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Doctor Who: Finally, the truth behind the old woman who keeps appearing in every single episode is revealed, thanks to Sutekh

'Empire of Death' reveals that what looked like a red herring is more like... a somewhat pink one

Susan Triad in Doctor Who
Image credit: BBC/Disney+

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With the Doctor Who season finale finally here, we finally have an answer to the question: Who is the old woman that keeps appearing through time and space, really? And it's... maybe a little more complicated and more satisfying than some fans might have been expecting.

The first half of the finale, ‘The Legend of Ruby Sunday,’ answered at least part of that question: she’s Susan Triad, an inventor and tech genius — and founder of S Triad Technologies — who apparently turned out to be nothing but a harbinger of Sutekh, the god of death that has been pulling the strings throughout the entire season to date. As the episode ends, Susan Triad has taken on what appears to be her final form, with a skull-face and the ability to reduce humans into dust with a touch.

The reveal might have underwhelmed some, who were hoping that the tease that propelled much of the episode - that Triad was, in some form, the Doctor's long-lost granddaughter Susan - was true. Instead, she was... just a pawn of the season's big bad?

But what if there was more to her than that? After all, we know that actress Susan Twist, who's been playing these characters (this character?) for the whole year, can do it all... but what if that was true for Susan Triad, too?

After all, something else happened in ‘The Legend of Ruby Sunday’ that felt important: before Triad is revealed as Sutekh’s agent, she told the Doctor that she’s been having trouble sleeping. “I get a lot of dreams,” she says, clearly troubled. When the Doctor references the other places where he’s seen the old woman, she becomes more agitated. Later, just before Sutekh comes forth, she’s even more upset: “I keep having bad dreams. All my ideas come to me in dreams… I dream of blue skin. I dream of metal eyes. I dream of worlds with orange skies. And in every dream, I’m there. But who am I?”

If that's not foreshadowing, what is?

Related: The Bridgerton episode of Doctor Who has arrived, and it's the most fun (and loving) episode of the show this year

Sutekh reveals the truth early in the season finale, ‘Empire of Death’: Susan Triad really is the Doctor’s granddaughter… kind of. Upon learning of Susan from the Tardis while he was attached to it (literally), Sutekh created “an apparition of her” throughout the universe and history, in every place that the Tardis landed as “the perfect trap” for the Doctor. “I birthed them all… my Angels of Death.”

So, Susan Triad — and the many other versions of her throughout the season and throughout existence — are, at the very least, versions of the Doctor’s granddaughter, albeit fake versions intended to grab the Doctor’s attention and drive him towards the present day and meeting Susan Triad, whose very name was intended to catch his attention (“S. Triad” is, after all, an anagram of “Tardis,” as the Doctor and everyone around him caught early on in ‘The Legend of Ruby Sunday’.) She was literally created to make the Doctor, and the viewers if we’re honest, think of Susan and make that connection.

As it turned out, Sutekh did too good a job in birthing his Angels of Death: as was suggested by her dialogue at the end of ‘The Legend of Ruby Sunday,’ Susan Triad — and, presumably, her many doppelgängers throughout time and space — were actually individual living beings with their own lives before being activated. That’s made clear when Susan is amongst the resurrected at the end of ‘Empire of Death’: “But… I’m still me. I’ve still got my memories, my family,” she says. “All of that’s still true, is it?” After the Doctor confirms that it is, Mel makes the subtext text: “The god of death created life.”

As she appears to become part of UNIT — a concept that is now very clearly asking for a spin-off, with the crew it currently has, thank you very much — one thing is left open for future investigation: now that Sutekh is no more, will Susan Triad still dream of her other selves, and be able to get new ideas and inspiration from them…? That’s just one potential avenue open for future exploration should someone want to pick it up, alongside two other meaningful questions. Firstly, whatever happened to S Triad Technologies’ big reveal from ‘Legend’ that would revolutionize the tech industry? And secondly and perhaps more pressing for the Doctor and the series going forward: if we do ever get to see the real Susan again, will she be played by the great Susan Twist?

All of that lies in the future, of course. For now, there’s an entire season of Doctor Who ready to rewatch and pick apart on BBC iPlayer and Disney+. And a Christmas episode to look forward to in a few months’ time…

If you want to start watching Doctor Who and don't know where to start, check out our handy Doctor Who watch guide. Or maybe you're already finished with the show - We've got the perfect Ten shows to watch when you're done watching Doctor Who guide for you too. If you're already heads over heels for the Fifteenth Doctor and want to learn more about the actor playing him, check out what he's been in before here. Or maybe you just need to figure out how the new series numbering is going to work (Are there really gonna be two series 1s? Yes.) - if so, this is the explainer you want.

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Graeme McMillan: Popverse Editor Graeme McMillan (he/him) has been writing about comics, culture, and comics culture on the internet for close to two decades at this point, which is terrifying to admit. He completely understands if you have problems understanding his accent.
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