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Elizabeth Sandifer

Elizabeth Sandifer created Eruditorum Press. She’s not really sure why she did that, and she apologizes for the inconvenience. She currently writes Last War in Albion, a history of the magical war between Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. She used to write TARDIS Eruditorum, a history of Britain told through the lens of a ropey sci-fi series. She also wrote Neoreaction a Basilisk, writes comics these days, and has ADHD so will probably just randomly write some other shit sooner or later. Support Elizabeth on Patreon.

114 Comments

  1. Kate Orman
    June 22, 2024 @ 2:29 am

    Cosmic horrors have to be just about to destroy the world, or they don’t work, as you point out. There is simply no way to make “everyone in the universe is dead” matter in Doctor Who, although the scene with the nice, weary lady gives it a good try.

    Pyramids of Mars and Empire of Death are so different that it almost seems like an odd choice to show Pyramids at all — it creates expectations about the kind of story you’re going to get, and don’t.

    At least it became clear why Sutekh had turned into an Anubis-style black jackal, instead of appearing as ol’ square ears!

    Reply

    • Moon J. Cobwebb
      June 22, 2024 @ 8:09 am

      I’s say The Pandorica Opens / The Big Bang does a solid job of selling ‘a story after the Epic Threat To Everything actually destroys everything, and as with here the answer is to tell a smaller and less bombastic piece about your core cast working to undo the great undoing with spit and baling wire. Admittedly Moffat puts the apocalyptic beat at the end of pt. 1 and uses all of pt. 2 on an intimate chamber piece with a collection of characters he’s been steeping together all season, where here we get a road trip with our two leads and Mel, who’s great and all, but it’s distinctly splitting the difference and still going for a level of epic and plotty over truly People In Rooms territory.

      To be fair I don’t think, in terms of sequelizing a fannish classic serial by bringing back the relatively obscure villain, this is being any more obtuse than The Giggle before it or the overall S7 arc with the Great Intelligence – both basically take their originals as a light sampling pallet for imagery and the occasional mechanic, but resituate the baddies in a totally new context rather than doing a spiritual remake of the source, and I think in all cases how much rewatching the classic adds as much contrast as compliment.

      Reply

  2. BJ
    June 22, 2024 @ 2:30 am

    So it’s not immediately clear on the first watch, because I was paying more attention to “Doctor, surely ripping open the Time Vortex is a thing that will have reprecussions?” but Susan was at UNIT HQ because Skull-faced Susan was there when Ruby leashed Sutekh to the Tardis. Which means Ruby and the Doctor were teleported from 2046 back to 2024 at the same time Skull!Mel got her robe.

    Far more interesting to me was the fact that the Doctor described “the man with the hair” (AKA: Four) as “just [someone who] traveled in the Tardis”.

    Reply

  3. Julian
    June 22, 2024 @ 2:39 am

    Having rewatched it yesterday in semi-preparation for this, if you were to include The Church On Ruby Road in your rankings to make it an even 8, where would it go?

    As for the review, I can’t help agreeing with most of your points here, although I did enjoy it overall. But yes, for all the growth he’s made there’s still a “core” RTD when it comes to finales, which at this point almost becomes endearing? It does take me back to some of the memories of both the elation and frustration in the Tenth Doctor’s finales in particular, but I’ve changed so that I can.. is forgive the right word? Forgive then, the deficits.

    This is still more satisfying than any Chibnall finale, and now I’m sharing this with my family I get to experience it in a different way.

    The 73 yards reference still begs many questions…

    Reply

  4. James P
    June 22, 2024 @ 2:47 am

    I sort of get the point of “she was important because we think she was important,” but it still feels like a bit of a cop out. It doesn’t really explain why Ruby’s mother was hidden from Sutekh. Everybody is really important to somebody, and yet this was the one woman in the universe that had more importance attached to her than anyone else? So Sutekh couldn’t see her? I know this season is deliberately going for fantasy style logic, but this seems like a stretch. And what was with the snow every time Ruby remembered her? Hmmm

    Reply

    • Camestros Felapton
      June 22, 2024 @ 5:31 am

      I think it was meant to be like feedback. The Doctor being there and then The Doctor & Ruby trying to be there in the Time Window, Sutekh observing (presumably, the first time), Sutekh manifesting from the Time Window version of the TARDIS, the memory-TARDIS manifesting in the Time Window, the Sutekh controlled version of the TARDIS materialising in the Time Window, Ruby making the memory TARDIS more real, The Doctor taking a component of the Time Window into the memory TARDIS and then taking the memory TARDIS actually through time, while Sutekh is doing his own time shenanigans etc. Ruby’s mum leaving her baby at the church becomes the center of a bunch of time happenings which make that event a very weird event in time.

      Reply

      • James P
        June 22, 2024 @ 6:12 pm

        I hadn’t thought of it that way. I hadn’t really connected the timey-wimey shenanigans with the Time Window to the Doctor saying that ordinary people are important because we imbue them with significance through our stories and beliefs about them. In my defence, it still feels like these elements are only loosely connected in the episode we got, which is typical of RTD, I guess. Another way to interpret it could be that it was the Doctor and Ruby’s repeated striving to find out more about Ruby’s mother and the fact that the Doctor has a TARDIS that really caused the chain of events. So, it wasn’t thinking she was important that saved the day, it was the fact that this belief led them to take action. The action of looking for Ruby’s mother was ultimately what made a difference, not simply the belief in her importance.
        I guess this is all there in the episode, maybe I’m just frustrated because I have to do too much work to connect the dots haha.

        Reply

        • James P
          June 22, 2024 @ 6:28 pm

          Thinking about this some more, “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” really doesn’t ring true. I’d say it was Ruby who became more powerful than the Time Lords and gods, through her steadfast efforts to find her Mum.

          Reply

  5. weronika mamuna
    June 22, 2024 @ 4:37 am

    interesting to see traces of It’s a Sin here – the Doctor unwittingly spreading death throughout the universe because he’s having fun, but ultimately queerness being affirmed as the source of life.

    Reply

    • Przemek
      July 3, 2024 @ 11:49 am

      That’s a brilliant point.

      Reply

  6. Scurra
    June 22, 2024 @ 5:15 am

    I do like the idea that the Doctor is also (unknowingly) a part of the Pantheon – it’s an excellent extrapolation/retcon of the Chibnall set-up (immortal being from outside of the universe) whilst keeping very true to the established character of the Doctor – generally chaotic good.

    And yes, whilst it was obvious they were going to restore everything as soon as the UNIT scene happened, it still worked for me. I do think Davies managed to make the “restoration” feel reasonably credible as an idea though (helped massively by the scene of the woman and her baby, mind.)

    And it’s hard not to love the idea that Sutekh was basically the anti-Clara.

    Reply

  7. Max W
    June 22, 2024 @ 5:33 am

    I broadly enjoyed the episode but I do wonder if it would have worked better to have “everyone turns to dust” be the cliffhanger. Then the obviousness that everyone will be revived would be a bigger plot beat for the story to revolve around and allow Empire of Death to be more about the Doctor, Ruby, and Mel in the empty universe.

    Although that would then be structurally just The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang.

    Reply

    • weronika mamuna
      June 22, 2024 @ 6:37 am

      and also Infinity War/Endgame

      Reply

  8. Patrick M
    June 22, 2024 @ 5:45 am

    The resolution to the Sutekh plot really was just the Doctor yelling “it’s Opposite Day! lol”, wasn’t it?

    Reply

    • FezofRassilon
      June 22, 2024 @ 7:11 am

      I got the impression watching this that this was the end of Ruby’s story. If I hadn’t watched Unleashed (which I’m now realising is a dog pun) I would have absolutely thought she’d been written out. It made the whole thing feel like the “socially awkward” beat from Can You Hear Me had been lengthened to a whole companion departure scene.

      Reply

      • FezofRassilon
        June 22, 2024 @ 7:15 am

        Sorry, I didn’t mean to reply.

        Reply

  9. Toby B
    June 22, 2024 @ 6:00 am

    I mean, it wasn’t my least favourite RTD finale…

    The thing that most often annoys me about RTD’s writing is that the biggest flubs are also the bits that seem easiest to fix. I really feel like another draft (maybe a read through by a script editor who isn’t also the writer of most of the season…) could have tightened so many moments.

    Ruby’s departure annoyed me, because the easiest solution to “I want to come with you still, but I’ve also got a lot going on in my life” is surely to say “That’s cool! We’re stood in a time machine! See you in 6 months? A year?” The point is obviously that Ruby has moved on from her travels and needs to engage with the real world now but I don’t think that was very well sold by the writing – I think the Doctor needed to suggest a workaround which Ruby then turns down, rather than the Doctor saying “I don’t want to meet your dad, soz babes” and leaving immediately. It came across as the Doctor’s choice rather than Ruby’s.

    The “I must become a monster” moment would have worked if there was something in there about the connection to Mel, Susan Triad and H.Arbinger so they’d have to die too. Contrived maybe, but it would actually give something for the doctor to agonise over, and some consequences beyond “goth scooby doo will now disappear in a powerpoint transition”.

