Disney+ is ushering in a brand new era of Doctor Who with The Church on Ruby Road, the final holiday special on Disney+’s December 2023 lineup celebrating the beloved British show’s 60th anniversary. Ncuti Gatwa begins his tenure as the fifteenth doctor in this sci-fi drama adventure that also introduces viewers to his new companion, Ruby Sunday, played by Millie Gibson. So get ready for the thrilling whirlwind of fantastical journeys, immersive stories, and magnificent mayhem that make up the wonderful world of Doctor Who.
DOCTOR WHO HOLIDAY SPECIAL: THE CHURCH ON RUBY ROAD: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?
Opening Shot: A hooded stranger trudges through the snow towards the church on Ruby Road with her newborn child in her arms. The mother leaves the baby girl on the steps, where a priest picks her up and takes her in, deciding to name her Ruby. The clock strikes midnight as the mother walks away in the dark, her identity unknown. Just then, a man emerges from the TARDIS, giving viewers our first look at Ncuti Gatwa as the Doctor. And he looks stressed!
The Gist: After that first scene, we’re transported to December 1, 2023, with Ruby now a teenager telling her story to British television presenter Davina McCall (herself) for a show that helps “foundlings” like Ruby trace lineage and find their blood relatives. She shares that she was fostered and then adopted by a woman named Carla (Michelle Greenidge) and Carla’s elderly spitfire of a mom, Cherry (Angela Wynter). The interview, is cut short, however, when a mysterious little lifeform wrecks havoc by knocking things over and destroying the set in a way that seems to be one big awful coincidence.
Over the next few weeks, bad luck continues to follow Ruby, which brings her in the orbit of the Doctor (Ncuti Gatwa). On December 22, they’re at a club when he seems to magically transport from the dance floor to beside Ruby in order to save her drink from falling off a table. Though they part ways as strangers here, their paths cross again just two days later when Lulubelle, the newborn that Carla has just started fostering, is kidnapped by the creatures from under Ruby’s nose. She and the Doctor hop aboard their flying ship to discover that they’re devious, pirate-like goblins who thrive on playing with time to create chaotic coincidences and strings of bad luck that are all leading to feeding Lulu to the Gobling King. But even if Ruby and the Doctor are able to save Lulu, it seems that their story has only just begun.
What Shows Will It Remind You Of?: Well, Doctor Who, of course! But beyond the obvious, the mischievous goblin creatures are reminiscent of the titular little devils in the 1984 comedy horror film Gremlins.
Our Take: Doctor Who Holiday Special: The Church on Ruby Road is an engrossing, well-acted, and fun tale that pulls you in from the start, in large part thanks to the work of Ncuti Gatwa as the fifteenth Doctor. Gatwa takes to the role from the get-go, transforming a character that could easily come across as unhinged and creepy in the wrong hands into a charming, whimsical, and compelling presence. Between his contagious smile and undeniable charisma, Gatwa undoubtedly brings joy as the Doctor, which is exactly one would hope for in this beloved, long-running British role.
Millie Gibson also shines as the Doctor’s new companion, 19-year-old Ruby Sunday. Her turn as Ruby marks Gibson’s biggest role yet, and she seems more than ready to take on the responsibility, imbuing her character with plenty of personality and easy likability that makes her seem well-suited for the many adventures to come. Gibson and Gatwa also have incredible chemistry from the start, and manage to feel like fast friends from the get-go. The characters around them further flesh out a new reality for Doctor Who that already feels lived-in and interesting.
While the goblin stuff could get pretty goofy, especially their little on-ship rave and song about eating a baby, it still ultimately added up to feel silly and fun (albeit slightly sinister) in a way that wasn’t too off-putting. But goblin stuff aside, what makes this special successful more than anything else is that it’s got a lot of heart. Beyond the fantastical and sometimes absurd creatures, technology, and plot points, at the core lies a story about family, especially ones that are found and chosen, which is both moving and evocative of what the holiday season is all about.
Sex and Skin: None, but when escaping from restraints, the Doctor explains “I spent a long, hot summer with Harry Houdini” which is definitely suggestive in a way that’ll fly over kids’ head (so while it’s a very clean show, there’s still something for viewers of all ages).
Parting Shot: The TARDIS on Ruby’s street fades out of existence with the Doctor and Ruby inside, freaking out their neighbor Abdul (Hemi Yeroham). He laments to another neighbor, Mrs. Flood (Anita Dobson), an older woman with a twinkle in her eye, but she tells him to stop making such a fuss before looking right into the camera to break the fourth wall asking “Never seen a TARDIS before?” She smiles and winks, then the credits roll.
Sleeper Star: I mean, beyond the obvious of Ncuti Gatwa and Millie Gibson doing wonderfully leading the way, Michelle Greenidge and Angela Wynter do a lot with limited screen time as Ruby’s adopted mom Carla and grandma Cherry, respectively. Greenidge showed impressive and affecting emotional range as Carla, and Wynter stole some scenes with quippy and funny one-liners as Cherry.
Most Pilot-y Line: “My name: the Doctor. My occupation: not a doctor. Current status: just passing by. Employer: myself. Address: that blue box over there.”
Our Call: STREAM IT! Whether you’ve seen Doctor Who before or not, Doctor Who Holiday Special: The Church on Ruby Road is an enjoyable ride and wonderful introduction to Ncuti Gatwa’s tenure as the Doctor.