The Power of the Doctor

This review contains spoilers for The Power of the Doctor. If you have not yet seen The Power of the Doctor, come back when you have!

Leave Earth now, Doctor, or it will be the death of you, because honestly, truly, this is the day you die. No…not just die. This is the day you are erased from existence…forever. I know, a bit of a conversation stopper.

The Master

Synopsis

Who is attacking a speeding bullet train on the edges of a distant galaxy? Why are seismologists going missing from 21st century Earth? Who is defacing some of history’s most iconic paintings? Why is a Dalek trying to make contact with the Doctor? And just what hold does the mesmeric Rasputin have over Tsar Nicholas in 1916 Russia?

The Doctor faces multiple threats…and a battle to the death.

Review

Those who have followed my reviews of the Thirteenth Doctor’s era will have seen that I have tried my utmost to accentuate the positives of this era, possibly to a fault. I’ve liked this era more than on the internet seem to have done. The Power of the Doctor pays homage to what could possibly described as one of the messier eras of the show with a bit of a muddle of a climax. It is enormously good fun, with nods to the show’s past and gives us a hell of a lead into the 60th Anniversary year with the first appearance of the Fourteenth Doctor. But more on them later.

That’s what you called us here for? Have you any idea what’s happening in outer space in 1916?

Strangely enough, no!

The Thirteenth Doctor and Kate Stewart

I think that the best way to describe this episode is, sadly a bit of a mess. There is just a bit too much going on to be described as coherent. If this story put me in mind of any other story from this era, it was Praxeus, where despite its other flaws, the show makes the most use of its characters by splitting them across a globe-trotting plot. Here, we have characters separated throughout time and space and I think that this element works well. There are parts of the story that don’t entirely add up though – I’m still not sure why the Master wants to be locked up in UNIT, as much as I enjoyed the Master taunting Kate Stewart, Ace and Tegan about his past with the Brigadier and the Doctor’s companions previously, and Vinder’s appearance seems to come out of nowhere. There is also a lot of emphasis placed on Yaz holding the Master at gunpoint rather than allowing the UNIT troops to take the Master directly to their prison, which feels like it doesn’t really go anywhere. These stories usually wrap up the ongoing arcs of the outgoing Doctor, but it almost feels as thought Chibnall has forgotten about the loose threads. I thought that the Child at the beginning was going to be something to do with the Timeless Child, but instead it turned out to be the Quoronx used to power the conversion planet. This felt like an unnecessary addition, until it’s used to deal the fatal blow to the Thirteenth Doctor towards the end of the story.

The fanservice, ultimately, is playing to the gallery, but that’s not to say that I didn’t absolutely love every moment of it. The most heartfelt, of course, are the reunions between Tegan and Ace and their Doctors, aided by the TARDIS’s AI hologram, helping out their former companions one last time in a time of greatest need, but a moment before that made me sit up and take notice was when David Bradley appeared at the beginning of the scene at the edge of existence. This, of course, leads to cameos for Colin Baker and Paul McGann, as well as slightly longer cameos for Davison and McCoy. I originally wondered why other Doctors, both classic and modern, didn’t appear in this sequence, but then thought about it again on second viewing. These are the Doctors where regeneration was problematic. The First Doctor, as we see in Twice Upon a Time, considers not regenerating, whilst the Fifth Doctor states that he “might regenerate…feels different this time.” The Sixth Doctor, in his Big Finish regeneration story anyway, nearly doesn’t regenerate either as he is replaced by the Valeyard. The Seventh Doctor nearly dies on the operating table and the Eighth Doctor dies on Karn before being brought back to life by the Sisterhood.

It’s never time to blow things up. Sometimes, sadly, it’s the only solution. But only after fair warning.

Now it’s getting freaky.

I was only ever trying to teach you good habits, Ace. Obviously I failed.

You never failed me Professor. You made me the person I am today. I’m sorry we fell out. I’m sorry I judged you. I didn’t understand the burden you carried.

All children leave home sooner or later. The joy is to watch them fly.

The Seventh Doctor and Ace

Of course, the main fanservice was the return of Janet Fielding and Sophie Aldred as Tegan and Ace. Fielding and Aldred, have of course, reprised these roles on audio for years for Big Finish, but I was surprised at the emotional impact of seeing both actors back on screen. Both do a great job and Janet Fielding in particular manages to recapture Tegan’s no-nonsense energy and I particularly enjoy the way that she barges into the TARDIS after the destruction of the UNIT base. They get to tread the same ground that Sarah Jane Smith did in School Reunion, with Yaz not really realising the realities of life after the Doctor, even if there is now a support group set up to help ex-companions, featuring Mel, Jo Jones and, brilliantly, Ian Chesterton!

