Doctor Who BBC Centenary Special Review: The Power of the Doctor

The final adventure for Jodie Whittaker’s trailblazing incarnation of the infamous Time Lord is giddily ambitious and littered with brilliant fan service

Starring Jodie Whittaker, Mandip Gill, John Bishop, Sophie Aldred, and Janet Fielding

With Doctor Who‘s 60th anniversary just around the corner, not to mention the hotly anticipated return of not only fan favourite Doctor and companion duo David Tennant and Catherine Tate but also original New Who showrunner Russell T Davies, coupled with this era’s “less is more” approach to promotion and social media, it almost feels as if the departure of Jodie Whittaker’s incarnation of the beloved Time Lord has already been swept under the rug. This doubtless wasn’t help by the death of Queen Elizabeth II, necessitating BBC social media channels having to observe the official mourning period.

As it happens, the final episode of the first female Doctor shows both her and Chibnall at their best, almost making it somewhat frustrating that the rest of their era hasn’t been characterised by this level of storytelling. While actual details of the plot were sketchy before broadcast, viewers were enticed by the promise of three formidable adversaries: the Master, played by the returning Sacha Dhawan, the Daleks and the Cybermen, including the so-called “Lone Cyberman” Ashad (Patrick O’Kane). Not only this, but the teaser trailer at the end of “Legend of the Sea Devils” revealed the return of two beloved classic companions, Tegan (Janet Fielding), last seen leaving the Doctor at the end of “Resurrection of the Daleks” in 1984, and Ace (Sophie Aldred), the blueprint for the modern Who companion, who never had an official departure from the Doctor owing to its cancellation in 1989. With viewers also aware that this episode spells the end of Jodie’s Doctor, as well as companions Yaz (Mandip Gill) and Dan (John Bishop), as well as the longest runtime for a single episode of Doctor Who in its 59-year history, it is undeniable that this episode has many different plates to spin and a monumentally high risk that it could have completely fallen apart.

Fortunately, however, this episode is a brilliant instalment of Doctor Who, and is perhaps one of the best, most climactic episodes since the Series 4 finale saw the Doctor’s extended family tackle Davros and his resurrected army at the Medusa Cascade. “The Power of the Doctor” features multiple time zones, including 1916 Russia and modern day Earth, with incredible works of art missing, a miniature Cyberman, a bullet train in space and an entire Cyber planet. Pretty soon it becomes apparent that forces have amassed against the Doctor, putting her in the most dire situation we have so far seen her incarnation.

The episode is well paced, though not flawless. There is never much explanation, for example, why precisely the Master decided to take on the persona of Rasputin or what precisely this adds to the story other than keeping the audience intrigued (much like many elements of the Flux storyline). What this episode does massively well is fan service. Both Tegan and Ace are portrayed faithfully and written well (doubtless because of the collaborative approach Chibnall took with Janet Fielding and Sophie Aldred to realise these past companions). This also provides a nice development of Yaz’s role next to the Doctor, prompting her ultimate departure.

Dan is written out early into the episode, which ultimately proves to be a good choice. It would have been a disservice to other characters within the story had he stuck around, and his role was little more than furniture throughout Flux anyway, though it does beg the question as to whether his inclusion was ever necessary, and the development of the Doctor and Yaz’s relationship may have fared significantly better had they had the TARDIS to themselves for the entirety of Series 13.

The episode managed to keep many of its surprises, featuring cameo appearances from the Doctor’s fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth incarnations, played by Peter Davison, Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy and Paul McGann respectively, as well as David Bradley playing the First Doctor. Though ultimately appearing opposite the Doctor in her in-between regeneration plane proved to be a useless exercise (it was Yaz who actually did something to help the Doctor out of her predicament, with the help of the Doctor’s sentient hologram), it nicely set up a brilliant reunion for Tegan and the Fifth Doctor, as well as Ace and the Seventh Doctor. These were lovely small scenes, providing a sense of closure for these past companions amidst the lunacy of the alien incursion that is occurring surrounding them.

