Back in 1975, the Time Lord known as Doctor (Tom Baker) barely prevented an ancient alien god known as Sutekh from escaping a prison on Mars and killing everyone on Earth. Now, in the Season 1 finale of the newly relaunched Doctor Who, it turns out the Doctor did not, in fact, ever truly defeat Sutekh. Instead, he accidentally created something far worse.

In the new Doctor Who finale, “Empire of Death,” not only do we learn exactly how Sutekh returned from his apparent time vortex exile, but, more importantly, a question posed by a classic character is finally given a definitive answer. Here’s how Doctor Who wraps up a complicated storyline, 49 years in the making.

Spoilers ahead for the Doctor Who Season 1 finale, “Empire of Death.”

How did Sutekh return?

In “Empire of Death,” the 15th Doctor (Ncuti Gatwa) can’t believe Sutekh is back, saying “I cast you into the Time Vortex. I sent you forward to your own death.” This recalls the climax of “The Pyramids of Mars,” in which the 4th Doctor prevented Sutekh from moving from Mars to Earth and used the power of the TARDIS to shift a time tunnel into the future. But it turns out that didn’t work. Instead, starting in 1911, Sutekh attached himself to the TARDIS and has been hiding there ever since. This retcon suggests every single version of the Doctor after Tom Baker has been piloting a TARDIS with a massive dog-like God of Death wrapped around the exterior.

So yes, from the 5th Doctor forward, Sutekh has been recharging and distributing his “gift of death” across countless worlds. This is a lot for longtime fans to wrap their heads around, though, on some level, one could say the Doctor always kind of suspected the TARDIS was a bit cursed.

Sarah Jane’s question to the Doctor, answered

When Mel, the Doctor, and Ruby find refuge in the “Memory TARDIS,” Ruby is baffled by the various images on the TV screens depicting the 4th Doctor and Sarah Jane. At first, it’s hard for Ruby to reconcile the idea that the man with the curls and silly hat is the same Doctor she’s come to know and love. More interesting though, is the fact that a former companion of the Doctor’s — Sarah Jane Smith — was someone just like Ruby all those years ago, traveling with the Doctor for the sheer adventure of it all. But in one of these briefly glimpsed clips from “The Pyramids of Mars,” we hear Sarah Jane pose a poignant question. If Sutekh was so evil, “Why didn’t Horus and the other Osirans destroy him?”

In the flashback footage, the 4th Doctor tells Sarah Jane that if the other ancient gods killed Sutekh they would have gone against their code and become no better than him. And yet, by the end of the episode, the 15th Doctor has to do exactly what the Osirans couldn’t — he has to become the bad guy.

We’ve seen this kind of thing before in Doctor Who. While the Doctor claims to represent “life” he can also bring destruction. The creator of the Daleks called the 10th Doctor “The Destroyer of Worlds,” while in the 11th Doctor era, numerous aliens joined forces to imprison the Doctor for fear that this basic existence would destroy the universe. And, of course, the events of “The Day of the Doctor” prove that, at one time, the Doctor was okay with possibly wiping out his entire homeworld.

The Doctor is not Batman in the sense that he doesn’t have a policy of never killing. But in the various incarnations of this character, they have claimed to be very close to that policy before. When Sarah Jane asked the 4th Doctor why the Osirans didn’t just kill Sutekh, she was kind of asking the Doctor why he wouldn’t.

The 4th Doctor was seemingly unwilling or incapable of actually killing Sutekh. And other versions of the Doctor since then, we could imagine, having been squeamish about doing it, too. But in the end, the 15th Doctor says that Sutekh has made him into a “monster” and forced him to do what gods and previous Time Lords wouldn’t.

It’s a big moment for Ncuti Gatwa’s Doctor but also a perfect sublimation of all the incarnations up to this point. The Doctor may be the bringer of life to the universe, but if you threaten to destroy what he protects, the Last of the Time Lords will throw you into the time vortex — or worse.

Doctor Who streams on Disney+.

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