This Doctor Who article contains spoilers. The Fifteenth Doctor era of Doctor Who is well underway with Ncuti Gatwa‘s first full episode helming the TARDIS. This year’s Christmas Special, “The Church on Ruby Road,” saw the Doctor not only face off with mischievous Goblins with a taste for baby scones (that is, scones made out […]
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This Doctor Who article contains spoilers.
“Never seen a TARDIS before?”
We’ve seen a lot of shocking things in Doctor Who, but that question, delivered directly at the camera, ranks among the most surprising. It comes at the end of this year’s Christmas special, “The Church on Ruby Road,” from Mrs. Flood (Anita Dobson), the elderly neighbor of new companion Ruby Sunday. But it’s not just Mrs. Flood’s fourth-wall breaking that raises questions. It’s the fact that she’s a markedly different character than the one at the start of the special, who grouches to her neighbor Abdul (Hemi Yeroham) about the police box parked on her walk. She’s also different than she was midway through the episode, when the TARDIS disappears before her, causing her to drop her groceries.
From those three brief scenes alone, it’s clear that Mrs. Flood is more than she initially seems. And because she’s an odd person in a Doctor Who story, it is our duty as users of the internet to speculate on who she might be.
The three 60th anniversary specials already teased a larger threat at work. In “The Star Beast,” a defeated Beep the Meep warned about a greater threat to come. In “The Giggle,” the seemingly all-powerful Toymaker spoke in hushed tones about “The One Who Waits,” the only being in the universe the villain dared not challenge to a game. And that episode also ended with a female-presenting hand stealing the gold tooth that contained the Master. In short, returning showrunner Russell T Davies is clearly setting up some sort of overarching story, and we can’t help but wonder who Mrs. Flood really is and how she fits into the whole thing.
Let’s run through some theories, shall we?
Look, because this is a Doctor Who theory article posted on the internet, we’re required by law to mention the Rani. Although she hasn’t appeared in a televised Doctor Who story since the 1993 Children in Need special “Dimensions in Time,” the Rani still has a grip on Whovians’ imagination, which is why she comes up every time a new shadowy female character is teased on the show.
At this point, we haven’t seen enough of Mrs. Flood to match her to the Rani’s usual tricks. We don’t see any evidence of species being experimented on, which the Rani loved to do, and Anita Dobson doesn’t play Mrs. Flood as arch as the late, great Kate O’Mara played the Rani. And yet, the Rani remains on our minds.
The other old chestnut of Doctor Who theories is Susan, the granddaughter of William Hartnell’s First Doctor, played by Carole Ann Ford. Susan often feels like a relic of the first incarnation of Doctor Who, when the BBC saw it as an educational children’s series. As later actors took over the role of the Doctor, his having children, much less grandchildren, fit less and less into the continuity. The show has never completely dropped Susan from canon though, as she’s received a few passing references here and there, including as a framed picture in Peter Capaldi’s office in series 10, and even showed up in the flesh in 1983’s The Five Doctors and 1993’s Dimensions in Time, to say nothing of extended media appearances. However, as much as fans might call for Susan’s NuWho return, the Doctor’s granddaughter remains absent.
All of that said, “The Church on Ruby Road” has a strong family theme, which does invite an encore appearance by Susan. With Ruby’s mom Carla acting as a foster mother for over thirty children, the sight of a young-looking Doctor and his much older Granddaughter would underscore the idea that families can vary wildly from one another.
Plus (this is probably unrelated, but we have to mention it), did you notice that both “Wild Blue Yonder” and the Christmas special featured background characters played by an actor named Susan Twist? Susan TWIST?!? At the risk of summoning Goblins, I’d call that quite a big coincidence!
The Doctor — or the Valeyard
Fourth-wall breaks aren’t exactly common in Doctor Who, but they’re not unheard of either. One of the more recent fourth-wall breaks occurred in series nine. Alone in his TARDIS, Peter Capaldi‘s Twelfth Doctor explained the “bootstrap paradox” to the viewers, a theory about how time-travelers create self-contained loops. The name of that episode? “Before the Flood.”
Okay, maybe it’s a reach to suggest that an episode from more than eight years ago would influence RTD’s big series 14 arc, but it’s true that the Doctor breaks the fourth wall more than any other character in the series. Heck, the first “Christmas” episode, 1965’s “The Feast of Steven,” part of the mostly-lost serial The Daleks’ Master Plan, ends with the First Doctor turning to the camera and wishing viewers a Merry Christmas.
So we have to ask: is Mrs. Flood another version of the Doctor? Hear us out.
After the events of series 12’s “The Timeless Children,” which were referenced in “The Church on Ruby Road” as well as two of the 60th anniversary specials, we know that the Doctor has regenerated into many more forms than the established incarnations of the character on TV. Mrs. Flood could be another version of the Doctor we haven’t seen before. It would explain how she knows all about the TARDIS.
