Doctor Who Season 14 Finale Review

The fourteenth series of Doctor Who’s revival era (40th overall but marketed as “Season One” due to new Disney distribution deal) has concluded this weekend with the eighth and final episode “Empire of Death”, the second part of the story started with last week’s “The Legend of Ruby Sunday”, both written by showrunner Russell T Davies Here, we review both episodes as they function together and what stands out about each one, as well as how they wrap up this series overall and what is in store ahead.

The Legend of Ruby Sunday

Beginning with a big crash landing into the UNIT HQ tower in London, Ncuti Gatwa’s Doctor and Millie Gibson’s Ruby Sunday emerge from the TARDIS, exchange warm welcomes with Kate Stewart (Jemma Redgrave), Rose (Yasmin Finney), and new young character Morris Gibbons (Lenny Rush), but it’s on to business as they point out the constant appearance of a single face across their adventures, that of actress Susan Twist. Twist was noticed by fans as being in every episode of this series as well as 60th anniversary episode “Wild Blue Yonder”, and then the Doctor and Ruby began pointing out her familiarity in “Dot and Bubble” and “Rogue. Here on Earth, she is recognised as Susan Triad, head of S Triad Technology, and seems to be some troubling mix of Elon Musk and Theresa May. UNIT suspects her to be a threat due to S Triad Tech being an anagram of TARDIS Tech, but the Doctor and Ruby point out her name being that of the Doctor’s granddaughter (originally played by Carol Anne Ford), who has been presumed dead but was abandoned on Earth in 1964. The Doctor, Ruby, and UNIT follow this trail of clues but also seek to discover the truth of Ruby’s own origin, abandoned on the steps of a church on Ruby Road on Christmas Eve in 2004. The Doctor cannot go back to this event as he helped it happen during the 2023 Christmas special, so the team use UNIT’s ‘time window’ to create a hologram of Ruby and the Doctor’s memory of that night, but this reveals a malevolence surrounding the TARDIS.

A shape of shadow and red energy surrounds the blue box, now becoming manifest in our world, and this is where the true darkness of the plot comes into play. The shadow disintegrates a UNIT soldier, angering the Doctor and sending him off with Mel Bush (80s Who companion played by Bonnie Langford) to find out if Susan Triad is his granddaughter in disguise. Questions start flying fast and furious, the Doctor feels total rage against the death of the innocent, Ruby might feel she finally can find an answer to her mother is, and all the time we are questioning why the TARDIS is groaning in pain like it never has before. The revelation is what some on the internet may have predicted happily, but many will not expect. It recalls an absolute classic Doctor Who story that was one of my favourites growing up, so to see it come back today was a shock and a delight. The reveal is marvellous, terrifying, and one of the best cliffhangers since the reveal of the Master’s return in 2017’s “World Enough and Time”. The episode is slick, clean, mysterious, palpably tense, and has enough time to build up emotional conflicts for the Doctor and Ruby. While its plot is deliberately open-ended due to it being a first part, it was an exhilarating jumping-off point for the series finale.

Empire of Death

We’re going to have to do spoilers from here on out due to the nature of what this episode’s plot is, so this is your first and final warning.


Sutekh, the god of Death, a one-time villain for Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor in “Pyramids of Mars” from 1975, is revealed at the end of “The Legend of Ruby Sunday” to have latched onto the TARDIS invisibly and has created the life of Susan Triad, complete with the obvious anagram of S TRIAD, all as a red-herring trap for the Doctor. He is also voiced by the same actor Gabriel Woolf, who also voiced the Beast in the 2006 episodes “The Impossible Planet” and “The Satan Pit”, and does an incredible job invoking fear and horror with a whisper.

He is the ‘Big Bad’ of the series, like the Daleks or the Master or Davros before him in Russell T Davies first go as showrunner. He is revealed to have attached his weak spirit to the TARDIS just as the Fourth Doctor banished his physical form to the end of time, and has lingered in the Doctor’s time machine since then, manifesting and evolving slowly, creating ‘angels of death’ on every world he visited since then, especially Earth where Susan Triad was formed. Triad, and every other version of her on every other world across the universe graced by the Doctor, unleashes a monstrous dust storm that consumes all life, vanquishing the universe like an even more tyrannical Thanos. The Doctor, Ruby, and Mel only survive because of the existence of a ‘memory TARDIS’ created by the UNIT ‘time window’. This ramshackle version of the TARDIS shields the trio from disintegration, and the Doctor can only watch in absolute horror as the universe is silenced once and for all.

