Disney won’t hurt at all from a financial perspective, but I do hope the show doesn’t lose its British quirkiness. What about tonight? All-in-all then, I’d say this was a ‘safe’ episode that didn’t require much, if any, prior knowledge of the characters, apart from what was disclosed tonight. It won’t go down as one of my all-time favourites (a bit lightweight for this fan), but it also ticked a lot of boxes where NG really showed that he already owns the part. I can see this first episode winning some new audiences, but equally, some die-hards who will not relate to it AT ALL.

Having now read quite a few of the ‘official’ Reviews, it seems that overall, this episode has been received well.

Next episode? A long wait until May, 2024. The first teaser below. Hang on, is that The Beatles?

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