Doctor Who Christmas special 2023 review: "Ncuti Gatwa and Millie Gibson make the perfect pairing for a new era"

GamesRadar Editor's Choice
Ncuti Gatwa in Doctor Who
(Image: © BBC)

GamesRadar+ Verdict

The Church On Ruby Road is not only a perfect Christmas adventure, it's the most promising start to a new Doctor Who era yet.

Why you can trust GamesRadar+ Our experts review games, movies and tech over countless hours, so you can choose the best for you. Find out more about our reviews policy.

The following review is spoiler-free.

You’ve heard 'The Goblin Song', but does the Doctor Who Christmas special deliver? Frankly it’s the best thing you’ll see on television this festive season.

Showrunner Russell T Davies has previously said that this episode, The Church on Ruby Road, is a reset for the 60-year-old show. So much so that it’s being called season one, with new Doctor Ncuti Gatwa and companion Ruby Sunday, played by Millie Gibson beginning the legend anew.

As such, it’s as much a jumping on point as Rose was in 2005 – you don’t need to know anything, or anyone (though some nods are present to recent events in the life of the Doctor), you can literally just get whisked away on the adventure.

That’s exactly what happens for Ruby, a foundling trying to reconnect with her birth parents via Davina McCall’s TV show. But Ruby’s plagued with bad luck – which comes to a head when the baby she’s watching for her foster mother mysteriously disappears.

It’s no secret who’s behind it all – they’ve already topped the iTunes chart with their ditty about eating poor little Lulubelle, but exactly what the goblins are up to and why is a treat best enjoyed on Christmas Day.

Doctor Who: The Church on Ruby Road

(Image credit: BBC)

This is Doctor Who meets Gremlins, with lashings of snow and Carol of the Bells – with some fantastic stunts and special effects making it once again feel like a feature film. The music is sweeping, the jokes are plentiful, the teases of what’s to come are tremendous. In short, it’s a win.

Gibson is a joy as Ruby – she’s Rose 2.0 (or is that now 3.0?) in that she’s got everything a classic companion should have and you immediately fall in love with her. 

Gatwa is spectacular as the Doctor. There’s no baggage here, just style and comedy and smarts in abundant supply. The chemistry between the pair is instant and brilliant – the perfect pairing for a new era.

The supporting cast are also excellent, with equal parts comedy and tragedy from Michelle Greenidge and Angela Wynter as Ruby’s mum Carla and grandmother Cherry. Anita Dobson’s nosey neighbour Mrs Flood is great fun, sitting on her doorstep watching the world go by.

The adventure rushes along at a brisk pace – probably no bad thing when the lead characters are flying through the sky on a ladder hanging from a Goblin ship – but very much leaves you wanting more. In a crowded genre landscape, it seems like 2024 is definitely going to be the year of the Doctor and Ruby.

Doctor Who's 2023 Christmas special airs on Christmas Day on BBC One and BBC iPlayer in the UK from 5.55pm. In the US, it is released on Disney Plus at 12:55pm ET / 9:55am PT.

For more, check out our guide to the Doctor Who release schedule and the other best new TV shows coming our way in 2023 and beyond.

More info

Available platformsTV

I'm the Editor of SFX, the world's number one sci-fi, fantasy and horror magazine – available digitally and in print every four weeks since 1995. I've been editing magazines, and writing for numerous publications since before the Time War. Obviously SFX is the best one. I knew being a geek would work out fine.