"73 Yards" marks the emotional midpoint of Ncuti Gatwa's first season of Doctor Who

"73 Yards" is a Millie Gibson-centric episode where Ruby goes on a horrific journey through time.
Doctor Who. Credit: BBC Studios
Doctor Who. Credit: BBC Studios /

There is something to be said for a Doctor Who episode that works even though the main character is mostly absent. In "73 Yards," Ruby (Millie Gibson) is placed smack dab in the middle of an emotional horror thriller as she and the Doctor (Ncuti Gatwa) arrive in Wales.

For a while, we're led to believe that while they landed in Wales, there is still something alien about the environment. The episode does a great job of fooling us until the other shoe finally drops, but more on that later.

As a Whovian, I truly enjoyed what this week's episode brought to the universe because it continues to feel like vintage Doctor Who. I'm loving the return of Russell T Davies as showrunner because he's bringing us all the things we love about the show: emotions, fear, horror, love, and an insight into the human condition.

This episode certainly ranks up there when it comes to the best episodes of Doctor Who, so without further ado, let's get into the major moments of "73 Yards."

What does "73 Yards" mean?

After landing in Wales, the Doctor and Ruby stumble across a fairy circle. The Doctor realizes what he's done and steps back while Ruby starts grabbing little scrolls with messages on them. As she reads them, she turns to notice...the Doctor is gone. Yes, gone. He's just vanished into thin air and now Ruby can't seem to get into the TARDIS.

In the distance, there's an elderly woman staring at Ruby as she makes gestures with her hands and shoulders. Naturally, Ruby attempts to approach her, but as she gets closer, the old woman moves back. Something odd and sinister is afoot.

As Ruby makes her way to the closest town, she bumps into a hiker (Susan Twist) she asks try and approach the old woman seemingly following Ruby everywhere she goes. The hiker obliges, but when the old woman whispers something to her, she becomes frightened and turns away. I'm sad we never learn what the lady said; I can only imagine. Even as Ruby finds lodging in a Welsh inn, there is no comfort, since this old lady won't leave her alone.

Later in the episode, Ruby learn that the elderly woman remains exactly 73 yards away from her at all times. What does that number mean? We have no idea, and worse yet, that fact is never revealed during the episode.

Review: Doctor Who Episode 4, "73 Yards"

Ruby soon realizes that this lady is never going to leave her alone. Even when she is on a train back to London, the lady keeps popping up. It's very creepy, and Gibson does a phenomenal job displaying how uncomfortable Ruby is.

After arriving back home, Ruby soon learns her life is about to take a turn for the worst. Her mother approaches the lady, but whatever she says makes her scream, run away, and cut ties with Ruby. Ruby never gets to be around her mother again. Sad, right?

Nearly a year later, Ruby continues to contend with the elderly lady's presence. She decides it is time to meet with Kate Lethbridge-Stewart, Chief Scientific Officer and Head of UNIT (Jemma Redgrave). Unfortunately that too goes sideways when the elderly woman gets the UNIT soldiers and Kate to run away, just like she's done with everyone else she's encountered.

It feels like all is hopeless, and eventually, Ruby settles into the idea that this elderly woman is going to be by her side for the rest of her life. It impacts her love life and destroys any chance of happiness because Ruby comes to care for the woman's well-being in some weird way. I mean, how could you not, right?

Roger ap Gwilliam

At the start of the episode, when the Doctor and Ruby stepped into the fairy circle, Ruby had started reading some of the scrolls. One of them said, "Rest in peace, Mad Jack." The Doctor pointed out that this name referred to a horrible politician who will emerge in 2046 (oops, spoilers, as he said) named Roger ap Gwilliam (Aneurin Barnard).

When Ruby sees Roger running for office, she is reminded of what the Doctor said and the scrolls she once read. It dawns on Ruby that perhaps she will be the one to save the world from this horrible man who is ready to start a nuclear war. She gets started by making sure she becomes a volunteer in his campaign, and stays involved through his election as Prime Minister.

During prep for his election speech, Ruby strategically places the elderly woman next to Roger, and just as expected, he hears what the lady has to say and runs away, resigning his post as Prime Minister. So Ruby does save the world by preventing his plans for a nuclear war, and instead a more peaceful PM gets the job.

But what happens to Ruby after that? Is she forever doomed to have the elderly woman by her side? Sort of.

Ending of Doctor Who Season 1, Episode 4 explained

There is a time jump of 40 years into the future when Ruby has now become an elderly woman herself, and is still accompanied by her forever stalker. Ruby reveals she never got to see her mother again and she was never able to find her birth family.

She lived a seemingly sad and lonely life, but she still has hope, just as the Doctor would. She says as much when she goes back to visit the TARDIS she and the Doctor came out of all those years ago, which remains there. The perception filter (welcome back!) allows for others to see the TARDIS there and not think much of it, but it means the world to Ruby.

In the final moments of the episode, there is a massive reveal that tells us who this elderly woman was: it was, in fact...Ruby herself. As Ruby lies in the hospital room, she awakens to whispering voices. The lady no longer being 73 yards away. As the lady turns around, Ruby realizes it has been her all along!

Mind blown, right?!

Old Ruby unexpectedly and unknowingly finds herself back on the cliffs that day her younger self and the Doctor come out of the TARDIS. We're unsure how, but it happens, and she utters the words, "Don't step," as a warning to her younger self. Not stepping on that fairy circle prevents lifelong loneliness and abandonment. And that is the end.

If you're like me, you have a lot of questions about the timeline of this all, and why Ruby was able to see the old lady before the Doctor stepped on the fairy circle in the later timeline. Why did things change there but not before? And what does it really all mean? And I still have a lot of questions about Ruby as the elderly woman and what that means in the context of space and time.

Is this Russell T Davies prepping us for some epic Doctor Who villain reveal? I have so many things I want to know but I am going to trust the franchise veteran to lead us there. If this episode is any indication, we have a lot more chaos headed our way.

Episode Grade: A

Next. Doctor Who explores war, money, A.I., and a father's love in "Boom". Steven Moffat returns to the franchise to pen this week's episode, and leaves us wanting more from the beloved former showrunner.. dark

To stay up to date on everything fantasy, science fiction, and WiC, follow our all-encompassing Facebook page and Twitter account, sign up for our exclusive newsletterand check out our YouTube channel.