Disney’s Doctor Who – Episode 4 “73 Yards” Recap & Review

73 Yards

Episode 4 of Doctor Who begins with the craziest line of dialogue in the show’s history. Doc and Ruby make it to Wales and he steps out, calling the country “spectacular”. Only joking guys, Wales is beautiful really. Anyway, as they step forward the Doctor almost stands on a strange circle on the ground. It appears to have been made by children, with messages like “I miss you” and “Rest in Peace, Mad Jack”. It’s clearly a memorial of some sort… but there’s a problem.

The Doctor suddenly disappears and Ruby is stuck on her own. The Tardis is locked and she finds a strange old lady gesturing to Ruby in the distance. She doesn’t say anything, and continues to keep her distance from Ruby. She stalks Ruby as our companion wanders through the wilderness, away from the Tardis. But that woman keeps showing up.

When it starts to snow, Ruby comes across a hiker who explains that the town nearby is called Glyngatwg. The hiker is familiar, and appears to be this Susan Twist character that’s popping up in most episodes, but she hurries off. She approaches the old lady on Ruby’s instruction and presumably asks about the Doctor. It doesn’t go to plan and this hiker screams and runs away.

Ruby makes it into town and straight to the nearest pub, where she’ll presumably wait for all of this to blow over. Those inside berate Ruby for not wearing a coat in these conditions. Ruby pays for a room for the night, much to the annoyance of the barmaid, and there’s definitely an uneasy, hostile atmosphere here.

When those inside the pub find out that the old lady is following Ruby, the barmaid asks why she hasn’t asked what the lady wants. Ruby has one of the men, Josh, go out and speak to the old lady personally on the way home. Ruby wants him to ask abut the Doctor, but when he does, Josh suddenly shouts and runs away.

It’s here we learn that the clifftops are apparently a boundary between the land and the sea. It’s a liminal space that’s neither here nor there and where rules are suspended. Ruby stepping into this circle seems to have triggered something. Apparently Wales is steeped in blood given its history with the English. Even worse though, Ruby reading all these notes about Mad Jack could be what’s broken the spell and caused chaos to be unleashed on this quaint little town.

Apparently “he walks through the gaps.” and is also referred to as “The spiteful one”. Ruby argues that the Doctor would never disrespect anyone (unless it’s someone who hates faith, eh!) and whatever has happened here, hasn’t been done on purpose. There are parallels to Midnight and Turn Left in terms of atmosphere and paranoia, especially as knocking at the door causes everyone to grow restless and panicked, believing it’s Mad Jack. When Ruby opens it, we learn that it’s just the delivery man. And just like that, everyone bursts into laughter, calling Ruby racist for claiming that everything here is all witches and curses.

Ruby stays the night and gets into a routine of sitting before the Tardis by day and then at the pub in the evening… until the barmaid ushers her away for causing a disturbance. Ruby decides to go home, but on the train ride, she finds the same woman continuously showing up on the route back home. Unfortunately, her mum ends up talking to the strange woman and it causes her too to run away. In fact, she hops in a taxi and leaves. Ruby continues to try and phone her but it doesn’t work. She’s gone. And even worse, the door back into her apartment is also locked. Eventually Ruby’s mum does pick up and tells her daughter to stop calling, pointing out that even her real mother didn’t want her.

Some time later, Kate Lethbridge-Stewart shows up to see Ruby. She explains that she can help and Ruby goes on to mention that this has been ongoing now for a whole year. It’s been that long since the previous scene with her mum, who now has an injunction against her. Kate wants to help and gives a brief overview of what UNIT actually do, hinting at the supernatural being something they “now look into” and presumably what’s happening here. Anyway, Ruby goes on to explain that the old lady is exactly 73 yards away. It would appear that she has some sort of perception filter where people don’t really notice her but also… that they do.

