Doctor Who Empire of Death ending explained: Sutekh, Mrs. Flood, and the answer to the question everyone was asking

Doctor Who
(Image credit: BBC)

Doctor Who season 1 has come to an end, with ‘Empire of Death’ and Sutekh making good on its promise of a significant kill count.

The finale also answered some of the big, burning questions fans have had all year, as well as posing a few new ones in its final moments. All told, there was a lot to unpick and unravel as Ncuti Gatwa’s Doctor raced to save all of time and space.

Below, you’ll find our guide to the Empire of Death ending, including a recap of what just went down, as well as zeroing in on the big story beats and talking points before the TARDIS flies off once more.

But, first, a warning: MAJOR Doctor Who spoilers follow. This is your final chance to click away.

Empire of Death ending explained: What happened in the Doctor Who season 1 finale?

Doctor Who

(Image credit: BBC)

Empire of Death begins with Sutekh winning and the Doctor losing. No fakeout here: the god’s Dust of Death spreads across the Earth, killing everyone – including the likes of Kate, Carla, and those at UNIT.

The Doctor, Ruby, and Mel manage to escape, but not before confronting Sutekh. The Doctor realizes the God of Death won’t kill him. Why? Because he needs to know the secret of Ruby’s mother.

As he makes his escape in the Remembered TARDIS (a TARDIS made up of bits and pieces from its history, as previously seen in the Tales of the TARDIS spin-off) the Doctor also discovers something altogether more sinister: Sutekh has latched on to his TARDIS and rolled out versions of Susan Triad on every planet he has ever visited. 

So not only is everyone on Earth dead, but also the people and creatures on every world he has visited – including Skaro, the home of the Daleks.

The Doctor eventually heads to a nameless planet that is in the dying clutches of the Dust. While there, he meets a woman who hands him a spoon. That piece of metal fires the Time Window back up. Ruby holding the pad presents a new clue: it shows Roger ap Gwilliam, the Prime Minister from 73 Yards, in 2046. That gives the Doctor a brainwave: DNA testing was made compulsory in the not-so-far future, which will finally answer the question everyone has been asking, including Sutekh: who is Ruby’s mother?

Ruby tempts Sutekh with the name of her mother, but smashes the data pad and restrains him.

The Doctor uses a whistle to control his own TARDIS, firing a laser that destroys Sutekh's herald, Harriet Arbinger. He then ties Sutekh to the console and drags him into the time vortex.

That action brings ‘death to death’, reversing the effects of the dust and bringing everyone, everywhere back to life all at once.

The Doctor then says ‘Sutekh wins’ by causing him to betray his own principals and become death. The only way to ensure that Sutekh never returns is by shutting the doors of the TARDIS, severing the connection and leaving Sutekh to burn up in the vortex.

Doctor Who

(Image credit: BBC Studios)

Then, we get some answers. Ruby’s mother is… no one special. Ruby’s mother is a woman named Louise Miller, 35, played by Faye McKeever. Her father is a man named William Garnett, who we don't meet here. Louise was only 15 when she had baby Ruby and she left her at the church on Ruby Road because, it's implied, she came from an abusive home.

So, as it turns out, Ruby’s mother was simply ‘ordinary.’ As the Doctor explains, she was important because – like throughout history, religion, and major events – we often attribute importance to simple figures, creating a myth more ‘powerful’ than any god.

It is also revealed Ruby’s mother was pointing at the name of the road, because that’s what she wanted to name her baby daughter.

Ruby later visits and befriends her mother in a coffee shop, and brings her back to see Carla. They also discover that her father is still around, and intends to visit him soon.

Ruby leaves the Doctor, but they promise to see each other again. Ruby says she loves the Doctor.

In one final tease, Mrs. Flood is shown on the roof where she breaks the fourth wall once more, turning to the camera and warning us that the Doctor’s story “ends in absolute terror.”

Who dies in ‘Empire of Death’?

Doctor Who

(Image credit: BBC)

At first? Everyone – except Sutekh, Harriet, the Doctor, Ruby, and Mel. Sutekh’s Dust of Death wipes out all life across all of time and space.

However, they are eventually brought back to life after Sutekh is dragged through the time vortex and ‘brings death to death.’ That reverses the effects of the dust, meaning only Sutekh (and, earlier, Harriet) are the main permanent casualties in ‘Empire of Death’.

How was Sutekh defeated?

Doctor Who

(Image credit: BBC)

Never underestimate the Doctor’s ability to bring down gods with little more than a few ordinary items. In this case, a whistle, a bungee-like cord, and the Doctor's intelligent glove - first seen in the Christmas special. 

After following the Doctor to 2046 in search of the identity of Ruby’s mother (he must have been reading Reddit theories all week like the rest of us), he appears to be on the verge of discovering the one secret that has been troubling him in a universe that’s fallen silent.

Ruby, though, has other plans. As she approaches Sutekh with the data pad containing the answer, she smashes it and restrains Sutekh. The Doctor then takes the cord and ties him to the TARDIS’ console, dragging him into the time vortex. It’s there where he disintegrates and seemingly dies.

Who is Ruby’s mother?

Doctor Who

(Image credit: BBC)

No, it wasn’t River Song or anyone else theorized by the gaggle of speculation-mad Whovians online. Ruby’s mother is Louise Miller, an ordinary human who gave Ruby up after a teenage pregnancy. No special abilities, no godlike powers, nothing. But, as the Doctor explains, everyone – including the audience, a potential bit of meta commentary from showrunner Russell T Davies – gave her more importance because that’s what we’ve always done through history to people.

Where does Ruby’s name come from?

Doctor Who 73 Yards

(Image credit: BBC)

Ruby was the name her mother gave her. In fact, that’s the meaning behind her cryptic pointing: she was pointing at the name of the street – Ruby Road.

Who is Mrs. Flood?

Doctor Who

(Image credit: BBC)

Right now, Mrs. Flood (Anita Dobson) remains an enigma. We can confidently predict she will be a villain in the years to come, though, given her words during Empire of Death.

She proclaims The Doctor’s story “ends in absolute terror” but for the moment we have no idea what that looks like.

Mrs. Flood also said earlier in the episode: “Tell your maker I will come to storm down the gates of gold and seize his kingdom in my true name.” 

Her ‘true name’, then, remains a mystery. Expect her to crop up again and reveal herself in Doctor Who season 2. Speaking of which…

What next for The Doctor and Doctor Who?

Doctor Who

(Image credit: BBC)

Yes, as the credits message reads: ‘Doctor Who will return’ – in case there was ever any doubt. In actuality, the second season of Doctor Who, once again starring Ncuti Gatwa, has already finished filming.

Before then, a Christmas special – penned by Steven Moffat and starring Bridgerton’s Nicola Coughlan – will air over the holiday season.

In terms of the Doctor himself, it appears he will be riding solo for a little while. Millie Gibson’s Ruby Sunday will return as a companion in Doctor Who season 2, however, alongside Varada Sethu, who previously appeared in this year’s ‘Boom’ as the curiously named Mundy Flynn.

Doctor Who has now wrapped up on Disney Plus and BBC iPlayer. For more, check out the latest on 2024's new TV shows.

Bradley Russell

I'm the Senior Entertainment Writer here at GamesRadar+, focusing on news, features, and interviews with some of the biggest names in film and TV. On-site, you'll find me marveling at Marvel and providing analysis and room temperature takes on the newest films, Star Wars and, of course, anime. Outside of GR, I love getting lost in a good 100-hour JRPG, Warzone, and kicking back on the (virtual) field with Football Manager. My work has also been featured in OPM, FourFourTwo, and Game Revolution.