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Doctor Who - Empire of Death - Review - Ruby Nobody

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Russell T Davies you absolute madman. I feel like I’ve said that a lot since he came back to writing Doctor Who, but this has been the most experimental season we’ve ever had from the show – full of unique elements, plot twists and big grand moments. We’ve had 73 Yards, a character study on abandonment, Rogue, an alien-insert as fanfiction. And now comes Empire of Death – a world where Sutekh has won, defeated the Doctor, using his TARDIS as a means of spreading death across all the universe, and in all of creation only one woman can save the day.

Much of the ongoing narrative has been built up around Ruby’s mother. I posted on X, formerly Twitter, a few days ago that my theory was that it would’ve been a The Last Jedi-style answer, like Rey Nobody which was easily much more interesting than Rey Palpatine, and in Doctor Who Unleashed, Davies clearly agrees. Ruby’s mother being an ordinary woman who got pregnant when she was young and named Ruby after a road may not be the explanation that a fandom who loves to theorise wanted, but it’s a refreshing change from the need to connect the dots. Anything else wouldn’t have been satisfying – a deus-ex-machina moment too many.

They’re not going to bring back a character they haven’t teased already this season; that would feel sudden. That left someone completely new, Sutekh’s pantheon, or Susan/The Doctor himself; as 13. And I’m really glad none of those options were correct because it would have been a little too silly. Yes; Ruby can make it snow – but there’s an explanation for that, no matter how flimsy, the time window and the TARDIS fracturing at the presence of her birth creates the snow backlash. And there’s still room for more to come on this front, remember – Doctor Who likes to surprise, likes to reinvent. To tell something that everyone was speculating beforehand would’ve felt somehow cheap.

Performance wise, there’s some good stuff here. The weakness of Empire of Death is that we barely have had any time with The Doctor and Ruby in the same way that their dynamic is over just as it’s getting started. They were barely on screen for Dot and Bubble, and 73 Yards was Doctor lite. Gatwa’s absence filming Sex Education has been felt all over this season; as has the reduced episode count. Even Flux with ten felt like it had more time to flesh out its many relationships between its large ensemble. That’s what the biggest flaw of season one was, in that there were only 8 episodes. Thirteen seems like the bye gone days of distant past, but ten? That would’ve been enough. To do a season with barely any sci-fi alien world exploring beyond Boom until Empire of Death somehow misses the opportunity for both Gibson and Gatwa to bond, but it says something about how good their chemistry is that their lack of presence together never becomes an issue when they’re on screen. They’re both excellent actors, Gibson is destined to big things, and this is the episode where Gatwa becomes The Doctor for me. He’s sensationally gifted, he was of course – already, for much of this season, but this is where he becomes Fifteen. Unique – the bringer of life in comparison to the bringer of death.

Let’s talk about deus-ex-machina for a minute because we all know it was coming. You can’t kill off the entire ensemble of UNIT and not expect it to be reset. But then Doctor Who, especially Russell T Davies Doctor Who, has always done that. Every reset takes away a bit of the magic – maybe if Sutekh had just dusted Kate and that would’ve been the cliffhanger? Secondly – what was the point in bringing back Rose; when she only raises more questions about why 14 didn’t get involved, and yes this is a show that has had multiple Doctors on Earth at the same time, sometimes as many as 3 at once; but Flux for example gave a reason for why they couldn’t help 13. Would 14 have come out of retirement to help 15? There’s a lot of gaps here that are easy to poke fun at the end of the day, but the ultimate reminder is that it’s Doctor Who, and it’s never been more fun to watch, thematically resonate – the most important woman in the world is nobody important because everybody is important to somebody, and everybody matters. The moment where Ruby meets her mother in the cafĂ© at the end is exceptional – Gibson delivering the best performance of the season. I was named after a road.

And then we have on a final note; Mel – who’s been around for a while now. But this was the best performance that we had from Bonnie Langford ever; arguably in the entirety of her series. Langford gave emotional depth to Mel and when she eventually became an emissary of Sutekh, it was hard not to feel heartbroken – even if her death was what gave The Doctor and Ruby time to figure out a way to stop Sutekh. Langford was the emotional crux to Doctor Who working so well as much as Gibson has been this season. Of course Susan Twist is back; of course we still have the ongoing mystery arc with Susan Twist now resolved – all the Twists exist, but as their own person – and of course, Kate recruits her at UNIT like she recruits everybody who even had one passing encounter with The Doctor (I’m surprised she didn’t offer Carla a job) and in the end; Doctor Who just about thematically worked for me. Emotionally grounded and proved Davies can finally just about get endings right; something that he’s struggled at for a while: since The Parting of the Ways.

And then there's Mrs. Flood - still out there... still waiting. The Doctor's journey is only just beginning.


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