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Reviewed: Doctor Who Series 14 — The Legend of Ruby Sunday

Back in 2005, I had a frightening dream. In this nightmare, Doctor Who was about to be back on television. I know, terrifying. Not because I was worried that it would be rubbish. Not that I had concerns that it wouldn’t be the show I loved. No. I was traumatised because I didn’t have a VHS tape to record it on.

Of course, in reality, I had plenty of tapes. I would have recorded over Star Cops if needed (that’s a joke by the way, don’t patronise me, you supercilious b*stard). But in this dream, they had all mysteriously disappeared (just like bricks don’t). So I went on a nightmarish hunt around the shops in my home town, Walton-on-Thames.

And in a shop where I once bought a BSB satellite system to watch old episodes of Doctor Who, I found a single, dusty, VHS tape. Which I bought and took home. As Doctor Who was about to be on, I took the tape out to set it to record. But on the VHS there was a label: ‘The Mary Rose.’ Disaster! I couldn’t record over The Mary Rose. (I know it doesn’t make complete sense, but it made DRAMATIC sense in a very Russell T Davies way.) I stared at the VHS tape in horror as the Doctor Who end titles sting and music told me I’d have to wait a whole week to find out how I got out of it…

First thing to note: this is an entirely true story (apart from the bit I added at the end about the credits). I woke up and recounted the dream to my wife who, nearly 20 years later, still tells it as an anecdote to convince people how sad a Doctor Who fan I am/was. They’ve usually worked it out already because of the Monoid eye tattoo on my forehead.

Second thing to note is that the dream is entirely relevant to this review. It is. No, it is. I’m telling you: it is. Because back in 2005 if you missed Doctor Who on TV, you had to have recorded it on your video cassette recorder. And, if there was a power cut, if your mum unplugged the VCR to do the hoovering or you’d entered the VideoPlus+ code incorrectly and you’d taped Ant & Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway instead, then you would have missed Doctor Who! So the only safe thing was to sit in front of the TV and press record when it came on (or a few seconds before). Which meant Doctor Who’s audience was the people who watched it on Saturday night. And a few brave souls who risked the VHS Russian Roulette. Or who had friends who watched Doctor Who who also recorded it (I had neither: see the earlier tattoo reference). This was the case until iPlayer arrived on 25th December 2007, and, gradually, our ‘viewing habits’ changed. Until then, VHS tapes were precious things, as Ruby Sunday and her adopted family will testify.

Now, practically no one watches Doctor Who on TV when it’s on TV. I don’t. And that’s a shame, particularly because of episodes like The Legend of Ruby Sunday. Now I’m not suggesting it was ‘better in the good old days’ as everything has gone ‘woke’ and ‘snowflake’. I’m not writing Richard Molesworth’s column in Infinity magazine. I am saying it has good things and bad things. Sometimes, it means I can stay up on Friday and watch it when it drops at midnight (and fall asleep three minutes before the end like I did with Rogue). Other times, we can plan when to watch it around kids parties, kids bedtime, and kids screen time (I don’t have a life to make me miss it). But, then, spoilers leak everywhere if you don’t watch at midnight. And this episode, while it had much more to recommend it, was all about the big reveal. So spoiling that was huge.

It’s a very RTD Who episode (and much less of an RTD2 episode). It’s Bad Wolf, Daleks in the void, Yana is the Master, the day the Time Lords returned… It has a mysterious figure rising to power like Harold Saxon, Joshua Naismith, and ‘Mad Jack’ Roger ap Gwilliam. It’s heralded by dreams and too big for the Doctor to face alone. If Ruby doesn’t become some sort of powerful God-like entity at the end and save the day, I’ll eat my Mary Rose VHS.

As you’ll probably have guessed from my reviews of old, I don’t do plot summaries. Fortunately, my AI friend, The Vlinx, does:

In The Legend of Ruby Sunday, the Doctor and their allies at UNIT team up to investigate a mystery surrounding companion Ruby Sunday’s past. They utilize a device called the Time Window to revisit the night Ruby was abandoned as a baby on Christmas Eve.

The investigation takes a dark turn when a mysterious corporation, Triad Technology, becomes involved and unleashes an ancient evil. The episode builds towards a shocking cliffhanger with the return of Sutekh, a powerful villain from Doctor Who‘s classic era.

While the Doctor grapples with this new threat, they also struggle with unresolved feelings about their granddaughter Susan, who appears to be somehow connected to the events.

Thanks Vlinx. Thlinx. Not sure about the US spelling of utilise, but there you are.

Now there was much I really enjoyed about the episode. It felt super exciting. I loved the big reveal and callbacks to Pyramids of Mars. Shame Robert Holmes wasn’t credited but that was his ideas and dialogue that terrified kids across the world nearly 50 years later, not Lewis Greifer’s. But I suspect that was some kind of contractual thing. But we who know, know. Thanks Bob. Thob.

There were a few things that confused me. Why was it never explained what the ‘software’ Susan Triad was releasing worldwide? If I was the Doctor (which I am not, yet) the question I would ask is, “What is the ‘software’ Susan Triad was releasing worldwide?” I mean, if you suspected an evil scheme or a trap, you’d ask, right? And why did Ruby immediately think that Triad was the Doctor’s granddaughter? There’s not much of a family resemblance and he’s older than her. She could have worked out the timey-wimey stuff but not the appearance thing (that was explained later).

And the name, Susan. It’s hardly Romanadvoratrelundar. Hey, The Vlinx, how many people in the world are called Susan?

It’s impossible to determine the exact number of people in the world named Susan. Here’s why:

  • No central name registry: There’s no single source that tracks every name globally.
  • Name variations: Susan might have variations in different languages and cultures.

Thanks for nothing, The Vlinx. Tnlinx. But I know the answer: loads. Loads and loads of Susans. It’s like someone looking for their lost father, Terry. And someone in the pub saying: “My uncle’s called Terry! It could be him!”

I suppose it’s because of the mystery of Susan Triad and her strange rise to prominence while her likeness is projected throughout space and time that links them. Yes, there is that. Or Ruby’s been looking at X. Naughty Ruby.

And the anagrams. What is it with super-advanced beings revealing themselves in anagrams, acronyms, and acrostics? However, it did give us one of the most absurdly un-dramatic reveal lines in Doctor Who history: “It was the wrong anagram.” That’s not exactly t-shirt material, is it? I wonder how many attempts the ever-brilliant Ncuti Gatwa took to nail the delivery.

But, unlike my VHS dream, the real proof of this episode will be in the conclusion next Friday at midnight, Saturday on TV, or Wednesday if you are on a long weekend camping trip to Cornwall where you’re about as likely to get a signal as it turning out that Mrs Flood is Susan after all. But on your way to the portaloos, you’ll probably overhear a vocal local yokel with a Monoid tattoo on his head saying: “Who’d have thought the Doctor would defeat Sutekh the great Destroyer, Sutekh, the Lord of Death with an old VHS tape containing ‘The Mary Rose’!”

Peter Shaw

Reviewed: Doctor Who Series 14 — The Legend of Ruby Sunday

by Peter Shaw time to read: 6 min
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