Doctor Who – Series 1, Episode 8: Empire of Death

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This is it! After seven weeks of, shall we say, variable quality, here we are The FINAL episode of season series 1. It’s also the second of the two-parter that began last week with The Legend of Ruby Sunday.

Jo (fellow walker and Whovian) and I had already seen this one last night at a special screening including last week’s episode at Cineworld, Rushden Lakes at the unearthly hour of 11pm👍😉😍 (a great experience to see DW on the big screen again!)

Showrunner, Russell T Davies has penned this one and it shows. But before we get into the nitty-gritty, let’s look at the bigger picture. With Disney and Sony now on-board as co-financiers and distributors with the BBC, there was a lot riding on this series. Certainly, the bigger budget has helped, and it’s plain to see – DW is all the better for it! But money can’t solve everything, and in the end it’s the STORY that this long-running series is mostly judged on. Unfortunately, for this super-fan, the writing has been a bit ‘up and down’ (as my ratings below suggest).

For my regular readers here, you’ll know that it’s no secret that I absolutely hated Episodes 1 and 2, the dire ‘Space Babies’ and very disappointing ‘The Devil’s Chord’. Thankfully, things got better, but considering these first two were both written by RTD (who knows DW inside out – and backwards!) I don’t understand how the quality could have varied so much! 🤔.

As for the character of the Doctor – for this series, he’s been a bit ‘all over the place’. Ncuti Gatwa has really taken to the role, but one minute he’s confused and indecisive, the next, upset and then, our hero – and don’t get me started on that song-and-dance number in episode 2! I’ve also not warmed the character’s ‘camp’ interpretation of the Doctor, either. Thankfully, that seems to have been dialled down as the series progressed, but at one point, I thought our Doctor rivalled Mr Humphries from the 70’s series: Are You Being Served?

Episode 1 – Space Babies

Episode 2: The Devil’s Chord

Episode 3: Boom

Episode 4: 73 Yards

Episode 5: Dot and Bubble

Episode 6: Rogue

Episode 7: The Legend of Ruby Sunday

What’s the story?

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First of all, as a bonus for us fans, this one enjoyed a longer runtime of 55 minutes (compared with the usual 44). It seemed to benefit from the extra runtime as there were a lot of questions to be answered. There are some ‘mild’ spoilers here, so this is your final chance to look away if you’d rather not know anything before watching.

Well, we hit the ground running with this one – just the shortest of short recaps, and we were into the opening credits! And things began badly… After Sutekh unleashes his evil onto mankind, it seems that EVERYONE is now dead – and I do mean everyone! Cue the Doctor (and returning character, Mel, played by Bonnie Langford) doing what they do best – running, but with a grand plan to save the universe! At this point, prepare for some VERY impressive special effects!

There are genuine scenes of terror here, and it reminded me of Who of old where mum and dad’s settee played a pivotal role for me. There’s plenty of action in this one, but I felt the story sagged a bit in the middle. To counter that, everyone’s performances were so powerful, it was worth watching just to experience acting at its most convincing (this is Sc-fi, after all).

Safe to say that the good guys (and gals) win in the end, but not without a serious struggle that involves a whistle and some string! 🫨

For me, the final scenes were overly sentimental and a bit drawn out. If DW ever moves to a commercial channel, its first sponsors will surely be Kleenex. Seriously though, I’ve never watched a series where there are so many tears! C’mon, this isn’t Casualty or EastEnders! I’m all for getting in touch with your feminine side (can I say that these days?), but it’s all felt a bit too much – and for me, it’s simply distracting.

Rumours of Millie Gibson as companion, Ruby Sunday‘s, exit have been well documented, and I thought I’d read that for series 2, there would be TWO companions for the Doctor, but tonight’s ending seems to suggest otherwise. At least though, we get to find the answer to the long-standing question of this series: ‘Who is Ruby’s Mum?’ It’s been a regular teaser for the whole series – and in this episode, I guarantee you’ll be as surprised as I was.

In the closing scenes there’s a chilling piece to camera by character Mrs Flood (played by Anita Dobson). She’s been a mystery character ever since she first appeared in last year’s Christmas Special: The Church on Ruby Road and there’s clearly plenty more to be explored.

It all ends well, maybe a bit ‘fairytale’, Or does it? According to Mrs Flood, in the closing scene: “What of the Doctor..?”

Sorry to say, his story ends in absolute terror..!”

and there’s more!

For super-fans, the BBC have created an EXTRA treat. The origin story of Sutekh is based on ‘Pyramids of Mars‘ a Doctor Who four-parter that ran from 25 October to 15 November 1975. They’ve re-edited it into a 75-minute mini-movie, and it was released on BBC iPlayer yesterday.

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Depending on when you are reading this, you can watch it on BBC iPlayer HERE.

Next Time..?

It’s already been confirmed that there WILL be a Christmas Special this year and series 2 will air sometime in 2025.

…and finally

All-in-all, then, a satisfying conclusion to Ncuti Gatwa’s debut as our hero. He is clearly born to play the role and I can see great things ahead. It hasn’t been perfect, and I hope the BBC and the higher powers behind ‘new Who’ will consider the following ‘vital ingredients’ for continued success:-

  • Set the campometer to 2 (maximum)
  • More of those spectacular SFX, please!
  • It’s all about the story, story and story!
  • Dial down the back-slapping and hugging

See you for the Christmas Special! 👍👍

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