Doctor Who’s Ruby Sunday Twist Rights a Star Wars Wrong

They’re not going to retcon this one, are they?

Ruby Sunday hugging the Doctor in the TARDIS in "Empire of Death"
Photo: James Pardon/Bad Wolf/BBC Studios

Warning: spoilers for Doctor Who finale “Empire of Death”.

The mystery of Ruby Sunday has been solved, and after teasing the parentage of Millie Gibson’s motherless Mancunian since she arrived in Doctor Who’s 2023 Christmas special, series 14 finale “Empire of Death” brought everything full circle. Ncuti Gatwa’s Fifteen had been helping Ruby try to trace her family tree all series, and now, we know who her mother is… a regular human woman with no supernatural or alien connections.

Doctor Who showrunner Russell T. Davies has now confirmed that the big twist of Ruby’s mother being a young woman called Louise Alison Miller (played by The Responder‘s Faye McKeever) was directly inspired by one of Star Wars’ most divisive reveals.

As soon as we first saw baby Ruby being dropped off at the church on Ruby Road, there were swirling fan theories, with the wildest suggesting she could be her own mother in a Red Dwarf-inspired twist. Other out-there options for the mystery woman’s identity ranged from Jodie Whittaker’s Thirteen to River Song (Alex Kingston), while the prominence of Anita Dobson’s Mrs. Flood also made her a likely candidate who turned out to be a red herring. The twist that Louise turned out to be ‘just’ a young woman facing an unwanted pregnancy in an abusive home instead of some Big Bad from the past of the Whoniverse felt to many as if it fell flat.

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Explaining why he teased the mystery throughout the series but ultimately wanted Louise to be an ordinary person, Davies recalled the divisive twist of Rey’s parents in Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Speaking on the BBC iPlayer in-episode commentary for “Empire of Death”, Davies told fans, “In the last [Star Wars] trilogy, the second film said that Daisy Ridley, there was nothing special about her parentage. That she just got the Force… And then in the next one, they changed it all so that she was the child of the Emperor.” 

Rian Johnson’s 2017 movie featured a heated exchange between Daisy Ridley’s Rey and Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren, with the latter forcing Rey to admit her parents were “filthy junk traders” who were buried in pauper’s graves in the Jakku desert. Although Rey’s parentage wasn’t a well-liked reveal back then, it became even less popular when it was retconned in 2019’s The Rise of Skywalker. Episode IX added the caveat that while Rey’s parent were technically nobodies, her grandfather was Emperor Sheev Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid)

Expanding on what he felt about Rey being Rey Palpatine, Davies added, “She was, like, cosmic and had godlike powers – and I really loved the version where she wasn’t special.” No matter who Doctor Who fans might’ve wanted Ruby’s mother to be and the potential it could’ve had moving forward, Davies concluded, “She’s not the daughter of Sutekh. She’s not the daughter of the Time Lords or Rassilon or something like that. Her mum is Louise Miller, who was 15 years old and pregnant from a dangerous home, abusive home, and left her child on the doorstep.”

Bonnie Langford, who plays former companion Mel Bush, promotes the ever-present message of love and support on which Doctor Who has built its foundation. Discussing the Ruby reveal with Davies on the in-episode commentary, Langford said, “It’s a way of saying that, actually, we are all ordinary with a bit extra and that we can all find that within us. And we don’t have to be something.”

Louise not being some new addition to the Pantheon of Discord also lets Ruby step back and the incoming companion played by Varada Sethu to get her own time in the limelight. Davies suggested to Doctor Who: Unleashed that although he thought Ruby’s story would end with her going over old baby pictures with her mother, it’s a “pause” that allows her to return next series. Importantly, it keeps the story of Ruby’s parents as hers. Whereas Rey’s family reveal became a convoluted plot point to bring back Palpatine, it wouldn’t have been fair to Ruby to use her as a stepping stone into giving the Doctor another Big Bad to face. 

For better or for worse, there’s no tantalising tease that Ruby will become some DoctorDonna presence, but with Rose Noble (Yasmin Finney) already ticking that box in the 2023 specials, we aren’t too mad about it. The modern era of Doctor Who has delivered amazing twists like Bad Wolf, Professor Yana, and Oswin Oswald being a Dalek. While the Ruby twist will likely be forgotten compared to these, it reminds us that the series can’t always be filled with shocking revelations. There’s still more than enough speculation from that Mrs. Flood cliffhanger to keep us guessing, so Ruby’s mother being a more relatable reveal helps to ground Gatwa’s freshman series. 

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Unfortunately, Disney didn’t stick with Johnson’s vision, meaning we’d never really had a chance for The Last Jedi’s Rey twist to settle in before it was undone. Had it played out, it could’ve actually alleviated one of the franchise’s big complaints that no matter how big the galaxy is, we always somehow come back to the same group of characters and their relatives. At least Davies seems committed to his decision, meaning that unless someone else gets hold of the Whoniverse, we’re not suddenly going to find out that Ruby’s father William Benjamin Garnet is an incarnation of The Master.

Doctor Who series 14 is available to stream on BBC iPlayer and Disney+