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Doctor Who: ‘The Legend of Ruby Sunday’ Sets the Stage for a Thrilling Finale

Photo Credit: BBC/Disney+

The penultimate episode of the new season of Doctor Who, ‘The Legend of Ruby Sunday,’ offers a gripping setup for what seems destined to be an epic finale. While this episode plays its key emotional beats very effectively and devotes a ton of time to building suspense, it contains a bit more reveal than plot. As a result, this review is one big ol’ spoiler, so please be sure to check out the episode before reading ahead.

The Doctor (Ncuti Gatwa, Sex Education) and Ruby Sunday (Millie Gibson, Coronation Street) hit the ground running with so much urgency, it’s almost as if they are fleeing the weight of The Doctor’s emotional trauma last week in “Rogue” when the TARDIS completes its latest dramatic physical landing in the middle of UNIT headquarters. Immediately, the slow-roll recognition of actress Susan Twist’s recurring face, the face that has been haunting us since ‘Wild Blue Yonder,’ pays off in a big way. The Doctor is here with his companion, and they want answers.

Fortunately, our emotional, loving, and healing new Doctor takes time to make himself at home, connect with some familiar faces, and endear himself to some new buddies. First, we make a full circle return to ‘The Star Beast‘ when Donna Noble’s daughter Rose (Yasmin Finney, Hearstopper) turns up as an invited guest/employee at UNIT HQ. While we don’t get an appearance from David Tenant’s Fourteenth Doctor, Fifteen does ask Rose how her “uncle” is doing. From there, we get another look at the freshly upgraded (and notably sus if you ask this reviewer) robot/AI thing called “The Vlinx.” We even check in with active gym member and resident UNIT badass Col. Christopher Ibrahim. Most notably, we meet a new UNIT employee. Child supergenius Morris Gibbons (Lenny Rush, Am I Being Unreasonable?) segways his way into our hearts by rattling off some grim statistics and showcasing a willingness to push experimental technology to the limits that could put the one and only Pete “Maverick” Mitchell to shame.

Naturally, the increasingly-present Kate Lethbridge-Stewart is here to run the show in UNIT headquarters and make it clear that humanity is pulling out all of its best tricks to aid The Doctor in his latest bid to protect Earth. UNIT is here with some exposition and puzzle pieces in place that clear the runway for a juicy reveal later in the episode. Most importantly, UNIT knows exactly who the recurring mystery woman is: Susan Triad of Susan Triad Technology! In this reality, she seems to be a high-powered tech mogul with access to alien technology. Of course, undercover agent (and former companion) Mel has embedded herself with Ms. Triad and can’t seem to find anything suspicious about her behavior.

Of course, that’s all about to change. Kate has a “chrysalis” theory about Ms. Triad; she may be an unwitting vessel waiting to be activated – “A phoenix is only a bird until it burns.” Ultimately, Kate turns out to be right when Susan Triad transforms into one of Sutekh’s crypt-keeper-looking, death-dealing minions.

Still…let’s not get ahead of ourselves, because there seem to be some other transformations hovering on the horizon. Our favorite suspicious neighbor Mrs. Flood (Anita Dobson, EastEnders) is back. She has been acting strange ever since The Doctor went back to 2004 to save Ruby from some goblins. This week, she terrifies Ruby’s grandmother, Cherry Sunday, when she refuses to fetch a cup of tea and gives an ominous monologue about an approaching storm.

This is just one of the many ways that this ‘The Legend of Ruby Sunday’ takes time to tease fans over all of their various theories. Folks who believe Mrs. Flood might be a villainous lackey or a member of the Pantheon get some juicy evidence here. On the flipside, there is room to imagine that Mrs. Flood’s creepy tone is an intentional misdirection. Her reference to an “Oncoming Storm” could just as easily be a reference to one of The Doctor’s more famously badass nicknames. Perhaps Mrs. Flood is a Time Lord (“I’m always hiding myself away,” she says in an echo of Fifteen’s explanation of why Time Lords change their faces), or Ruby, or The Master, or even The Doctor’s granddaughter Susan Ford. We also learn that Time Lords can experience their own families out of order, so perhaps Mrs. Flood is The Doctor’s mystery child. It’s all on the table.

Similarly, the episode cracks several jokes about “TARDIS” as an anagram of S. Triad, a theory that kept the internet busy in the days leading up to the episode. Carla Sunday even suspects that the ghostly shape we see later in the episode is “The Beast.” She seems to be referencing the concept of Lucifer from a Christian perspective, but some Whovian theorists are rubbing their hands with excitement over the possible reference to an ancient being that the Tenth Doctor and Rose Tyler encountered in “The Impossible Planet” and “The Satan Pit.” Heck, even in the midst of the final reveal, the episode name drops this reviewer’s pet theory regarding The Trickster from the Sarah Jane Adventures.

