The Legend of Ruby Sunday and the Empire of Death are almost upon us! Get ready for high stakes, high drama,the answers to mysteries, and a twist at the end…

 

If there’s been one thing wrong with Ncuti Gatwa’s first season of Doctor Who it’s that there’s just not been enough of it. An eight episode run means that it feels we’ve barely gotten to know this new Doctor and Ruby Sunday. Yet it’s already time for the grand finale. Yes, it’s Doctor Who two-part season finale time! Not just that, it’s time for a Russell T Davies season finale! It’s his first in 15 years but there’s already showing every sign of having the same mix of high drama, mystery, action, and mindblowingly high stakes. So let’s take a look at some of the critical elements of an archetypical RTD finale story.

 

Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways was a dramatic farewell to the Ninth Doctor (c) BBC Studios Doctor Who. The Emergency Hologram, in the form of the Doctor, stands, head lowered, in the TARDIS
Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways was a dramatic farewell to the Ninth Doctor (c) BBC Studios

Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways

The first Doctor Who season finale. Doctor Who had already had 26 seasons in the old days of course. But those tended to simply, well, stop. There was a story that happened to be last, rather than a finale. Sometimes, it would have a bit more money than normal, but just as often the team would have to make do with whatever they found under the sofa cushions following the overspends of earlier episodes.

But when Doctor Who returned, reborn for the 21st century, it took inspiration from shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The final two-part story was bigger than anything before it, and also created a sense of being what everything else all year had been heading for. Bad Wolf and The Parting of the Ways set the template for the Doctor Who version of that. In doing so it changed the fundamental pattern of the show forever.

 

The Dalek Emperor plots the conquest of Earth in The Parting of the Ways (c) BBC Studios Doctor Who. The Dalek Emperor sits in its tank beneath a huge Dalek head and torso, supported by three Dalek panel struts. Other Daleks hover around it protectively.
The Dalek Emperor plots the conquest of Earth in The Parting of the Ways (c) BBC Studios

The Big Bad

The Daleks and their leader, the Dalek Emperor. Old jokes about pepperpots and dustbins unable to go up stairs meant the BBC Wales team went hard to ensure viewers saw the Daleks as the threat they are. Over the course of the season we learned they had defeated an entire planet of the Doctor’s people. When we finally got to see one, a single Dalek wiped out a small army. When the Doctor announces there’s around a quarter of a million of them on the way, it makes the odds against the Doctor and his ragtag team of defenders seem impossibly high.

And that’s before we meet the Dalek Emperor! Huge and imposing, with its booming commandments. Driven insane by its experiences at the end of the Time War, and convinced its God, it’s even more dangerous than any Dalek before.

 

The Stakes

Relatively modest by RTD finale standards. almost 200,000 years in the future the Earth is under attack by the Daleks. Though there’s an added worry the Daleks will use it as a base to eventually spread out over the universe, it’s a fairly remote worry.

 

The Breadcrumbs Mystery

Bad Wolf. Two words that took on a life of their own. In every episode of the season, the phrase Bad Wolf turned up in one form or another, but why? Looking back, it’s almost quaint how haphazardly it came together. In some cases the production design team inserted ‘Bad Wolf’ references of their own when Davies forgot to mention it in the script. Ultimately, he reveals it to be both meaningful and meaningless. Rose herself has spread the words across time and space as breadcrumbs from the future. They’re simply designed to catch her past self’s attention so that she realizes past and future are linked.

But Bad Wolf has led to the breadcrumbs mystery being such a core part of the Doctor Who formula it’s hard to imagine a season without it. And it’s so iconic that even the production company currently making Doctor Who is called… Bad Wolf.

 

The Drama

Many of the RTD season finales feature a character departure and The Parting of the Ways is no exception. We say goodbye to the Ninth Doctor having hardly gotten to know him. But what an exit. He faces down his worst nightmare that his destruction of the Time Lords was for nothing, with the Daleks surviving anyway. He concludes that in the choice between genocide and surrender, he’ll choose the latter every time. And ultimately, he forgives himself and let’s go of his trauma and guilt, realizing he did deserve to survive. He was fantastic. Absolutely fantastic.

