73 Yards

Posted in Episode by - May 25, 2024
73 Yards

Aired 25 May 2024


Landing on the Welsh coast, Ruby embarks on the strangest journey of her life when the Doctor goes missing after inadvertently breaking a fairy ring in ’73 Yards’ by Russell T Davies.

While so-called Doctor-lite episodes reached their peak during Russell T Davies’s helming of the Tenth Doctor era, the sheer variability these have offered with resulting classics such as ‘Blink’ and ‘Turn Left’ prove just how wildly successful an atypical storytelling approach can be. ’73 Yards’ delves into the relatively rarely-explored horror genre and puts Millie Gibson front and centre with Ruby very much the focus as she unknowingly becomes ensnared in an ominous folk tale, stalked by a presence that appears to be an elderly woman and that always remains precisely seventy-three yards away from her. The result is a series of painfully heart-breaking moments as Ruby sees the world around her continue to shrink while those who interact with the woman she points out run away screaming and refuse to have anything to do with her. Such profound emotional change without knowing what was said is immensely powerful, and while seeing strangers react in such a fashion is already unsettling enough, seeing her own mother react just as strongly and then totally rejecting her adoptive daughter despite Ruby’s emotional pleas over several days is agonizingly effective at highlighting the destruction of Ruby’s personal world in which she is never and yet always alone.

Through the surprising inclusion of Kate Stewart and UNIT, Ruby is able to discuss some of her fears and thoughts more evenly, and her consideration that she may die if she takes herself somewhere where the entity might not survive seventy-three yards away from her such as in the air or on a lake provides an intriguing insight into the rationality of this character even when faced with such understated horrors of the unknown. Even with psychic training and special technology, however, Kate and UNIT’s finest are not immune to the effects of this entity, and though Kate does not run away screaming, the look of disgust and derision on her face as she disengages and walks away once more highlight the power of this being that has attached itself to Ruby and hammers home even more Ruby’s traumatic burden that Gibson portrays so exceptionally well. Still, Kate’s remark that this timeline seems to be stuck on Ruby is an interesting turn of phrase whether intended or not, perhaps suggesting that UNIT has a means of monitoring different timelines or that these fairy rings are in some way responsible for keeping certain alternatives at bay.

Indeed, following an off-handed comment from the Doctor about a particular Prime Minister and a note in the ring about ‘Mad Jack’ comes to be all too important, Ruby makes it her goal to ensure that the future the Doctor warned about does not come to pass. As she infiltrates Roger Ap Gwilliam’s election campaign and stays at his side even as his more fascist tendencies and suggested abusive nature become more clear, Ruby’s steadfast commitment to her plan becomes yet another testament to her character; although the episode features a significant tonal change away from horror as hints of a dystopian future and the United Kingdom voting for such a leader come to light, Ruby’s ability to utilize the being to cause Roger to leave his position without reason fits visually well within the narrative confines of this story. Unfortunately, because what precisely the entity is saying is never elucidated, the resolution does lose some of its effect. Everything to that point had been centred specifically around Ruby with everyone leaving her completely isolated, but a resignation from such a powerful office when there were so many options to have Ruby removed suggests that the powers and motivations changed at this moment with no real explanation. Much like her mother changed the locks on the doors and cut off contact with Ruby, Roger could have easily done something similar while remaining in power, and the lack of consistency or offer of any explanation creates something of an ambivalent feeling as events come to a close.

It’s both surprising and unsurprising when the identity of the strange being is revealed, but even if it was Ruby’s mission to avert the alternate timeline, no explanation is given as to why she had to live almost the entirety of her life before events were brought back to the episode’s beginning. While reset buttons are all too prevalent within science fiction, they still have a profound ability to bring about emotional growth and character development, but completely erasing everything- including Ruby’s memories- about that timeline again creates a sensation that so much great potential was ultimately unfuliflled. Not that it’s fair to have Ruby have to remember all of that pain and suffering, but there were so many formative moments for her there that are now rendered meaningless. A story can still remain relevant and resonant without answering all of the questions at its core, but the conclusion of ’73 Yards’ that eliminates any sense of consequence- pending future episodes potentially revisiting aspects here- and that refuses to explain how its core problem came to be or how the entity actually works is a significant detraction from what up to that point is a nearly perfect foray into horror.

This post was written by

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.