Fortunately, even with all of this theorizing and teasing of the audience, there is a strong emotional core to this episode. We learn that ‘The Legend of Ruby Sunday’ is not only the name of the episode, but also a cute pet name for the VHS tape with security footage featuring a grainy depiction of Ruby’s mother on the night that she abandoned baby Ruby. Fittingly, this “legend” also serves as a sort of guide or inscription that allows UNIT’s “time window” to generate its most perfect depiction of the past yet.

We really feel the stakes when The Doctor braces Ruby for this confrontation with her past. She manifests snow once again, and he finally articulates why Ruby and this memory scare him so much: “Now, I warn you…time has tides and hollows. And secrets. And this fixed point on Christmas Eve is the wildest I have ever seen.” Then, the subsequent moments pay off this setup. Morris Gibbons cranks the time window to 1000, and Carla Sunday empathizes with the ghostly image that we believe to be Ruby’s mother; she believes the woman is crying the tears of a mother in pain. Instantly lovable new UNIT soldier Col. Winston Chidozie decays into a spooky pile of dust when he wanders into the creepy nebulous void of Ruby’s 2004 origin story (“It’s hot, it’s cold…it’s radioactive…it’s dead,” says Morris Gibbons). The pacing and suspense are superb, and the time window is a really effective visual effect that puts us inside of an old surveillance video.

Once the rising stakes force The Doctor to confront Susan Triad, we get to see more of his repressed frustration when Fifteen grunts and punches at a wall over his deep fear that this mysterious being could turn out to be the granddaughter he abandoned so very long ago. By the time evil undercover UNIT agent Harriet Arbinger (Genesis Lynea, The Baby) finishes hyping up the big bad, we learn that it is none other ancient alien Osiran Sutekh; we last saw this baddie when the fourth Doctor trapped him in a time tunnel that aged him to death over the course of 7000 years (that played out in a matter of seconds in the eyes of audience members). He seems to be back from beyond the grave, or perhaps the supernatural elements that have been leaking into the Whoniverse this season turned him into a literal god.

Of course, it’s Ncuti Gatwa who puts the final piece of the puzzle in place, His look of horror as Fifteen acknowledges the identity of his foe sells the danger to seasoned Whovians and newcomers to the fandom alike.

‘The Legend of Ruby Sunday’ is a blast of an episode that demands an epic solution from our favorite time traveler. It also answers some questions…but not every question. We leave Ruby on the brink of staring into the mysterious face of her mother, and we still haven’t acknowledged why The Doctor’s memory of Ruby’s mother keeps changing. As he puts it, “My memory of this moment keeps changing, like time is changing.”

So, while we have some answers, there is still plenty of room for theorizing. In fact, yours truly still isn’t ready to fully abandon that Trickster theory. Listen, nobody rocks a hood or knows how to mess with a fraught moment in time better than The Trickster. Plus, that secret song inside of Ruby from ‘The Devil’s Chord‘ still sounds an awful lot like The Trickster’s theme. Maybe Susan Triad isn’t the only caterpillar looking to break free from its chrysalis; is Ruby about to level up? Perhaps some heavy hitters from the Pantheon helped Sutekh pull off this scheme – we already know that Fifteen’s cursed TARDIS (it’s as if Sutekh is “woven into the TARDIS itself”) is a product of The Toymaker’s game back in ‘The Giggle.‘ If The Trickster is also involved, perhaps this member of The Pantheon wants to align with The Doctor to take down the God of Death. We know The Trickster prefers chaos to rulers and agendas. Back in his Sarah Jane Adventures debut, he explained why he’d rather see Earth fall to a meteor than an invading force: “These other species, they invade for power, profit, revenge. The meteor is pure chaos. The destruction of the Earth for no reason at all. Just blind chance. This is food for me!”

Admittedly, a second big character return is not a likely direction for the finale, and armchair theorists, like this reviewer, shouldn’t hold on to their tinfoil hat theories too tightly. Nevertheless, it seems clear that the latest season of Doctor Who knows a thing or two about promoting fan engagement. This reviewer is certainly excited for whatever unfolds when The Doctor takes on a literal god in the finale (and can’t wait to unpack the remaining answers, either)!

Doctor Who, ‘Legend of Ruby Sunday’ is now streaming on Disney+

Randy Allain
Randy Allainhttps://randyallain.weebly.com/
Randy Allain is a high school English teacher and freelance writer & podcaster. He has a passion for entertainment media and is always ready for thoughtful discourse about your favorite content. You will most likely find him covering Doctor Who or chatting about music on "Every Pod You Cast," a deep dive into the discography of The Police, available monthly in the Pop Break Today feed.


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