Doctor Who’s TARDIS Stowaway Has Been Hiding in Plain Sight

Something’s been different ever since "The Star Beast"…

Doctor Who TARDIS
Photo: BBC/Disney+

Warning: contains spoilers for Doctor Who series 14 episode 7 “The Legend of Ruby Sunday”.

A lot happened at once in the closing moments of “The Legend of Ruby Sunday”, so much that it might have been easy to miss the revelation that the Doctor’s wife has been cheating on him.  

No, not River Song, but the TARDIS, that minx.

In the drumroll provided by Harriet Arbinger, we learned that the newly returned god of death Sutekh had found a way to escape his eternal imprisonment. (In 1975 serial “Pyramids of Mars”, the Fourth Doctor trapped Sutekh in a time corridor mid-transit by moving its exit to centuries in the future, to a point so far away that Sutekh’s lifespan would run out before ever reaching it. If you haven’t seen the episode, imagine driving into the Dartford Tunnel only to find engineering works kept you trapped there, never again seeing daylight, until you finally died of old age – or, as we in the UK call it: August bank holiday Monday.)

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Despite Sutekh being a massive cheerleader for death and all things crumbling to ash, he didn’t die in the time corridor but escaped. How? By chatting up the TARDIS.

As H. Arbinger explained:

“He has hidden in the howling void, he has hidden within the tempest. He has braved the storm and the darkness and the pain and he whispered to the vessel. All this time he whispered and delighted and seduced, and the vessel did obey, for none should be more mighty and none should be more wise than the King himself. And the Lord of Time was blind and vain, and knew nothing.”

“The vessel” is of course, the Doctor’s TARDIS. So, for an unspecified length of time, the TARDIS has been telling the Doctor that it’s off to say, Zumba or book group or a work conference, when really it’s been getting itself delighted and seduced by the god of death. The end result is that Sutekh was able to weave himself “…into the fabric of the TARDIS itself, like [he’s] part of it,” said Kate Lethbridge Stewart. Sutekh has hitched a ride in the TARDIS, essentially. Back in “Pyramids of Mars” he described the TARDIS as the means of his deliverance, and now it really has been. He whispered to it, possessed it, and has been hanging around all series as part of it, unnoticed save for it emitting the odd strange groan.

The TARDIS being possessed should have been noticed though, because there’s been a visual clue that something’s up with the ship since November 2023. Look closely at the new opening credits and you’ll see it. Inside the light on the top of the police box is… something. Not a filament but a shape, surrounded by some sparks, and some whirly purple stuff that looks quite a bit like an eye…

Here’s a screengrab:

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A blue and purple sci-fi shape surrounding the TARDIS roof light in the opening credits of new Doctor Who.

And that’s not all. Underneath the TARDIS in the opening credits is another new addition in the form of purple tendril-like sparks spraying off the TARDIS as it travels through the time vortex. Look at them afresh. In the light of the Sutekh revelation, don’t they look evil?

Purple sci-fi tendril shapes surrounding the base of the TARDIS in the opening credits of new Doctor Who.
Purple sci-fi tendril shapes surrounding the base of the TARDIS in the opening credits of new Doctor Who.

Have a cup of tea, Den of Geek, you’re tired.

That may be true, but what about this from showrunner Russell T Davies interviewed by SFX magazine, as published in December 2023. On the subject of the new credit sequence introduced for the anniversary specials, RTD said:

“I always wanted the sparks coming off the surface – one thing I demanded was sparks between the TARDIS and the Time Vortex. That becomes very important later on in the series, you will discover… So I always knew that was going to be important later on, so I wanted to show that happening here. I love it! It’s so beautiful.”

Beautiful and evil, you mean. Because that weird dark, eye-like spot in the police box light and the sparking tendrils erupting from the TARDIS clearly aren’t just decoration – they’re symptoms of Sutekh and clues to the fact that the TARDIS has been possessed all series long, and perhaps longer.

The Fourth Doctor told Sutekh in “Pyramids of Mars” that the controls of a TARDIS are isomorphic, i.e. one to one, and answer to the Doctor alone. That’s why Sutekh possessed the Doctor, so he could use him as a puppet to fly the TARDIS to Mars as part of his escape plan. “My mind is in yours,” Sutekh told the Doctor. Even after he released his psychic grip on the Doctor after wrongly believing that his henchmen had killed him, perhaps of a psychic connection lingered that Sutekh could exploit it to infiltrate the TARDIS?

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In that scenario, Sutekh may have been a stowaway on the TARDIS ever since “Pyramids of Mars” and be truly deserving of the nickname “The One Who Waits”. All this time, he may have been in a weakened state but capable of exerting the odd pulse of influence on the old girl, explaining any number of surprise destinations and crash landings across multiple Doctors’ adventures. Perhaps when Donna Noble spilt that cup of coffee on the console and sent them in “Wild Blue Yonder” to the edge of the universe (where the Doctor inadvertently opened the lid to a Pandora’s Box of fantasy nastiness by chucking some salt on the ground), it strengthened Sutekh’s hold and enabled him to manifest in UNIT Tower.

And on the subject of Donna, is Sutekh also woven into the fabric of Fourteen’s TARDIS, which is currently just sitting there in the Noble garden? Or when Fifteen used the window of Toymaker-time in The Giggle to create his replica TARDIS “prize” with that oversized fairground mallet, was that the fantasy event that allowed Sutekh’s powers to finally take hold?

Questions, questions. The final one for now was posed to the Doctor in the penultimate series 14 episode when UNIT boss Kate asked: “We know the TARDIS is indestructible. If it’s turned hostile, how do we fight it?”

How indeed?

Doctor Who “Empire of Death” airs on Friday June 21/Saturday June 22 on BBC iPlayer, BBC One and Disney+