 

The Twist at the End

Russell T Davies is the master of the bait and switch resolution. Some people complain that too often his plots are turned off at the press of a button. But particularly in his season finales, his genius is in making you look at this button over here, when really it’s this one over there that will save the day. Most of The Parting of the Ways focuses on buying the Doctor time to build his Delta Wave generator. But in the end it sits unused, as the parallel plot about Rose trying to get back so he doesn’t die alone turns out to be the answer to the problem.

 

Daleks and Cybermen invade the Earth at the same time! It really is Doomsday! (c) BBC Studios
Daleks and Cybermen invade the Earth at the same time! It really is Doomsday! (c) BBC Studios

Army of Ghosts/Doomsday

If the 2005 finale set the template, then 2006 solidified it as the new normal. Classic archenemies, huge stakes, and sobbing into your sleeve as we said goodbye to loved characters – they were all here to stay.

The Big Bad

The Cybermen. The Daleks. Together at last! Davies is already beginning to play with his own formula, setting up the Cybermen as our new big bad, establishing them with a mid-season story before bringing their invasion crashing into our world. But then he unleashes the shock twist at the end of Army of Ghosts that the Daleks are the real architects of the reality splintering Sphere.

Soon, vast armies of Daleks and Cybermen are using Earth as their battlefield, with humanity caught in the crossfire.

 

The Stakes

The Earth faces total destruction twice over, as the rift created by the Daleks (and made worse by Britain’s own Torchwood Institute) threatens to drag both our world and a parallel universe where Rose’s dad is still alive into the Void. The Void being the absolute nothing between universes, and also known simply as ‘Hell.’ So that’s not good, then.

 

 

The Torchwood Institute logo (c) BBC Studios
The Torchwood Institute logo (c) BBC Studios

The Breadcrumbs Mystery

All season, the word ‘Torchwood’ follows the Doctor and Rose around, popping up almost everywhere. We actually get told what Torchwood is pretty early this time. The first reference in The Christmas Invasion establishes them as a clandestine organization with access to alien technology. And the second episode of the season reveals they were founded by Queen Victoria to combat any alien incursions into the British Empire… including the Doctor. But it’s Army of Ghosts that finally lets us see inside their massive Canary Wharf HQ and meet their cheerful but utterly ruthless leader Yvonne.

 

The Drama

“This is the story of how I died.” So kicks off Billie Piper’s final story as Rose Tyler, as a regular at least. It’s a gut punch designed to keep viewers on the edge of their seat. Could Doctor Who really kill off a companion. Again. For all the laser battles and interdimensional menaces, the heart of the story is very personal. The Doctor and Rose are doomed to be parted. But will she even survive? The scene of the Doctor both resting their cheeks on their side of a wall between worlds, and of the pair meeting one last time on Bad Wolf Bay broke hearts around the world, elevated by Murray Gold’s truly iconic Doomsday theme.

 

The Twist at the End

Probably the most straight-forward of these finales, these two episodes still go to great lengths to convince us that this is the story of how Rose dies. It’s only as the Daleks are sucked back into hell that she’s locked away in a parallel universe instead.

 

 

The Doctor, Martha and Jack face a world under the thumb of the Master in Sound of Drums (c) BBC Studios
The Doctor, Martha and Jack face a world under the thumb of the Master in Sound of Drums (c) BBC Studios

The Sound of Drums/Last of the Time Lords

For the 2007 season finale story, the Doctor was pushed to his breaking point. The Sound of Drums/Last of the Time Lords featured a year in hell as the Doctor actually loses. It might mean that the big reset button at the end is easily foreseen, but this is the most personal finale of them all. At its heart, it’s the emotional struggle between two old friends, now bitter enemies.

 

The Big Bad

Following the Daleks and the Cybermen, it was a natural choice for the 2007 finale to complete the ‘Big Three’ villains of classic Doctor Who. The Master was back. Davies smartly both reinvents the evil Time Lord while returning him to his central concept. The Master is the the Doctor’s dark twin, their match in intellect and wit, but determined not to see the universe but rule it. After the hearts pounding cliffhanger of Utopia, the Master was regenerated into John Simm’s archenemy perfectly tailored to oppose David Tennant’s Doctor. Energetic, funny, and even a little bit sexy, the new Master is also personally obsessed with the Doctor like nobody else. The story locks them together in a dance of death. Can both of them survive the encounter?