And since we’re on the topic of fan theories that always pop up, what if Mrs. Flood is actually a variation of the Valeyard, the darkest version of the Doctor introduced during the Colin Baker era? Since his return for the 60th anniversary specials, RTD has brought back two deep-cut villains from the Doctor’s distant past, so we wouldn’t put it past him to finally give us a modern take on this baddie from the ’80s.
Is Mrs. Flood Related to Amy Pond and River Song?
Another fun theory links Mrs. Flood to the Eleventh Doctor’s main companion Amy Pond and River Song, the Doctor’s wife. Pond, River, and Flood — all names with a nautical theme. Coincidence or a clue? Did RTD purposely name his latest mystery character “Flood” to tease a connection to Amy and River? Could she be related to them?
But wait, you might say, the timeline doesn’t add up! Mrs. Flood is an elderly woman, a bit older than Amy and River were when we last saw them. Well, what if she’s Amy Pond’s daughter born after the Doctor’s former companion got stuck in the year 1938? That would’ve been 85 years ago. It’s possible Mrs. Flood was born somewhere between that gap in time. Besides, things rarely happen linearly when it comes to the Ponds. In fact, in River’s case, they always happen completely out of order. Could Mrs. Flood be the result of more timey wimey Pond shenanigans?
Yes, this one’s a bit of a stretch, and probably too much of a lore rabbit hole for newer viewers, but Amy and River remain fan favorites, and longtime fans will always welcome an addition to their mythos.
The Monk/The Nun
Alright, this one goes deep, so get ready. In the 1965 serial The Time Meddler, the First Doctor met a renegade Time Lord in the form of a Monk. The Doctor and his companions Vicki and Steven discover that the Monk is manipulating events in the 11th century, which may have drastic consequences for the future of Earth. Later that year, the trio again meets the Monk in the serial The Daleks’ Master Plan, making him one of the earliest recurring villains in the franchise. Although this villain hasn’t appeared on television since, the Monk, or the Nun when in female form, has popped up in audio plays, novels, and comics.
As their name suggests, the Monk/Nun incorporates Christian religious imagery into their persona, something that figures heavily in “The Church on Ruby Road.” Mrs. Flood herself doesn’t have many religious icons about her — although her name could be a reference to the Bible story of Noah’s ark — but she is very enthusiastic about Christmas, which is after all a religious holiday.
The episode’s main antagonists also happen to be time-meddling Goblins, who make changes to the timeline in order to eat baby Ruby. The Monk also goes by “The Time Meddler,” named after his modus operandi. We still don’t know the identity of the hooded woman who brought baby Ruby to the church, or why no one knows anything about Ruby’s biological parents, but could the Monk/Nun be behind all of it? Speaking of the hooded woman…
“Once upon a time, late on Christmas Eve, a stranger came to the church on Ruby Road,” intones the Doctor at the start of “The Church on Ruby Road” as the hooded woman delivers the baby on Christmas Eve. Throughout the episode, the question of Ruby’s origin becomes more complex, as her history is rewritten, first by Goblins and then by the Doctor himself. And in that second instance, the Doctor does not approach the stranger, leaving her shrouded in secrecy for now. What if this all leads to an “Impossible Girl”-style twist where it was an older Ruby who went back in time to deliver her own infant self to the door of the Church? Stranger things have happened.
Davies loves threading ideas throughout his seasons, building to big and paradoxical conclusions –Bad Wolf, Harold Saxon, etc. Given the interest Mrs. Flood takes in Ruby, she may very well be Ruby’s mother or, more intriguingly, an older Ruby keeping an eye on her younger self decades after her adventures in the TARDIS. Perhaps when Mrs. Flood is saying good luck to Ruby at the end of the episode, she’s actually reliving the moment she stepped into the TARDIS for the first time…
Just a Regular Person Changed by the Goblins
All of the wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey stuff above doesn’t account for the simplest explanation for Mrs. Flood. She could just be a regular person who has been altered by time-shifting events of the episode.
At the start of the special, she’s grouchy toward Abdul and recognizes the TARDIS as a police box, but that’s it. The next time we see her, it’s in the reality changed by the Goblins, where Carla has lost her compassion and Cherry her passion for tea. That’s when Mrs. Flood drops her packages in shock at the TARDIS. Her last appearance occurs after the Doctor has restored Ruby to existence, and Carla and Cherry to their best selves, at which point Mrs. Flood reveals she knows a lot more about the TARDIS than she did earlier in the episode.
The Doctor has always maintained that time travel has consequences, even very small ones. Is Mrs. Flood just a regular person whose knowledge has been altered somewhat by the Goblins and the Doctor rewriting history? That explanation is less exciting than any of the others, but it might be the easiest to digest.
Then again, since when has Doctor Who ever taken the easy road?
Doctor Who series 14/season 1 will air on the BBC in the UK and Disney+ everywhere else in May 2024. Check out the trailer for the new series here.
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