‘The Church on Ruby Road’ – Interview with Esmie Jikiemi-Pearson

Whether it’s an original story or an adaptation of an existing one, Doctor Who fans seem to take novels to heart more than any other fandom. We care an awful lot that the literary versions of our favourite Doctors and companions are done justice, that these stories are treated as stories, not just reprinted scripts halfheartedly bent into prose.

Choosing an exciting new author like Esmie Jikiemi-Pearson to pen the first novelization of a Fifteenth Doctor story is a fantastic sign that the people at BBC Books feel exactly the same. And so we find ourselves with a lavish hardback edition of The Church on Ruby Road, adapted from the eponymous Doctor Who special that aired on Christmas Day 2023.

The Church on Ruby Road by Esmie Jikiemi-Pearson is out now in hardback, audio and ebook, published by BBC Books.

The Church on Ruby Road - Cover
Doctor Who: The Church on Ruby Road by Esmie Jikiemi-Pearson (Artwork by Lee Binding)

Esmie Jikiemi-Pearson

Esmie’s debut novel The Principle of Moments – which came out in January, first in the Order of Legends trilogy – is already a Sunday Times bestseller and earned her the inaugural Future Worlds Prize – an annual award celebrating fantasy and SF writers of colour – back in 2020. Esmie was kind enough to speak to me about her experience launching the Fifteenth Doctor and Ruby Sunday into the land of fiction.

Living the dream of every Doctor Who fan, I had to know how the job came about…

I had previously been in touch with the BBC to do some work for Doctor Who that never quite got off the ground, and always hoped to work with them again, because it was such an incredible experience! So I was overjoyed when I was contacted about possibly doing a novelisation. Initially I had no idea it would be for Ncuti’s Christmas episode. But, as I have written a character who is a Black, queer time-traveler in my debut novel The Principle of Moments, adapting Russel T Davies’ incredible, wacky, beautiful script … really feels like a meeting of like minds!

Esmie Jikiemi-Pearson, Author

What was her reaction to getting that fateful email?

I was overjoyed! I have loved Doctor Who since I was nine years old, and it has often been a light in the dark, or a steady point during a very confusing time. To be able to add my voice to its vast, epic, vibrant story is an immense privilege, and one I could never take for granted. I hope to write loads in the Doctor Who universe – they’ll never be able to get rid of me!

Esmie Jikiemi-Pearson, Author


As seen on TV, the Doctor (Ncuti Gatwa) and Ruby Sunday (Millie Gibson) bond over their mutual history as abandoned children while Ruby seeks answers about her parents. We also meet Ruby’s affectionate foster-mother Carla (Michelle Greenidge) and ornery grandmother Cherry (Angela Wynter, who also narrates the audiobook). I asked Esmie how those themes of heritage and identity influenced her work on The Church on Ruby Road

One of my favourite things about this episode is the introduction we get to Ruby’s family. It is an unconventional family structure, and so full of love, that I found it very inspiring to write about. I really believe that family is the people you choose, and these three ladies have chosen each other over and over again. I loved getting to add my own spin on Cherry’s life and backstory – as she was likely part of the Windrush generation, just like my own grandmother. That was a very special link to explore, and I am so overjoyed to see someone like her included in the Doctor Who canon. I also loved seeing the Doctor interact with the whole family – that’s always been one of my favourite parts of the show – and the moment the Doctor realises they have put that family in jeopardy broke my heart to watch, and again when I wrote it, it was so powerful. 

I think so much of Doctor Who is about belonging and finding your place – or not finding it – so I also loved how, as a young woman, Ruby is so unsure of her identity, just waiting for her life to begin. That resonated with me so much, and I feel like it will mean a lot to others just trying to figure out their own identities and life paths.

