‘Doctor Who’: All the Easter Eggs in ’73 Yards’

<div>‘Doctor Who’: All the Easter Eggs in ’73 Yards’</div>
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The Doctor in a yellow jacket and Ruby, on a cliff next to theTARDIS

Ruby Sunday (Millie Gibson) loses the Doctor (Ncuti Gatwa) in a fairy circle on a clifftop in rural Wales. She is stuck with a stalker — one who stays exactly 73 yards (aka 219 feet) away, just far enough that Ruby can’t quite see or hear her — for the rest of her life.

That’s the premise of “73 Yards,” the mind-bending fourth episode of Doctor Who Season 14, and arguably one of its creepiest horrors since “Blink” introduced the Weeping Angels in 2007. But just as this simple horror story turns out to be a timey-wimey fight against a future fascist Prime Minister, there are plenty of references hovering just under the surface. It’s a cornucopia of references for fans of writer/showrunner Russell T Davies — and we’re not just talking Doctor Who Easter eggs.

Let’s start with an unusual but not entirely unprecedented opening:

There are no Doctor Who titles or theme music.

Right from the beginning, Davies signals “73 Yards” is going to be something different. This is only the second time in Doctor Who history that an episode has omitted the theme music and title sequence. The first was another horror episode, the Peter Capaldi-era found-footage tale in 2015 called “Sleep No More” — a story that has already been referenced once this season, in “Space Babies.”

However, even “Sleep No More” briefly highlighted the words “Doctor Who” within one of its found-footage screens. “73 Yards” is the first Doctor Who episode in its 60-year history to omit the title altogether, with Davies audaciously assuming that the TARDIS materializing in the opening seconds is now enough to tell anyone in the world what show this is.

Part of this plot happened to Donna in “Turn Left.”

Of course, it wouldn’t be Doctor Who if it didn’t also reference itself like crazy.

In 2008’s “Turn Left” — which, like “73 Yards” and “Blink,” is what’s known as a “Doctor-lite” episode, allowing the lead actor some well-deserved time off — Donna Noble (Catherine Tate) enters an alternate reality where she never meets the Doctor (David Tennant) and thus wasn’t able to save his life at their first encounter in “The Runaway Bride.”

The following Doctor-less disasters include Starship Titanic from “Voyage of the Damned” actually crashing into London and igniting a nuclear fireball. They leave Donna and her grandad Wilf (Bernard Cribbins) in a Britain under military rule, straining with refugees. A new “England for the English” law means a family living with the Nobles get loaded onto trucks bound for work camps.

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“They called them labor camps the first time too,” laments Wilf, a World War II veteran who sees the fascist future all too clearly. “It’s happening again.”

“Turn Left” also gives Donna a mysterious stalker — not herself from the future, but former companion Rose Tyler (Billie Piper) from a different dimension. Rose is actually able to talk to Donna, but the end result is the same. The alternate Donna and the alternate Ruby must die, or rather they must never have lived in the first place.

“Years and Years” also had a future fascist Prime Minister.

Politician Roger ap Gwilliam giving a speech with a rosette on.

Credit: Disney+

Nuclear madman Roger ap Gwilliam (Aneurin Barnard) may be the first Welsh leader of a future fascist party that Russell T Davies has written, but not the first British one in his screenwriting arsenal. That would be Vivienne Rook (Emma Thompson) in Davies’ award-winning 2019 HBO miniseriesYears and Years.

Like “73 Yards,” Years and Years fast-forwards in time at a vertiginous pace. It also features the shadow of nuclear war; in this case, a missile is fired at a Chinese island by Donald Trump, after Davies has him (wrongly as it turns out, but in this fictional case, legitimately) winning the 2020 U.S. presidential election. In “73 years,” Davies wisely avoids mentioning all elections until the 2040s, meaning it’ll be a while longer until his prediction is out of date.

Gwilliam leads the Albion party to victory in 2046. (Albion is an ancient Celtic name for Britain; it’s also a mythical giant in William Blake’s writing that has become a sort of cultural handshake among neo-fascists longing for a return Ye Olde Tymes.) In Years and Years, Rook leads the Four Star party to victory in 2028. (Its name references the BBC censoring her use of “fuck,” but also evokes the Italian far-right “Five Star movement.”) Both move immediately to jail their opponents, and both are ousted with the help of our heroes — though in Rook’s case, it takes far more than a single day.

And just to complete the timey-wimey loop back to Doctor Who, Vivienne Rook was also the name of a journalist in the 2007 episode “The Sound of Drums,” in which the Master (John Simm) becomes Harold Saxon, an evil dictatorial Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.

The TARDIS has a perception filter.

Ruby Sunday knocks at the door of the TARDIS

Credit: Disney+

Speaking of “The Sound of Drums,” that’s also the episode in which the Doctor (Tennant again) first explains the perception filter mentioned by UNIT head Kate Lethbridge-Stewart in “73 Yards.”

“The TARDIS is designed to blend in,” the Doctor tells Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman) and Martha Jones (Freema Agyeman) as he gives them TARDIS keys with perception filter attached and puts one on himself. “It’s like you’re there, but I don’t want to know,” Martha says.

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The concept was introduced earlier that season in “Human Nature,” where Tennant’s Doctor hides from enemies by locking his Time Lord personality in a pocket watch with a perception filter. The Master is later revealed to have done the same thing. Although other enemies of the Doctor have used perception filters, and Captain Jack uses one to disguise his Cardiff HQ in the Torchwood spin-off series, “73 Yards” is the first Doctor Who episode since “Sound of Drums” to discuss this crucial TARDIS tech in any detail.

“People see it, but sort of don’t,” Kate explains to Ruby when asked why no one has noticed the TARDIS during its years on a Welsh clifftop. Then she muses: “I wonder if it’s connected, if landing a perception filter on top of that [fairy] circle has changed things.”

Torchwood also had Welsh fairies.

A perception filter is not the only “73 Yards” connection to the Captain Jack-led spin-off. The 2006 episode “Small Worlds” (which was not written by Davies, though he was the showrunner) opens with child-stealing fairies being photographed in a small stone circle. It’s set in the fictional Roundstone Wood, outside of Cardiff. Jack explains that fairies, a name he refuses to use, are actually mysterious creatures from “the dawn of time.”

“Think dangerous,” Jack says of the creatures. “Think something you can only half see like a glimpse, like something out of the corner of your eye with a touch of myth, a touch of the spirit world, all jumbled together… backwards and forwards through time.” No wonder fans theorized that the “Mad Jack” mentioned in the “73 Yards” fairy circle referred to the Torchwood boss rather than Roger Ap Gwilliam. No dice, but it remains possible that his time-traveling fairies are responsible for Ruby’s dilemma here.

Why 73 yards?

An old woman standing under a tree at a distance of 73 yards

Credit: Disney+

A number of factors in “73 Yards” are left to the viewer’s imagination. We never learn what the woman revealed to be old Ruby is saying to everyone young Ruby sends in her direction, starting with the “familiar” hiker played, like so many roles this season, by Susan Twist, to scare them off. Some variation on “she needs to be isolated for decades in order to prevent a madman from starting a nuclear war” might do the trick — or perhaps she’s putting some sort of perception filter on them all.

And what about that all-important distance mentioned in the title? “I literally had to go stand on Swansea Pier and work out exactly what 73 yards was to make this story work,” Davies revealed in an official Doctor Who TikTok before broadcast. “That’ll make sense when you see it.”

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But does it? Other than it being a particularly creepy distance to have someone follow you around at, close enough to see them but not in focus, why 73 yards precisely? You might think it’s a reference to the amount of time Ruby lives with her stalker, but as she states in the show, that’s just 65 years, not 73.

Indeed, the only in-universe explanation offered here is Kate Stewart’s conjecture about the TARDIS’ perception filter. Landing his time machine within range of a fairy circle, especially if these are the time-traveling fairies mentioned by Captain Jack, would presumably cause havoc even before the Doctor broke the circle and disappeared.

Establishing 73 yards as the radius of the TARDIS’ perception filter makes a kind of sense: If you were curious about a blue police box beyond that distance, you’d probably enter the circle of the filter to find out more, then promptly forget about it. If Ruby has picked up residual TARDIS energy, a common Doctor Who plot point, that might explain why her future self has to stay beyond the bounds of her own personal perception filter, no matter where she is.

All that said, it’s entirely possible that an explanation is lurking in later episodes. We’re clearly being set up for more here, with a second appearance for the mysterious Mrs. Flood (Anita Dobson), Ruby’s neighbor who recognized the TARDIS and broke the fourth wall in the 2023 Christmas special “The Church on Ruby Road.” Kate Stewart referenced an increase in “supernatural” events and said, “Things seem to be going in that direction.”

How far will things go in a supernatural direction, and how is that direction is connected to the mysterious Pantheon or The One Who Waits, mentioned by the Maestro (Jinkx Monsoon) in “The Devil’s Chord“? We’ll find out in the final four episodes of the season.

How to watch: New episodes of Doctor Who drop every Friday night at 7:00 p.m. ET on Disney+, where available, and simultaneously at midnight on BBC iPlayer in the UK. The season finale airs June 22.


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