    My favourite moment though was the memory TARDIS being so wonkily made that they had to hold it together with the most lax bungee chord in history. I assume any tension whatsoever would have pulled the set apart. Related, Ruby tying down controls by gently laying some string around them.

    Reply

    • Loz
      June 22, 2024 @ 3:49 pm

      My heart sunk at the “I must become a monster” moment because I thought it was going to turn into the story would try to justify the Doctor not killing the demon who had minutes before wiped out most life in the universe. At least that didn’t happen.

      Reply

  10. Bennett
    June 22, 2024 @ 6:34 am

    I’ve enjoyed this season of reviews but haven’t been commenting as I haven’t had anything worth saying. And I still don’t really, but it’s the finale so what the hell.

    I was pleasantly surprised with Empire of Death, but that was likely buoyed by low expectations. I have an disinclination towards the Davies style of finale, and after a precursor that amounted to little more than “the big bad is a big bad” I’d lost the hope I had of something as strange and transgressive as The Giggle’s bigeneration.

    While the “death of death” resolution could be seen as cheap and improperly seeded, it is at least legible – which certainly can’t be said of the resolution to The Vanquishers. And the more important resolution of the Ruby’s mum strand felt emotionally right and more satisfying than any fan-wank theory would have been. I just wish Davies’ hand had been deft enough to pay off the clues he laid rather than contradict them.

    As for Season 1 as a whole, I’m still unsure how to feel. It all seems so…truncated? Between the reduced episode count, the phantom scenes (Sugababes, Roswell, etc.) and back-to-back Doctor-lite episodes, I feel like there just wasn’t enough “business as usual” – like the show was skipping over its bread-and-butter when I was really hungry for a full season sandwich. That said, I am so pleased the show is back to a form where I can be frustrated and intrigued and put-off and compelled week to week, and often minute to minute. Welcome back, Doctor Who.

    My rankings FWIW:

    Boom
    Rogue
    The Devil’s Chord
    73 Yards
    Dot and Bubble
    The Church on Ruby Road
    The Legend of Ruby Sunday / Empire of Death
    Space Babies

    Reply

  11. Citizen Alan
    June 22, 2024 @ 7:07 am

    I will probably have more to say when it’s not 3am (and I want to watch it again anyway), but my biggest takeaways are:

    I cannot get past the fact that CGI Sutekh was, despite the FX department’s best efforts, adorable. I never found him to be even remotely as intimidating as the Classic Who depictions of him (paralyzed guy in a helmet; Typhonian Beast with glowing eyes). Every time it showed a close up of Sutekh’s head, I wanted to give him ear scritches and say “Who’s a good God of Death? You are!” and then toss a ball for him to fetch.
    Relatedly, I suspect the reason to go with CGI Sutekh (kudos to Toby for “goth Scooby-Doo) was that RTD didn’t want the optics of Gatwa’s Doctor flat-out killing a man. So he gave us the optics of Gatwa killing a dog by dragging it behind his car until it tore apart.
    In principle, the idea of there being nothing weird about Ruby’s mum is an interesting twist until you think about it. And then, you get questions like:

    a. “Did the 15yo mum give birth to Ruby on Christmas Eve and then abandon her that same night with no recovery time? Or was Ruby born a few days earlier and the whole Christmas aspect of Ruby’s story was a shaggy dog tale?”

    b. “Why did Ruby’s mum wear that weird get-up to deliver baby Ruby to the church?”

    c. “Did Ruby’s mum really decide to name her Ruby because of a street sign? And why did she announce that fact by silently pointing at a road sign when the Doctor was the only person their to see it?”

    The only bits I liked were (a) Mel, which shocks me when I think back to how much I hated her on Classic Who, and (b) Mrs. Flood, who was so much more intimidating than the actual villains were.

    One final mystery: Do we know what happened to Harriet Arbinger?

    Reply

    • Lars Pearson
      June 22, 2024 @ 8:18 am

      There’s so many unanswered (out of sheer laziness, it seems, not because of a well-hones craft) questions here, one almost wants to scream. I’ll just briefly throw onto the pile…

      d. Sutekh goes to a lot of effort to discover the identity of the woman he can’t see properly. Why does he care? What in his nature forces him to answer that question? Why doesn’t he just go “Huh, curious,” then get on with the business of destroying everything, and pat himself on the back for a job well done?

      How the hell is the Memory TARDIS created? Because of the Time Window? How on Earth does it happen that if you look at something through a Time Window, you’ll get a modest-sized Gallifreyan time capsule fueled by memories? Or was it separately created and someone put it there? Who?

      Why does it snow everywhere Ruby and the Doctor go? We can invent reasons, generally involving the Time Window, but God… we shouldn’t have to. For such a recurring element, it’s a writer’s job to give the reader at least SOMETHING they can work with.

      Reply

      • Prandeamus
        June 22, 2024 @ 3:44 pm

        From what we know of RTD, I don’t think laziness is ever a reason. There are grounds for criticism, sure, but the man has a track record as anything but lazy.

        Reply

        • Matthew Marcus
          June 24, 2024 @ 12:38 am

          Reading The Writer’s Tale made me think that RTD just wasn’t that bothered any more during Tennant’s last season, but you’re right, the Eccleston season in 2005 had so many obviously well-thought-through ideas about what questions a modern Doctor Who might need to ask, and answer, that I find it hard to believe the man is lazy or incompetent. (As compared to Chibnall, who I’m not sure I can even imagine delivering the goods.)

          I was king of hoping that a 10 year break might have given us something equally as thoughtful/provocative as his first season, but I think it’s fair to say that he hasn’t. I do wonder if his position is now “the things that you think matter, don’t actually matter” – does it matter if plots don’t really hang together as long as we have two tremendously good looking young actors having a whale of a time throughout all time and space? Does it matter if Sutekh was underserved in his first appearance since one of the most beloved 70s classics, if the important part of the episode was Ruby being reunited with her mum all along? I don’t know but I have to wonder if that’s Russell’s game.

          Reply

        • Isaac Kelley
          June 25, 2024 @ 12:36 pm

          Lazy, no. But maybe he bit off more than he could chew this year. He wrote 6 of the 8 episodes this season himself, plus all the specials. That’s a big pile of scripts. And almost every one of them feels like… “This is almost great, but really needed another draft or two.”

          Reply

        • WeepingCross
          June 25, 2024 @ 4:05 pm

          As lazy is a word I was guilty of using below, yes, perhaps it’s the wrong word as RTD is clearly a man of tremendous industry. But perhaps he’s just decided he doesn’t need to bother with certain aspects of a story.

          Those of us who became Dr Who fans during the classic series are used to the claim that what we remember, especially if we were children at the time, are set-pieces and striking images rather than coherence and plot, and that seems to be a fair statement. And as we get older we continue to be forgiving of the set-pieces and images we remember fondly, even as we critique the mistakes and implausibilities that frame them; and this is where we start to believe that they didn’t matter, that the set-pieces and images were the point of the thing. But in the classic series the lacunae and ropy plot devices arose from the hectic pace of production, and if something didn’t pan out, well, until the age of video it was over and done with and the production team would try better next time. For the most part they didn’t tell themselves it didn’t matter because a substantial part of the audience was under ten and wouldn’t care, if only because they wanted to produce something respectable enough not to wreck their careers. They wanted to work on something other than Dr Who eventually.

          But if you actually internalise the idea that coherence doesn’t matter, that you can get away with hand-waving and mystical waffle without even doing the audience the courtesy of coming up with technobabble, eventually that cynicism will find you out. It will start to seep into the things you think you actually care about, the emotional set-pieces and the drama. Your characters start to behave unconvincingly, and eventually you’ve got the hollow shell of something that used to be interesting.

          Reply

      • RWX
        June 26, 2024 @ 4:21 pm

        The Memory TARDIS has twinges of my least favorite trope – “That which contains the image of an angel becomes an angel”. It’s just so open-ended and world-breaking, that if you try to think too much about it, the whole thing falls apart. But I can’t deny how COOL the set was. Serious kudos to the designers – they REALLY know Who.

        Reply

    • Toby B
      June 22, 2024 @ 8:36 am

      Did they even answer the mystery of the second tardis being at Ruby Road? The Doctor made a big deal that it was impossible, it was implied that the two tardises being together was what allowed Sutekh to first manifest properly, it could even be used to handwave all the Ruby weirdness (“we thought she was important AND the two tardises made time go glooppy” or something). Did I miss something? I was expecting that to be part of the solution – maybe even the whole solution.

      Reply

  12. FezofRassilon
    June 22, 2024 @ 7:14 am

    Did anyone else immediately think Ruby’s mother was Lucie Miller? The pictures all looked like Sheridan Smith and the name was so similar. For a second I thought they were saying her mum was an important whoniverse character played by a famous actress, which was the exact opposite of what they were trying to do.
    Can’t tell if the fumbling of that moment is on me or the production.

