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Doctor Who (2024) Season 1 Episode 8 Review

Two people stare at each other in Doctor Who episode 8, in a photo feature on Loud and Clear's review of the episode

Season 1 Episode 8 of Doctor Who (2024) is the show’s highest-stakes adventure in a long time, finally paying off the mystery of Ruby Sunday.

Showrunner: Russell T Davies
Genre: Adventure, Sci-Fi
Number of Episodes: 8
Episode 8 release Date: June 21, 2024
Where to Watch the show: on Disney+ where available

Across all thirteen seasons of the post-2005 revival of Doctor Who, the show’s season finales have always been the most intense, high-stakes episodes of the show. Whether its a global invasion of Daleks and Cybermen in ‘Doomsday’, the enslavement of the human race in ‘The Last of the Time Lords’, or even the complete extinction of the universe in ‘The Big Bang’, Doctor Who finales have never been known to pull their punches.

However, with the dramatic reveal of Sutekh’s return in last week’s episode, Season 1 Episode 8 of the new era has immediately stepped up to the challenge with an equally dramatic, death-or-glory adventure that sees The Doctor (Ncuti Gatwa, of Sex Education) pushed to his limits. Despite a few issues with pacing, plot holes, and a couple of underwhelming reveals, this finale wraps the season into a nice bow and delivers on its promise of getting audiences excited for Doctor Who again.

The episode picks up directly after last week’s conclusion, with The Doctor and Mel (Bonnie Langford, of Eastenders) escaping from Sutekh’s ambush and using the ‘Memory Tardis’ to reunite with Ruby Sunday (Millie Gibson, of Coronation Street)and plan their attack. But things quickly fall apart when Sutekh uses his army of Susan Triads displaced throughout time and space to destroy the Earth at every point in its own history, leaving The Doctor unable to save anybody. What ensues is a highly emotional, hugely important battle for The Doctor to accept responsibility, search for answers, and face an old enemy that’s come back to haunt him. Meanwhile, in the background of everything, the truth about Ruby’s parentage is finally coming to light, drawing on the character’s own faded memories to reveal clues that have been there all along.

Much like this Doctor Who season as a whole, episode 8 is a mostly fun and exciting adventure that has a few hiccups along the way. The concept of forcing The Doctor to reckon with the destruction of the entire universe at the hands of an enemy that he personally decided to spare hundreds of years ago is fantastic, and fits perfectly into Russell T. Davies’ wheelhouse. The balance of drama, pathos, and humour works excellently throughout the story, with Gatwa and Gibson capitalising on their unique chemistry to make every scene pop with emotion. Sutekh immediately proves himself (again) to be a ferocious villain that stands up against the show’s most iconic monsters, striking the same fear in the audience as he did all those years ago in ‘Pyramids of Mars’.

Two people are on a motorbike wearing helmets in Doctor Who episode 8, in a photo feature on Loud and Clear's review of the episode
Season 1 Episode 8 of Doctor Who (2024) (Disney Plus)

Sutekh feels like the perfect choice for this season’s ‘big bad’, as we’ve clearly been building towards a more emotional and vulnerable arc for The Fifteenth Doctor, and Sutekh’s personal connection to the character’s history is a nice link that makes everything feel more important. This subtle character work and ominous atmosphere is definitely the strongest aspect of episode 8 – where the story falters, however, is through its somewhat lazy approach to wrapping everything together.

Within the first five minutes of the episode, we see beloved characters like Kate Stewart and Carla Sunday turned to dust by Sutekh’s power, but their defeat ultimately means nothing when they’re all snapped back into existence at the end. It feels like the show is really building towards an enemy that The Doctor genuinely might not be able to defeat, but he ultimately outsmarks Sutekh fairly easily and undoes all the damage that preceded.

This is a problem that’s plagued much of this new Doctor Who era, with the exact same thing happening at the end of episodes like ‘The Star Beast’ or ‘The Church on Ruby Road’. When the stakes are this high, and The Doctor doesn’t know how to win, it’s much more impactful when he actually has to lose along the way. Obviously he’ll win in the end, but simply reversing all the damage in the final five minutes isn’t the way to go. Perhaps it’s a result of the somewhat rushed manner in which this storyline comes together – it feels like this whole season has been building towards the reveal of Ruby Sunday’s parents, but that’s also rushed in a way that many fans might find themselves disappointed by.

The actual reveal that Ruby’s parents were just ‘ordinary’ people is definitely going to be a controversial one. On the one hand, it pushes home an crucial message about the importance of family and acceptance, but on the other, it feels like audiences have been intentionally misled without anything to back it up. The reveal definitely could’ve worked if it had been handled a little better, because the final five minutes of this episode prove that Russell T. Davies knows how to effortlessly weave those emotional beats into the story, but it just feels a little weak and underwhelming overall.

However, none of this is to say that ‘Empire of Death’ is a bad story – it’s actually one of the strongest episodes in the season when considered in isolation. The villain is great, the threats are tangible, and Gatwa’s performance as The Doctor is filled with heart and emotion. The return of Sutekh is extremely rewarding for long-time fans of the show without ever alienating the newcomers, and Ruby’s character arc is ultimately concluded in a satisfying way that keeps things exciting for the next season. There’s plenty to enjoy here, and it makes the most of the tension created by last week’s cliffhanger.

The only reason episode 8 fails to live up to the greatness of Davies’ infamous finales of the past is the clumsy nature of the storytelling and the underwhelming way that everything comes together in the end – but much of this can actually be put down to the lower episode count for the season, leaving less room for character development. Overall, ‘Empire of Death’ is a strong finale that marks a clear improvement over the previous few seasons of Doctor Who, returning the show to a quality and standard that it can be proud of. There have been a few bumps in the road, and a few stories that didn’t quite work, but there’s no denying that the show feels like it’s on the right track overall.

Season 1 Episode of Doctor Who (2024), named “,Empire of Death” will be released on Friday, June 21 at 7:00 p.m. ET on Disney+ where available.

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