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THE CHURCH ON RUBY ROAD
ďI canít believe a single thing thatís happening.Ē
Oh yay, weíre back to Christmas episodes. We hate reviewing these, because weíre about as far from the target audience as itís possible to get, and we mean that literally. Youíre supposed to be watching this after Christmas lunch, half asleep after necking the weird-coloured liqueur at the back of the drinks cupboard. But for us, by the time the Christmas special hits our New Zealand timezone the trifle is decimated, the recycling bin is bulging with wrapping paper, and itís 364 days till Christmas. Whatís the opposite of festive?
So when it comes to trying to work out whether a Christmas episode is any good, all bets are off, because weíve never been in a position to see it as itís meant to be seen. Whether itís fit for Christmas purpose, we couldnít say. All we can do is call Ďem as we see Ďem. Just bear in mind that might be through slightly more gimletty eyes than the episode was designed for.
Well, that was whimsical, wasnít it? Some people may feel that a nice little riff on Labyrinth is just what we need from Doctor Who at Christmas. Others, on the other hand, may think that Labyrinth is pretty much perfect as is and nobody needs a Who retread. Care to guess which group we fall into? The fact that some of us mimed vomiting as the credits rolled may provide some sort of a clue.
Itís not so much that we think they shouldnít have done it. (Spoiler: we do think that.) Apparently according to Russell T Davies the Toymaker entering this dimension or whatever it is has opened up this universe to creatures who are more fantasy than SF. OK, if you say so. And if you have to do that kind of thing, a Christmas episode is definitely the place to do it.
However. (You knew that was coming, right?) It might pass if the execution was good, but sorry. Itís. Just. Wrong.
Thereís the musical bit, for a start. Youíll be humming an infectious little tune at the end of it, but sadly, that tune will be Magic Dance. They wedge in a reason for the Doctor and Ruby to burst into song, but Buffy The Musical this ainít. The entire musical side of it is just one long cringe.
Part of the reason for that is that this doesnít feel within light years of Doctor Who. Weíve always been pro trying new things with Who, which isnít done anywhere nearly often enough for a format this flexible. But the trouble with this particular shot at it is that when it comes to the Doctor Who/Disney seesaw, this falls all the way down to the Disney side and slides off the end. Could Doctor Who survive a musical episode? Absolutely. Is this it? Yeah, nah.
And the problem with the Disneyfication of the goblins is that there ends up being a massive air gap between all that stuff and the rest of the episode. Because theyíre so different, the TARDIS team and the goblins barely interact. Itís like watching two different shows that have been badly edited together. The upshot? The goblins have no emotional impact at all. (Excluding the wince part.) So as with the spendy action scenes in Star Beast, the Disney-sized budget spent on the goblins was in our eyes completely thrown away.
And this isnít helped by the number of goblin threads left dangling. Itís like the RTD episodes of yore where he had a huge idea and proceeded to try and stuff it into one episode. If you do this, try as you might ye canna change the laws of physics. Bits stick out and have to be cut off. What was all that about the bad luck? Why are goblins time bimblers and not time travellers? If the goblins were going to eat the Doctor and Ruby as the Doctor assured us, why did they just tie them up? Who knows? Who cares? Not RTD, anyway. So why should we?
And then thereís the other plot. The one about Ruby and the Doctor. It serves us right for breaking our usual rule and reading a bit about this before we saw the episode: we read a lot about the brilliance of the new Doctor and Ruby and their rapport, and after that buildup we ended up a bit disappointed.
This isnít a criticism of Ncuti Gatwa and Millie Gibson in any way. We think Gatwaís got the makings of a really good Doctor, and he was doing his absolute best to get that over, but he was hobbled by the script. We know RTD was brought back to grab in the big audiences with his pre-owned bag of tricks, but we thought he took that too far when it came to the Doctor. You could have subbed David Tennant in his Tenth Doctor incarnation in here and the dialogue would have sounded entirely natural to him.
Whatís more, thereís a lot of action in here and also a bunch of technobabble about the sonic screwdriver and the gloves. (Which are really just another sonic screwdriver. Itís all sonic screwdriver.) That doesnít leave a great deal of room for the kind of dialogue that establishes character. As a result, the Doctor a lot of the time didnít get the chance to demonstrate the charisma we were expecting having seen him in the previous episode. We think Ncuti Gatwa deserves a lot more than that, and weíre counting on him getting more opportunity to glitter than he gets here. As it is there are flashes of personality that intrigued us, so weíre hopeful. After all, this is only the first one and a Christmas episode at that.
As for Ruby, again Millie Gibson is throwing herself into it, but we found her character just the eensiest bit bland. Other than her mysterious origin story, thereís very little to distinguish her. We thought her family were far more interesting: Michelle Greenidge as her mother in particular effortlessly shifted between the two versions of her character and was utterly convincing in both. And we could watch Angela Wynter as Rubyís grandmother chatting with the Doctor all day.
As for the meat of the Ruby plot, it was another retread as we got to see, Itís A Wonderful Lifeishly, what Rubyís family would have been like without her. Sorry, but recycling two movies in one episode is just lazy.
And as with the goblins, the Ruby plot is too overstuffed to make the impact it should. After all the goop about what a happy family they are, itís a little bit jarring when Ruby exits without a word to join the Doctor. And the Doctorís tears when Ruby disappears also feel a bit unearned. After all, heís barely met her.
And thereís another factor cushioning the impact of this episode. Time and again, RTD pulls his punches so that situations set up to be nail-biting suddenly have safety rails around them. The Doctor and Ruby are hanging from a ladder! Oo, scary! Except not, because there are gloves that take all the danger out of it. The goblins are going to eat them! Except instead they just politely tie them up. Ruby goes missing! Oh, but the Doctor zips back into the past and finds her, effortlessly. The goblin ship is absconding with baby Ruby! Itís OK, gloves again and the ship vanishes into a puff of handwavium. Baby Ruby is plunging from the sky! No worries, the Doctor catches her without injuring either of them becauseÖnope. Got nothing. No wonder the episode has all the tension of the stretched-out tracky pants you haul on after your Christmas dinner. It makes everything curiously inert.
Whatís more, so far the Doctorís just too handy. He does the right thing every time with no effort at all. It doesnít exactly drag you behind the sofa. We really hope they dial this back, and soon.
Overall, the episode is trying to be too many things and it ends up underselling most of them. Itís a shame, but given that itís RTDís usual schtick at least itís traditional. And maybe it was a lot better if you saw it when it was meant to be seen. At least thereís enough in here to make us look forward to seeing this TARDIS team again in the future.
THE MAVITY OF THE SITUATION
Theyíre not going to let this lie, are they? One of us has a theory that theyíre using this so that if the audience doesnít accept Ncuti Gatwa as the Doctor they can say none of this timeline was real and throw it back to David Tennant. The rest of us think sheís insane.
THE CRACK OF DOOM
Another crack? Havenít we done that already?
THE COLD COLD SNOW
We know itís traditional to leave babies outside things for pickup, but they usually get tucked into a picturesque little basket. Only a monster would put a baby directly on snowy ground. And not only does Mysterious Caped Figure do it, the Doctor does as well.
WHEN YOU SAY NOTHING AT ALL
The obligatory scene where Ruby first sees inside the TARDIS is done really nicely. We like the shot from above, the way she steps back in shock and the way she runs all the way around the TARDIS, but the best part is that itís done without words.
We love Anita Dobson as the neighbour, and we have no objection to the line to camera, either. Hey, if it was good enough for the First Doctor in a Christmas episodeÖ Although if she knows what the TARDIS is, how come she didnít seem to know anything about it at the beginning of the episode?