Millie Gibson as Ruby Sunday in the Doctor Who season 14 finale

Why Was ‘Doctor Who’s Empire of Death So Disappointing?

Doctor Who season 14 (the marketing is calling it season 1, but I find that confusing, it’s clearly not a reboot) did a lot of things right. It was Ncuti Gatwa’s first season and he absolutely nailed the character of the Doctor. But the big finale … Well, let’s just say it left a lot to be desired.

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The penultimate episode, “The Legend of Ruby Sunday,” set things up for a tremendous showdown. A very old enemy of the Doctor’s, Sutekh, had been hiding in plain sight all this time. He’d created a woman, Susan Triad, to lure the Doctor in. She shared the same first name as the Doctor’s granddaughter, and the Doctor thought it might be her.

But no! Susan Foreman is not appearing in this season. That came as a bit of a disappointment to fans who’d been eagerly awaiting her. Bear in mind that Susan’s original actress, Carole Ann Ford, is the only leading actor from the first Doctor Who episode to still be alive, and fans have been longing to see her appear in the show for a while now.

The finale, titled “Empire of Death,” focused instead on Sutekh’s wipeout of the universe. Turns out Triad is Sutekh’s “angel of death” and she unleashes a dust that killed everything in its past, throughout every timeline. This was where it became abundantly clear that the episode would hit a reset button at the end, because obviously the entire Doctor Who universe isn’t about to stay dead.

Sutekh’s easy defeat

But then … Sutekh is defeated really easily. This is the point where fans of the classic Doctor Who series began to raise eyebrows. All the Doctor really had to do to defeat this unknowable god, the One Who Waits, the destroyer of life, was … to distract him with the promise of Ruby’s mother’s identity, throw a rope around him, and drag him through the Time Vortex. Sure, it was “intelligent rope” and the Heart of the TARDIS came into play too, but it was a bit of a limp ending for a being that had been built up as a tremendous threat.

The Doctor dragging Sutekh through the Time Vortex restored life everywhere—the mechanics of this were not really made clear—and all the people we saw die, returned. Even Susan Triad, Sutekh’s creation, was fine.

Ruby’s normal mother

 After that, the only thing left to do was for Ruby to find her mother, Louise. And here’s the twist that disappointed a lot of people: After all the moments indicating Ruby was something powerful, all those times when she made it snow—she was just an ordinary person and her mother was ordinary too.

This all sprung out of showrunner Russell T. Davies’ problem with the twist in the Star Wars sequels that made Rey somebody special instead of a “nobody.” And that’s fine … but it was Davies himself who constantly made all signs point to Ruby being more than human. (What the heck was with the snow, Russell?!) And speaking of signs and pointing, Ruby’s mother pointing at a road sign to name her daughter didn’t make a lot of sense either. No one was watching her! And why was she wearing a dramatic hooded cloak when she abandoned her daughter? Why would a teenager in the ‘00s even have something like that unless maybe she was really into Ren Faires? So much needs to be overlooked to make the Ruby twist make sense.

So all in all, it was a bit of a damp squib of a season finale. The overall quality of the season was very high, though, which makes it stick out all the more. Still, the next season is on its way, and perhaps that one will have a better ending.

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Sarah Barrett
Sarah Barrett (she/her) is a freelance writer with The Mary Sue who has been working in journalism since 2014. She loves to write about movies, even the bad ones. (Especially the bad ones.) The Raimi Spider-Man trilogy and the Star Wars prequels changed her life in many interesting ways. She lives in one of the very, very few good parts of England.