Saturday 6 July 2024

Doctor Who: Empire of Death

Following The Legend of Ruby Sunday, Empire of Death, the second and concluding part of the season one finale was more Scooby snack than Thanos Snap!

Seeing the Doctor’s (Ncuti Gatwa) allies reduced to dust by Sutekh (Gabriel Woolf) looked impressive in 4K UHD on BBC iPlayer, but had no jeopardy as season one wouldn’t end on a cliffhanger.

This was further compounded by the preceding Tales of the TARDIS omnibus edition of Pyramids of Mars on BBC Four and BBC iPlayer for fans in the UK. A classic serial where the stakes are stark with Tom Baker (Doctor Who) and Elisabeth Sladen (Sarah Jane Smith) at the peak of their powers against an alien masquerading as an Egyptian God. My octogenarian dad remembered Sutekh and his robot mummies - watching the Fourth Doctor adventures is a profoundly poignant childhood memory that makes me misty-eyed.

Escaping the destruction of Earth, in the Remembered TARDIS, afforded a glimpse of a timey-wimey crew featuring Mel Bush (Bonnie Langford). Langford's first foray aboard the TARDIS is a nadir in the history of the beloved BBC sci-fi series. Here, we see just how great Langford is and let's hope Mel returns in future spin-off series.

Gatwa's grief at the cosmic destruction wrought by Sutekh due to the Doctor's actions is palpable and could have been an unforgettable season cliffhanger.

The Doctor's detour to a desolate planet, lifted from Dune or Star Wars, was jarring and forgettable - I was more interested in setting up a new iPad Pro (M4) and would never dream of sticking a spoon in its charging port.

The revelation of Ruby Sunday’s (Millie Gibson) biological mother was wholly anticlimactic and nixed fun fan theories circulating on social media. Russell T Davies was inspired by Rey’s origin story in Star Wars: The Last Jedi. She was no one special before it was changed in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.

However, this contradicts teases since The Church on Ruby Road. Ruby’s birth mother is a Leeds-based nurse, Louise (Faye McKeever). Okey-dokey! She's the key to defeating Sutekh in a nonsensical twist. Thanos, I mean, Sutekh was obsessed with the secret identity of Ruby's mum! Why? This fixation seemingly leads to his demise in the time vortex...

I didn’t have the TARDIS taking Sutekh for walkies on my bingo card for 2024. After almost half a centenary, the big bad’s return to television screens was comically botched - the subsequent memes on social media were a hilarious commentary on a fizzling finale.

There have been far too many tears this season!

Davies’ denouements are often rushed and none more so than here. It’s a shame, as Gatwa and Gibson are terrific together. Season one deserved more episodes (streaming services have pivoted to shorter seasons) and less reliance on Murray Gold's soundtrack to elicit unearned emotions in surround sound. I still tear up at the farewell between the Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) and Rose Tyler (Billie Piper) in Doomsday, so Davies can deliver.

Mrs Flood (Anita Dobson) cosplaying as former TARDIS companions, is a masterstroke, and I can’t wait to learn more about her in the upcoming holiday special, Joy to the World.

Doctor Who is available to stream on BBC iPlayer and Disney+ outside the UK and Ireland. Season one is available for pre-order (affiliate link).

Have you watched Empire of Death? What did you think? Let me know in the comments below.

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