Doctor Who- Empire of Death review

These reviews have been very much instant mostly positive reactions to each episode but now we’ve reached the finale after what seems like a short run its time to reflect not just on the thrills of this particular episode but on the overall impact of the season. I do feel that when these eight episodes come to be rewatched without the twists and surprises they will seem less involving. I say this because the best bits for me have been those twists and surprises. Yet now I know them what is left? Unlike some of those knotty Steven Moffat episodes which actually need to be watched more than once, 2024 Doctor Who is more about instant reactions; the gasps and the LOLs. Like a lot of material that now streams into our homes it is not necessarily robust enough to hold up under closer scrutiny. I suppose that is appropriate for a culture increasingly obsessed with what is coming rather than what might already be here


Spoilers after the break


I was actually spoilered last week just before the episode when I happened to glance at X and Doctor Who was trending but underneath it said Sutekh. All day I’d avoided it but five minutes before… That ending was still dramatic enough though having had a week to consider it I do wonder whether a being such as Sutekh would go to all that palaver. Perhaps all that time waiting made him obsessive over details.

Anyway this season conclusion is strangely paced managing to destroy even more life than `Flux` before, as you might expect, bringing it all back with spurious stuff about memories linked to the TARDIS. It has more than a whiff of Marvel about it and while I’m all for the Doctor sorting things out with bits of string and a spoon there does need to be some fictional believability.  I’m not sure how many of the audience this carried along but Doctor Who has always made its own logic so I suppose it is no more far-fetched than many previous finales. What doesn’t quite work though is the way its presented. There are flashes of action but even the expanded budget struggles to convey the scale of what is happening. These sorts of things used to happen in isolated research centres for a reason! Besides we know full well that if everyone in the Universe is killed then really they’re not dead or else it would be repeats in the memory TARDIS every episode from now on!

I also watched the `Pyramids of Mars` repeat this week which even some rough editing could not spoil. How many times have I watched that story? Probably more times than almost any other one. It occurred to me that the simple use of a mask and well deployed lighting is more powerful than a massive big digitally generated dog thing. Sometimes small is better. Sometimes a lot can just be too much. There is more terror in this small scene than in any Sutekh scene in this episode; in fact Mrs Flood is scarier- what is she wearing at the end!? Besides Sutekh is really a one story enemy. He brings Death and there’s not much dramatic value in a figure who cannot be reasoned with nor stopped nor engaged in philosophical discussion. One scene that grates is the Doctor showing guilt over allowing this creature, who lets not forget goes by the sobriquet the Destroyer, to die. Of course the memory Tardis is a ridiculous idea, conceived as a vehicle to repeat old stories on the iPlayer yet now given fictional life in this episode. Are we really expected to believe that in the middle of all this, the Doctor and Ruby sat on the floor and watched `Pyramids of Mars`?

That said, there are definitely moments when Russell T Davies is at his best- the sequence on a desolate planet where the Doctor talks to a woman who is losing her memory is a wonderfully still scene after all the running about.  The moment when Mel spots items relating to her travels but no words are spoken. The idea of Ruby’s mother, far from being some cosmic lodestone or whatever, being important  because of how important to Ruby yet ordinary she is makes a refreshing change. Its fun now to look back at all the theories as to who she might be but the reveal is suitably low key and all the better for it. RTD also pulls together some strands from previous episodes well to make them count, even a `73 Yards` call back. And the most effective part of the episode takes place after Sutekh and co are defeated. Ruby’s reunion with her birth mother is beautifully simple and after all the sound and fury a refreshingly human moment. Though we never do find out why she chose to abandon baby Ruby while dressed as Claudia Winkleman in The Traitors.

This season overall has, I feel, been ok. Not one of the best nor one of the worst but for me there is only one standout episode in `Boom` though I really liked `73 Yards` as well. Given the amount of time that the production team had to make the season it has an unfinished quality to it and I’m not sure that Ncuti Gatwa has yet put his stamp on the role of the Doctor; being largely absent for two episodes didn’t help I suppose. Beyond the minutiae of the episodes I am not sensing a huge public buzz about the show such as you might get for something like Stranger Things. Regardless of anniversaries I think a better strategy would have been to have introduced the new Doctor from the start and given them twelve whole episodes to develop. I also think a brand new production team rather than a returning one may have given a shot of more variety. There were a lot of times this season I felt we were being served very similar scenarios to those already seen in previous post 2005 episodes.  I don't want to be like those super critical social media fans and I did enjoy watching these episodes. For Doctor Who fans though the real test is whether or how often we watch them again to glean more and I have to say with this batch that motivation is not really there at the moment. 

So, my final order of appreciation for the season goes like this -

73 Yards
The Legend of Ruby Sunday
The Devil’s Chord
Dot and Bubble
Empire of Death
Space Babies



No comments:

Post a Comment