Take your dog for a walk

The following contains spoilers for “Empire of Death.”

“Empire of Death” is the typical Russell T. Davies series finale: it’s explosive, dense, and completely unconcerned with the resolution of its own story. The episode bounces around for the required amount of time before reaching its climax with a visually arresting and unsubstantial. Because what is Davies Really what is interesting are the scenes that follow and the all-too-brief moment where Ruby Sunday has coffee.

Bad Wolf / BBC Studios

At the end of “The Legend of Ruby Sunday,” the Doctor (Ncuti Gatwa) and (classic series companion) Mel (Bonnie Langford) come face to face with Sutekh’s servant (Susan Twist). Sutekh begins to spray his death dust, a cloud of dust that turns everyone it touches into a pile of dust. The Doctor and Mel speed past the cloud on Mel’s scooter in an action sequence that feels like it consumed most of the episode’s budget.

The pair return to UNIT HQ to find Ruby at the time window. Sutekh’s dog form still holds the TARDIS as a prized possession and wipes out the rest of the UNIT staff, including Kate (Jemma Redgrave), Rose (Yasmin Finney) and Morris (Lenny Rush). (Three deaths you just know will not last more than half an hour.)

Sutekh explains to the Doctor that he latched onto the TARDIS (at one point) and followed it every step of the Doctor’s journey. On every planet the Doctor has landed on, he has planted a Susan Twist persona, each lingering both as a trap for the Doctor and to sow Sutekh’s murderous dust. And he used the TARDIS’ perception filter to hide what he was doing. Did you know that the filter works at a distance of

The Doctor, Ruby and Mel throw him into the Memory Window TARDIS, which turns out to be the Memory TARDIS (which is just a regular TARDIS). This was a small DIY set from the 60th anniversary framing series. , in which actors from classic series brought episodes of classic series to new viewers. In flight, the trio see what Sutekh has done to the universe, making it cold and empty, and giving Ncuti Gatwa a chance to scream his frustration into the literal void.

It is now very important to discover the identity of Ruby Sunday’s mother, especially since Sutekh is interested in the answer. The trio take the Memory TARDIS on one final journey to a dystopian future, as shown. This is where the evil Prime Minister Roger ap Gwillam has instituted mandatory DNA testing to ensure that the United Kingdom is a racially pure nation. (Yes, it’s a bit Yeah.) But it will also give the Doctor the chance to identify who Ruby’s mother is from the records.

Once the information is displayed on the screen, they are all taken back to UNIT HQ in 2024 by Sutekh who is equally curious. Sutekh uses his power to pull the Doctor to the ground, threatening his life, unless Ruby shares the information contained in the gadget she is holding. But as she gets closer to the dog, she breaks the screen containing the data and attaches a piece of smart rope to Sutekh’s collar to trap him.

The Doctor then whistles for the TARDIS to return to him, where he and Ruby attach the other end of the wire to the console and dematerialize. They then take this giant, evil alien dog for a walk through the time vortex which, uh, ah, something brings everyone back to life. Try not to think about it too much and enjoy the striking visual of the TARDIS dragging a giant, evil dog through some lovely CGI.

There are then some words about the Doctor having to become a killer to stop Sutekh from killing. He throws Sutekh into the vortex. Given that’s what he did last time, I’m not sure why it’s more successful now but, like I said, consistency was never the focus of the episode.

Back at UNIT HQ, with everyone resurrected and eating pizza, they are able to find Ruby’s mother. She became pregnant at age 15 and abandoned her daughter to avoid retaliation from a sinister stepfather who could have harmed the child. But she never sought to find her daughter afterward, and did not even tell the child’s father that she had had a baby. As for why Sutekh was interested in Ruby’s mother, the Doctor says it was because people had invested time and emotion in her. Which gives the impression that Davies is criticizing the audience for focusing on the questions that he himself inserted into the series for this purpose.

And while I can understand what Davies was trying to say, it’s not like he was playing fair here – pointing a neon sign at Ruby saying she was important. We don’t know why she can bend reality to her will, or make it snow every time she thinks about her abandonment. We obsess over this question not because we make sense of meaningless things, but because the show and its characters give them meaning.

The Doctor and Ruby stand outside a cafe where Ruby’s mother is now sitting, drinking and looking at her phone. The Doctor suggests that since her mother never cared enough to look for her, she is not interested in connecting. But Ruby is undeterred and goes in, orders a coffee, and sits on a large bench across from her mother, so that when the waiter calls her name, her mother looks up.

From there, we see Sundays catching up. But for all the wonders of the universe the Doctor wants to see, this seemingly joyful reunion isn’t one of them, choosing to leave Ruby there. He says they will see each other again but, given that he left his own granddaughter, it is just as likely that he will forget her.

And so the TARDIS sets off for pastures new.

Bad Wolf / BBC Studios

I don’t think “Empire of Death” paid off with the previous episodes with any degree of satisfaction, but I didn’t expect it to either. Davies’ modus operandi is to ignore the mechanics of storytelling in favor of vibes and those brief moments of character drama. The giant dog in space is weightless compared to the scene where Ruby is sitting across from her mother. Ironically, this is where we should have dragged things out – the anticipation of whether she would speak would have been a better use of the show’s time than most of what happened last week.

But the ending made me wonder who in this world would have the privilege of a happy ending. Davies nearly died of a drug overdose in the mid-90s, then lost his partner to a brain tumor in 2018. He is a cynical and nihilistic writer who believes that humanity is nothing but ‘to one or two missed meals of the most perverse forms of fascism. And yet, it’s rare that he plays a minor note at the end of an episode of Doctor Who.

No companion leaves without a parting gift large enough to ease the pain of being separated from the Doctor. In fact, on two occasions a companion gets their own personal clone of David Tennant. Here, does Ruby get a happy ending by being reunited with her mother, or is it her mother who gets the greatest absolution? She never looked for her daughter, never sought to mend the breakup, and yet here she is welcomed with love.

In fact, this episode raises a lot of questions for me, including: Is it okay for people who abandon you to be able to live their lives with the comfort of moving on? What about the weird twist that the Doctor kills Sutekh but allows his resurrection wave to reanimate planets full of evil beings? After all, Telos – one of the Cybermen’s meeting places – is identified as a registered location. Maybe it’s best to remember that sometimes you have to turn off your brain and just feel Doctor Who. See you for the holiday special.

Mrs. Flood Corner

Ms. Flood is disconnected from Sutekh, breaking the fourth wall at the end of the episode while dressed as a glam rock Mary Poppins. She tells the audience that the end of the Doctor is coming and is excited about the idea, further fanning the idea that she is playing a long-standing villain. The obvious guesses – given that Mrs Flood is played by a woman – are that this will be a future incarnation of Missy or The Rani. GOOD?

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