What an ending for this era of Doctor Who! Chris Chibnall and Jodie Whittaker delighted in a non-stop action thrill ride for almost the entire 90-minute special. It made me laugh, cry, and everything in between while keeping me on the edge of my seat the whole time. Where was this writing for series 11 and series 12!?
A quick note about Jodie’s first two series, there were some standout episodes, particularly in series 12, and I thoroughly enjoyed series 13’s Flux serial. But overall, this hasn’t been an era of Modern Who that I have wanted to rewatch until recently. I think Jodie’s era isn’t as overtly beloved by the masses compared to David Tennant’s or Matt Smith’s eras, but I do think that it’s one that will grow on people in time, similar to the way Peter Capaldi’s did. This also goes for Chibnall’s writing. When you look at Moffat’s era he got a lot of flack at the time, now, several years on, people are more onboard with his ideas and creative vision.
Chibnall’s Timeless Children plot annoyed me when it first aired, but I got over it after thinking more of how it broadens the possibilities for the show’s future, and I actually find myself liking the concept. Sure it would have been good to have the Master be the Timeless Child, but let’s move on as a Fandom and those that still hold any visceral hate toward it need to let it go.
This plot point left a bit to be desired, as did a number of Chibnall’s new lore. Plenty of good ideas but the execution of them feels a bit lacking. So I’m glad he at least resolved the Timeless Child arc in a way, but more on that later.
This review of The Power of the Doctor is spoiler-filled, so if you’re yet to watch and don’t want to be spoiled all the surprises, please don’t read ahead. I’ve purposely avoided reading or watching other reviews since I watched the special in order to keep my perspective fresh in my mind and not skew it.
The special BBC Centenary episode saw the Doctor facing their greatest threat yet, an alliance between the Master (Sacha Dhawan), Cybermen and the Daleks as they sought to erase the Doctor and wipe out humanity all at once. Their three-pronged plan involved disruption of the tectonic plates of Earth to erupt all volcanoes worldwide while forcing a regeneration on the Doctor at the same time as an internal attack on Unit HQ. It’s complex but I found most parts fit together with enough slowly unravelling mystery to not become predictable.
The plot went from place to place and continued what Flux flourished in with multiple plot points travelling along a slowly converging single narrative. The direction of the episode was really well done, as was the scoring. Props go to Jamie Magnus Stone’s direction, and Segun Akinola’s score. Side note: Akinola’s version of the theme song for Chibnall’s run is one of the best in the show’s history.
From the very beginning the episode sets up the fast pace and edge-of-your seat storytelling with the robbery of a space train. It was a fun concept and I’m glad the Cybermen have been given this fresh take of being CyberMasters, last seen in series 11. It’s a new direction that I enjoy seeing in a villain that continues to upgrade itself physically, but doesn’t necessarily change as a villain.
Following the narrow escape from the hijacked train I felt Dan’s (John Bishop) exit out of place so early in the special. I understood the reasons for him wanting to leave TARDIS life behind as he did almost die on multiple occasions throughout Flux, and technically died a few times in Eve of the Daleks. Noting his absence for the majority of the promo material I did think he would die so I’m glad he got to walk out on his own terms. Though it didn’t feel nearly as impactful as Martha’s (Freema Agyeman) exit in series 3.
I also felt there was something lacking between his and Yaz’s (Mandip Gill) goodbye. They were stuck in the early 20th Century together for YEARS during Flux and Dan was the person she spoke to about her feelings for the Doctor. I think Dan missing out of the special is a bit sad, considering he could have slotted in with other plot points easily enough.
The reunion with Classic Who companions Tegan (Janet Fielding) and Ace (Sophie Aldred) at Unit HQ was handled well. Of course it would stir up images of when the Tenth Doctor and Sarah-Jane Smith reunited in series 2’s School Reunion (RIP Elisabeth Sladen). I haven’t seen many of the serials starring Tegan or Ace, but I still felt the gravitas of the occasion knowing the basics of their story arcs and adventures with the Doctor.
Overall the special had some really fun twists to continue the suspense of the episode. The Master in alliance with the Cybermen and the Daleks was a good idea. Even though it wasn’t too long ago we saw the Cybermen and the Daleks together in Flux, this still felt like a good use of them both. Particularly because they were ever-present throughout the Classic Who era. I found this special really did a fine job of balancing both Classic Who legacy while also continuing the plots set up during Chibnall’s run.
