Warning: this Doctor Who review contains spoilers.

“Doctor!” says Mel, approximately three minutes before the end of this episode. “There’s something wrong!”

With finely tuned senses like that, you can see why UNIT keep her around.

“The Legend of Ruby Sunday” is an odd episode. As is often the case with two-parters, and especially season finales, it’s difficult to judge the first instalment on its own merits, because by design we’re not getting a complete story. It’s basically forty-five minutes of setup, with the payoff deferred until next week. We’re here for the ride, ultimately, for the sense of screws tightening and the queasy feeling as characters lose control and the world around them tumbles towards a big revelatory cliffhanger.

On that level, the episode just about works. As an exercise in pure spectacle and gathering momentum, “The Legend of Ruby Sunday” carries itself along with enthusiasm and charisma. There are plenty of individually thrilling moments. But beyond those and a general sense of urgency, there’s not a great deal holding it all together. Here, more than ever, Russell T Davies and team are counting on our investment in the characters to keep us engaged. Without that investment to paper over the cracks, the whole thing feels like it teeters on the edge of collapse.

This is Davies in bombastic finale mode, and it might be the most that this new era has evoked his previous tenure so far. There are echoes of “Army of Ghosts”, “The Sound of Drums” and “The Stolen Earth”. Everything here is designed to be big. The opening TARDIS arrival at UNIT headquarters (why does it fly in dramatically rather than just materialise? Shut up, it looks cool), the extended cast of new and old faces (welcome to Lenny Rush, and welcome back to Yasmin Finney), the general emotional tenor… Everyone gets a hug and a moment in the spotlight, even if their reason for being there is tenuous (I’m looking at you, Carla).

Davies’ season finales are famously quite divisive, and go for huge spectacle and huge feelings above all else. Viewers who aren’t fans of that won’t have the best time here.

Not that it’s all smooth sailing for viewers who do generally enjoy such episodes. One issue “The Legend of Ruby Sunday” struggles to get past is the feeling that not everything is entirely earned. That might be a consequence of the shorter season, or the fact that there hasn’t been much sense of progression for the various arc breadcrumbs like Susan Triad or Ruby’s true parentage. The Doctor and Ruby have started to notice the woman’s face that keeps appearing, and this episode implies more appearances in adventures we haven’t seen, but the Doctor bringing the issue to UNIT feels less like a natural consequence of careful plotting and more like ‘well, it’s the two-part finale so we’d better start wrapping up these mysteries’.

Similarly, while Ruby’s impossible memory snow has cropped up a number of times, there hasn’t been much discussion of it outside those brief moments. The Doctor and Ruby haven’t really talked about her birth mother or what happened at Christmas 2004, and the hint of tension at the end of “Space Babies” hasn’t gone anywhere, so posing the question to UNIT now just feels like another plot thread that needs addressing because we’ve reached the end of the series.

That’s unfortunate, because this is really the plot thread in which we should have the most investment – an emotional conflict rooted in one of our main characters. It should feel weighty. But because of the way the episode is structured, it feels a little out of place. The Doctor suddenly throws it in, even though there is no particular reason for the two mysteries to be connected. In fact, the characters quickly dismiss the idea that that they’re linked, and the Doctor’s reaction implies that he hadn’t even considered that a possibility, adding to the overall disconnect. Naturally we assume there is going to be some sort of connection, because we’ve been watching the series and know how story arcs work. But there’s no reason for the characters, in-universe, to assume a connection, so it feels weird that Kate and UNIT would be so indulgent of the Doctor’s investigation into Ruby’s parentage, and devote so many resources to it – especially when they’ve already been looking into Susan Triad, suspect a trap, and have the ticking clock of her imminent address to the United Nations.

The episode barrels forward with plenty of momentum and everyone brings the appropriate energy, but there’s no real sense of the various mysteries dovetailing with one another. The “Susan Twist is the Doctor’s granddaughter” theory turns out to be a fake-out (or is it???) and is curiously underplayed, despite Ncuti Gatwa’s best efforts. And even as things ramp up dramatically for the Sutekh reveal, we still don’t have a clear idea of who Susan Triad is, why she has been appearing everywhere, the nature of her tech, or how any of this connects to the God of Death. That’s parts one of two for you.

There are plenty of individually compelling elements – the time window is a really neat idea and visually well realised, the gradual reveal of Sutekh’s cloud and the hidden TARDIS is nice and creepy, the use of VHS for time travel is cool (and very Steven Moffat) – but we never really get that satisfying feeling of everything clicking neatly into place.

The Sutekh reveal is similarly difficult to discuss without knowing how the next episode plays out. His name will likely be meaningless to anybody who hasn’t watched the classic series – he’s not like the Daleks or the Cybermen, who have penetrated the general pop culture lexicon to the extent that most people have a vague idea of who they are. It’s an interesting choice of classic villain to bring back, and arguably more logical than the Toymaker. Sutekh is an antagonist evil and powerful enough to truly terrify the Doctor, and one we’ve never seen fully unleashed.

Sutekh is arguably the closest thing to a genuine god that the Doctor has ever fought, so he makes sense as the final boss of The Pantheon, and it will be interesting to see whether this is Davies in revamp or traditionalist mode. It’s lovely that they brought back actor Gabriel Woolf to provide the character’s malevolent whisper, even if looks-wise, the more lo-fi, masked version from his first appearance in 1975’s “Pyramids of Mars” arguably felt more alien and threatening than this CGI form. The ingredients are all there for a compelling showdown, but I’d be fascinated to know how this plays with anyone unfamiliar with the character because so much is made of the name and its implied weight (especially with the “Sue Tech” homophone, another divisive RT quirk). We’re by no means in Star Trek: Into Darkness my name … is KHAN” territory, but we’re not a million miles away from it either.

And yet, hundreds of words of criticism notwithstanding, this episode has plenty to recommend it. Ncuti Gatwa gamely sells everything he’s asked to do – his enraged punching of the wall after Colonel Chidozie’s death feels particularly raw, and the way he plays his quiet scene with Kate communicates the Doctor’s complex feelings about his granddaughter in a poignant way. The casual aside that a Time Lord could have grandchildren before having children is wonderful, and really all the explanation we need regarding Susan’s parentage. Mrs Flood’s switch from chatty Cockney to malevolent prophet was a thrill. And it’s impossible not to love the Doctor roaring with laughter at the shonkiness of UNIT’s time window.

Elsewhere, while Millie Gibson spends most of the episode in reactive mode, she still makes Ruby’s pain feel real and justified, and hopefully she’ll get more to do in the finale. There are plenty of striking images like the aforementioned Sutekh cloud and the Doctor and Ruby standing in the distorted black-and-white flicker of the time window. “If time is memory and memory is time, then what is the memory of a time machine” is the kind of line that communicates so much unsettling cosmic possibility. Structural quibbles aside, the last ten minutes of the episode feel portentous, with the reveal of Harriet Arbinger and her speech heralding Sutekh’s arrival, Susan’s psychological collapse, the Doctor’s terror and the swelling music, which evokes Murray Gold’s past work on “The Sound of Drums”.

So, the setup works. Just.

Now, about that payoff…

Doctor Who series 14 concludes on Friday June 21 on BBC iPlayer, BBC One, and selected cinemas in the UK, and on Disney+ around the world. Learn more about Den of Geek’s review process and why you can trust our recommendations here.

The post Doctor Who Series 14 Episode 7 Review: The Legend of Ruby Sunday appeared first on Den of Geek.

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