    Reply

    • Juno
      June 22, 2024 @ 6:14 pm

      I had the same reaction! This season have been so continuity and lore heavy that I seriously thought for a second “Yeah sure, Rubys mother turns out to be a Big Finish 8th Doctor Companion”. I have no idea if it’s an intentional refrence or just extreme nerdiness on our part

      Reply

  13. Citizen Alan
    June 22, 2024 @ 7:15 am

    One final point: Empire of Death does have one redeeming quality in that the Doctor’s solution for defeating the Big Bad required cleverness on his part, foreshadowing set up in earlier episodes coming to fruition, and ideas set up within the episode. Past RTD finales have generally required either one of the characters randomly developing god-like powers in the last 15 minutes (Bad Wolf Rose, Floating Magic Doctor in Last of the Time Lords, the Doctor Donna) or random lucky breaks (the Doctor having magic glasses that let him see “Void Stuff”, the Doctor having time to shoot the Master’s machine while Rassilon points his death glove reeeeaaalll sslllooooowwww).

    Reply

    • James P
      June 22, 2024 @ 5:14 pm

      I did enjoy the Doctor’s solution in the end, but, the only reason Sutekh let them live as long as they did was because he was curious about Ruby’s mother, which seems like a lucky break to me.

      Reply

  14. H Arbinger
    June 22, 2024 @ 7:19 am

    What happened to the memory TARDIS after they landed in 2046?

    If this were a Moffat, I feel as though Empire of Death would’ve opened with the Doctor on the dusted planet in the tent, and then flash-backed all over the place. Much more interesting storytelling.

    Reply

    • Alice
      June 22, 2024 @ 7:24 am

      guessing that it vanished once ruby dropped and shattered the time window screen?

      Reply

    • Einarr
      June 22, 2024 @ 8:58 am

      In the video commentary, RTD suggests it “drifts away” and then ends up doing all the various Tales of the TARDIS minisodes with the different Doctor/companion pairings from the past.

      Reply

      • Citizen Alan
        June 22, 2024 @ 12:54 pm

        TBF, I do like the fact that all the Tales of the Tardis mini-sodes from before the series started turned out to be foreshadowing of the series finale. Just like how 73 Yards became somewhat plot relevant even without anyone actually remembering it.

        Reply

  15. Anton B
    June 22, 2024 @ 7:26 am

    Yeah, a standard RTD groan-worthy, rush to the finish line. The clues, teases and Mcguffins scattered liberally throughout the season didn’t so much come together in this finale as spin away from each other. As though Russel T’s mawkish sensibilities got the better of his show runner instinct.

    His finales are often like this. He’s over fond of the reset button and the last minute get out of jail card and here the emotional beats outweighed the fantasy monsters.

    His plot arcs are like going over a bump in the back of a car. Exciting, puzzling but the effect is short lived.

    It pays to not look to closely at the mechanics. Perhaps the script’s lashing together of old bits and pieces from previous stories, resembling the memory TARDIS itself, was a little too on the nose.

    But I’ll admit some ugly crying happened on our sofa in the emo bits. If you’re gonna cast a soap actor of the calibre of Millie Gibson you’d better give her an estranged mum scene to get her teeth into and she played this for all it’s worth. However the “Ruby’s mother is just an ordinary nurse from Leeds called Louise” was beyond bathos. The creaking of the plot trying to justify this was audible from space.

    Some geeky thoughts

    It’s never Susan. So I suppose a brief photo of Carole Anne Ford will have to do.

    Way back in the RTDs 2005 debut ‘Rose’
    Clive Finch warned Rose Tyler that “the Doctor had one constant companion: Death”.

    Was the reason the TARDIS disliked Jack Harness but how he was able to cling on to its outer shell as it travelled through the time vortex in ‘Utopia’ because of Sutekh? Was the God of Death unable to eject Jack because Harkness was able to reject death?

    And then, right at the last minute Russell pulls a meta teaser. Anita Dobson dressed like Missy cosplaying Frozen, on a rooftop grinning and winking and oh okay I want it to be Xmas now!

    Reply

    • Citizen Alan
      June 22, 2024 @ 12:58 pm

      Calling it now: The Christmas episode will be the “Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” pastiche that “The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe” wanted to be but flubbed. With Mrs. Flood as the White Witch.

      Reply

    • Ryan B
      June 22, 2024 @ 11:57 pm

      I’m so interested in the fact that in one episode Mrs. Flood 1) wore Clara’s Face The Raven outfit and called the Doctor a “clever boy” and 2) gave us evil Mary Poppins while wearing Romana’s coat. The campy trolling is top notch and I suppose it’s to RTD’s credit that I am Here For It not five minutes from being colossally let down by a previous cool setup.

      Reply

  16. H Arbinger
    June 22, 2024 @ 7:36 am

    Millie will have been in fewer episodes than Bonnie even by the end of Season 2, crikey.

    Reply

  17. Rusty
    June 22, 2024 @ 7:44 am

    Favourite thing about Dr Who was taking time out of our busy schedule to directly accuse Sutekh of ‘cultural appropriation’ – with a straight face – and then crowbarring in a mention to the planet of the China planet from Turn Left.

    Reply

    • Fezofrassilon
      June 22, 2024 @ 10:26 am

      Oof!

      Reply

  18. Andrew PG
    June 22, 2024 @ 8:18 am

    I thought the same thing about the whole universe getting dusted. The instant everyone at UNIT started to die I thought “oh ok so the Doctor’s going to rewind all this” and didn’t care about any of the deaths shown on screen because eh, they’ll be back.

    One might say I was just failing to get caught up in the adventure of it all, but this is Russell T Davies, who acknowledged back in 2005 that obviously audiences weren’t going to believe they’d kill Rose halfway through episode 12. Surely he knows what happens to the stakes if you kill all the major characters 5 minutes into the episode

    Reply

    • Ross
      June 22, 2024 @ 5:18 pm

      There is no point in the episode where they could have killed Kate Stewart and had us think that was it. Whether it’s five minutes, halfway through, or fifty minutes.
      The stakes are illusory; it’s disingenuous to say that you really believed Sutekh might really win and destroy all life everywhere with no reversal and no victory for the good guys but once he did win you knew it was going to be okay. All it did was change the fundamental question from “How’s he going to prevent this” to “How’s he going to fix this”, and I’d say that’s a legit way to escalate, because prevention is easier than repair. At least that’s what my doctor keeps telling me.

      Reply

      • Gareth Wilson
        June 23, 2024 @ 12:03 am

        When it was just the UNIT people, I actually believed for a moment that the long-term recurring character, the boy genius, and the sassy robot would be permanently killed off. I’ve been watching too much Joss Whedon stuff, perhaps. Of course, once Ruby’s family started dying it was obvious even to me what would happen.

        Reply

      • Isaac Kelley
        June 25, 2024 @ 12:43 pm

        You could just about kill Kate in a finale. But you can’t kill Kate in a finale with along with Donna’s daughter, with Rose not even foregrounded.

        Reply

  19. Sean Dillon
    June 22, 2024 @ 8:35 am

    So was the pulse bit nicked from Sherlock alongside with the overall vibe of the episode being lesser The Big Bang?

    Reply

  20. Ian
    June 22, 2024 @ 8:44 am

    Defeating the dog god of death by leashing him and taking him out for time walkies is pleasingly cheeky, and if the episode had left it at that, it’d have probably enjoyed it more (even if “leash” and “god” logically really shouldn’t work.)

    The solution to “who is Ruby’s mum?” worked about as well I could have hoped, and the actors sell the hell out of it, but none of it really changed my mind about just how much I dislike “but who’s my real (read: biological) family?” as a plot point. And while I’ll be quite happy with this as an ending for Ruby’s story if it is indeed an ending—how classic show of it, except with proper emotional beats (says the person who’s seen, like, one classic companion departure)—her actual story feels ultimately disappointing, in the sense that I’m not ultimately sure there was one. Ruby wants a thing, Ruby gets the thing, and I’m not sure I can identify how she’s changed in the interim.

    Long-time reader, first time poster; I’ve been loving these reviews as a companion to the season.

    Reply

    • Fezofrassilon
      June 22, 2024 @ 10:28 am

      It’s not the end of Ruby – she’s back for season two. They’ve announced it on the socials, and there’s even a clip of her from next season already released. But even with all the doctor’s reassurances that he’s going to come back, it does read as a permanent ending, doesn’t it?

      Reply

      • Przemek
        July 4, 2024 @ 3:34 am

        You assume we all follow DW news. I for one purposefully don’t. I usually learn stuff about future episodes anyway because it’s hard to avoid but I don’t go looking for it.

        Reply

    • Citizen Alan
      June 22, 2024 @ 1:01 pm

      My hope is that now that we’re done with “Who is (sobs) my Mum?!?”, Ruby will develop more in the next season. Much as I didn’t care for Clara with Matt Smith because she was less a person than a plot device, but once we got all that “Impossible Girl” shit out of the way, she became one of my favorite companions.

      Reply

    • weronika mamuna
      June 22, 2024 @ 2:21 pm

      less walkies and more “tying the dog behind the car and driving on a highway”

      Reply

  21. tengo
    June 22, 2024 @ 9:11 am

    so ruby and the doctor solve the puzzle of ruby’s biological mother by… using the dna data base of a fascist?? well thank god for eugenics, I guess. did not see that one coming!