There’s a bit more religion bashing before Kate points out that UNIT can’t actually photograph the old lady without it going blurry. She gives the go-ahead for her to be brought in but as all these guards suddenly show up, everyone turns and then runs away. In fact, Kate seems to be possessed and gives the order to “disengage”. Just like that, everyone rushes off.

Ruby smashes a glass on the ground and then we jump through a montage of the years. The decades pass and Ruby continues to work her way through a number of different men, each unhappy that Ruby doesn’t listen to her and acts coldly toward them. Eventually it falls to the Elections, where we learn that the candidate looking to run… is Mad Jack. Roger Ap Williams to be precise. Before Ruby leaves, she belittles the guy she’s currently dating, patronizing him for being terrible in bed and decides she’s going to “save the world”.

Ruby shows up at the election campaign and finds herself holding coats as Mad Jack takes to the stage. He explains on a TV broadcast that he wants to spend $65 billion on nuclear weapons. He wants to set the UK up as the best nation in the world. He also seems unhinged and hints at firing a nuclear warhead. Ruby, listening to all of this, pledges herself to the cause.

Roger is eventually voted in as Prime Minister and he’s about to be broadcast across the world. On Saturday, he’s going to declare UK away from Nato and buy Nuclear weapons from Pakistan. Presumably, he’ll also launch them too after broadcasting from Cardiff stadium with 40k in attendance. I’m not sure why he didn’t go somewhere like Wembley or The O2 arena, which seem like far better options here. 

Anyway, Ruby has head enough and wanders across the pitch, back 73 yards away from the Prime Minister. She manages to set herself up at the perfect distance to cause the old lady to show next to the Prime Minister, who rushes off after speaking to her, resigning and leaving outright.

So with that deed done, we then cut forward 40 years later. Ruby has lived her whole life and she returns to the Tardis again as an old lady. The woman is still there though, in the distance, watching and gesticulating. Ruby then presumably makes it to her deathbed. The old lady is inside the room and in a skit that looks ripped right from Lights Out, the old lady gets closer and closer between the lights blinking on and off until she turns… and we return to her outside the Tardis. She looks over at Ruby in the distance, and it’s assumed that the old lady is actually Ruby herself. She watches as her younger self exits the Tardis with the Doctor. She whispers “don’t step” and when she fades out of view, we’re back with the young Ruby again.

Ruby breaks the cycle and stops the Doctor from stepping on the fairy circle. The Doctor explains that this is all “charms and spells and hopes and dreams”. The Doctor stops Ruby from answering the letters on the ground too, so they leave and head on down to the town. On the way, Ruby points out the third time she’s been to Wales must be right now. And that’s it. The episode ends.

So what happened to all those people who ran away? What happened to Ruby’s mum? Was all of this an alternate timeline away from what we’re currently experiencing? Or was this some strange closed timeloop? What happens if someone else steps on this fairy circle? Who set the fairy circle up in the first place? And why were there letters for Mad Jack, who died in 2040, years after the timeline we’re currently in. How did Mad Jack actually die anyway? And why was there a shrine for him right outside the Tardis? I guess we’ll never know.

The Episode Review

An episode of promise and ultimate disappointment; 73 Yards could have been the best Who chapter in years but instead, its ending bungles everything. A story is only as strong as its conclusion and this one unfortunately undoes some great work in the first half.

The atmosphere and eerie isolation is vintage Who, with Ruby being alone and vulnerable partly what makes this episode so endearing. She does an excellent job acting here and shows that the best this season can hope for is no Ncuti Gatwa (go figure). Her attitude still leaves a lot to be desired though, especially the way she speaks to her date before heading off to “save the world”. 

There’s a hand-waving idea of this being magic and some closed timeloop but this script needs some serious work and some big rewrites to make work. Right now, this just feels akin to “and then she woke up. The End.” 73 Yards could have been an excellent Doctor Who episode but this actually feels like a first draft, or at least an unfinished manuscript that’s cobbled together with AI. It’s a shame too because there’s actually some good stuff here but it’s ruined by that ending, which just ends.

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