DOCTOR WHO: “The Legend of Ruby Sunday”

Posted on June 16, 2024


“I have no idea what the hell is going on,” Lorenzo declared when the gigantic jackal death god with the glowing eyes finally made his appearance. “And this show is really weird.”

“I know!” Tom agreed. “Isn’t it great?”

There followed a brief discussion between the nerd and the non-nerd on the topic of Doctor Who‘s innately British (“The little person on the Segway is like a 21stC Dickens character! You see it, right?”) oddness and how that quality is what makes it worth watching. Star Wars and Star Trek can get pretty safe and samey-same as science fiction franchises go, and the superhero genre is limping along at the moment, but Doctor Who’s whole deal is finding the weirdest, goofiest way to tell a fantasy story and then running with it as hard as it can, packing as many Britishisms as it can into a 42-minute script. When it’s done badly, you have to accept or ignore a lot of things that might not make sense, but when it’s done really well, like this episode, then you have to… pretty much treat it the same way by accepting or ignoring a lot of things that aren’t quite explained.

The setup here was briskly nonsensical. The TARDIS skids violently (for some reason) into the UNIT landing bay, the Doctor pops out and, after dispensing with the hugs which are now de rigueur for the character, immediately orders UNIT to help him with his Susan Twist situation. They in turn immediately reveal that the person he’s looking for is also, by a tremendous coincidence, someone they’ve been monitoring for some time and, by an even more outrageous coincidence, is about to go live in an hour addressing “the whole world.” She’s “releasing her software” to the world, but no one ever gives so much as a hint as to what that software is or does. Ruby notes that the woman’s name is Susan, which might make her the Doctor’s granddaughter (huge leap across the logic chasm there) and the Doctor brings up Ruby’s origins on Ruby Road.  It is briefly conjectured Susan Triad might be Ruby’s mother, but there’s no reason to think this except that they’re both subplots running through the same television season. The characters treat all of these things as likely to be connected, but there’s literally no reason ever given as to why they do. This is not a criticism at all. It’s almost hilariously refreshing to have a Doctor who doesn’t ignore all of the ominous weirdness going on in his life of late. Instead he crashes into UNIT headquarters, gives a brief report on everything he knows and says, “This is all clearly happening for some sort of reason, so let’s crack this open right now.” We’ll note again our earlier observation that sometimes the characters this season act as if they know they’re characters in a story.


Everyone heads down to the illegal time window to use an old CCTV VHS tape of the night of Ruby’s birth to something-something track the trajectory of snowflakes something-something extrapolate yadda-yadda. Not that we ever needed any of this explained to us in detail. Because the Doctor already traveled back to that night once and can’t do it a second time (which isn’t always necessarily true by the rules of the show, but let’s go with it) they basically open a window to the past using CCTV footage so everything around them looks like old B&W video. It’s clever and eerie even before the swirling death cloud eats a cute UNIT soldier.

The climax was nearly as nonsensical as the setup. When all is revealed and all hope is lost, the Doctor says in shock “It was the wrong anagram,” somehow completely misidentifying what an anagram actually is, as the letters of SUSAN TRIAD TECHNOLOGY conveniently rearrange themselves, delete out a whole bunch of extraneous ones and add in one new in order to get to the reveal of the villain’s true name: Sutekh. When you type it all out or describe it after the fact, this all sounds like gibberish or nonsense. But here’s the thing about writer/executive producer Russell T Davies tenure on Doctor Who: all of his best stories, and he’s got quite a few under his belt, never concerned themselves with whether they were cool or trendy or even made any sense. Unlike the coolly conveyed puzzle box stories of previous EP Steven Moffat or the dreary retcons of Chris Chibnall, Davies stories are often sentimental, corny, somewhat juvenile, and loaded to the rafters with high emotions. In other words, after Lorenzo noted how weird the show was and the credits started rolling, Tom asked him if he thought the episode was good. “Oh, it was incredible. I had no idea what was going on and it was really weird, but I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen.” The last five minutes were some of the most excruciatingly tense in the franchise’s modern history, thanks to the masterful directing work by Jamie Donoughue and the killer acting by everyone. Ncuti Gatwa, Susan Twist, Bonnie Langford and Gemma Redgrave were great, but Genesis Lynea as Harriet Arbinger and Gabriel Woolf as the voice of Sutekh were the MVPs of the episode. That monologue wasn’t just chilling, it was almost nauseating in its horror, thanks to their delivery. None of this silliness would have worked without the incredible effort everyone was putting in to sell it. We genuinely have no idea where this is going, which we love. So long as the show keeps us as slack-jawed in astonishment as we were watching this episode, we’re happy to let the nonsense wash over us.


And now, a list of things we really liked and/or random things of note:

The ease these characters all have with each other is really nice to see. There’s been some grumbling among the fandom that not enough time has been spent on getting to know this new Doctor and Companion as in previous post-generation seasons, but we still loved seeing Rose Noble or Mel Bush leap into his arms, even if they’ve barely interacted onscreen before. We loved Fifteen asking Rose “How’s your uncle?” which implies that Fourteen is still hanging around the Noble-Temple household, which is a comforting thought. We loved the gentle camaraderie and unspoken dialogue happening between Gemma Redgrave and Ncuti Gatwa.

We also loved Ruby and Rose immediately hitting it off (remember that Ruby’s entire social circle was queer or trans) and also kind of raised our eyebrow when the Doctor introduced them as “two shades of red.” We don’t know… did that mean something? Or was it just another instance of characters pointing out subtext?

“I bring disaster, Kate.” “For what it’s worth, I think you bring joy.”

The Doctor being unable to control his laughter at the crudeness of UNIT’s tech. “Whooo! This is rough!

The CCTV camera was 66 meters from the church on Ruby Road, which is roughly… 73 yards.

We loved how everyone already figured out the S TRIAD anagram and were a little offended that the Doctor thought they needed to have it explained to them. This felt like Davies tweaking the noses of the online fandom, knowing they were going to figure out a good chunk of this ahead of time.

Mrs. Flood breaking the fourth wall was legitimately terrifying. If you look at that scene again, she’s a little more neutral in tone than she first comes across. In other words, it sounds like she’s being threatening, but on a second view, she was mostly just recounting what was happening. We say this because we still think she might be a red herring and might actually turn out to be the real Susan. “I’m always hiding myself away!” she says, right after the Doctor explained to Ruby that Time Lords sometimes change their faces in order to hide themselves.

Carla Sunday referred to Sutekh in his swirling cloud of death form as “The Beast,” which sent a lot of the online fandom scrambling to reference the 2006 two-parter “The Impossible Planet” and “The Satan Pit.” If you decide to watch/rewatch it (it’s on MAX), note that Gabriel Woolf provided the voice of the Beast and that the monologue the Beast gives is extremely similar in tone and wording to the one he gives here. We really don’t have an opinion on the various theories connecting these stories, but we did sit up straighter during our rewatch when Rose Tyler mentioned her former job as a dinner lady, which Susan Triad mentioned as her mother’s job.

As for Sutekh, we are impressed at the audacity of Davies to bring back a character who hasn’t appeared onscreen in nearly fifty years as part of his much-ballyhoo’d fresh new start for the franchise. We suspect one won’t have to have watched the original “Pyramids of Mars” serial in which he first appeared in order to get up to speed. All you need to know is what you were told about him in those final few minutes. He’s the Big Bad and the Doctor is legitimately terrified of him.

What any of this has to do with Ruby Sunday and her parentage remains to be seen, but the idea of her being human is evaporating and we’re starting to worry that all the members of the Sunday family aren’t going to completely survive this story.

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