    Reply

    • Citizen Alan
      June 22, 2024 @ 1:05 pm

      Which was kind of interesting because they only had the means to find Ruby’s mum–the DNA database—because the fascist PM comes to power in the future. And they only knew to do so because Ruby had subconscious memory of events that didn’t happen … because she prevented the fascist PM from taking over the alternate future.

      Reply

      • Cyrano
        June 22, 2024 @ 1:32 pm

        Oh! I thought it was a bit of an error that in the future of 73 Yards Ruby never found her mum, given they go to the future to do just that in this episode but of course, she changed that future!

        So actually 73 Yards had to have her avert the reign of ap Gwilliam if it wanted to show her life well into the future. Huh, that’s interesting.

        Reply

        • Ryan B
          June 23, 2024 @ 12:10 am

          In 73 Yards ap Gwilliam seemed entirely about immediate nuclear assault and seemed to be played significantly more demonic than here where he was harping on the DNA database and just seeming generally fascistic — I wondered if maybe we were meant to make the inference that the Mad Jack entity from the 73 Yards timeline wasn’t actually released.

          Reply

  22. Chris
    June 22, 2024 @ 9:15 am

    The resolution of the mystery of Ruby’s mom feels like Davies’ spin on Clara’s Impossible Girl arc so I’m kind of surprised that wasn’t mentioned at all in the review. Instead of it being a critique of the Doctor and the audience for putting so much weight on the mystery, it’s made a positive resolution of the story. Which honestly gets rid of everything I found interesting about The Impossible Girl, but it’s more emotionally relevant especially with it being tied to a (temporary?) companion departure. It might take some time but I’d be interested to see if it gets remotely as much criticism as Moffat at the end of series 7.

    Reply

  23. Kazin
    June 22, 2024 @ 9:27 am

    There is little here besides Doctor Who celebrating itself for being Doctor Who. Yes, it was fun to see Mel and Bonnie Langford get a turn at being an evil villain. Sure, Ncuti Gatwa and Millie Gibson get some good scenes to act in (Gibson in particular). But this is the most Chibnall-esque episode of the show since The Power of the Doctor. It hangs together slightly better than, say, Resolution, but barely. This is the sort of episode I was worried about when it was announced RTD was coming back to run the show. One step forward (Gatwa), two steps back (RTD returning, Disney+, etc). Mr TARDIS on YT posted a reaction video to this where he says RTD with this episode seems to think Doctor Who’s best days are behind it, and I think it’s a fair point. I’m slightly worried about my favorite show.

    I hope you do give 73 Yards another chance/reappraisal, because despite the few references here, they don’t damage that episode, thankfully.

    So, yeah. I didn’t like this one.

    Reply

  24. Moon J. Cobwebb
    June 22, 2024 @ 9:38 am

    So I’m going to come out as a defender – I like Davies finales a good deal more than El suggests she does (although EoT is schizoid in its quality, as I think the lovely original Eruditorum two-part review captures nicely), and I think there’s a lot more going on here than just regression to the mean.

    Across this season we’ve explored several modes of the show pushing back the frontiers on What A Doctor Who Story Is Like Now, with Church & Space Babies testing what Davies’ default style looks like if he works some pretty structural Moffat innovations into the mix, the TDC & Boom taking former Big Event Ideas and testing out integrating them into a more run-of-the-mill episode format, then midseason we get trly experimental with 73 Yards testing the waters of the supernatural not as a new set of comprehensible rules but a way of exploring impossible premises and unknowable threats, D&B taking classic RTD1 innovations to blistering intensity, then we test the legs of the actual future a bit by seeing how fresh talent handle the New Standard Approach from the front end of the season…

    After all of which Legend simmers on the edge of just being a return to bog standard Davies finale fare – the former newness of gods, or even doing obscure classic villains, now increasingly simply a familiar mode for the show. A big bowl of spectacle for people who want some dumb fun, and a big bowl of Sutekh for trad fans. Of course trad fans immediately complained that it’s not Sutekh as they remember him and he was a lot more scary as a guy sat very still in a chair for four weeks and they can’t see why that wouldn’t work on modern TV, but then you can’t please everyone. There was a real sense, then, that Side B of the record would continue in this fashion. This wasn’t, even, a failure case prediction for me, as I said I like Davies finales, but as I put it before one is left feeling that what’s needed is a Parting of The Ways and what’s been set up is a Journey’s End.

    So instead when we get a mashup of The Big Bang and Name of The Doctor that stands out as a pretty strong interest in progress. Or to put it another way yes it leads with ‘let’s do the climax of the Infinity Saga’, but that’s just a shaggy dog leading up to ‘The Rise of Skywalker and The Timeless Child are the same cultural rot, so let’s restage The Last Jedi instead’. This was never going to be the slot for total ground-breaking innovation, nor was it ever going to be the tightest resolution to a mystery, Davies sets up red herrings with abandon then resolves them with a raspberry, his finales hale from the Sloman-Letts school, and I love those too; you should whoop & cheer, you should wince & groan, if you don’t leave people with something insufferably cheesy to complain about on Monday you’re doing it wrong.

    Ultimately I see why the I Am Become Death theatrics of The Doctor executing Sutekh are not to Dr. Sandifer’s taste, she’s never had much time for ‘Have I The Right?’ grandstanding as a narrative beat, personally I do think summary execution should never be a light personal moment, even as I have little time for any ethics that disregard it as a solution to tyranny, this is still The Doctor’s first on screen murder of a new era which has been establishing him as a hero with a no kill rule. It makes the point that in fact that rule is flexible for omnicidal god-kings, and given this may be the first time he’s had to take a life since doing a bunch of trauma therapy I have no real issue with the Fifteen being a bit of a drama queen about it. Or, less diegetically, it’s worth noting that this is the only post-revival finale that concludes with The Doctor killing Very Much A Guy, you can definitely argue the end of Doomsday, and there’s no real case that TDF doesn’t have him taking out a bunch of Cybermen, but straightforwardly having A Guy With A Name And Feelings hanfing at the end of a rope as you tower over them and cutting the rope rather than offering them a second chance is fairly brutal, we can all agree that The Doctor shouldn’t, on average, deal with problems like this, so I’m fairly unbothered by writing in a somewhat trite bit or melodrama angsting about having been driven to such extremes. No, it’s not the height of nuance I want from the climax to the emotional narrative of the season finale… but nor is it the climax to the emotional narrative of the season finale, it’s the climax to the Big Stompy Villain Plot, and yes this is a regression to finales about Big Stompy Villains and yes I preferred Moffat’s various modes of not that (two goes of averting natural disasters, one total chamber piece with a supernatural threat in the mix, a Big Spooky Villain, and later in S9 just a bunch of politics), but there’s plenty to be said for dumb monster finales in the context of this as a family show with broad viewership, Moffat’s season climaxes were grand, but increasingly alienated people.

    And, ultimately, I just like the actual ending. The real ending that everything else is just some fun for kids marking time until. Doing a big unreveal in the style of the Clara splinters or River’s origins, was the most obvious outcome when Davies poached the Mystery Companion concept from Moffat, since any other explanation misses the earnest humanistic point that it’s not about lore bombs and Secret Parents, people are just people, what makes them special is kindness and connection to one another. That’s a point Davies & Moffat very much agree on and it makes total sense to be restaging it here, but we were all wondering, weren’t we? We all thought he might not be able to resist making her Sutekh’s daughter, or Susan’s mother or god knows what. Yes, the misdirect involved in stopping us coming to the most obvious conclusion was large and ultimately rather dirty, it at the very least had to be the former, or we’d have all seen where it was going. And if you take the need to play dirty to distract us as writ and look at the meat of the message and the warmth of the execution I think this is a lovely progression of Davies’ work from tragedian endings to an understated working class joy, a companion departure not forever, and not in anger or loss, just in needing to stop running from home for a bit.

    Reply

    • Cyrano
      June 22, 2024 @ 10:19 am

      I agree with you on the ultimate ending, but not on much else, and think it’s a bit polemical and fight picky (in your treatment of criticism of Sutekh for example). But what I want to properly disagree with is the Doctor’s angst over killing Sutekh.

      I think it’s as much about its presentation on screen as the fictional ethics of it all. Do the images of the story make you think and feel what the story intends? I buy the angst and hesitation over killing Davros because Davros looks like a person. The image is important, because TV is just images. The moral tension there is real – can you murder an actual person? What justifies that? What price your moral principles in the face of their infamy?

      The image of throwing a CGI dog into a special effect just doesn’t sustain that.

      Reply

      • Citizen Alan
        June 22, 2024 @ 1:16 pm

        Agreed. They would have been much better served with having an actual actor for Sutekh than a CGI monster if they wanted any emotional heft to Gatwa executing him.

        Reply

    • Einarr
      June 22, 2024 @ 12:17 pm

      Re “first on screen murder”, I’d have said that was the Goblin King…?

      Reply

      • Citizen Alan
        June 22, 2024 @ 1:18 pm

        Gatwa did not intentionally aim the church steeple at the Goblin King (which would have required remarkable aim on his part, I think). It’s still in the (acceptable within the ethical framework of the show) category of “the villain dies as a consequence of the Doctor’s actions but it’s not quite a murder.”

