The Church on Ruby Road

The Church on Ruby Road December 27, 2023

The business of Christmas hopefully provides an excuse for taking a couple of days before posting my thoughts on “The Church on Ruby Road.” What follows assumes you have seen the episode. I very much like the latest regeneration of the Doctor, and I was glad that despite the wibbly wobbly timey wimey therapy provided by the bigeneration and the other Doctor settling down with family, there was still clearly a rich well of emotion at being the last time lord, even if there was also a newfound freedom to dance and flirt. The childlike innocence at discovering new things made Ncuti Gatwa’s Doctor feel genuinely like so many others. Yet I initially balked at the utter silliness of the main plot focus, baby-eating goblins with a flying ship. The episode then takes a more emotional turn and rewarded our patience. Ultimately it has been the stance all along on Doctor Who that “monsters are real.” The musical performance made me wonder whether Star Trek: Strange New Worlds’ musical episode had inspired Doctor Who to try one as well. Given that this Doctor’s new TARDIS interior added a jukebox made this particularly fitting, and since Ruby is in a band perhaps we should expect more musical numbers in future episodes.

I liked that there were multiple threads of mystery introduced that can be explored as the show continues. One is the identity of Ruby’s mother. The other is the identity of Mrs. Flood, who has seen a TARDIS before. On the other hand, in the alternate timeline that resulted from Ruby’s abduction as an infant, she seemed not to know what one is, which makes the character that much more intriguing. It may be that this is just sloppy writing, since she also complained about the police box in the way earlier in the episode, so the question is whether that was play-acting on her part. No way to tell at this point, but we’ll see. It is starting to become comedic that every time there is a mysterious female character fans ask “Ooh, is it the Rani?” They need to just bring that character back already at some point. Anyway, the character breaks the fourth wall in a way that harkens back to the very first Christmas episode of Doctor Who. The crack in the house caused by a temporal leap also brings to mind the crack through which Gallifrey’s message from its bubble universe could be heard.

There are explicit religious references, and not only in the “Hallelujah, praise the Lord” uttered by Ruby Sunday’s nan Cherry Sunday when she finally gets her cup of tea. The Doctor pursues the goblin ship back to the moment when Ruby had been left on the doorstep of a church, where the goblins are now trying to steal her as an alternative to Lulubelle. As the Doctor pulls down the ship from the sky, the goblin king is impaled on the church steeple. There’s certainly some poignant religious symbolism in that if you’re inclined to explore it. I wonder whether that moment at the church will not be important. Ruby is not a mystery in the same way that Clara Oswald was, but she is still set forth as a mystery nonetheless.

In the end I found the episode as enjoyable as any other Doctor Who episode, and if there were aspects of the goblins that I did not like initially, other things more than made up for it. And the more I think about it, the willingness to introduce magic without any attempt to offer a scientific veneer has become the norm in recent seasons. After all, we had the TARDIS up on the clouds and sentient snowmen in “The Snowmen.” We’re a long way from the era of “The Daemons” yet the difference is just in the veneer. Doctor Who has always had devils, vampires, angels, gods and zombies, it has always had magic and superstition that actually work, it just inclined more in the past to pretend there was a scientific explanation for such things.

What did you think of the Church on Ruby Road? I’m eager to hear your thoughts on it!

See also this post about the episode “Can You Hear Me?” which connects with “The Giggle” in ways that had slipped my mind. I’ll also share a couple of other older posts below that may be of interest.

Doctor Who: Can You Hear Me?

More Ideas of God in The Snowmen

Doctor Who: The Daemons (Conflicting Signals about Science and the Supernatural)

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