A star rating of 4 out of 5.

Enjoyable as it's been to mark 60 years of Doctor Who with a trilogy of specials that celebrated a purple patch in the show's history, it's with the show's 2023 Christmas special that returning showrunner Russell T Davies has his first real opportunity to showcase his vision for its future.


If the 60th episodes were RTD playing his greatest hits, this is him setting out his stall and establishing the kind of show that he wants his new Doctor Who to be. He's not come back just to rake over old ground, as this festive hour makes abundantly clear – far from any sort of rehash, The Church on Ruby Road is a fantastical reinvention.

Many years after being left abandoned in the snow, Ruby Sunday (Millie Gibson) is about to experience the adventure of a lifetime, meet a Goblin King, and make a new best friend – her Doctor Who debut is a romp heavily inspired by 1986 fantasy film Labyrinth, with just a dash of a Christmas classic (though to say which would be straying into spoiler territory).

Davies has flagged that this new era will be "taking a sly step towards fantasy" and that's immediately apparent – though we first meet Ruby in a domestic setting populated by lively characters, her world feels a step removed from the everydayness of Rose Tyler's estate.

Ruby Sunday examining the TARDIS on a city pavement
Mille Gibson in The Church on Ruby Road. BBC Studios/James Pardon

Everything feels heightened, even before a race of mischief-making goblins make their presence known. This is an entirely new take on Doctor Who – more dreamlike, more magical, with Davies describing this episode as being more like a "fable" than anything we've seen before.

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For the most part, it's an approach that works extremely well, injecting the show with a fresh energy – only occasionally do the episode's wildest moments, and they are wild, threaten to take you out of the drama entirely.

Anchoring the madness is the superb double-act of Ncuti Gatwa's Doctor and Gibson's new companion, with The Church on Ruby Road being constructed in such a way that both get an opportunity to shine, together and apart.

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Gatwa is everything that those familiar with his past work will expect – effortlessly cool, extraordinarily charismatic. But fear not – remaining very much in place are the characteristics that make the Doctor who they are: the oddball energy, the offbeat humour, the alienness, but with a melancholy and loneliness beneath the bravado.

Gibson is similarly fantastic, immediately engaging, every bit Gatwa's equal and more than capable of serving as the show's sole lead during the early part of the episode that sees the Doctor remaining on the sidelines.

Ruby Sunday (Millie Gibson) and the Doctor (Ncuti Gatwa) are suspended in mid-air on a rope ladder in Doctor Who
Millie Gibson and Ncuti Gatwa in The Church on Ruby Road James Pardon/Bad Wolf/BBC Studios 2023

The Doctor and Ruby are kindred spirits, both "foundlings" who were abandoned by their birth family and then adopted. Far from ignoring the show's Timeless Child reveal, Davies has placed the Doctor's newfound status at the heart of his bond with his new best friend.

Sharply directed by Mark Tonderai (who also helmed Rosa, one of the best regarded episodes of the show's previous era), The Church on Ruby Road is a colourful, escapist, often laugh-out-loud funny caper that not only functions as near-perfect Christmas Day entertainment but also sets the template for a new Doctor Who – like a freshly-regenerated Doctor, it's different but still somehow the same, with enough familiar DNA and fan-pleasing references to keep the faithful happy.

Plus, it features an impossibly catchy pop banger performed by an army of goblins. All said, there's very little here not to love.

Doctor Who: The Church on Ruby Road airs at 5:55pm on Christmas Day on BBC One and BBC iPlayer. Previous episodes are available to watch on BBC iPlayer and on BritBox – you can sign up for a 7-day free trial here.

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