        Reply

  25. Cyrano
    June 22, 2024 @ 9:50 am

    Overwhelmingly less than the sum of its parts, in a way that left me quite cold.

    I’m not generally in favour of rigid taxonomies and explanations on Doctor Who – it’s an adventure show not a D&D manual – but the gods are…sometimes explicitly magical things from outside the universe, and sometimes aliens mutated by riding around in the time vortex and you can pull them along on a bit of string? And the dog leash one is the best one? This fails to stack up for me.

    I’m generally in favour of Doctor Who doing other pop cultural things but with a Doctor Who-y twist, but that wasn’t really putting a twist on Thanos it was just…doing the cliffhanger from the Avengers again. It also felt like a real structural issue that the dusting of UNIT if not the full universe wasn’t the cliffhanger. Putting that into the first episode might have made it feel less like it was spinning its wheels.

    I liked the stuff with Ruby’s family very much, but it feels like pieces have been left on the table. Absolutely fair if the show is coming back to them, but it feels weird that once Ruby knows who her mum is she stops worrying that she can produce snow from thin air. The show doesn’t do anything to park that, it just expects you to forget. Unless that last scene with Mrs Flood is meant to connect it with her instead.

    In structure it’s very like Last of the Time Lords – the villain wins, the plan isn’t the plan (down to the key mcguffin getting smashed on the floor in a UNIT control room!), but I feel like that had a degree of heft this didn’t. It was still kind of loose compared with the tight construction of a Moffat script, but it was invested with significance. The vision of the Master’s petty rule over the world, the macro and micro scale of his cruelty was well drawn. The brief sketches of people living under his rule. Even Martha’s fully realised decision to walk away.

    I liked the idea that under Sutekh even fact and memory are dying, but it’s poorly integrated into the plot. That scene is a appendix. A brilliant, beautiful appendix, but it’s off to the side, having to stress how important that spoon is to disguise that it’s not important at all.

    The implication that the Doctor is secretly the God of Life is a beautiful, Cornellian idea…but so lightly brushed on that I’m not sure it was even intended and as a result felt little in the chest.

    As with so much of the Chibnall era, this felt like a sack of parts the writer wasn’t quite sure how to connect together, which is sad.

    Reply

  26. Narsham
    June 22, 2024 @ 11:12 am

    I liked it much more while seeing some flaws, and while they could be fixed by another draft they strike me as the result of RTD being a bit muddled and not being a bit rushed.

    Start with the acknowledgement that the God of Life bit does undo Gallifrey’s destruction by implication, as well as the Flux, I suspect. Traken wasn’t seen or mentioned, so Logopolis could be excluded. But we specifically see Calufrax, destroyed by the Pirate Planet (though also by Sutekh during the first destruction if he did so when the TARDIS first arrives). Every place the TARDIS took Sutekh gets destroyed at the times the TARDIS arrived, so Gallifrey gets it multiple times (that fits), as does Skaro. On this logic, Traken must be back.

    But the muddle here is that the finale and its cost to the Doctor aren’t clearly established in these two episodes even though we get them at the end. Because resolving the Sutekh thing is a sideline and the episode and Doctor can’t acknowledge that though RTD knows we know it will be undone and the story is how. The real crisis is finding Ruby’s parents and the cost the Doctor will pay is losing Ruby: not completely, but meaningfully and profoundly in the way he loses Susan to her getting a life that doesn’t need him (or indeed, involve him, though whose fault is that?). The fix is to make the Doctor intrigued but somber in the last episode: he wants to solve the Legend of Ruby, but he recognizes that he may lose her entirely if he does (and Rogue underlines how he values her). In the finale, then, he should recognize sooner the key to beating Sutekh and the cost he doesn’t want to pay registers when it’s clear he actually has to find Ruby’s mother.

    So the resolution is a step up on the standard RTD finale where the Doctot loses his companion: not an erasure of a world gap where the queer hero loses a boon companion to some form or other of trad family (whether brain-wiped or alternate reality or just a Martha “i’m worth more than this,” but the new paradigm where the queer isn’t completely estranged from the realms of the domestic, but neither is its integration either complete or unproblematic.

    And the dilemma is that you can’t fix the muddle with the Gatwa Doctor through his behavior. Maybe Four could grin as people and worlds fall to dust and dread the solution because it gets them back but loses Ruby, but you lose so much that way. Maybe Gatwa “spoiling” the ending by admitting he’s going to bring them all back, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t suffer first, would allow him to play both forms of sorrow and dread. Losing Mel ought to reinforce but RTD needed to give us a clear “Gatwa must lose Ruby” throughline only to land the “lose her but differently” which might itself have played as bathos set against “Ruby must die to save everyone” even if we know RTD would never. And it isn’t possible for the Gatwa Doctor to grimly/gleefully end Sutekh like Four, but either you’re stuck with a self-indulgent and unjustified Ten in End of Time 2 whining or you end up muddling the Doctor’s loss and making it look like the two atories are disjoint (as happened) or you derail the story to have dialogue where the Doctor tells Ruby the real cost of endings, not just Sutekh’s ending but the ending to the Ruby/Doctor story he’s created by actually helping her find her mother.

    As-is, that plays in the scene where he suggests to Ruby to honor her mother’s choice not to find her, she ignores him, and he not only loses her but in a way where he’s clearly both wrong and selfish both with that advice and not finding Susan.

    In short, I think RTD does read El’s stuff and will be taking on the Problem of Susan but in a way that nterestingly engages with questions of loss, of how stories end, and how the queer can exist within, or even create and constitute, something labelled “family” which at the same time isn’t utterly estranged from the cis het reproductive norm of “family.”

    Maybe there’s something in this episode taking on or rethinking Edelman’s association of queerness and death as a rebuttal to the model of reproductive futurity, but if so it’ll be something to be seen with further retrospect.

    Reply

    • Citizen Alan
      June 22, 2024 @ 1:25 pm

      You know, I think I would have bought the “I am a monster” bit a lot more if the Doctor had realized that, not only had he resurrected all the people recently killed by Sutekh’s dust, he had also resurrected all the mass universal death caused by Logopolis and later by the Flux. Only to then realize that, while he could easily bind Sutekh once more, Sutekh could still possibly escape and kill everything, and so the Doctor would have to knowingly and intentionally kill him

      And yes, I ABSOLUTELY want Gallifrey restored as a result of this. We’ll see what happens.

      Reply

  27. Juno
    June 22, 2024 @ 12:23 pm

    For all the pitfalls of RTD attempting to write Doctor Who as magical realism, and there are several flaws, the dead future of 2046 is a wonderful concept (as is the remembered TARDIS). I love the idea that Sutekh killed all of history at once meaning that there are multiple dead futures out there. Very hauntological to have The Doctor and Ruby walk through the halls of a deceased future (even if it is the dystopian future of Roger Ap Gwilliam).

    Reply

  28. Przemek
    June 22, 2024 @ 12:59 pm

    Oh well, this wasn’t good but I enjoyed it for what it was. All of the Ruby stuff was much stronger than it has any right to be and for me, it more than made up for the big pile of nothing that the whole Sutekh plot was. Onwards, I suppose. The next season better be better.

    Reply

    • Triad
      June 22, 2024 @ 1:07 pm

      The next season better be better.

      It probably won’t be.

      Reply

    • Citizen Alan
      June 22, 2024 @ 1:36 pm

      I still say this was, for me at least, one of the strongest seasons of NuWHo. RTD just failed to stick the finale. You know, like he more or less failed in every single one of his finales for one reason or another. And the way Moffat failed in 2 of his 3 Matt Smith finales (he finally figured out how to end a season satisfyingly with Capaldi). I won’t mention the Chibnall season enders except to say they were no worse than most of the other Chibnall episodes.

      Reply

      • Amelia
        June 23, 2024 @ 1:54 pm

        I’m really curious which of the 3 Matt smith finales you think was the one that worked? I genuinely like all 3 so I wanna hear your opinion <3

        Reply

  29. Coral Nulla
    June 22, 2024 @ 1:02 pm

    I feel like the idea that “should I kill the guy who murdered everybody in the entire universe?” is a moral question worth asking says much more than anything this season actually tried to do… The biggest shock reveal for me is that presumably Mel was asleep out of shot the whole time during that Tales of the TARDIS!

    Reply

  30. cirkus
    June 22, 2024 @ 3:17 pm

    Pretty much agree entirely with the review, which basically never happens. I’ll add three observations; first, I love that Mel is just part of the furniture now. Second, the Ruby stuff is absolutely the stuff that works most, and I love the beat of the Doctor telling her it might not be worth going to see her mum, her immediately going “nah fuck that” and being vindicated, and Gatwa absolutely selling “happy for her, but also I have no excuse not to think about my own long-lost family (Chibnall stuff or Susan).”

    The other is something I saw on twitter (link is https://x.com/jonrob5000/status/1804452519969796216), which I’ll copy in its entirety:

    “So Sutekh is the ultimate toxic fan? Latched on during the heyday, stuck around, has grown incredibly bitter about the Doctor’s choices, feels entitled to answers and wants its own fan theories to be seen as vital – if not, it can all die!”