 

The Stakes

In a way, the danger to Earth in Last of the Time Lords is worse than the total destruction threatened in earlier finales. The human race is in chains, living in labour camps as the Master rules the planet with a steel fist from above. Unlike other Big Bads, he doesn’t want just conquest or destruction, but to inflict suffering and to break humanity’s spirit. His plot to launch a space fleet with which to conquer the galaxy is almost irrelevant, as it’s all about the fight for the Earth’s future and soul. It’s the ending ultimately depends on the power of the people themselves to overcome the Master’s control.

 

The Breadcrumbs Mystery

Throughout the season, people had whispered about the mysterious and influential Harry Saxon. He’s sponsored Lazarus’ experiments into immortality and sought to turn Martha’s mother against the Doctor. And all the while Election Day is coming closer. At the start of The Sound of Drums we learn that Saxon is really the Master, and is the newly elected Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. But unlike Bad Wolf and Torchwood, the Saxon references aren’t just name-checks. The Lazarus experiments are revealed to be a crucial part of the trap for the Doctor, while he uses the Jones family as a key weapon against his old enemy.

 

It's the Master's death in the Doctor's arms that creates the high drama at the end of Last of the Time Lords (c) BBC Studios Doctor Who, the Doctor looks stricken as he cradles the Master in his arms on the floor.
It’s the Master’s death in the Doctor’s arms that creates the high drama at the end of Last of the Time Lords (c) BBC Studios

The Drama

Few stories have ever been more personal for the Doctor. The people of Earth are almost game pieces in the battle of wills between the two Time Lords. The Master wants to crush the Doctor’s belief in the human race by showing them at their worst and holding the Toclafanes’ terrible secret over him. The Doctor just wants to forgive his old friend and save him from the darkness that’s taken hold of him. But more than anything, he just doesn’t want to be alone any more. It’s what makes the Master’s final revenge, refusing to regenerate when fatally shot by his own wife Lucy, so hurtful, twisted, and above all, heartsbreaking.

 

The Twist at the End

Martha Jones spends a year traversing the globe, hunting for the three parts of an anti-Time Lord weapon to use on the Master. As she goes, she passes the time telling tales of the Doctor to those who help her on her way. Except… it’s all a trap for the Master. The gun doesn’t exist. It’s just a ploy to convince the Master to bring Martha aboard the Valiant once she’s supposedly found all the components. Meanwhile, all those storytelling sessions were the real weapon. Spreading the word to turn the Master’s own Archangel network against him and supercharge the Doctor.

 

The threat in The Stolen Earth is so huge that the Doctor must assemble ALL his friends (c) BBC Studios
The threat in The Stolen Earth is so huge that the Doctor must assemble ALL his friends (c) BBC Studios

The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End

The final season finale of Russell T Davies’ original run on the show is confident enough to play with what’s become the established formula. Never have the stakes been higher, or the portents of doom more ominous, or the twists and turns more dramatic.

 

The Big Bad

With the triumvirate of classic archenemies complete, the fourth finale brought back the Daleks, but with a twist. We were reintroduced to Davros, the genocidal scientist who originally genetically engineered the Daleks in his own image. Having escaped the Time War and resurrected his creations, Davros’ newest scheme is the ultimate expression of his goal to make the Daleks the supreme life form in the universe… by making them the only life from in the universe.

 

The Stakes

The need for the threat to get bigger and bigger each time reaches its almost absurd limit in Journey’s End. You’d think the entire planet being abducted in The Stolen Earth would be high enough stakes, but then we discover it’s only one component of a scheme to wipe out all matter in the universe. In fact, to wipe out all matter in every universe. Davros’ reality bomb will cause all versions of reality to fall apart, leaving the Daleks’ Crucible station the one island of existence in a sea of chaos.

 

The Breadcrumbs Mystery

Davros’ scheme involves stealing entire planets from their orbits and moving them to the Medusa Cascade as giant components in his reality bomb. Throughout the season, the Doctor and Donna hear passing mentions of missing planets and moons and the knock on problems their disappearances cause. The Adipose III nursery world disappears, leading to their attempt to seed Earth with their young in Partners in Crime and Pyrovillia is snatched, forcing the survivors to try and turn Earth into their new homeworld in Fires of Pompeii.

But in parallel, this there’s also a second subtle set of breadcrumbs, as Rose Tyler manifests herself here and there, as part of her efforts to return to the Doctor’s side in the finale.

