Doctor Who: Empire of Death – Finale Review

“Empire of Death,” the season finale of Doctor Who’s spectacular return under Ncuti Gatwa’s Doctor, delivers a satisfying punch. It’s a thrilling blend of high-stakes sci-fi and surprisingly deep emotional moments, serving as both a fantastic follow-up to “The Legend of Ruby Sunday” and a spiritual successor to the classic serial “The Pyramids of Mars.”

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Image: Production House / Doctor Who

The episode throws us right back into the apocalyptic aftermath of “The Legend of Ruby Sunday.” The universe hangs in the balance as Sutekh, the ancient Osirian god, threatens to erase all existence. This episode captures the exhilaration of a true Doctor Who finale, escalating the tension from the previous episode to an “Infinity War” snap moment where all life seems to vanish.

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Image: Production House / Doctor Who

The stakes couldn’t be higher. Gabriel Woolf’s return as Sutekh’s voice is magnificent, perfectly capturing the chilling essence of an unstoppable cosmic entity. While the CGI depiction might leave some wanting, Woolf’s performance is undeniably menacing. The constant sense of Sutekh’s presence pursuing the Doctor, Mel, and Ruby across time and space creates a palpable sense of dread.

This episode also pushes the boundaries of the show’s usual family-friendly nature. The danger feels real, with the potential loss of even established characters like Katherine Lethbridge-Stewart (Jemma Redgrave) hanging heavy in the air. This emotional weight is a credit to the writing and the performances, particularly Gatwa’s portrayal of the Doctor.

Gatwa shines in his first finale. There’s a wonderful mix of humanity and alienness in his performance. At times, he embodies the classic Time Lord persona, shielding his emotions for the greater good. But there are also moments where his vulnerability bleeds through, highlighting the Doctor as a being burdened by the weight of countless lives. This emotional range culminates in a beautifully bittersweet farewell scene with Ruby. Here, we see the Doctor, ever the wise and powerful alien, making a difficult choice that allows Ruby to live a normal life. Gatwa’s portrayal of the Doctor’s quiet sorrow as he lets Ruby go is a defining moment for his take on the character.

“Empire of Death” doesn’t shy away from referencing both classic and new Who. Fans will delight in the “Remembered TARDIS,” a ramshackle vessel powered by memory that stands in stark contrast to the pristine TARDIS of Season 1. There’s also a treasure trove of Easter eggs scattered throughout the episode, with nods to various eras of the show.

Image: Production House / Doctor Who

However, some of the more direct references to “The Pyramids of Mars” feel a bit on the nose, potentially confusing viewers unfamiliar with the classic serial. Nevertheless, the episode shines when it forges its own path, particularly with its refreshing take on Ruby’s origins.

The finale benefits greatly from its extended runtime. This allows for a satisfying resolution to Sutekh’s threat, even if the “resetting the universe” trope feels a bit trope-y. The extra time also allows for a satisfying reveal of Ruby’s mother, a seemingly ordinary woman who becomes unexpectedly grand in the grand scheme of things. This is a welcome departure from the tired “secret Time Lord” narratives of the past.

While a few questions remain unanswered, like the identity of the enigmatic Mrs. Flood, the finale sets the stage for intriguing developments in Season 2. The emotional send-off for Ruby leaves room for her return, potentially alongside the incoming companion, Varada Sethu.

Overall, “Empire of Death” is a strong end to a stellar season. It blends high-stakes sci-fi with genuine emotional moments, delivering a finale that honors the show’s legacy while paving the way for exciting adventures to come. With its innovative elements, well-developed characters, and powerful performances, “Empire of Death” is a must-watch for Doctor Who fans both old and new.

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