The Doctor Who Christmas special is back! On December 25 2023, the Fifteenth Doctor’s first big adventure will arrive, starring Ncuti Gatwa as the Doctor, and Millie Gibson as new companion Ruby Sunday. TV presenter Davina McCall will play herself in the episode, solving the long-teased mystery of which 2005 guest star would be returning (McCall voiced the Davinadroid in series one’s “Bad Wolf”).
The BBC announces in the official plot synopsis that in “The Church on Ruby Road” the Doctor will face “mythical and mysterious goblins”:
“Long ago on Christmas Eve, a baby was abandoned in the snow. Today, Ruby Sunday meets the Doctor, stolen babies, goblins and perhaps the secret of her birth.
Little is known about Ruby Sunday as she was abandoned on Christmas Eve as a baby. Now living with her mum, Carla and grandmother, Cherry her world is about to be turned upside when she encounters the Doctor and the two set off on their first adventure together…”
Christmas Eve. Stolen babies. A birth secret… It didn’t take long for bells to start ringing for fans who are familiar with the very first long-form prose Doctor Who adventure written by showrunner Russell T Davies for Virgin New Adventures: Damaged Goods.
Damaged Goods (1996)
Damaged Goods is a cracker of a Who novel. More Torchwood than NuWho in tone (and more Trainspotting than Torchwood, to be honest), it’s an adult story set in a grittily realist English council estate in 1987. Written by Davies a decade before he, Julie Gardner and Jane Tranter brought the show back to the BBC, it features the Seventh Doctor alongside prose companions Roz and Chris, and was adapted in 2015 into a Big Finish audio adventure starring Sylvester McCoy.
Centring on “The Quadrant”, a sci-fi-appropriate name for a group of tower blocks in the fictional Red Hamlets estate, Damaged Goods features a large cast including the Tylers – not Rose and Jackie this time but Winnie, Bev, Carl and Gabriel –, their neighbours, drug-dealing gang leader “The Capper”, and the wealthy but deeply troubled Jericho family.
A dangerous new drug infected with ancient Time Lord creation known as “N-Forms” is sweeping The Quadrant and has taken possession of a recently deceased criminal. Meanwhile, a powerful psychic force on the estate is getting stronger and drawing together elements that will reveal a shameful secret from a decade earlier. It’s an emotional and dark story with classic RTD characterisation, in that even the smallest roles come alive, and the human side is equally or even more prominent than the sci-fi side.
There are no massive spoilers here, for anybody who’d like to seek out the story and enjoy it with the revelations intact, but be warned if reading for the first time that this really isn’t the same family-friendly world as the post-2005 TV show. There are drugs, sex, violence, alcoholism, self-harm, physical child abuse, suicide, homophobia, and more.
Indeed, Davies reportedly stopped the novel being reprinted in the run-up to the 2005 revival for fear that it could convey the wrong impression of his new Doctor Who, and described it thusly in a piece looking back at his gay Channel 4 drama Queer as Folk (which – for Easter Egg fans – included a copy of Damaged Goods tucked away in the set of Doctor Who fan Vince’s bedroom) in The Guardian in 2003:
“I even wrote a Doctor Who novel in which the six-foot blond, blue-eyed companion interrupts the hunt for an interdimensional Gallifreyan War Machine to get a blowjob in the back of a taxi. Like you do.”
Goblins, Christmas Eve Babies and Stolen Children
The key crossover with “The Church on Ruby Road”, if there is one, would involve the Christmas Eve birth/stolen child aspect.
In Damaged Goods, a young boy born on December 24 is found to be the source of a potent “Psi-Power” ability, which allows him to cast glamours or spells on the people around him that convince them to do his bidding. New companion Ruby Sunday, it’s confirmed in the official synopsis, was abandoned on Christmas Eve as a baby at the church after which she was named.
In Damaged Goods, a character quotes from W.B. Yeats’ poem “The Stolen Child”, about fairy creatures luring human children into a magical realm and away from their earthly home:
“Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.”
In the BBC synopsis for “The Church on Ruby Road”, we read that Ruby “meets the Doctor, stolen babies, goblins and perhaps the secret of her birth.” The question being: is the secret of Ruby’s birth a human one, or a mystical one?
Russell T Davies teases in the official Christmas special press release: “…with Ncuti, Millie, Davina and the Goblin King, I hope it’s a feast for all the family!”
Hang on, a stolen baby, goblins and a goblin king? Forget Damaged Goods, he’s remade Labyrinth.
Doctor Who: The Church on Ruby Road airs on December 25 on BBC One and iPlayer in the UK, and on Disney+ in the US.