 

The Drama

There’s a lot going on in The Stolen Earth and Journey’s End. Dalek Caan prophesies that one of the Doctor’s companions shall die. Meanwhile, Rose Tyler is back and reunited with the Doctor, before being pushed off to her parallel world with a copy of her own. But what lingers in the aftermath is Donna’s fate. First she becomes the Doctor-Donna with all the Time Lord’s brilliance and knowledge. But because that’s killing her, the Doctor must erase all her memories of him and her travels. Somehow it’s even more tragic than a death and it so traumatized a generation of viewers with its unfairness, that Davies’ first order of business on his return all these years later was resolving it to give her a happier ending.

 

Donna is revealed as the Doctor-Donna in Journey's End's big twist (c) BBC Studios. Donna's eyes glow gold as she looks upward
Donna is revealed as the Doctor-Donna in Journey’s End’s big twist (c) BBC Studios

The Twist at the End

Once more, Russell T Davies spends most the final episode setting up one apparent solution. The Doctor’s hand grows into an entire half-human duplicate, and while Davros holds the original Doctor prisoner, the unseen ‘Meta-Crisis Doctor’ constructs a weapon capable of destroying the Daleks’ plans. But no sooner has he run from the TARDIS to confront Davros then the Daleks’ creator blasts him down. Instead it turns out that the other half of the Meta-Crisis, the now half-Time Lord Donna Noble, is the one to turn the tables on the Daleks.

 

The Doctor confronts the Susan Twist in The Legend of Ruby Sunday (c) BBC Studios/Bad Wolf Doctor Who. The Doctor stands on the main floor of UNIT HQ pointing his sonic screwdriver at a screen showing Penny Pepper-Bean, while Ruby and UNIT staff stand around.
The Doctor confronts the Susan Twist in The Legend of Ruby Sunday (c) BBC Studios/Bad Wolf

The Legend of Ruby Sunday/Empire of Death

And that brings us to this week and Davies’ first season finale since his return. Obviously, we’ve little idea of what will happen in the first part when it drops at midnight, let alone the final episode next week. But here’s how it seems to stack up so far.

 

The Big Bad

The One Who Waits. Maybe. Probably. It does seem to be related to Susan Twist’s character but then it wouldn’t be surprising if she turns out to be a proxy or pawn merely in service of the real Big Bad.

 

The Stakes

We don’t know what the evil plan is this time, either. But consider that Maestro’s plot to stop the motion of the planets themselves and end all life in the universe was just an overture to this opera of warring gods. How could the season finale offer anything less dangerous than that?

 

The Breadcrumbs Mystery

If the finales always have a twist at the end, then the 2024 Season has had a Twist here, there, and everywhere. This season has been a call back to the days of ‘bad wolf’ except in human form. Everywhere the Doctor and Ruby have gone this season they’ve either encountered someone played by the actor Susan Twist, or seen her image somewhere. She’s been a former crewmember of Babystation Beta, a canteen lady who overcharges the Doctor in Abbey Road, the virtual face of the Villengard ambulances, a hill walker visiting Wales, Lindy’s mummy, and a portrait of the late Duchess of Pemberton.

We know that she appears in The Legend of Ruby Sunday too, in multiple forms. She’s tech company CEO Susan Triad, seemingly connected to these strange goings on. And she’s also glimpsed in the trailer in some horned, demonic form…

More than that, there’s the snow that follow Ruby everywhere, and the grumbling sounds the TARDIS keeps making without explanation. Will those be explained this year or next?

 

The Drama

At least we know that we won’t be saying goodbye to a Doctor or companion this time, with both Ncuti Gatwa and Millie Gibson having already filmed their second season. However, the arc has been wrapped up in Ruby’s yearning to know her origins, and the identity of the woman who abandoned her on Ruby Road all those years ago. It’s an inherently emotional theme, so whether the answers are welcome, terrible, or even still just out of reach, there are sure to be tears before bedtime. (Or well after bedtime if you’re one of those at the midnight cinema showing.)

 

The Twist at the End

Even if we knew, we wouldn’t tell you!

 

The Legend of Ruby Sunday (c) BBC Studios/Bad Wolf. Doctor Who. A TV monitor shows the text 'The Legend of Ruby Sunday' in front of a larger screen showing the same image.
The Legend of Ruby Sunday (c) BBC Studios/Bad Wolf

Doctor Who continues at midnight Friday night BST with The Legend of Ruby Sunday on iPlayer in the UK, and on Disney+ everywhere else except Ireland

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