Dedicated viewers of the show will know for certain that once this happens, it is never the end. The Earth and the entire universe have all faced absolute destruction hundreds of times before in Doctor Who canon, so this plot is not much of a surprise. What keeps us interested in HOW a writer deals with such stakes. Here, Davies takes it all once step further and has life be destroyed but also all memory of life slowly disappear. This establishes Sutekh’s powers not only as destruction of life, but a manipulation of living thought, which ends up connecting on a far greater level to themes of this entire series so far, but I’ll get back to that. In true Russell T Davies form, the plot is another whirlwind of sudden solutions to difficult problems, all feeling very convenient and easy for something so impossible. The solution of tricking Sutekh into wanting to know Ruby Sunday’s mother, information found from a DNA database in 2046 (a reference to previous episode “73 Yards”) and then using ‘intelligent rope’ to leash Sutekh’s visual form (a giant CGI jackal) and then using a whistle to call forth a jet engine inside the TARDIS to blast its way off of Sutekh’s possession, all to then drag him through the time vortex and reverse his universal death curse by fighting death with death. Does it make sense? Logically, no. But Doctor Who has always defied logic and prefers to play with magic, with writers today preferring to see the series not as science-fiction but a fairytale, complete with wizards and dragons and important life lessons for younger viewers. It’s absolutely absurd to behold, but never feels out of place. You just have to get your head around the visual of a blue box dragging a dog the size of a bus through a space tunnel.

“Empire of Death” is a total subversion of expectation. Davies almost seems uninterested in a big philosophical battle with Sutekh simply because the character was always a maniacal horror villain, inspired by gothic and Hammer horror of the 1930s and 1940s, motivated only by a single purpose of destroying all life for the sake of it. He’s a God, but gods can always be defeated by the Doctor, who realises here that he must be the ‘God of life’ if he is to defeat the ultimate form of death. What comes through as the episode’s ultimate truth is in its revelations about Ruby Sunday. Her mother is finally revealed in the end to be…a normal woman. Intentionally inspired by the short-lived truth of Rey’s parentage in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and now just as controversial among the fanbase, Ruby’s mother is Louise Miller, who gave birth at fifteen but was forced to give her daughter up to an abusive stepfather, forced to forget her child and move on with her life. She has a normal job and a normal life. It flies in the face of dozens of fan theories, each more fantastical than the last, because it was always supposed to. The Doctor declares that Ruby’s mother was important on a cosmic level only because we all THOUGHT she was important, based entirely on her abandoning her daughter in the most coincidental way, established in the 2023 Christmas special “The Church on Ruby Road”. It wasn’t what anyone was expecting, and may still leave several questions unanswered (like how physical snow could manifest from Ruby’s memories of her mother) and there is some handling of certain aspects that still feel awfully convenient or soapy, but such is still the way of Davies writing. He swings with big waves of emotion, always going for the warm and fuzzy even in the face of darkness and decay. Such is the way of Doctor Who, really.

The episode ends with a touching reunion of birth mother and daughter, Ruby Sunday’s story seemingly coming to a beautiful close, her purpose in life fulfilled, and the Doctor realises that he must leave her behind for her to continue living life. It’s a farewell unique to Davies, who only parted with companions when they were ripped apart or fell out of connection with each other, but here the Doctor chooses to let Ruby go, as much as that hurts her. We may have not gotten enough from these two emotionally beyond being the best of friends, but goodbyes always sting. Both performances from Gatwa and Gibson show how even in weaker moments of writing from the series, they shine above it all with radiant charisma, an honesty of their emotions, and an invitational and earnest sense of adventure.


Both episodes were rather expertly directed by Jamie Donoughue, feature terrific special effects that show off the strong production values afforded by the new Disney deal, develop some fascinating new wrinkles for Doctor Who canon, and marvellously connect to classic episodes as well as tying things together better with recent episodes like “Wild Blue Yonder”. “The Church on Ruby Road” and “73 Yards”. There is some confusion still around some aspects, the plot is a sugar rush of coincidences and conveniences, but alike some more confounding adventures (a lot of Moffat’s run was plagued by nonsensical paradoxes) this is one I will be eager to return to and find new layers. We have only just begun our journey with Ncuti Gatwa’s Fifteenth Doctor, set to return this Christmas, and there is still the nagging question of who Anita Dobson’s fourth-wall breaking Mrs Flood is, but all in good time. Series 14 has been the strongest, most exciting, and most rewarding outing for the show since 2015’s Series 9 with Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor, and I am beyond excited to see it get better from here.

Doctor Who Season 14 is now streaming on Disney Plus

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