Sunday 26 May 2024

73 Yards - A Review

The odd title had already been explained before the episode made it to the screen. It was the distance maintained by a strange woman who begins trailing Ruby after she and the Doctor have disturbed an odd structure of string, bones and stones - a fairy circle - found in the grass near the TARDIS landing site.
The Doctor then inexplicably vanishes for the rest of the episode. (It was designed to allow Gatwa to finish work on Sex Education).
We're in proper Wales this week - it's not playing another part of the world or another planet for a change. 
RTD2 stressed in interviews in advance that he wanted to celebrate his homeland, We get about 30 seconds of praise, before he then presents us with rude and obnoxious staff and customers of a rural inn, followed by an insane right-wing Welsh politician. The only nice person Ruby meets in Wales is an English woman (this week's Susan Twist appearance).
Not quite what the Welsh tourist board might have been hoping for.

The action leaves Wales anyway, with London being the main focus of the latter half - which coincides with a big problem with this episode.
A promising "Folk Horror" instalment is being set up, with the spirit of Mad Jack resurrected in a remote country location. We're already being freaked out by the black-clad, grey haired lady whose following Ruby - someone capable of causing people to flee in terror.
It's all shaping up nicely when... 

Turns out it was all a joke by those lovely Welsh people, and we've just wasted a huge chunk of the episode on a wild goose chase. Hugely frustrating.
The story now switches to the mad populist politician, played by Aneurin Barnard. His character - Roger Ap Gwilliam  - is introduced in a really, really clumsy fashion, as the Doctor just happens to mention his name to Ruby.
The episode has now taken on elements of Turn Left in a major way, as we see how Ruby lives for many years after the Doctor has disappeared from her life - including having an encounter with UNIT, just like Donna. 
Older Ruby never really convinces. She just looks the same but with a different wig. We know that they can do old age make-up very well these days, so not sure why they avoided it. (When she does get to be much older, it's a different actor).
The Ap Gwilliam part of the story is a lot less interesting than the lost potential of the opening section.
It's basically stolen from Stephen King's The Dead Zone.
The manner in which he is defeated - Ruby manipulating the unknown woman to reach a place right next to him - is at least a clever way of resolving things (avoiding the usual self-sacrifice / assassination attempt).

Another frustration is that we never learn how this situation came about. There's definitely no sci-fi explanation. Instead it all seems to derive from supernatural causes - the breaking of the fairy circle.
We don't know what the woman is saying to scare people away - to the extent that Ap Gwilliam resigns the Premiership, and Kate Stewart abandons Ruby, as does her own mother.
We don't know why the Doctor disappears. 
We don't know how Ruby can end up travelling back through time to stalk her younger self in the first place.
There's no indication that any of this is going to be revisited later in the series, so it's all being left intentionally vague.

Another gripe from me is the underuse of the two big guest artists. Barnard only shows up half-way through, whilst Sian Phillips is confined to the false-start inn sequence.
As I said - frustrating. 
What makes it watchable, however, is the atmosphere and the mystery of what is going on, and how things will link up and resolve themselves. 
In other words, it's great on first viewing - but once you know what's happening, and how things are going to be left unanswered, it might prove to be one of the episodes you are least likely to revisit.

Ruby creating snow features yet again. Susan Twist plays another character (but this time Ruby begins to realise she's seen her before. Is she connected to Ruby, or is it to the Doctor? The problem is that we first saw her before Ruby joined the series, and here she appears when the Doctor is absent).
We also see the return of UNIT, who we know play a significant role in the finale. As this is a Turn Left-style timeline, Ruby will have to meet Kate for the first time all over again.
A phrase of the Doctor's has been picked up on - "the war between the land and the sea". He's describing the Welsh coastal landscape, but this title has also been bandied about as a possible spin-off series, featuring Sea Devils / Silurians.

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