Sacha Dhawan and Jo Martin are both such excellent additions to Doctor Who, and I love both their characters every time they appear so I’m really glad the former got such a pivotal role in this special, and the latter had a fantastic moment to shine as always. I won’t stop saying it but give me more of both of them!
I also enjoy serials where the Doctor is always just one step behind the enemy since we always tend to see them out manoeuvre the enemies by being clever and knowing so much about the universe etc. So of course the best character foil for the Doctor, the Master, once again shows how cunning they can be, with the Doctor falling right into their trap.
There were elements of the episode I think I need to pay further attention to upon a rewatch. I had a list of questions including: How did Graham (Bradley Walsh) suddenly turn up at the one volcano housing the one tectonic plate disrupter of the Daleks, with the one Dalek guarding the one console. Also, what did the Master being Rasputin have to do with anything apart from showing us his Classic Who hypnotic ways once more? Was there a reason this plan had to occur in 1916? Why was the bowel of an active volcano not astronomically hot enough for all characters to not need to shed their winter coats!? I like Vinder (Jacob Anderson) but why did he appear so randomly apart from pure thin plot-convenience due to a wormhole?
The forced regeneration scene was very well done, and also a great plot twist for the Master to become the Doctor. The precipice scene almost made me pass out. With each incarnation appearing I gasped loudly. That was such a good surprise and the BBC kept it so well under wraps. I don’t care that the former Doctors don’t look like they did during their runs as some fans might. I was just happy to see the episode pay tribute to what came before. I loved that the Eighth Doctor didn’t wear the robes because he wasn’t a traditional type of Doctor. I didn’t mind that some of the incarnations couldn’t be there, I don’t think they needed to have CGI versions of Troughton or Pertwee, and Tom Baker had his time in the spotlight during the 50th Anniversary.
This was a great way to pay tribute to the other incarnations that weren’t involved in the 50th Anniversary by having them give advice to the current Doctor akin to what happened in Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor Christmas special Twice Upon A Time. I also felt like this helped alleviate some of the concerns of lore-breaking some fans had after the Timeless Child plot.
I do feel it was a bit of a cop-out that the companions all had an AI-Doctor program to tell them what to do without the Doctor being there physically. It all made sense but I think it cheapens their ability to be resourceful and show how they’ve grown as people travelling with the Doctor. But I will say it lead to some really nice moments within the episode that were a highlight.
Though I haven’t seen all the stories of the Fifth Doctor and Tegan, nor the Seventh’s and Ace, I still found myself tearing up when they all came together because of the AI-Doctor. I knew the specialness of the moments they had. Tegan and Ace were both able to properly have their farewell moments. I knew enough of both their eras to know the references and to know that it was handled well without going too far down the route of forceful fan-service nostalgia extremes that some franchises are doing these days.
The pairings for each part of the Doctor’s army were a fun mix and found a good balance between Classic Who and the current era. I think Dan could have easily fit in with Kate (Jemma Redgrave) and Tegan at Unit HQ so it’s a shame he wasn’t utilised. He and Tegan could have talked about how travelling with the Doctor stopped being fun with all the death and destruction around. Alas, it seemed everyone that was there had an important part to play and no one was left standing and doing nothing akin to Rose in series 4’s Journey’s End.
Unfortunately, we don’t get to see any goodbyes with the crew after the Doctor is mortally wounded and passes out – a missed opportunity – but instead we get a nice peaceful moment between the Doctor and Yaz. I feel that Yaz also got the short end of the stick compared to other companions that had more impactful exits, again thinking of Martha in particular. Yaz allowed all the important things to be left unsaid and is dropped home while the Doctor departs to regenerate alone. I will say though it’s nice that all the companions got out alive and without trauma. It was refreshing to see.
The ending talking circle made me tear up and shout in surprise. Here’s hoping we see more of this in future spin-offs or audio adventures or something. I know the Fandom will be asking for it! Kate even mentions she will look for more work with them. It’s a shame they didn’t include Martha in the circle particularly given her previous ties to Unit, but I can understand why they didn’t. This special was about Classic Who and the present era, not about the whole of Doctor Who, that’s what the 50th and 60th Anniversary specials are for.
Overall I’ve come around to the Chibnall era of Doctor Who and its new ideas and fresh lore-building. I think The Power of the Doctor is some of Chibnall’s best work and will no doubt be a fan favourite in future. It’s a shame Legend of the Sea Devils wasn’t up to par, but the less said of that special the better. This one at least gave us a rollercoaster of emotions and left us with a great cliff-hanger following a fantastic end to Jodie’s Doctor. Farewell to Chibnall, Thirteen, and the Fam!