Our First Look at Christmas Special "The Church on Ruby Road" Introduces a New Era of 'Doctor Who'

Ncuti Gatwa in "The Church on Ruby Road"

Ncuti Gatwa in "The Church on Ruby Road"

(Photo: Disney+)

A new era is here. Ncuti Gatwa (Sex Education) officially made his debut as the Doctor in the final installment of Doctor Who's trilogy of anniversary specials, a nonsensical, heartfelt, and deeply fun hour that rewrote a few key aspects of the show's canon along the way. (Technically, Gatwa's Doctor "bi-regenerated", if only so we could keep David Tennant around the franchise a bit longer.) 

Now, the Fifteenth Doctor era is set to kick off properly in just a few short weeks, with the series' first proper Christmas special since 2017's Peter Capaldi regeneration episode "Twice Upon a Time". For whatever reason, it seems that previous showrunner Chris Chibnall simply wasn’t a fan of the festive special tradition and, beginning with Season 11’s “Resolution,” he essentially transformed the hour into a New Year’s installment that felt a lot more like a regular episode that just happened to air on a holiday than something specifically tied to the season in which it was broadcast. 

Davies, as many viewers will remember, genuinely loves a Christmas episode, complete with the sort of big moments (David Tennant's debut in "The Christmas Invasion") and buzzy guest stars (Catherine Tate originally appeared in "The Runaway Bride" and Kylie Minogue guest-starred in "Voyage of the Damned) that draw in audiences both new and old. So it's in no way surprising that the show has immediately reverted to enthusiastic holiday form. (Whether there will be deadly Santas or killer Christmas trees is yet to be seen, however.)

Ncuti Gatwa and Millie Gibson in "The Church on Ruby Road"

Ncuti Gatwa and Millie Gibson in "The Church on Ruby Road"

(Photo: Lara Cornell/Bad Wolf/BBC Studios)

Titled "The Church on Ruby Road," this year's festive installment will mark Gatwa's first full adventure as the Doctor, and introduce new companion Millie Gibson (Coronation Street) as Ruby Sunday. Given the episode's name, it seems fairly apparent that this hour will serve as a sort of origin story for her character. It will introduce her family, as well as the mystery behind her origins. 

"It’s unashamedly the story of Ruby. It’s called 'The Church on Ruby Road' because that’s where the church is where Ruby was left as a baby in 2004," showrunner Russell T. Davies told SFX Magazine earlier this month. "She’s named after that church. She’s a foundling, so no one knows who her mother or father is. She was named after the church on Ruby Road, which does carry over into the series itself."

The holiday special will see the Doctor and Ruby's lives collide as the two face off with the mythical and mysterious goblins, creatures who are much stranger and more gruesome than you might expect. The episode will feature a full-fledged Murray Gold-composed musical number called "The Goblin Song" that shows us the creatures singing and dancing, almost Labyrinth-style, as a baby is moved down a conveyor belt towards the gaping mouth of a giant, Jabba the Hut-esque King Goblin. How the Doctor and Ruby will defeat these creatures is a question only the episode can answer, but the whole vibe is peak Davies. (It's probably not an accident that the Goblin King looks like he might be a distant cousin of the Slitheen, is all I'm saying.) 

Here's the episode synopsis. 

As Ncuti Gatwa takes charge of the TARDIS as the Fifteenth Doctor in this epic Christmas special, he soon encounters Ruby Sunday as they embark on their first adventure together.

"From Day One in this job, I wanted Doctor Who back on Christmas Day!" Davies said in a statement. "And with Ncuti, Millie, Davina, and the Goblin King, I hope it’s a feast for all the family!”

The festive special also introduces Michele Greenidge (It's a Sin) as Ruby's mother, Carla; Angela Wynter (Time) as Ruby's grandmother, Cherry; and Anita Dobson (The Long Call) as Mrs. Flood. Former Big Brother presenter Davina McCall will somehow be playing herself. (Davies always did love a bit of holiday stunt casting.

"The Church on Ruby Road" premieres Monday, December 25 on BBC One in the U.K. and Ireland, and Disney- everywhere else.

Lacy Baugher

Lacy's love of British TV is embarrassingly extensive, but primarily centers around evangelizing all things Doctor Who, and watching as many period dramas as possible.

Digital media type by day, she also has a fairly useless degree in British medieval literature, and dearly loves to talk about dream poetry, liminality, and the medieval religious vision. (Sadly, that opportunity presents itself very infrequently.) York apologist, Ninth Doctor enthusiast, and unabashed Ravenclaw. Say hi on Threads or Blue Sky at @LacyMB. 

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