    Which, given the beat of “actually Ruby’s mum really is just a normal person” is a pretty interesting perspective.

    Overall thoughts on the series is pretty much just, weaker than the sum of its parts. At least it’s trying to do interesting stuff again, but I’d prefer the bar be a little raised next time around.

    Reply

    • wyngatecarpenter
      June 26, 2024 @ 7:43 pm

      That’s brilliant about Sutekh , I was thinking earlier that the Doctor and Ruby are trolling Sutekh in the same way that RTD seems to have been trolling the fan theorists.

      Reply

  31. Jake
    June 22, 2024 @ 3:19 pm

    Good review, smart, concise reasoning for this episodes flaws, but the biggest issue is that they never made a joke about taking Sutekh for walkies.

    Reply

  32. James Whitaker
    June 22, 2024 @ 3:29 pm

    Really strong in the smaller moments, and the reunion Ruby has was so good, so genuine, but yeah, it’s weirdly hampered in a lot of ways isn’t it..? We know everyone’s coming back, that’s not the problem, but the actual mechanics are weirdly underwhelming. Quite a lot of stuff shunted off down for later. Gatwa, Gibson and Langford are all great, but there’s so many stuff that gets lost. What was up with Corporal Sullivan abruptly getting written out? Bringing back 73 Yards only to make that story seem even more baffling into retrospect – was the woman some kind of Tardis projection?? The actual killing of Sutekh doesn’t work at all.

    That said, the biggest tease in the world was Mrs Flood stood on the roof dressed like Romana from The Ribos Operation. Genuinely had a moment when I thought she’d be revealed as Iris Wildthyme or something crazy like that! Hey, why not..!

    Reply

  33. Prandeamus
    June 22, 2024 @ 3:47 pm

    Didn’t make a lick of sense. Enjoyed it a lot. Sometimes that’s all you need.

    Reply

  34. Loz
    June 22, 2024 @ 4:27 pm

    I’ll be looking forward to see whether season two explains the Ruby snow stuff or whether, now she’s found her Mum Russell will file that in the ‘things that are never explained which I’d quite like everyone to forget’ drawer.

    I find myself feeling strangely warmly inclined towards this episode, despite it’s faults. Sutekh’s Susan Triad scheme seems so weird I’m surprised he wasn’t planning on dropping the world’s oceans into the core of the planet for a sequel. I suppose that in season one you might not notice the Bad Wolf’s until Boomtown brings it up as a thing, but it might have been better to have it be something a bit more substantial that could be missed if you were successfully avoiding spoilers as you watched the show. Especially with that whole ‘blending into the background’ thing.

    But can we talk about Bonnie Langford? Two episodes and she has made me care more about Mel Bush and what happens to her than the production crew for the 1980s version of the show ever did. I’ve not listened to the Big Finish stuff so I understand this sort of happens there, but I would love a ‘young Doctor with older companion’ season if the companion in question is her. Supporting the Doctor when he needs it but unafraid to give him a kick when he really needs it, allowed to be smart now, I was concerned for her in a way that I wasn’t for Ruby or the Doctor when it was revealed that Sutekh had his claws in her.

    But as Sutekh didn’t want to climb down off the TARDIS we had a CGI baddie with no real presence or malevolence. This was a longer episode but it needed some chasing in the middle, the scene with the Doctor and the women who strangely seems to get killed later than the rest of the universe was fine and well acted, but the Doctor, Ruby and Mel seem to stroll around the universe with no real sense of danger. Harriet doesn’t appear to do anything this episode.

    I was surprised they resolved the issue of who Ruby’s mum was, but I’m not convinced by the apparent undercutting of the importance of who she was, so a fifteen year old girl has a baby, decides to leave it for the vicar to look after but first gets a cloak to wear to take it to the church and, on leaving, is passed by a strange guy so, without showing her face or saying anything, points to the road sign because she wants the baby to be called Ruby? Russell better have something amazing planned if season two’s mystery is “who is Ruby’s father?”

    I’m not happy that Mrs Flood is still talking to the audience. Unless season two includes a scene where she’s talking to the audience but we are watching her from a different angle and someone else is like “erm, who are you talking to?” and it turns out she’s a bit potty I’d like Russell to put that in the drawer too.

    Reply

    • Citizen Alan
      June 23, 2024 @ 2:31 am

      “I’m not happy that Mrs Flood is still talking to the audience. Unless season two includes a scene where she’s talking to the audience but we are watching her from a different angle and someone else is like “erm, who are you talking to?” and it turns out she’s a bit potty I’d like Russell to put that in the drawer too.”

      I assume Mrs. Flood is part of the Pantheon, since they’re the only beings who have demonstrated the power to break the fourth wall. (Gatwa did in Devil’s Chord, but only after he had defeated the Maestro and usurped their power, just as he defeated the Toymaker and gained the power to duplicate the Tardis “as a price.”

      I posited the theory last wee that Mrs. Flood is actually the Trickster, and they set up the whole Susan Triad/Ruby’s mother mysteries as an elaborate trap for the Doctor that was ruined when “fucking Sutekh” showed up unexpectedly and hijacked the Trickster’s whole scheme in order to bring about the omnicide.

      Reply

      • Loz
        June 23, 2024 @ 5:17 am

        So is Sutekh just another part of the Pantheon or is he the head of it, so that a Doctor versus Mrs Flood showdown would be a step down in the same way as Babylon 5 taking on Earthforce after fighting the Shadows and Vorlons was a step down?

        Reply

        • Arakus
          June 23, 2024 @ 11:43 am

          I could see them going with Mrs Flood somehow hiding herself from the rest of the Pantheon, like she actually is the first and most powerful but the others just don’t know about her, would kinda fit with theories that she’s some kind of story god

          Reply

  35. Ross
    June 22, 2024 @ 5:05 pm

    It’s troubling that Sutekh ended up being the second scariest dog antagonist of the season, behind the one that was made of snot.

    Reply

  36. Cyrano
    June 22, 2024 @ 5:19 pm

    I forgot when I commented earlier: there’s a fairly obvious bit of budget running out at the end: when Sutekh kills people, they collapse away into sand. When it’s reversed…they just wake up like they’ve been lying down all along with a hoover bag emptied over them. There’s, as I recall, not even one ‘person reforming from sand’ moment to illustrate what’s happening.

    Reply

  37. Jerec
    June 22, 2024 @ 6:01 pm

    My headcannon is that Mel passed away while the Doctor and Ruby were watching Pyramids of Mars.

    Reply

  38. Christopher Brown
    June 22, 2024 @ 9:45 pm

    Erm…I liked it! I figured I’d just post what I wrote over at Letterboxd, where this two-parter is now listed as a film thanks to its cinema presentation.

    Maybe it was lowered expectations, or I just really wanted to like Gabriel Woolf’s triumphant (and probably final) return to his final role, but…yeah, I enjoyed the second half just about as much as the first. I don’t think any one scene with That Voice tops the showstopping confrontation between Tom Baker and Sutekh at the beginning of Pyramids of Mars Episode 4, but honestly I’m comfortable calling this two-parter the better story – which, as someone who’s never particularly warmed to Pyramids beyond its villain, is just about what I was hoping for.

    Much of Davies’ Doctor Who writing, particularly his finales, is grounded in ethos first and foremost: what Doctor Who feels like to him and what it means for him. This is his greatest strength as well as his greatest weakness as a Who writer. But here, he’s able to combine that sentimentalism with the fairy tale, mythic logic he’s seen work in Steven Moffat’s seasons of the show, finding a register where his emotional approach can work. So while I’m sure the “Death + Death = Life” resolution is going to seem childish to many, for Davies, it’s the ultimate expression of what the Doctor is all about, the capstone to an epic fairy tale battle between the God of Death and the Embodiment of Life. And it’s grounded, of course, in the life-affirming, down-to-Earth fairy tale about Ruby Sunday’s search for her birth mother. “Empire of Death” does a surprisingly satisfying job of tying up Ruby’s story for now, considering all that it has to pack in; I might even rank Ruby’s departure my second favorite modern companion exit after Clara’s. This is a script by a writer who has seen the Moffat era and taken on board its lessons for how Doctor Who can work, and as a result has turned in something much closer in quality to “Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways” than duds like “Last of the Time Lords” or “Journey’s End”. Also, it goes without saying, but Bonnie Langford has never been better-used in Doctor Who than in these two episodes.

    The only flaws that feel like they really matter here are: 1) Yasmin Finney feels utterly wasted, and 2) CGing away the Smarties time tunnel in the Pyramids footage used here and the Tales from the TARDIS episode is an utter crime, though. You wanna have pride in Doctor Who’s past, stand by your dodgy special effects, guys.