With the Master getting to replace the Doctor, in an attempt to destroy her reputation across the Universe, reaping destruction in his wake, as well as stepping into the shoes of Rasputin, Sacha Dhawan gets to have an utter ball. It is great fun seeing him dressed up in various Doctor’s attire, with the Fourth Doctor’s scarf, Seventh Doctor’s jumper, the Tenth Doctor’s tie and the Second Doctor’s recorder in a mocking tribute to all his past foes. Dhawan nearly steals the show from all of the assembled Doctors. The Daleks and the Cybermen have united in their hatred against the Doctor and in support of the Master, and rather surprisingly, they don’t turn on each other or the Master. I still don’t like the concept of the Cyber Lords, or Cyber Masters as they are called here, and the Daleks don’t get a lot to do, but I think the return of Ashad is good, especially in that moment where he reverts to full size.

I need more time. I want more time!

The Thirteenth Doctor

It’s always going to be a bold decision to take your main character out of a story that is going to be her final story, especially in one that is so stuffed with other characters. Beside the returning Janet Fielding and Sophie Aldred, we also have cameos for David Bradley, Peter Davison, Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy and Paul McGann, as well as an all too brief moment for Jo Martin’s Fugitive Doctor, Kate Stewart and a whole array of companions. It would be all too easy for Jodie Whittaker to get lost amidst all of these moments of fan service, and whilst the story may interfere with her being able to give a complete performance over the whole episode, she does manage to give her character real heart and soul. It is probably in the quieter moments that she really manages to shine, especially in her final scenes with Yaz and before her regeneration. Jodie has been a great Doctor, not always given the best stories, but she certainly deserves applause for her performances over the last three years. It’s an interesting story for Yaz as she sees her Doctor erased from history and replaced by the Master. I think Mandip Gill does a great job here, and like Whittaker is particularly good in the final moments.

With all the returning characters, Dan’s departure may seem a little bit abrupt on first viewing. I certainly missed him mentioning that he has a date coming up before he jumps onto the space bullet train. It certainly is a moment that the story doesn’t feel like it really has time for – there is very little sentimentality for the departure of a companion who has only been on screen for a small amount of time. In the absence of Dan, we do get the return of Bradley Walsh, which is nice and he does add some humour to the show, like how he still doesn’t really understand how his psychic paper works when he meets Ace. It’s nice to see Walsh back, even though it does feel weird that we don’t even get a brief cameo from Tosin Cole as Ryan in the support group.

Oh, the blossomiest blossom. That’s the only sad thing. I want to know what happens next. Right then, Doctor Who-ever-I’m-about-to-be, tag, you’re it.

The Thirteenth Doctor

And of course, I’d be remiss not to mention the fact that Jodie Whittaker regenerates into David Tennant, rather than Ncuti Gatwa. There has been speculation on this since the news broke of Tenant’s return next year for the specials, but until I caught that first glimpse of the outfit which had leaked, I knew that it was him.

Verdict: The Power of the Doctor is a messy ending for the Jodie Whittaker-Chris Chibnall era of the show, but one that is an enormous amount of fun in the bargain. It barely stops to draw breath and the elongated run time helps to do it as much justice as possible. 7/10

Cast: Jodie Whittaker (The Doctor), David Bradley (The First Doctor), Peter Davison (The Fifth Doctor), Colin Baker (The Sixth Doctor), Sylvester McCoy (the Seventh Doctor), Paul McGann (The Eighth Doctor), Jo Martin (The Fugitive Doctor) and introducing David Tennant as the Doctor.

Mandip Gill (Yasmin Khan), John Bishop (Dan Lewis), Sacha Dhawan (The Master), Jemma Redgrave (Kate Stewart), Janet Fielding (Tegan Jovanka), Sophie Aldred (Ace), Bradley Walsh (Graham O’Brien), Joe Sims (Deputy Marshal Arnhost), Sanchia McCormack (Sanchia McCormack), Danielle Bjielic (Curator), Anna Andresen (Alexandra), Richard Dempsey (Nicholas), Jos Slovick (Messenger), Nicholas Briggs (Voice of the Cybermen & Daleks), Barnaby Edwards and Nicholas Pegg (Dalek Operators), Simon Carew, Jon Davey, Chester Durrant, Mickey Lewis, Felix Young, Richard Price, Andrew Cross and Matthew Doman (Cybermen), Bonnie Langford (Melanie Bush), Katy Manning (Jo Jones) & William Russell (Ian Chesterton).

