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Doctor Who: 73 Yards review: Don't stand so close to me

Published by Engadget on Sat, 25 May 2024

The following contains spoilers for '73 Yards.'Russell T. Davies admits his writing eschews narrative formalism in favor of things that just feel right. Two decades ago, his critics pointed to his use of deus ex machina endings as a stick to beat his reputation with. But we're in a different era now, where vibes matter just as much as logic ' both inside the show's new more fantastic skew, and in the real world. '73 Yards' is the vibiest episode of new Doctor Who so far, but I even found it easy to sit back and enjoy what it was doing.Doctor Who is a complicated show to make, and some series have started production on Day 1 a week or more behind schedule. To combat this, the show started making '-lite' episodes that didn't need the leads to be as involved. There are 'Doctor-lite' episodes like 'Love and Monsters' and 'Blink,' and even 'companion-lite' episodes like 'Midnight.' This production process enables the star, or stars, to be off shooting Episode A while a guest cast takes the spotlight for the bulk of Episode B.Production of the new series began while star Ncuti Gatwa was still finishing the last of his work on Netflix's Sex Education. So while he appears in the opening and closing moments of "73 Yards", he's otherwise absent as the Doctor has been erased from history. It gives us the chance to see what a modern companion would do if left stranded in uncertain territory without her alien ally. The episode takes hard turns from folk and rural horror to kitchen-sink drama before becoming a light homage to Taxi Driver. Suffice to say, this is another episode you wouldn't watch with small kids.Bad Wolf / BBC StudiosThe TARDIS lands on a cliff edge in Wales, with the Doctor pointing out it's another liminal space where magic is allowed to creep in. He even mentions the war between the 'land and the sea,' name-checking a rumored spin-off fans discovered after scouring production documents. The Doctor talks about how great a country Wales is, except for Roger ap Gwillam, a Welsh politician who, two decades hence, will lead the UK to the brink of nuclear armageddon. He then steps into a fairy ring, disturbing its web, and disappears while Ruby reads the paper notes tied to it. The notes mention a Mad Jack, a scary figure that sounds like a villain from folklore.Suddenly, Ruby is alone on the cliff but can now see the blurry figure of an old woman waving her arms at her in the distance. Ruby tries to approach her but the figure remains the same distance away (the titular 73 yards) no matter where she goes. Believing the Doctor has ghosted her, she tries to solve the quandary of this figure on her own. Ruby approaches a hiker (Susan Twist) and tries to work out where she's seen her before (every episode thus far), but can't quite put her finger on it. She asks the hiker if she'd be willing to speak to the old woman who is following her, but when the hitchhiker gets there, whatever she says is so horrifying that she sprints away from the scene in terror.Ruby heads to a pub in the nearby town where the locals mock her ' mistaking her hesitancy for condescension. She asks one of the patrons to go speak to the woman and, when he does, the same thing happens. Ruby gets home and asks her mum to try, this time holding a phone so Ruby can hear what she's saying. But the phone call is disrupted and her mum is similarly horrified by what she hears ' locking Ruby out of her home soon after. Kate Lethbridge-Stewart and UNIT are next to offer aid, right up until they encounter the woman, when they all abandon her.Bad Wolf / BBC StudiosAll the time, the old woman remains 73 yards away from wherever Ruby is, unnoticed by everyone else unless Ruby directs their attention to her. She can't photograph the woman's face ' it's blurry ' and can't get close enough to hear her ominous warning. In fact, even to the end of the episode, there's a lot of unknowns that are never resolved.Ruby's strangely resilient, and once she's gotten beyond the abandonment, she looks to build a new life for herself. She treats her stalker as a friend, wishing her well as we cycle through a montage of the next chapter of Ruby's life. She gets a job, moves into her own flat and goes through a series of breakups as she gently ages past 30, and then 40. Then, on the TV, she sees Roger ap Gwillam on the TV, who even mentions Mad Jack, and remembers both the Doctor's warning and the messages in the fairy ring. It takes Ruby no time at all to be sure that her purpose in life is to save the world, and to avert Gwillam's nuclear catastrophe.She signs up to Gwillam's fascist political party as a volunteer and eventually reaches a position where she's close to the top. Gwillam's rise is quick and it's not long before he's promising to secede from NATO and put his itchy trigger finger on the UK's nuclear arsenal, ready to wage war on the rest of the world. Gwillam's inauguration will take place at Cardiff City Stadium, while Ruby follows the politician along, lurking in the crowd.Bad Wolf / BBC StudiosRuby then starts to approach Gwillam, walking across the off-limits pitch at the stadium, and you expect her to pull out a weapon. But instead, she whips out her phone and starts measuring the distance between her and Roger until she reaches 73 yards. When she does, she gestures to the villain to notice the woman, and when he notices her, he hears the horrifying thing she says. The shock is enough to send Gwillam racing out of the stadium, resigning from the role of Prime Minister and preventing nuclear armageddon.But while Ruby hoped that would be the end of it, the figure remains with her for the rest of her life. It's only on her deathbed she realizes she can project herself back in time to act as a warning for the Doctor to not step in the fairy ring. She does so, preventing the accident in the first place and paradoxically nullifying the entire time stream in the process. History carries on its merry way and all is well' for now. But given the risks of paradoxes in Doctor Who, and the general sense that history is unraveling, it might not augur too well for what's going to happen in the future.Bad Wolf / BBC Studios'73 Yards' is an exercise in putting your character in a hostile world and seeing what they'll do to deal with it. It's an episode that, when written down, doesn't feel like a lot happens, because so much of its runtime is an exploration of Ruby as a character. Doctor Who thrives when the companion role is occupied by someone who wants to grab a fistful of narrative for themselves. And Ruby Sunday seems almost too perfect in her ability to draw out the logic from what she's experienced and work within it.Much as you can draw narrative and thematic parallels between the new series and Davies' original tenure, this episode pulls from 'Turn Left.' Both tell the story of what happens to a companion when the Doctor is withdrawn from the narrative and what they do to fix that wrong. And it's no surprise both suggest that the UK, without the intervention of the Doctor, is only a few days away from tipping over into fascism.Ruby's humanity shines, even to the point where she's trying to treat her tormentor with care. She refuses to fly, or travel by boat, lest she endanger the life of the apparition that's following her, despite how much damage it causes to her life. And when she sees Roger ap Gwillam on the TV, she's certain that her destiny is to prevent the nuclear armageddon the Doctor warned her about. This is another useful thread ' the idea that Ruby has an instinctive grasp of the genre she exists in ' much as she did in 'Space Babies.'As for the ending, it's probably best we talk about those 'vibes,' or the sort of slightly skewed associations in the show's logic. Ruby, at the end of her life, realizes that she's able to travel, or project herself somehow, through time to avert the Doctor's fall. There's nothing in the episode that points to it, no hint that the ghostly figure is Ruby, or if this is tied to the snow or anything else. But perhaps, the trick to an episode like this is simply to let yourself relax and enjoy seeing the character evolve, rather than anything more.Susan Twist CornerObviously, Susan Twist plays the hiker that Ruby first encounters after the Doctor disappears and, for the first time, Ruby notices the familiarity. In the materials that Disney sends along that Susan Twist's character is named the 'mystery woman.'And on the subject of twists, you'll recall at the end of 'Church on Ruby Road' that, in the post-credits, Mrs Flood (Anita Dobson) breaks the fourth wall. The annoying neighbor character, who lives next to Ruby's mum's flat, turns to the camera and asks if we've 'Never seen a TARDIS before'' (Given her surprise at seeing it earlier in the episode, it's clear her history may have been changed during the course of the show.) When Ruby heads back to her mum's house, Anita Dobson's Mrs Flood is back sitting on her step with her deckchair out. Interestingly, when she notices the ghostly figure ' and Ruby and her Mum's attempts to deal with it, she declares that it's 'nothing to do with me' and goes inside. Which, again, feels like a hint that Mrs Flood and the mystery woman are separateThis article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/doctor-who-73-yards-review-dont-stand-so-close-to-me-000018703.html'src=rss
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