    The result of a finale that pulls everything together is a season that, if not the modern show’s absolute best, feels reasonably close in quality to Series 10, aka the last good season before this one. And despite the bizarre progression the season has had, I’d argue that there haven’t been any true turkeys among the eight episodes, which is an exceptional rarity for the show. “73 Yards” did nothing for me and “Space Babies” had those horrible talking baby effects that are the result of people not watching crap media like Baby Genuises and knowing not to do that, but in the end they’re both solidly built episodes of television. As with the McCoy era, there really is the sense that having less episodes to make has lead to higher quality standards.

    Anyway, I’m looking forward to next year.

    Gabriel Woolf Doctor Who stories, ranked:
    1. Oh, Mummy
    2. The Legend of Ruby Sunday/Empire of Death
    3. Pyramids of Mars
    4. The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit

    New New Who Season 1, ranked:
    1. Dot and Bubble
    2. Boom
    3. The Legend of Ruby Sunday/Empire of Death
    4. The Devil’s Chord
    6. The Church on Ruby Road
    7. Rogue
    8. Space Babies
    9. 73 Yards

    Reply

  39. Bat Masterson
    June 22, 2024 @ 11:00 pm

    1) “The Bad Wolf was Sutekh all the time!”

    2) I hoped for just a second that the “now I must become a monster” bit was going to be naming Skaro in the list of planets restored to life.

    Reply

  40. James gabriel
    June 23, 2024 @ 9:54 am

    Hi, I’ve not looked too much but I haven’t found anyone else saying what I’m about to say online so I hope this creates discourse. I don’t believe the ‘Ruby isn’t special, and that’s what makes her special’ ending is real. I think it’s a deliberate miss-direct that’s going to be readdressed in the following season. I’m of the opinion that the writing is crap and the conclusion a lame cop out, but it’s saccharine evaluation by the mysterious Flood character at the end before she drops the (terror) cliff hanger seems like this obviously isn’t the actual solution. Plus, I don’t think RTD would have left the constant snow fall around Ruby unexplained unless it was on purpose. RTD is fond of hand waving away plot holes, he’d of mentioned something like ‘oh, it was the tardis doing the snow because the tardis loves Xmas’ or whatever. So, I’m calling it here: this miss-direct is leading into a continuation of this story into the next season, one that is also (according to the UK press) Gatwa’s final season? While I’m here, that ‘I’ve a granddaughter but I’ve not had the children yet’ line doesn’t seem to of attracted much attention but is surely fucking vital right?!? RTD is playing a bold game, but it’s surely risky given the shows flagging ratings and all the right wing press antipathy.

    Reply

    • Ben
      July 4, 2024 @ 11:59 pm

      Re: “flagging ratings”… Are they flagging? 1) Streaming and the Internet has basically killed the monoculture; the days of Voyage of the Damned being watched by 13.8 million people are, barring some unforeseen massive shakeup to the world at large, never happening again. 2) Now that Doctor Who premieres on streaming BEFORE it premieres on broadcast TV, a lot of people are just watching it on Disney+ or BBC iPlayer instead. 3) According to Davies, the new era is crazy popular with the younger audience that the show is primarily aimed at, so the BBC considers it a success.

      So, could the ratings be better? Sure. Is the show actually doing poorly? Not really.

      Reply

      • Ben
        July 5, 2024 @ 12:09 am

        Oh, and the right-wingers are gonna bitch and moan about literally anything. Last year, multiple big-name conservatives seriously complained about The Chosen, a TV drama about Jesus, created by the son of the author of Left Behind, because a single crew member brought a small Pride flag to set.
        If right-wing media are going to complain that “oh my god they made Doctor Who into Doctor Whoke” no matter what Davies does, then he’s right to say “fuck it” and make the show as tailor-made to pissing them off as he can. Because frankly, odds are those assholes were never going to actually watch the show in the first place.

        Reply

  41. Daibhid C
    June 23, 2024 @ 10:11 am

    I mostly enjoyed it. I don’t think any of it actually made sense, and it may even have gone back and managed to make “73 Yards” make even less sense, but hey, it’s an RTD finale, I wasn’t entirely expecting it to.

    I really wanted to like the Ruby payoff more than I did, though. As an emotional beat I absolutely loved it, as an actual plot point … well, my neice spent the rest of the night saying “But I don’t get how she made it snow,” and I don’t disagree.

    The Maestro, a dark god from beyond the universe, said that the secret hidden in Ruby was unlike anything they’d experienced before. I really think you need a better payoff to something like that than “There wasn’t one, it was just an optical illusion caused by timey-wimey stuff.”

    Reply

    • Daibhid C
      June 23, 2024 @ 10:12 am

      Wrote this before seeing the above suggestion it was a fake-out. Maybe.

      Reply

      • James gabriel
        June 23, 2024 @ 10:28 am

        I’d forgotten the Maestro stuff, that episode ended with a musical number about how there’s ’always a catch’ right (or was it twist????). I’m staking my reputation as an unemployed, single, cis gendered white male on being right here.

        Reply

        • Daibhid C
          June 24, 2024 @ 4:30 am

          It was a twist. I remember because it was a ridiculous triple pun (the direct meaning, Susan Twist, and the fact the dancers are, in fact, doing the twist).

          It certainly seems possible. Unfortunately, that would negate what I like about the idea (Ruby being ordinary) while drawing attention to what I don’t (nobody says “But if Ruby’s ordinary, then what about…”) Maybe Rusty has a way of making it work.

          Reply

  42. prandeamus
    June 23, 2024 @ 11:00 am

    Maybe we’re seeing the gradual fall of “The Arc” in televised story-telling. I know the media landscape is in flux, and I’m trying to be a luddite, but maybe moving back towards standalones wouldn’t be so bad.

    Reply

    • Mano
      June 24, 2024 @ 5:45 am

      Yeah, I’ve began to doubt “The Arc” too. Not only in DW but also some US shows I watched in recent years I felt that a few more strong stand alone episodes would have been better than spending time on developing an arc which only ended on a weak conclusion.

      Funny enough, when I first watched Babylon 5 back in the 90s I was thrilled with the multi-season arc, it was one reason I liked this show much more than Star Trek. But then, the B5 arc was carefully planned by JMS from the beginning while in more recent shows, including DW, the arc elements often seem added to the individual episodes and don’t have an impact on the plot only suddenly to be this big thing when the last episodes of the season come around.

      Reply

    • H Arbinger
      June 24, 2024 @ 1:22 pm

      Unfortunately in Unleashed, RTD discusses how this sort of storytelling is what sci-fi fans want and expect, multi season stuff, intricately weaved stories and elements that all tie things together, etc. Standalones aint happening on his watch.

      Reply

      • Prandeamus
        June 24, 2024 @ 2:18 pm

        Shades of mid 80s JNT there, I fancy.

        Reply

  43. Corey Klemow
    June 23, 2024 @ 7:02 pm

    “The real continuity question is when the Doctor returned to Vortis.”

    Regardless of whether he actually did at some unknown point, the impression I got (and I may have missed something) was that Sutekh’s infiltration of the TARDIS was so complete that it stretched forwards AND backwards from “Pyramids of Mars,” giving Sutekh access to everywhere and everywhen the Doctor had ever been – hence the very deliberate mentions of not only Vortis but the year 1066 and however many more references there were.

    Reply

  44. John Richards
    June 23, 2024 @ 9:18 pm

    I’m wondering if season arcs just don’t work in Doctor Who and we’d be better off with solid stand-alone stories with some general character development across the series. We’ve seen three showrunners now fail to sell a season arc (your mileage may vary but the only ones I felt succeeded were the Pandorica – on sheer charm – and the much more subtle “am I a good man?” arc that manages to get more personal over the series until it reaches the core moment of Missy offering the Doctor an army to prove they are as bad as each other). I don’t care about mystery companions or recurring memes, and RTD uses the logic of conspiracy theories and astrology to hold his arcs together – it’s all laboured wordplay and handwaving that isn’t very rewarding (and no, Doctor, that’s not an anagram). The only episode I actually enjoyed this season was Rogue because it required the least effort by the viewer to make the plot work. (I thought Space Babies was probably the only other episode that held together plot-wise, but that had its own issues).

    Reply

    • John Richards
      June 23, 2024 @ 9:19 pm

      TL:DR- I didn’t care who Ruby’s mum was, so I have no idea why Sutekh would be so invested.

      Reply

  45. Lashonda
    June 24, 2024 @ 12:48 am

    I found this season to be simply dreadful. Number one problem, Ncuti Gatwa. I felt like every episode he wanted to break out into song and dance like he does on Broadway. He was so over the top. It always felt very ” I am acting”. The constant crying and the strange timing of his smiles and then fear?. That guy is the wrong choice. He is all over the map.

    I am sure he is wonderful on Broadway, and he seems quite charming, but not for this role.

    Zero gravitas. Next huge problem, the writing and episodes were very odd. I have been watching this show since the reboot, and stuck with it through thick and thin, but this season was actually so bad I found it unpleasant. Finally I could not understand the actress playing Ruby half the time. Her accent was quite thick and she seemed to speak too quickly and mumbles.

    I have loved this show but I am done for now. It was disappointing.

    Reply

    • Einarr
      June 24, 2024 @ 5:04 am

      Gatwa has never performed on Broadway.

