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doctor who 73 yards 1.png

‘Doctor Who’ Recap: You Don’t Mess With Fairy Circles

By Hannah Sole | TV | May 27, 2024 |

By Hannah Sole | TV | May 27, 2024 |

doctor who 73 yards 1.png

Previously, on Doctor Who: Fifteen and Ruby narrowly escaped being blown to bits in the Moffat-penned ‘Boom’, which was the strongest and most cohesive episode of Fifteen’s first few episodes and thus reignited the RTD vs Moffat debate.

This week: RTD is back and has upped his game with the wonderfully weird and creepy ‘73 Yards’, which continues the supernatural theme started with ‘Wild Blue Yonder’ with a dash of The Woman in Black and ‘The Raven’ for good measure. Spoilers are ahead!

This week’s episode seemed to be quite polarising among viewers, if the internet is to be believed, which it probably shouldn’t be. Yes, the mysteries are left mysterious; we don’t know what the woman was all about, what she said to people to make them abandon Ruby and run for their lives, or why she was doing any of it really, but that’s because the person who usually explains it all was missing the whole time, and then it didn’t really happen. My head hurts already.

If it’s possible to nutshell this episode: Fifteen and Ruby accidentally violate the sanctity of a fairy circle and set loose a terrible curse. Fifteen breaks the circle by standing on it, and then Ruby picks up some of the scrolls and reads them. Both are punished; Fifteen disappears from the world altogether, while Ruby is stalked by an ominous lady for the rest of her life. The woman in black stays 73 yards away at (almost) all times, and when people try to help Ruby by talking to the woman and asking her what the hell is going on, she whispers something to them and they run away screaming. Such is the power of this mysterious whisper that this affects Ruby’s mum Carla as much as it does random strangers. (Susan Twist Bingo: friendly hiker lady!)

The woman can be seen by others but is not usually noticed until Ruby points her out. She does not travel in a normal linear way but can disappear and reappear, albeit at the same distance each time. In the first year or so of her curse, Ruby does her best to figure out what is happening, trying to capture images of the woman and testing the distance between them. Along the way, she starts to imagine this curse as a crucial connection, not wanting to test the distance further by travelling on a plane or boat, in case it kills both of them. At this point, Kate and UNIT try to help, and they take precautions against psychic influence and witchcraft, but even they fall victim to the whisper and run from Ruby. Millie Gibson has excellent ‘horrified and bereft abandoned face’, by the way; the rejections from Carla and Kate are heart-shatteringly cruel, and Ruby — already with severe abandonment issues — looks completely broken.

But time and the nightmare go on, with the woman haunting her every move for 20 years, distracting her from connecting with others, and reminding her of what she’s lost. But she’s also accepted the woman’s constant presence, raising a glass to her through the window, and inviting her to follow. When she sees a young politician on the news, she remembers a spoiler from Fifteen, about the worst prime minister the UK ever has, and sees an opportunity. She is cursed but that doesn’t mean she can’t do some good. She infiltrates the election campaign of Roger Ap Gwilliam, sees for herself how much of a monster he is, and uses her spooky stalker as a weapon against him. After manoeuvring herself into a position exactly 73 yards from his podium, Stalky Sue appears next to him, scares the bejesus out of him, and he flees, resigns and never starts the nuclear apocalypse.

Will the woman leave her alone now? No, but there is a kind of peace between them. Decades later, Ruby pays a last visit to the abandoned TARDIS to say goodbye, and then prepares to take her last rest. “Don’t worry,” she says to her nurse. “Everyone has abandoned me my whole life, but I haven’t been alone for 65 years.” And then the woman appears in her room, getting closer with every flash of the light. It’s a thing of nightmares, but Ruby opens her arms to greet her as a friend.

A blink later, and Ruby is the woman in black, watching her younger self and Fifteen arrive at the fairy circle. “Don’t step,” she whispers. Young Ruby spots the strange woman in the distance, and the distraction allows her to prevent Fifteen from stepping on the string and breaking the circle. The woman is nowhere to be seen now. He stops Ruby from touching it too, and makes fun of her for thinking she saw a woman in the distance. The circle is intact, and everything is fine.

We don’t have any more answers than that, and I don’t think we need them. Sure, it’s a bit of a cop out to say ‘that’s fairy magic for you’, but it’s not a plot hole or a mistake. Kate says, “we see something inexplicable and invent rules to make it work,” and that’s very much the theme. There’s fun to be had in the gaps! It’s not all wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff; now we have spooky-wooky liminal-ominous stuff instead. It’s not quite so catchy, granted.

Spooky-Wooky Liminal-Ominous Stuff

You just don’t mess with the fae, OK? They will absolutely destroy you. Remember that Torchwood episode with the fairies kidnapping the little girl? Or were they aliens… Faeliens? I don’t know. No touchy, no messy. If RTD’s getting into local fae lore, there’s a lot of material to work with. Lots of liminal spaces, soaked in blood. Windswept beaches, covered in sewage, too. They don’t put any of that in the brochures…

There could genuinely be crossover potential with the Whoniverse and Supernatural now. SuperWhoLock fans, rejoice!

There is a genre of pub in the UK called ‘those pubs where everyone turns and stares when you walk in’. Also known as a ‘men in cardigans’ pub. Or ‘a local pub for local people’. Rural, unintelligible accents, staffed by people shocked and disgusted if you don’t know ‘the rules’. That Welsh Pub of Pranking Meanies was the least fantastical element of the episode.

Was the woman Old Ruby the whole time? I don’t think so. Once she became the woman, she was only around for a second and then disappeared into the ether. I rather think that because Ruby greeted the woman as a friend, she responded as a friend and allowed her to prevent the curse from happening again. Either that or it’s a reward for Ruby’s good deed while under the influence of the curse. But, is this also a clue for Susan Twist Bingo? Is Twist playing a season-long spooky stalker?

Where did Fifteen go? Did he cease to be? Was he an ex-Doctor? Did the fae take one look at that terrible outfit he had on and go, “nope, we’re banishing that psychedelic Paddington cosplay from existence”?

Roger Ap Gwilliam is still in the future in the new timeline. Worse than Mr Saxon as well, eh? YIKES. I suspect we haven’t seen the last of him. I hope they stop him before he terrorises poor Marty next time. In a serendipitous move though, it is amusing that this episode aired just when a general election has been announced. Of all the times to see a slimy tyrant-wannabe desperately trying to weaponise people’s worst jingoistic instincts to grab power…right alongside an episode of Doctor Who! Madness.

I kept coming back to Poe’s ‘The Raven’, for the obvious horror vibes and depression metaphor, but also because I love the reading that proposes the raven becomes a kind of familiar (if not quite a comfort) by the end. In ‘73 Yards’, the woman only talks to other people (and probably doesn’t say ‘never more’), and it’s horrible because she won’t leave, but also, she’s the only one who will never leave, and once Ruby embraces that, she’s OK. Apart from being dead, that is. A slight rewrite?

There’s a woman, ever stalking, scaring helpful folks by talking,

Leaving Ruby lost and gloomy, wondering if she’s going mad.

Her reality is bending, tries to stop the world from ending,

By pretending to befriend the baddest leader that we’ve had,

Finding power in the curse that’s made her whole life very sad —

Quoth the woman, “[something bad]”

(My sincere apologies to Poe.)

Next time: social media nightmares in pastel!