Doctor Who’s New Villain Explained

The One Who Waits is done waiting. MAJOR SPOILERS for "The Legend of Ruby Sunday".

Ncuti Gatwa and Bonnie Langford in Doctor Who The Legend of Ruby Sunday
Photo: James Pardon/Bad Wolf/BBC Studios

Warning: major plot spoilers ahead for “The Legend of Ruby Sunday”

In the bombshell cliffhanger ending to “The Legend of Ruby Sunday”, we finally found out the identity of the mysterious menace who has been lurking in the shadows throughout this series of Doctor Who.

Click away now if you’ve yet to watch the episode and don’t want the revelation spoiled.

All good? It’s Sutekh, the God of Death.

Ad – content continues below

Whether that name means anything to you depends on how familiar you are with classic Who (or Egyptian mythology, though the similarities between the TV character and its historical inspirations are pretty surface level). Unlike previous returning foes like the Daleks, the Cybermen or even the Master, Sutekh is by no means a household name – but when it comes to the show’s lore, that name carries mythic weight.

Pyramids of Mars

Sutekh’s history has become more expansive, complex and convoluted through various audio dramas, comics and other spin-off media, but the character has only made one appearance in televised Doctor Who before now: the 1975 Tom Baker-starring serial “Pyramids of Mars”. An iconic story of the era, it finds the Fourth Doctor and his companion Sarah Jane Smith (the much-missed Elisabeth Sladen) investigating creepy goings-on in a gothic mansion in England in 1911, battling mummies, robots, cultists and eventually Sutekh himself.

Notably, the character is already known to the Doctor, and when our hero realises who he’s dealing with, his reaction is uncharacteristically fearful. Tom Baker was generally a fairly unflappable incarnation of the Doctor, so when he was afraid, you knew you were up against something worth fearing.

Sutekh is the last survivor of the Osirans, an ancient alien race with unfathomable power. Imprisoned by his brother Horus in a pyramid on Earth seven thousand years ago, the serial establishes the conflicts and machinations of these centuries-old aliens as an entertaining (if not entirely culturally sensitive) alternate origin for Egyptian mythology. It’s also a handy way of having mummies in the show without actually having mummies.

Sutekh’s aim in the serial is to destroy the Eye of Horus, a device left in a pyramid on Mars by his now-extinct species that projects a forcefield which suppresses his true form and power. The alien, whose psychic abilities are still fearsome, is able to manipulate various weak-minded humans into retrieving his sarcophagus from Egypt and bringing it to England, and even succeeds in destroying the Eye. But, unluckily for him, the Fourth Doctor – having intercepted a signal from Mars saying “Beware of Sutekh” – manages to intercede before Sutekh can be fully resurrected, trapping him in a time tunnel that effectively ages him to death.

Interestingly, the BBC recently announced a new instalment of Tales of the TARDIS, which will presumably focus on “Pyramids of Mars”, so be sure to check that out as well as the original serial if you want to know more about the character.  

Ad – content continues below

The new series’ characterisation of Sutekh as “The One Who Waits” certainly chimes with his classic-era appearance. Despite being imprisoned for thousands of years, his full power kept at bay by the Eye of Horus, Sutekh has been biding his time and moving various human pieces around the board in the hope of bringing about his own resurrection. He’s presumably been waiting quite a while to make his latest appearance, and it’s highly likely that he’s spent that time nursing a major grudge against the Doctor. To make matters worse, with the Eye of Horus having been destroyed in “Pyramids of Mars”, this version of Sutekh is probably going to be operating at full capacity.

So, it’s no wonder that the Fifteenth Doctor was speechless with terror at his reveal in “The Legend of Ruby Sunday”, because even a neutered Sutekh represents a significant challenge.

What Are Sutekh’s Powers?

While the version of Sutekh we saw in “Pyramids of Mars” was able to control and read minds, levitate objects, psychically torture people, reanimate the dead, project images of himself, burn people to death and even nearly defeat the Doctor in psychological combat, that still didn’t represent the character at the peak of his powers. We’ve never actually seen Sutekh fully unleashed – so the implication in “The Legend of Ruby Sunday” that his powers have been fully restored should fill fans with some trepidation.

After all, in the 1975 serial, the Fourth Doctor suggests to Sarah that were Sutekh to regain his full strength, not even the combined might of the Time Lords would be able to stop him.

Referring to Sutekh as a god isn’t just hyperbole on the part of his harbingers – while he may not literally be an Egyptian deity, his power is so great that the difference is academic. To hammer home the point, the Doctor shows Sarah Jane an alternate future in which Sutekh has reduced the Earth to a wasteland orbiting a dead sun. He even implies that a fully armed and operational Sutekh would have the power to re-shape time itself.

But even if the character has the capacity to destroy everything, would he actually do it? Well, that brings us to the whole God of Death thing.

Ad – content continues below

The Gift of Death

While Sutekh has seemingly infinite patience and speaks in a terrifyingly silky-smooth whisper – provided in both 1975 and 2024 by actor Gabriel Woolf – he is at heart an extremely paranoid individual. Convinced that all living things will eventually try to overthrow him, he destroyed his own planet and spent the subsequent centuries slaughtering his way around the universe, gaining a galactic reputation for terror and brutality. Men will literally destroy entire planets until their brother imprisons them in an Egyptian pyramid, rather than go to therapy.

But it’s not just some twisted version of self-defence. Sutekh genuinely believes that he brings “the gift of death” to lesser life forms, seeing hope and free will as traps for living creatures, and death as the only true certainty that can be relied upon. It’s a simultaneously nihilistic and self-aggrandising view of existence – Sutekh thinks that he is the only being with the right to live, and that every other trace of life should be extinguished. Even more so than the Master or even the Daleks, he worships death, and in that respect, he could be regarded as the Doctor’s ultimate opposite – death for the sake of death.

Say what you want about the Daleks’ monomaniacal, genocidal racial purity – at least it’s an ethos.

What Next in “Empire of Death”?

It remains to be seen how the various threads left hanging at the end of “The Legend of Ruby Sunday” will resolve themselves in finale “Empire of Death“. Is Sutekh behind the various appearances of Susan Triad? How does Ruby’s birth mother figure into all this? Does Sutekh have a plan beyond ‘destroy everything’? How did he survive being aged to death in a time tunnel at the end of “Pyramids of Mars”? What are we to make of Carla identifying the Sutekh cloud as “The Beast”, considering that Gabriel Woolf also voiced The Beast way back in “The Satan Pit” and that “Satan” has been given as an alternative name for Sutekh?

And perhaps most importantly, did Sutekh come up with that silly “Sue Tech” homophone?

The second RTD era has already brought back classic-era villain The Toymaker – reworked to be a figure of much greater cosmic evil than the slightly duff game-player of the old series – and now he’s done the same with Sutekh.

Ad – content continues below

From what we’ve seen so far, everything points to this being a fairly traditional take on the character listed as “Originally Created by Lewis Greifer in “The Legend of Ruby Sunday” episode credits, with his familiar voice, his habit of possessing people, and his gift of death. He’s arguably quite a tricky villain to modernise, or to put any kind of subversive spin on – ultimately, Sutekh is death incarnate – ancient, omnipotent and in love with destruction.

So how will the Fifteenth Doctor beat him this time? After all, as he said upon encountering Maestro, the last time he fought one of these god-like creatures, it “literally tore [his] soul in half”. How do you top that?

We’ll see in the finale. Tune in next week for more teatime brutality for tots…

Doctor Who series 14 will conclude with “Empire of Death” on BBC iPlayer, BBC One, and Disney+