Writer: Chris Chibnall

Director: Jamie Magnus Stone

First Broadcast Date: 23 October 2022

Behind the Scenes

  • The first episode of Doctor Who to be broadcast under a reign of a British monarch other than Queen Elizabeth II. Elizabeth II passed away on 8 September 2022, succeeded by her son, King Charles III.
  • With the resignation of Prime Minister Liz Truss, Jodie Whittaker has outlasted three Prime Ministers, meaning that she has overtaken Tom Baker, who outlasted two.
  • Part of the BBC’s Centenary Celebrations.
  • This story sees the first regeneration of a Doctor to occur outside of the TARDIS since the minisode Night of the Doctor, with the regeneration of Paul McGann into John Hurt’s War Doctor. Prior to that, regenerations occurred outside of the TARDIS in The War Games, Planet of the Spiders, Logopolis and The TV Movie.
  • The appearance of William Russell makes him the oldest actor to appear in Doctor Who, aged 96 when his scenes were shot, displacing Ysanne Churchman’s reprisal of the role of Alpha Centuri in Empress of Mars. Russell is also now the holder of the Guinness World Record for the longest gap between appearances as the same character and the record has been set at 57 years and 120 days.
  • Jodie Whittaker’s regeneration scene was shot at Roath Lock Studios on 13th October 2021. The David Tennant portion was shot at Wolf Studios in Cardiff on 13th May 2022, directed by Rachel Talalay. The short scene was written by Russell T Davies and David Tennant.

Cast Notes

  • The first appearance of Janet Fielding in televised Doctor Who since Resurrection of the Daleks. She has reprised the role of Tegan for Big Finish audio dramas.
  • The first appearance of Sophie Aldred in televised Doctor Who since Survival. Like Fielding, she has reprised the role of Ace for Big Finish dramas.
  • Making her debut in The Woman Who Fell to Earth [and exiting in this story] means that Mandip Gill is the first companion to serve alongside a Doctor for the entirety of their televised run on television since Rose, and the first to appear opposite the same Doctor across multiple series.

Best Moment

There are a lot of fun moments, but the Master dancing to Rasputin by Boney M is one of the best, complete with that Dalek and Cyberman side-eye.

Otherwise, the returning Doctors, and the reunions of Tegan and Ace with their Doctors.

Best Quote

You think you left and I never thought of you again. I never forget any of you. I remember everything.

Yeah? Well, what am I thinking seeing all these Cybermen?

Adric. Now…Brave Heart.

The Fifth Doctor and Tegan Jovanka

Previous Thirteenth Doctor review: Legend of the Sea Devils

3 thoughts on “The Power of the Doctor

  1. When I first finished watching this episode I wasn’t really sure how I felt about it. I enjoyed it a 100% more than I was expecting to, but I didn’t know if that was purely down to all that glorious fanservice. The more I’ve sat and thought about it though the more I’ve come to recognise that this episode is the best Chibnall has managed to write in a long time. It has some great ideas, a clear theme, terrific moments for all the characters in one way or another and some jaw-dropping visuals.

    The episode still has some pretty glaring flaws, mostly in the writing department with my usual complaints about Chibnall’s writing, things are over-explained, there’s too much packed into one story, dialogue is clunky and so on, but it’s the characters that make this episode.

    And, honestly, that puts this episode in some good company. It makes me think of ‘The Three Doctors’ or ‘The Five Doctors’ because let’s face it in those episodes the story isn’t the strong point, it’s the moments and character interactions. Out of all the ways Jodie was going to leave us, this is so much better than I could have hoped for. Now I just hope she signs up with Big Finish so I can have more stories with her Doctor.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think you’re probably right to compare it to something like ‘The Five Doctors’. We want to see how Tegan and Ace are going to react to this Doctor, and equally, by rights, what’s going to happen if Tegan comes face to face with Davison or Ace with McCoy.

      I will really not miss the conversations that explain everything with a degree of ‘are you getting this at the back?’ There are so many conversations here where characters explain things to characters who should know the information they are being told.

      Something that has really irritated about this era is the fact that the companions especially don’t seem to have conversations off screen, and they don’t know fundamental information about the Doctor. For instance, they don’t know that the Doctor can regenerate and used to be male until the Master tells them in Spyfall, but they met the Doctor shortly after her regeneration in The Woman Who Fell to Earth.

      Liked by 1 person

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