Doctor Who: THE CHURCH ON RUBY ROAD Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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The first Christmas Day special since 2017, the first to properly introduce a new Doctor since 2005 (David Tennant's debut), and the first to do so without the anchor of an already established companion. No pressure then. Fortunately Russell T Davies was very much up to the task. With Doctor Who now co-produced with Disney+, the returning showrunner has managed to craft an adventure both instantly recognisable as Doctor Who yet utterly fresh and new. Befitting of this bold, new approach for the long running series.

Of course, all eyes are on the leading man, and "The Church on Ruby Road" gives him space to own the moniker of the Doctor in spades. Ncuti Gatwa's performance as the Fifteenth Doctor is charismatic and carefree, instantly convincing viewers, including his new companion Ruby Sunday (Millie Gibson), to follow him on his intergalactic adventures. He exudes a magnetic charm and a vibrant energy that revitalizes the iconic role, bringing a unique blend of charisma, wit, and emotional depth, effortlessly capturing the Doctor's alien quirkiness while adding a fresh layer of approachability and warmth. Gatwa's nuanced portrayal invites the audience to embrace this new incarnation with an infectious enthusiasm and a promise of thrilling, uncharted adventures through time and space. Briefly introduced at the end of the 60th-anniversary special as a result of David Tennant’s Doctor’s "bi-generation," Gatwa's first full length adventure sees the Fifteenth Doctor embarking on a mission to tackle carnivorous goblins alongside Sunday.

The narrative unfolds with the mysterious arrival of Ruby Sunday on Christmas Eve as a newborn left at a church, setting the stage for her later quest for identity and family. Her journey intersects with the Doctor on a night fraught with supernatural accidents, propelling them into a fast-paced adventure filled with danger and whimsy. Ruby, now nineteen, has lived a relatively content life with her adoptive family, but her curiosity about her birth parents leads her into a series of misfortunes and ultimately to the Doctor.

This special is rife with excitement and a fresh take on the classic Doctor Who spirit. Under the stewardship of returning showrunner Russell T Davies, the episode retains the series' core elements while introducing new dynamics. The Doctor, portrayed by Gatwa, is a figure who easily slips into the modern club scene, singing and dancing with a zest for life not commonly seen in his predecessors. Yet, the mystery that traditionally surrounds the Doctor is preserved, promising intriguing developments in future episodes.

As for Ruby Sunday, her character serves as a relatable entry point for new viewers, offering just enough detail to pique interest while leaving ample room for her backstory to unfold over the season. Her foster family, particularly well-drawn, hints at a deeper exploration of her past as the series progresses. The Church on Ruby Road effectively balances introducing these new characters while maintaining the beloved elements of Doctor Who, from battling fantastical creatures to employing an assortment of quirky gadgets.

Ruby's neighbour, Mrs Flood, played by EastEnders' Anita Dobson, brings an element of potential story-arc mystery with her. Seemingly knowing the TARDIS by the end of the episode (and breaking the fourth wall to tell us, the viewers), this moment is surely more than just a whimsical Christmas nod. No doubt we will return to Notting Hill and Ruby's family throughout the upcoming season, and as this episode played with the concept of coincidences, could it perhaps be just another coincidence that a fellow Time Lord was already 'living' next to Ruby? Probably not a coincidence, but after rain comes a flood, and 'rain' is an anagram for...

But enough of that confecture and back to The Church on Ruby Road which takes a "sly step towards fantasy," as described by Davies, blending the sci-fi scenarios with fairy-tale elements, a direction that Doctor Who has often flirted with throughout its history. The whimsical yet menacing goblins and their gleefully macabre musical number underscore this fairy-tale ambiance, providing a darkly humorous contrast to the festive setting. This approach resonates with the long-standing notion that the show, at its heart, is a modern-day fairy tale, with the Doctor as the enigmatic, magical protagonist.

Overall, "The Church on Ruby Road" stands out as a vibrant and engaging introduction to Gatwa's Doctor and Gibson's Ruby. It pays homage to the show's legacy while paving the way for new stories, ensuring that the essence of Doctor Who — the madman with a box offering spirited adventures — remains unchanged. As fans old and new look forward to more escapades, it's clear that the series is in capable hands, ready to continue its journey through time and space with a fresh, dynamic energy. Whether you're a long-time Whovian or a newcomer drawn in by the allure of Christmas goblins and time-traveling shenanigans, this special is a compelling entry point into the ever-expanding universe of Doctor Who.

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