Doctor Who Season 1 Episode 8 Review: Empire of Death

Spoilers

Doctor Who’s beautiful ending wasn’t anything like what I expected.

Doctor Who Season 1 Episode 8 did what Doctor Who does best, but some fans are bound to be highly disappointed.

Sutekh left a grim trail of death and destruction all over the universe, and the Doctor managed to set everything to rights, which should be cause for celebration. However, a season-long mystery ended without fanfare, and another one still hasn’t been solved.

Is Sutekh Gone for Good This Time?

Fifty years ago, the Fourth Doctor thought he banished Sutekh forever, only for it to turn out that he had an unwelcome stowaway ever since who was using the TARDIS to slowly destroy all life.

(The original episode is called “Pyramid of Mars” and is one of the best classic Who episodes. It’s on Britbox and is well worth watching if you haven’t already.)

Related: Doctor Who Review: THAT’S Who Susan Twist is Playing?

So why should we believe he’s dead this time?

The Doctor tied him to the TARDIS for a triumphant journey through time and space, resurrecting everyone he had killed with his deadly dust and then cutting him loose, which should have killed him.

Swearing to Stop Sutekh - Doctor Who S1 E8 Season 1 Episode 8

Considering his last Hail Mary, that’s hard to trust. Sutekh could have latched himself onto someone or something else so he could try again another time.

Plus, isn’t he the Pantheon’s most powerful god? Gods are usually immortal, especially those at the top of the hierarchy.

Still, Sutekh is gone for now, and the Doctor’s triumphant restoration of life made this epic adventure worth it.

Sutekh, god of death… you win. This is how you win. Because I pride myself on being better than you. Because if you are death, I must be life. I am life! And yet because of you, I must bring death.

Doctor

The Doctor was at his most Doctorly throughout the hour, leaning on his sense of guilt and desire to do the right thing while being determined to stop Sutekh one way or another.

Using the TARDIS in The Fight - Doctor Who S1 E8 Season 1 Episode 8

There Was No Way Doctor Who Would Let Everyone Stay Dead

The hour began with the tired TV trope of Sutekh killing everyone the Doctor loved. Kate’s death speech was one of the most beautiful parts of the hour, but come on!

Doctor, it’s Kate signing off with thanks and love. Send this monster back to hell. Because one day there will be birds. I must believe there will be birds again.

Kate

There was no way all those people were staying dead. It was a question of how the Doctor would reverse everything, though I was afraid he might not be able to save EVERYBODY.

Related: Doctor Who Review: Ruby’s Strange Adventure

My theory was completely wrong. I thought that since Sutekh began his reign of terror the night the Doctor visited Ruby Road at the same time as Ruby’s mother did, he could somehow use time travel to change the timeline so that he would not unwittingly release Sutekh into the universe.

Instead, the Doctor made Sutekh blow his death dust on a dead universe, which brought it back to life. It was a triumphant, brilliant moment, even though it doesn’t fully make logical sense.

Determined to Stop Sutekh - Doctor Who S1 E8 Season 1 Episode 8

Still, it brought everyone back to life, even those who Sutekh had possessed, so I’m not complaining. 

The Battle With Sutekh Led to Genuinely Scary Moments

Despite my fervent belief that all would be restored in the end, Melanie’s death — and subsequent possession — was scary as hell.

I was rooting for Melanie to successfully fight Sutekh’s attempt to possess her, and I was also glad that the Doctor sent her out of the room before searching for Ruby’s birth mother’s identity.

I suspected he did so to protect Ruby and her birth mother’s identity. Still, the Doctor’s response to realizing Melanie was dead had me in tears… less than a minute after she made me jump by showing up looking like Sutekh.

Thanks to the bigger special effects budget, all of the deaths were far scarier than on “Pyramid of Mars.”

The Doctor Contemplates His Next Move - Doctor Who S1 E8 Season 1 Episode 8

As great as the original was, the 1970s special effects made Sutekh’s original threats seem more silly than scary, and I’m glad this sequel episode rectified that.

That dust, especially coupled with the green light, was super creepy, as were all the Sutekh clones wandering around hoping to kill Ruby’s birth mother.

Ruby’s Seeming Sacrifice Was a Great Plot Twist, But What About The Resolution of Her Mystery?

