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Doctor Who Recap: She, Myself, and I

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Photo: Disney+

Russell T. Davies has said that this week’s villain is hard to describe; you’ve just gotta watch the episode to understand what’s going on. Well, friends, I’ve watched the episode several times and still couldn’t confidently tell you. In addition to building on some of the season’s now-familiar mysteries (snow, Susan, the supernatural), tonight’s Doctor-lite adventure leaves us with a lot of new questions that Ruby Sunday is quite literally dying to get the answers to. She was unconscious for most of the action in the last episode, but this one’s all her.

The TARDIS has landed in Wales, which is very typical for Doctor Who. But this time, we’re not being asked to believe that this is an alien planet; it’s actually just present-day Wales. Specifically, the cliffs near Glyngatwg. The Doctor accidentally stumbles into a fairy circle, and Ruby opens some of the scrolls to read messages, including “Rest in peace, Mad Jack.” Suddenly, the Doctor disappears and the TARDIS is now locked from the inside.

Oh, and Ruby’s now got a stalker in the form of a white-haired woman who shrugs and rubs her hands, sometimes placing one over her heart. Unfortunately, this is not just a nice old lady who is trying to signal that she needs some lotion. Ruby can’t approach her, but others can. At Ruby’s request, the first person to do so is Susan Twist, who is now a chatty stranger hiking through snow. This kicks off a pattern that we see throughout the episode: The woman says something that makes the listener look at Ruby, scream, and run away.

Locals at the Y Pren Mawr inn and pub tease Ruby by doing some group improv and playing into stereotypes about Wales as an antiquated place with witches and druids. One patron does help coin the term semperdistans to describe Ruby’s new long-distance relationship. But Ruby is eventually kicked out after another patron who spoke to the woman for Ruby refuses to return.

Conveniently, the TARDIS landed in 2024, so she can just go home. But this is when shit starts to get real weird. The woman is still there whenever Ruby looks out of a moving train’s window. She follows her all the way back home. Ruby’s mother, Carla, comes up with a plan to approach the mysterious figure while calling Ruby. “Everyone she talks to, they just run away,” Ruby protests. “Yes, but Welsh people,” Carla scoffs. Though we did just have an episode about the power of parental love, Carla is not immune. She gives an unhelpful description of the woman, screams, and then hops in a getaway car.

Just as in the Christmas special, it’s disturbing to see Carla’s open and loving face can transform into that of someone who looks almost repulsed by her own child. Eventually, Carla returns home and switches the locks on Ruby. If that were not hurtful enough, she tells Ruby that she’s not her daughter — even her real mother didn’t want her. Snow falls, and we later learn that Carla ultimately files an injunction against Ruby to keep her away.

It feels like a relief when Kate Lethbridge-Stewart shows up with UNIT. For more than a year, Ruby clearly hasn’t given up. She’s worked out that the woman is always exactly 73 yards away and can’t be photographed clearly. But she’s wary of trying certain experiments that might kill the woman in case their lives are somehow linked.

Kate theorizes that this timeline might be suspended along Ruby’s “event.” She’s confident that her agents can resist whatever the woman does to make people run away, but much to Ruby’s frustration, UNIT’s extraterrestrial (and now supernatural) training proves useless, and Kate leaves. (I’m not sure that sending people in was really the best first move. The Vlinx was unaffected by the Toymaker’s giggle that affected the vast majority of humanity. Perhaps a robotic solution would have been better?)

Left with no other options, Ruby lives out a lonely life where she can’t focus on a revolving door of boyfriends. One day, she sees Roger ap Gwilliam on TV running for office. He mentions that he used to be called “Mad Jack,” a name on one of the scrolls from the fairy circle. Remembering that the Doctor also mentioned Roger almost started a nuclear war as prime minister in 2046, Ruby decides she’s meant to save the world. She calls the woman along as she begins the process of embedding herself into Roger’s campaign staff. (By the way, Millie Gibson has such a youthful face that despite the makeup department’s best efforts, it’s hard to believe she has aged into her 40s by the time Roger is elected. If it weren’t for the birthday cards, I’d truly have thought 19-year-old Ruby just changed her hair and got a pair of glasses.)

