Doctor Who Season 14: ‘73 Yards’ review — The best episode so far doesn’t include the Doctor

Jessica Cullen
Millie Gibson as Ruby Sunday in Doctor Who: 73 Yards

Episode 4 of Doctor Who Season 14 is an absolute home run, with ‘73 Yards’ delivering a singular, punchy tale of heartbreaking horror.

After a real winner with ‘Boom’, Doctor Who Season 14 Episode 4 proves that we might be on a streak. ‘73 Yards’ is a mystery that stalks the viewer just as much as it does Ruby Sunday, and it brings stakes and scares to the table — all without the Doctor.

When the two time travelers land in 21st century Wales, Ruby suddenly finds herself alone on the cliffs after the Time Lord vanishes in the blink of an eye. 

The TARDIS won’t open, but that’s the least of Ruby’s problems. Off in the distance, always 73 yards away, a frightening figure begins to follow her, and never stops.

Doctor Who is scary again

The premise itself is a reminder of why Doctor Who is known by everyone of all ages for having made them “hide behind the sofa” when they were younger. 

The figure who trails behind Ruby is a person — we can only assume. They’re just far enough away that we can only see their outline, with wispy grey hair and arms that seem to forever be gesturing into unknowable, repetitive motions. It’s a person, but it’s also a shadow, a ghost, and a myth all rolled into one.

It’s horror in the lightest of senses, but it’s enough to turn the head just a little bit further away from the screen. This is where Doctor Who reminds us that, ultimately, it’s a show that can be clever, as the chills that come most fiercely are in the unseen. We cannot tell who this person is or what they want — they simply keep following Ruby, threatening only in nature, not in acts. 

When others try to talk to the woman, they are told something we cannot hear, which leaves them running away screaming. At the episode’s end comes a scene straight out of a horror movie, which’ll have more spook-sensitive viewers watching through their fingers.

Ruby Sunday’s triumph 

While ‘Boom’ was the perfect episode for Ncuti Gatwa to undoubtedly prove himself as the Fifteenth Doctor, ‘73 Yards’ is Millie Gibson’s moment of glory. It’s funny — both episodes in which the duo are separated (the Doctor missing here and Ruby unconscious for half of ‘Boom’) have been the best of the bunch by a mile (or 73 yards, if you prefer). 

It inspires hope and genuine anticipation for what is to come from the pair, now that we’ve had a moment to be captivated by both Gatwa and Gibson independently.

Yes, this episode is ‘Doctor-lite’, lacking the titular Time Lord for the majority of the run, but that’s okay. This is not an untested trick, and it’s not evidence of any failure on Gatwa’s part. In fact, every Doctor Who season should get one Doctor-free episode, and this is the perfect example as to why.

Gibson’s performance in ‘73 Yards’ is heartbreaking. As she is continuously hunted by this ever-distant presence, she transitions through confusion, curiosity, fear, and acceptance, all incredibly convincingly. 

At the height of the problem, when all hope is lost and there’s nothing but horror and fright left in Ruby, it’s a moment of true connectivity to the audience that we’ve not had the chance to experience yet.

Doctor Who takes itself seriously

There’s much fun to be had in the Doctor’s wackier adventures, and they’re always welcome. However, ‘73 Yards’ takes a step into more mature territory, studying Ruby’s new bone-chilling circumstances with a quality that feels unprecedented, considering the wonky start Season 14 had.

The simple premise of the stalking woman allows for more control on the creatives’ part. Instead of battering the audience with more overt designs and action sequences, ‘73 Yards’ plays like a Black Mirror-style drama. 

Millie Gibson as Ruby Sunday in Doctor Who: 73 Yards

The use of slow-motion and location is artful, making Ruby seem just as at risk in the sprawling expanse of the Welsh coast as she is in the populated streets of London. (A sequence in which Ruby is on a train is particularly affecting, with the woman still somehow maintaining that 73 yards.)

A creepy pub sequence at the beginning sets the bar for unease, bringing about the same feeling of “something isn’t right here” as you’d find in An American Werewolf in London, a film which no doubt served as inspiration for this particular band of suspicious locals.

Stronger scares than story

The backbone of the episode is strongly developed and articulated, though the story raises more questions than answers. By the end, we know what’s happened but we’re not quite sure why it happened or what it means, leaving an empty spot that should have been filled by some cathartic understanding, even though it’s clear to anyone from the get-go how this particular story will end.

A sturdier (and more comprehensive ending) might have absolutely nailed this down as an all-timer, especially considering the success of Ruby’s tale and the pitch-perfect atmosphere, but it seems as though ‘supernatural’ in Season 14’s case might only equate to ‘mysterious’. 

Not everything needs an answer, but most things need an ending. 

‘73 Yards’ verdict: 4/5

As chilling as a whipping breeze on the clifftops, ‘73 Yards’ rushes through the season and proves that Doctor Who can still be scary. It finally puts Ruby Sunday on some stronger footing, skipping out on her forever-enigmatic backstory and focusing on the mission at hand. 

This has every potential to stand alongside ‘The Empty Child’ and ‘Blink’ as one of the most eerie Doctor Who episodes of the modern era, and will be an exciting installment to watch grow within the history of the show.

For more, check our our ‘Space Babies’ review and ‘The Devil’s Chord’ review. You can also keep up to date with all the biggest Doctor Who Season 14 theories, and find out when the new episode of Doctor Who is out.