Less of a surprise was the return of Graham (Bradley Walsh). It had already been reported in the media that Walsh would be returning, but his inclusion within the story was well done. He had a winning dynamic with Aldred’s Ace and a pleasant flirtation which is certain to have fan fiction atwitter. His role as the head of a post-Doctor support group also makes tremendous sense and paves the way for a glorious, touching scene featuring the cameo appearances of Jo Jones (Katy Manning), Melanie Bush (Bonnie Langford) and even one of the first companions, Ian Chesterton (William Russell).

Critically, “The Power of the Doctor” finally permits Yaz to do something. In some of the tensest scenes of Chibnall’s era, the Master ends up stealing the Doctor’s regenerations, leaving the universe at the mercy of the Master and only Yaz able to prevent it. Finally, Chibnall achieves something vaguely approximating demonstrating Yaz’s brilliance instead of merely preaching it. Mandip Gill’s performance throughout this episode is spectacular, especially her final scene in the TARDIS with Whittaker, where you can truly feel the depth of her emotion. Unfortunately, her lowkey departure is a bit of a betrayal to the previously teased Thasmin relationship, which never really took off. For Yaz to be waved off back to her ordinary life after proclaiming her love for the Doctor feels disingenuine, especially when the episode has spent so much time hinting that Yaz’s story may end in untimely tragedy.

Jodie’s regeneration is a simply stunning moment. Coupled with the multiple nods towards the show’s history throughout the episode, it feels the most connected that the Thirteenth Doctor has ever been to the past of the show. Surrounded by her previous companions, it’s massively touching, and her final scenes with Yaz are hugely emotional. Her last lines as the Doctor, “Tag: you’re it” chime perfectly with her characterisation, and are full of whimsy and joy towards the legacy of what being the Doctor truly means.

It is at this point that the episode briefly hints towards the future – as all regeneration stories must do, of course, with Whittaker’s brightly coloured outfit being replaced by something hugely familiar. “I know these teeth,” the Doctor murmurs in confusion, realising that their regeneration has landed them back in the body of David Tennant, for another stint aboard the TARDIS as the Fourteenth Doctor.

“The Power of the Doctor” is majorly satisfying as an individual story. It is high-octane, madcap and brilliantly tense. It had incredible nods to the past without taking away from the current story taking place. It also has series best performances from Mandip Gill, as well as from Sacha Dhawan as the Master, who brings a sinister volatility to the rogue Time Lord, who feels more dangerous than he has felt for a while. There is a real sense of peril for all the characters that surround him and a foreboding air throughout, not to mention a rare moment of vulnerability when the Master is forced back into his own body and relieved of the mantle of the Doctor. Throughout the episode, there is a tension in truly not being able to anticipate what is going to come next, with the Doctor and friends facing seemingly insurmountable odds on multiple fronts.

As the end of an era, however, there are some plot elements left flailing. Despite a short appearance from Jo Martin’s Fugitive Doctor, no closure is offered towards the Timeless Child arc that Chibnall spent so much of his era introducing. Yaz still doesn’t know, for example, at the end of her time with the Doctor, anything at all about this element of the Doctor’s life, which feeds into the concept that the Doctor never lets anyone in, but never builds to Yaz standing up to her. Yaz’s departure also feels like a betrayal. It is the least significant companion departure of the modern era, which is baffling considering that Yaz is officially the longest running companion in the history of Doctor Who. This would be a betrayal for any companion, not least the first one teased at being in a queer relationship with the Doctor. There is no sense of closure when Yaz departs and no hint at what the rest of her life has in store. This feels lacking, but does feed into Chibnall’s difficulties with characterising companions as a whole throughout his tenure.

When looked at in isolation, “The Power of the Doctor”, despite its narrative shortcomings, is hard to fault. It does everything that a traditional Doctor Who finale should do: have epic storytelling scope, high stakes and a glorious nod to the loyal fanbase. It is frustrating that Chibnall is capable of this storytelling that has been comparatively lacking throughout his time as showrunner, with the exception of the epic scope of Flux which, ultimately, buckled under its own hype. Still, this episode hints towards something new and something exciting. The future of Doctor Who has never been more bristling with possibility, even though Whittaker’s Doctor will surely be missed.


You can catch up on Doctor Who on BBC iPlayer.

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