Showrunner Russell T. Davies returns with an extraordinary Doctor-lite episode that spans over 40 years.

‘73 Yards’ starts like many other Doctor Who episodes, with The Doctor (Ncuti Gatwa) and his companion Ruby Sunday (Millie Gibson) landing the TARDIS on a Welsh clifftop. The Doctor immediately stands on a fairy circle; replicating the trouble he landed himself in when he stepped on a landmine in ‘Boom’. Only this time, nothing happens, and the pair laugh it off as a cute little Welsh superstition.

Numerous legends in Britain focus on the fairy ring, a circle created by cotton threads and trinkets that can be fatal if broken. Seconds after The Doctor laughs off treading into the circle, he disappears into thin air, leaving Ruby alone on the chilly Welsh coast.

Only she isn’t alone; a mystery old lady all in black with long white hair is standing near her. This woman always stands 73 yards away from Ruby, an unidentified blur of black clothing making gestures. She won’t go near Ruby, always standing the same distance away from her. Any time anyone approaches the woman, she whispers something mysterious, which forces them to run away from Ruby in terror. This episode follows the overarching thread of season 14 of Doctor Who; there is something amiss with Ruby. She is far more than an orphaned Mancunian abandoned at Christmas, but this is not the episode where her past will be uncovered.

The Tale Of Mad Jack

Ruby runs into the nearest Welsh pub, a little stone inn filled with suspicious locals. This scene uses all the tropes of someone abandoned in a new little village to feed the audience’s paranoia. The pub’s patrons all band together to tell a harrowing story of murderers, ghosts and local legends, convincing Ruby she is a dead woman walking. The group, which includes legendary actress Sian Phillips, tell her about the tale of Mad Jack, with Davies using the ancient traditions of small British villages to deliver an excellent red herring.

The Doctor never comes back for Ruby and his TARDIS, appearing for minutes of this fourth episode of season 14. So, she returns to real life outside of the TARDIS, the mysterious woman still 73 yards away. This extraordinary episode subsequentially follows Ruby over the next four or so decades of her life. Ruby’s life is one of loneliness, always distracted by the lurking woman just out of her eye line.

‘ 73 Yards’ is an extraordinary episode that takes its time to reveal its true meaning. What starts as an unremarkable episode (the one that appears in the trailers) turns into an exploration of the current British political climate and a very 21st-century terror. The real concern of this episode is not aliens, monsters, or supernatural creatures but something much more real and human. Doctor Who has always been at its best when it explores the horrors of humanity.

A More Human Threat

The episode feels like nothing Doctor Who has done before, sharing more DNA with Russell T.Davies’ underrated Years and Years, a miniseries which followed an English family through decades of terrifying global events (it has come to be praised for predicting the rise of right-wing politicians in the UK, the refugee crisis and the Russian-Ukraine war).

Without The Doctor by her side, Millie Gibson’s Ruby effortlessly takes on the role of the lead. This episode finally lets her become a three-dimensional character who finally feels like a real person and not a piece of a puzzle to be solved. Gibson’s performance is so good that you almost don’t miss Gatwa’s enigmatic timelord. This is the second week in a row where the companion is more than just a pretty assistant and has full control over the situation whilst The Doctor is out of action.

’73 Yards’ proves that Russell T. Davies didn’t return to Doctor Who to retread old steps and old plots. Like last week’s ‘Boom’, this episode is a tense 45 minutes with genuine jeopardy. The twists and turns will take audiences in unexpected directions that the promotional footage has been smart to conceal.

Back in March 2023, Davies told Michael Ball on Radio 2 that ’73 Yards’ was “one of the greatest things I’ve ever made in my life”—and he’s not wrong; it is the type of episode that will stick with audiences for many years to come. It’s genuinely chilling, delivering unsettling sequences and unforgettable dialogue.

’73 Yards’ is time travel being played around with at its best. It’s head-scratching and doesn’t entirely make sense, but it sticks the landing in such an emotional way that audiences will struggle to worry about plot holes and the mechanics of it all. The ambiguous ending may leave some frustrated, whilst others will find the Donnie Darko-esque equivocacy spine-chilling. Somehow, the lack of answers makes this story even more effective.

For more updates on Doctor Who, check back to THS.

Keep Reading: