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Reviewed: Doctor Who Series 14 — 73 Yards

For 60 years now, as fans of Doctor Who, we’ve encountered bizarre phenomena having to do with time travel. Quite often, it makes no sense if you put the microscope to it. The unexplainable phenomenon has even been given an unofficial term: “timey-wimey“, because for us, time travel is not possible, and some bits are over our heads. Indeed, those bits are often over the heads of most characters in the episodes themselves. 

But usually, we content ourselves with it being an entertaining story that thrills us, scares us, or makes us laugh. We accept the timey-wimey and just enjoy it, because it’s Doctor Who.

Well, I’m here to tell you, I enjoyed 73 Yards. Yes, there are questions I have that will perhaps never be answered, as it deals with the mechanics or rules of the supernatural, because you might very well say…

It’s “witchy-itchy”. 

You may as well log this Doctor Who term right over there with timey-wimey. Makes just as much sense.

Now, admitting that — just like time travel — I don’t know everything about witchcraft, spells, and fairy circles, this was one creepy story. And it was ambitious! Doing a Doctor-lite story this early on in the Fifteenth Doctor’s run was risky, but unlike nonsensical songs, and meta dance numbers, I actually love that Russell T Davies went this route. It reminded me a bit of Turn Left, only with Ruby being the abandoned companion. Credit where credit is due though — I’ve been very public about my disdain for Ruby Sunday since she arrived, but Millie Gibson did a good job here. I think she may have earned her stripes with this one, which is kooky seeing as this was the first one she actually filmed.

I have no idea why the Doctor is so unbelievably excited about arriving in Wales — can’t be because of the sleepy, local pubs run by jerks who terrorise young, vulnerable blondes in the dark of night. I did like how respectful and tender the Doctor was regarding the sanctity of the fairy circle both at the start and finish of the episode. It was touching and lovely. That’s Ncuti Gatwa’s sweet spot there, and he managed it without tears.

Going into this, approaching the halfway point of this season, I thought the old woman in the distance would once again be Susan Twist, this time playing “The Hiker”, and that we’d get a big, mid-season reveal. Nope. She was just an actual hiker, and the charade plays on. I’m shifting away from this being a simulation, and leaning more towards this season being a manipulated and observed timeline by The One Who Waits. Or if it is the three gods of Ragnarok, you’ve got Flood, Twist, and…? But that’s another discussion. I’m sure the exact nature of how that all works will be about as muddy as “Bad Wolf” at the end of the first Series 1.

But the wildest, creepiest element in all the story is The Freak-Out. Anyone who encounters the old woman in the distance simply freaks out — even Ruby’s mother and Kate Lethbridge-Stewart (Jemma Redgrave). At first, I wondered what the old woman could have said about Ruby to freak people out. But after the interaction with her mom, what possible thing could the woman have said to make her actively and angrily turn against her own daughter? Albeit a foster daughter who she dearly loved? 

It eventually seemed more likely she was not clearly communicating with words, but with some sound that screwed with people’s higher brain functions, causing terror in the subject triggering a fight or flight reaction when going anywhere near either old woman or Ruby. Regarding the “witchy-itchy” nature of the situation, that’s what made the most sense to me. 

Mad Jack. Was his rise, his existence (?), the supernatural equivalent to the Bootstrap Paradox? He clearly was connected to the fairy circle, but was he put in play in the timeline because the Doctor broke the circle? Was the Doctor the one who originally stopped him in the normal timeline, but his disappearance altered things, forcing Ruby to take a hand and play things out, merely because she remembered the Doctor mentioning him? And the breaking of the fairy circle: did the Doctor really disappear, or was he just held back as his actions caused a new supernatural timeline to branch off? A new timeline that Ruby fixed, even though it took her 65 years to do it?

Witchy-itchy.

The time shifts through Ruby’s life, rocky and disruptive as it was with her dragging around the old woman… I initially wondered if her taking down the politician in ‘46 was the reason for the old woman in the first place. But no, I think the primary goal was old Ruby running out the life cycle to go back and influence young Ruby to prevent the Doctor from stepping on the fairy circle. Stopping the politician using the old woman as a weapon and thus saving the world from nuclear devastation was a beneficial by-product — a side part of the overall plan. Ooof! This was a heavy episode.

I enjoyed 73 Yards, probably even more than Boom last week. I admire a bold story and this was definitely that, as well as a fun ride. I’ll be curious to see what mercurial fandom will say. Russell said he felt this was the best thing he’d ever written. I wouldn’t go that far, as Turn Left and Midnight still top it, but I do think it was better than the vast majority of his previous stuff. 

What say you, mercurial fandom? 

Rick Lundeen

Reviewed: Doctor Who Series 14 — 73 Yards

by Rick Lundeen time to read: 4 min
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