      Reply

    • WeslePryce
      June 26, 2024 @ 10:47 am

      Imma be real, if you dropped the Broadway part (which btw, comes across really weird and borderline homophobic considering that Gatwa’s never been on broadway), all of your criticism here could easily be applied to Smith as well. Gatwa was given material that you cannot perform in a subtle manner, and has therefore delivered a unsubtle performance. As for the lack of gravitas, I and many others completely (subjectively) disagree—he has charisma in many of his scenes, for example the dance scene in Church. It just happens, like with multiple Doctors before Gatwa, many of his scenes are clunkily written. When given a good scene to dig into, Gatwa delivers. I do agree he’s a bit hammy at times, but tbh being willing to be a big ham is a key element of being the Doctor. Whitaker would be my go to example for complete lack of gravitas in a Doctor performance. Even when given something to chew into she just sort of grazed on it.

      Speaking of Whitaker, I am always frankly astounded by the people who are always convinced that the current era is the new low that they can no longer watch past—did you and I see the same series 11/12/13? To be honest, if you made it past those without dropping, I cannot imagine this being worse.

      Also, I honestly think you should just put on subtitles if you can’t understand Ruby, that’s a complete skill issue lmao.

      Reply

  46. Einarr
    June 24, 2024 @ 5:03 am

    Gatwa has never performed on Broadway.

    Reply

  47. Mano
    June 24, 2024 @ 5:35 am

    Yeah well, that was series 14 (or season 1). I liked NG in the role and I enjoyed most of the episodes, but somehow in retrospect it all feels rather empty.

    I don’t feel I really got to know the new Doctor or Ruby – the season was just so short. Only eight episodes, two of them Doctor light, two of them a RTD finale and one of them Space Babies.

    Boom was great but having the Doctor so limited with so few other episodes around with him being active and in this Doctor’s first season nearly makes me wish we had a more standard episode in its place.

    Having the Doctor being uncharacteristically scared when facing Maestro and later Sutek would have had more impact on me if I had known what is characteristic for this Doctor, I think.

    I definitely enjoyed this season much more than all of Chibnall’s and I’ll lock forward to Christmas and a deeper look at the new Doctor next year, but I’m not as excited about it as I used to be.

    Being pessimistic I wonder if maybe Doctor Who is evolving into a more modern, successful SF series: effects, production values, spectacle and a good looking, likeable lead* and not much more. Not necessary a show for me – but then the ideal Doctor Who for me would probably not sell very well, I’m afraid.

    Gatwa can definitely be more than that, but he needs the right stories!

    Reply

    • Ross
      June 26, 2024 @ 6:22 pm

      I think the issues with this season are common for shows adapting to the streaming paradigm. It has basically the same pacing issues that half the streaming-era Star Trek series have had. The structure of a “prestige” streaming original show calls for a narrower focus, but the franchise history calls for slow, broad worldbuilding, so you end up with a bunch of underdeveloped threads building toward a finale that has to give closure to a half-dozen elements that weren’t developed enough and they don’t have time to fully address anyway.

      Reply

  48. WeepingCross
    June 24, 2024 @ 3:02 pm

    (Firstly, I’ve never commented here before – thank you, Dr Sandifer, for this blog which has changed the way I watch and think about Dr Who after decades of viewing. I even bought your books (not all of them new, I admit, but those copies I did rescue from the time vortex so someone else can enjoy them one day).

    I’ve now completely changed my mind about this story. I still don’t like it at all, but while after the first instalment I wondered what newcomers to the series would get out of it, at the end of the second it strikes me that you virtually have to be new to enjoy it properly: it exists to let you know, if you didn’t, that the show has a Lore, and, while a longer-term viewer will see that every element has been done better in the time since 2005, let alone 1963, newer ones won’t realise how slack and lazy the writing is. Sutekh is stripped of anything that made him interesting first time round, and even the emotional payoff with Ruby is dampened by the uninteresting treatment. Gatwa and Gibson are great, but their actual lines have no spark, quite apart from the ridiculous retconning and plotting which could have been helped by a few bits of script the writer seems uninterested in crafting (and characters hug rather than talk, so they don’t have to be given dialogue).

    Instead (I wonder if I’m being unfair) the production team seems to find teasing, misdirecting, and manipulating fans more rewarding than making the product itself: ‘story arcs’ help you do this. Are we approaching the same sort of collapse as the mid-1980s – a series eating itself, with nothing left to say? (I hadn’t picked up on Mrs Flood wearing Romana’s coat until someone pointed it out here, and I’m yet more downhearted now. Though even I would quite like to know why she’s apparently going to Cornwall).

    I would dearly like to see Dr Who run by someone who’s never been a fan, a good old BBC hack of the kind I suppose no longer exists, but I fear Mr Davies now owns the series to such an extent that nobody else would be able to take it on. How would such a change come about? Presumably RTD just gets to anoint his successor, if there ever is one.

    My counter-argument to myself would be that I’ve now had two stories out of 11 (Boom and Dot & Bubble) that I’d be happy to watch repeatedly, which you might argue was as good a hit-rate as the classic series often managed. And, ironically considering Dr S’s regret at not being to entitle this review ‘There never was a golden age’, I’ve just read Leila Latif’s claim in The Guardian that this is exactly ‘the new golden age of Dr Who’, so there are people who not only put up with it on the weary grounds that ‘this is what Russell T Davies does’, not only enjoy it, but who find it superlative. It feels like the Emperor’s new clothes to me. Or am I just too old? (Sometimes I think Dr Who fans live too long.)

    Reply

  49. Forrest Leeson
    June 24, 2024 @ 6:56 pm

    “…what, if any stories are substantively affected by the knowledge that Sutekh was clinging to the TARDIS since Pyramids of Mars[?]”

    Father’s Day

    Reply

  50. Ross
    June 25, 2024 @ 8:28 am

    I’m a little concerned that it feels like there might have been a little bit of a reactionary running theme this season. In The Giggle, connecting up the whole world via satellite is bad, and then later in Finetime, being constantly connected to the people you care about on-line was bad, and wasn’t the thing Susan Triad was going to announce before she got Sue Tekh’d some form of techbro “connect everyone all the time” sort of thing, but then also the Doctor’s travels connecting up all these worlds is grimly turned into the path Sutekh uses. And even in the Devil’s chord: aolean tones bad; music as a big public dance party good, and in 73 yards, the great tragedy of life is not being able to be physically close to people. And “Rogue” tells us that the nerdy pasttime of larping is bad.

    It’s probably just me as a nerdy, lonely sort of guy, but I tend to get twitchy at morals that feel like they’re edging up on “The kind of interpersonal connection that the cool kids were good at, where it’s in-person and sexy and there’s music and dancing and everyone is attractive is the right and proper and healthy form; the kind that nerdy kids do where there are computers involved doesn’t really count and is suspect and dangerous and probably means you’re a secret racist and/or serial killer”.

    Unrelatedly, it’s been many decades, so I don’t know that I’m remembering it right, but it seems like Sutekh’s overall story – powerful alien cosplaying as ancient earth god who the Doctor defeats using TARDIS time powers, but this turns out to transform them into a properly godlike time-entity – has substantial similarity to the Timewyrm arc. Enough that it’s probably not coincidence?

    Reply

    • Narsham
      June 25, 2024 @ 3:31 pm

      Given that Rogue, the Doctor, and Ruby are also LARPing in Rogue, I think you’re being a bit too literal. My read is that RTD isn’t “kill the Internet,” he’s differentiating between the toxic self-absorption and smug in-group bigotry platforms like X can reinforce, and the kind of exploration/art/people-focused things that the Internet can facilitate. Dot & Bubble’s lone hero plays for an audience/as art, The Devil’s Chord is very “music as art means people,” and the repeated theme of family vs abandoned children has technology both as a means of separation and finding/bringing people together.

      The fact remains that the Doctor used the TARDIS to travel bringing joy and life to places, Sutekh then poisoned that, but the Doctor reversed the effect so that these places live again through memory and its power to give importance even to people we don’t know and never met. In fact, it seems like RTD is suggesting that this technology matters less than how and who uses it and for what ends, which doesn’t seem sharply reactionary to me.

      Reply

  51. renniejoy
    June 26, 2024 @ 6:20 am

    I’m sure you’ve noticed this by now, but Susan Triad is at UNIT at the end for the same reason Mel is – they were called there by Sutekh.

    I think that the Tennant episodes worked better than all but 2 of Gatwa’s, but not because of the actors.

    Reply

  52. Camestros Felapton
    June 26, 2024 @ 2:15 pm

    On a re-watch, there is still an odd choppiness to this episode but overall it improves enormously on a second viewing.

    Reply

  53. Lackey
    June 27, 2024 @ 12:23 pm

    What’s the over/under on Mrs. Flood turning out to be the Master of the Land of Fiction?

    Reply

  54. wyngatecarpenter
    June 30, 2024 @ 7:26 am

    The identity of Mrs Flood is pretty obvious. She recognises a TARDIS. She doesn’t seem overly phased by dealing with superbeings, perhaps due to previous experience. The giveaway is that she is living in London.
    She is Drax from The Armageddon Factor.

    Reply

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