As the new prime minister, Roger is scheduled to give a speech at a stadium in Cardiff on the day he gets the nuclear codes. Marti Bridges, a volunteer whom Roger has taken an uncomfortable interest in, believes that he will use the opportunity to launch. Ruby decides it’s time to act and positions herself 73 yards away from Roger. People point their guns at her for being on the grass, but she’s aiming her own weapon: the woman. As expected, Roger sprints away. When asked about his subsequent choice to resign from office, he simply says, “Ask her!” It’s a little unclear why Roger wouldn’t just return to his job after firing Ruby or getting a restraining order. Carla ended up coming back, after all. Still, you won’t catch me complaining about a nuclear war being averted.

Cut to 40 years in the future, where we discover that everyone in Ruby’s life has abandoned her … except you-know-who. Ruby never saw her adopted family again or learned anything about her birth mother. It’s a depressing fate for a companion. Being turned into a Cyberman almost seems kinder? Still, when Ruby visits the evidently vacant TARDIS one last time, she affirms that she has hope because the Doctor would.

Right when Ruby seems ready to die of old age, her lifelong mystery finally approaches. Ruby reaches out her arms as the woman starts to turn around and face her. Somehow, Ruby then travels back to the cliffs on the day the Doctor and her younger self landed. She’s looking from what is presumably 73 yards away because she has seemingly become the mysterious woman.

Young Ruby hears Old Ruby’s whispered warning and stops the Doctor from breaking the fairy circle. He also keeps her from opening any scrolls. The first time we saw this scene, Young Ruby said she’d been to Wales twice, but this version of Young Ruby can’t quite recall why she said she’d been three times. The Doctor is somehow not at all curious about a strange woman only Ruby can see, and that’s a wrap. Roll the credits!

Wait … what? This kinda felt like reading a story that ends with, “And then I woke up.” Hope you enjoyed all the suspense and drama, but it was all a dream! In this case, we don’t get to find out who made the fairy circle, how it made the Doctor disappear, or what was so terrifying about those whispers. At face value, it seems like the episode at least answers the central question of who the woman is. But I’m not so sure it even does that. Old Ruby seems to have been the woman her younger self saw on the cliffs, but was that really her during every other appearance? Unless we’re supposed to believe that she visited her own deathbed and sent herself back through time … either way, we still don’t know how or why the woman made everyone run.

Then there’s the timey-wimey stuff. When we first saw Ruby land in Wales, she didn’t notice the woman until after the fairy circle was broken. But this time, she sees her before then, which ostensibly would create a different timeline where that version of Old Ruby would no longer exist … you get the point; I have questions.

My working theory is that this mysterious woman has something to do with the Trickster, the sort-of-faceless villain who feeds off alternate timelines and whom we met in the spinoff The Sarah Jane Adventures. (Remember that giant beetle on Donna’s back in “Turn Left”? That was a Trickster minion.) The Trickster would definitely love the chaos of this Doctor-less timeline and also happens to be part of the same Pantheon of Discord that the godlike Toymaker and Maestro belong to. Why would Old Ruby be brought back to stop herself? No idea. But it’s also worth noting that the Trickster wore a hood in TSJA … just like Ruby’s birth mother.

Now, I know some fans have also been theorizing that RTD might introduce some Classic-era villains this season. Some of the Eternals, like Death or Time, definitely have names that feel thematically appropriate for what happened in this episode. But I also wonder if juggling both the Eternals and the Pantheon might be too ambitious? Still, I won’t rule anything out yet. In this new NuWho era, almost anything seems possible.

Cut for Time (Lord)

• RTD suggested in the “Boom” commentary that Susan Twist booked all these roles because there was a shortage of actors. Instead of telling us to wait for an answer, he’s taking the liar route, I see.

• Even though the Welsh locals seem to be joking, it’s interesting to note a reference to “the spiteful one” who “walks through the gaps.” Certainly sounds Pantheon-esque.

• I think it’s a little sad that Ruby decides not to step in when Marti is dealing with what seems to be at the very least some form of sexual harassment. I know it was in service of taking Roger down, but that doesn’t feel like something Fifteen would be able to live with ignoring — or even that the Ruby of “Space Babies” would, given that she made that speech about trying to save everyone.

• All right, so when are we getting the inevitable UNIT spinoff?

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Jennifer Zhan , 2024-05-25 09:09:36

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