I bought that Ruby was giving in to Sutekh until she dropped the screen on the floor, shattering the only proof of her birth mother’s identity.

That was one of the best plot twists in an episode with many of them!

That scene offered a gigantic red herring.

The Doctor Blames Himself - Doctor Who S1 E8 Season 1 Episode 8

.

When Ruby stared at her mother’s name, saying that it made no sense, I thought that it must be something really weird — like a popular fan theory that Ruby was somehow her own mother or was part Time Lord.

Instead, it turned out her mother was an ordinary human being: a teenage girl who gave up her baby because she feared her stepfather.

She was important because we thought she was important. That’s how everything happens. Every war, every religion, every love story. We invest things with significance. So while the whole of creation was turning around her, it made her sheer existence more powerful than Time Lords and gods. In the end, the most important person was the most ordinary. A scared little girl making her baby safe.

The Doctor

I understood what Doctor Who was trying to do here, but I couldn’t decide whether it was brilliant or a letdown.

Related: Doctor Who Review: A Strange Allegorical Tale

The mystery of Ruby’s origins has been such a massive part of the season that everyone expected her to be something other than purely human.

That was done on purpose to misdirect the audience, but for some fans, I’m sure that the truth was extremely anti-climactic.

Destruction Spreads Everywhere - Doctor Who S1 E8 Season 1 Episode 8

Doctor Who has always had the core message that every life is important, and the truth about Ruby’s mother reinforced that theme. 

Ruby’s mother was a survivor who made the most out of her life after getting pregnant at 15. Maybe having to decide to give her baby up for adoption caused her to take a harder look at her own situation and do what it took to protect herself, too.

During Doctor Who Season 1 Episode 7, Ruby wished she could tell her birth mother that she grew up to travel the universe, and now her birth mother’s existence helped the Doctor and Ruby to save everybody from Sutekh.

That was beautiful, even if it wasn’t what anyone expected.

Ruby’s Exit Story Was Well Done, But Too Soon

Ruby is Upset - Doctor Who S1 E8 Season 1 Episode 8

The final scenes, in which the Doctor told Ruby she needed to be with her family now that she’d reconnected with her birth mother, made it clear that the purpose of her meeting the Doctor was to find out the truth about herself.

Still, I shared her upset when he suggested she shouldn’t travel with him anymore.

Millie Gibson has done an amazing job bringing Ruby to life. There is so much chemistry between her and Ncuti Gatwa’s Fifteenth Doctor. I hate to lose her.

Related: Disappointing and Downright Offensive Character Departures

Supposedly, she will appear on a recurring basis on Doctor Who Season 2, so the Doctor will make good on his promise to see her.

Still, I wish she could still travel with the Doctor and come home occasionally to her family, as previous companions have done.

Ruby Joins the Battle - Doctor Who S1 E8 Season 1 Episode 8

I especially liked her burgeoning friendship with Rose, who was also woefully underused in this episode, and I was hoping to see more of it.

Doctor Who Left One Mystery Open

Not telling us who Mrs. Flood really is gives viewers a reason to tune in for the next season, but it’s still annoying.

I’m still leaning toward her being the Rani since she has a cold, heartless streak and had plans for Cherry that were interrupted by the dust of death.

Still, that’s the only clue we got to her real identity, that and her claim that the Doctor was about to face absolute terror.

It’s not as frustrating as if Doctor Who abruptly disappeared forever so that we would never get answers, but it’s still annoying.

The Only Thing to Do Is Fight - Doctor Who S1 E8 Season 1 Episode 8

Stray Thoughts

  • If Sutekh created Susan Triad to be his angel of death, then how is she a real person with real memories who can now work for UNIT?
  • Did Cherry ever get that cup of tea she’s been asking for since Christmas?
  • Did it strike anyone else as weird that the Doctor didn’t tell Ruby that the “man with the curls” was his previous incarnation? He made it sound like both Sarah and the Fourth Doctor were companions.

Your turn, Doctor Who fanatics!

Was the finale as epic as you expected? Were you frustrated by the lack of clarity around Mrs. Flood? What did you think of the truth about who Ruby’s parents were?

Hit the comments and let us know!

Doctor Who Season 1 is streaming on Disney+.

Jack Ori is a senior staff writer for TV Fanatic. His debut young adult novel, Reinventing Hannah, is available on Amazon. Follow him on X.

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