Doctor Who’s Latest Episode Will Bring Back the Show’s Greatest Weapon

When in doubt, go full folk horror.

Doctor Who, 73 Yards
Doctor Who

Last week, Doctor Who stepped away from the enthusiastic whimsy of its previous episodes to hit Ncuti Gatwa's Fifteenth Doctor with his darkest and most intense challenge yet. The Steven Moffat-penned "Boom" trapped Doctor Who's endlessly clever, always on-the-go hero on a landmine and forced him to figure out how to avoid a planet-destroying catastrophe without moving, and the episode was well-received for its intense change of pace.

Now it looks like Doctor Who will continue exploring some of the darker possibilities of its latest era this week. While we don’t know much about the plot of the forthcoming episode "73 Yards," the brief teaser shows us a trip to Wales that takes a surreal, unnerving turn. It looks like the current era’s first pure horror episode, which is a promising development.

One of the reasons Doctor Who is so beloved is that it isn't just a straightforward sci-fi adventure series. It's been on the air for so long that it’s had the chance to dip its toes into every genre under the sun. While the show has sometimes struggled to work within the limits of its small budget, it has repeatedly proven — particularly in the modern era — that it can really pull off horror.

Good horror often mines its power from what’s implied rather than shown. That's a useful trick for a show like Who, which has always had clever writers but never enough money to properly fund their biggest ideas. Just look at the infamous "Blink," about monsters that only move when no one is looking at them, for proof of how less can be more. Other episodes, like "Listen," "Midnight," "The Empty Child," and "The Unquiet Dead," also conjure terror out of few ingredients, and now it looks like “73 Yards” will attempt the same trick.

In it, Ruby (Millie Gibson) is locked out of the TARDIS and stranded in a coastal Wales village where she's stalked by an unknown older woman. The teaser is full of creepy silhouettes lurking in the distance, disorienting angles, close-ups of Gibson's panicked, rain-soaked face, and ominous lines like "Mad Jack is unbound." Should “73 Yards” be as effective as its teaser, which calls to mind British folk horror films like Men and The Wicker Man, it could be a new Who horror classic.

An eerie image from “73 Yards.”

BBC Studios

Doctor Who has a wide emotional range, but it's often at its best when it's either breaking your heart or scaring you. For all of their many charms, most of the show's recent episodes haven't done either. "Boom" made everyone sit on the edges of their seats, though, and now "73 Yards" may provoke a similarly visceral response from its viewers. That, at least, is the hope.

Regardless of how chilling it ends up, it's nice to see another Doctor Who episode aim to do something different than "The Church on Ruby Road," "Space Babies," and "The Devil's Chord." None of those installments were outright bad, but it's important that Doctor Who continues to prove that it can deliver more than just lightweight time-travel adventures. There’s much more to the franchise than that, and “73 Yards” has the potential to remind us all of that fact.

New episodes of Doctor Who premiere Fridays on Disney+.

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