Esmie Jikiemi-Pearson, Author
Ruby Meets the Doctor | The Church on Ruby Road | Doctor Who

Adapting a TV episode to the page isn’t just about describing what happens on screen. Every author taking on this task has their own approach to rendering the character’s innermost thoughts. For Esmie, it was all in the performance…

One of my favourite parts to write was the scene where the Doctor realises that somewhere in the past, Ruby has been taken by the Goblins. The Doctor can be so enigmatic, but the devastation on their face was awful, and Ncuti played that moment with so much tenderness, you could see the weight of all that responsibility settling on the Doctor’s shoulders once again. I chose to shift to the Doctor’s point of view for the remainder of that section and it was honestly electrifying. Getting to add to the Doctor’s inner monologue, and just show how deeply they care about others was magical. I am always here for a tormented hero and the Doctor definitely has a shade or two of torment about them, so that was really fun to write.

Esmie Jikiemi-Pearson, Author

This Is Davina!

Of course, The Church on Ruby Road features the long-anticipated return of an old guest star – television presenter, Davina McCall! Playing herself, Davina interviews Ruby for a show that seems a lot like the ITV series Long Lost Family. But this national treasure suffers calamity as she gets caught in some of Ruby’s goblin-fueled mishaps. No pressure, then, for an author turning a real person into a character in her book. How did Esmie feel about the prospect?

It was hilarious! I love Davina McCall, and at one point I got so into imagining what the thought process of a celebrity would be like, that my editor had to reign me in slightly, and tell me to cut things! When I saw her name in the script I cackled – I knew this episode was going to be amazing. Honestly, though, I loved her scene with Ruby. From a writing standpoint, it is such a creative way to introduce a character, their goals, and wants. And also very meta to take us behind the scenes of a TV show too – I loved that. 

Esmie Jikiemi-Pearson, Author

Breath on a Mirror

Just as the Doctor and Ruby seek their origins, I was curious about Esmie’s history as a Doctor Who fan and – that all-important question – the identity of her favourite Doctor…

I came to Doctor Who in 2010. [I] had just moved to the UK from Australia, and was finding the move a bit difficult. Doctor Who was such a bright spot for me, having never even heard of it before I saw it on BBC iPlayer, and then bingeing the whole thing up until David Tennant’s regeneration! One of the first episodes I ever watched live was a Christmas episode. I was hooked, and have been a huge fan ever since.

My favourite Doctor is without a doubt Matt Smith! He had such a tough act to follow, and in my opinion, he smashed it out of the park. I recently listened to his regeneration speech about all the people we are throughout our lives, and it made me very emotional. He was fantastic as the Doctor; so energetic, and committed, he will always hold a special place in my heart, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Ncuti challenges him for the top spot. There aren’t words to describe how excited I am to watch him on screen during his season.

Esmie Jikiemi-Pearson, Author

The Goblin Song

One of the most memorable aspects of the TV episode, and its marketing since it reached number four in the UK singles chart in the week leading up to Christmas, was a musical number where the goblins chant about eating baby Lulubelle.

The Goblin Song – Official Lyric Video | The Church on Ruby Road | Doctor Who

How on Earth do you do justice to a fully-fledged musical number in prose? For Esmie, the solution came to her right away…

Haha! When I read it, I immediately thought of the way Tolkien would just take half a page to write out a full song, so I thought I’d take a leaf out of his book, and keep the lyrics on the page (with a little stage direction). I was so intrigued to see how they were going to handle it on screen, and of course Millie and Ncuti’s performances blew me away! I also heard that the singing we heard was done live on the day, and not pre-recorded in a studio, which is doubly impressive because they sounded great.

Esmie Jikiemi-Pearson, Author

The Order of Legends

With The Principle of Moments and The Church on Ruby Road being two smash hit books released in the same month, I wondered if Esmie might be taking a rest. But not a bit of it…

My main project is definitely The Principle of Moments! I am deep into Book 2, and I can only promise that the crazy space-opera with time-travel shenanigans are bigger and better in this book! If The Principle of Moments was supposed to kick off the series with a bang, then this book is a bit slower paced, and is more about finding out who the characters really are, behind the heroics. 

Esmie Jikiemi-Pearson, Author

The Church on Ruby Road by Esmie Jikiemi-Pearson is out now in hardback, audio and ebook, published by BBC Books.

My thanks to Esmie Jikiemi-Pearson and, as ever, the team at BBC Books for their time and help in putting together this interview.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *