Doctor Who – The Power of the Doctor
Doctor Who ends another era with an onslaught of problems needing solutions and an affirmation of the impact the Doctor has on those they travel with.
The Chris Chibnall era has varied wildly in quality and was somewhat tarnished by the announced return of Russell T. Davies as showrunner stealing attention for what remained of the run. My personal view of the Chibnall era is that it’s largely forgettable with no true classic stories that stand out as all-time Doctor Who stories. Jodie Whittaker was great in the role but needed stronger scripts to support her. The question to be answered by this review is whether the final story closed out the era on a strong note or left a lot to be desired.
It’s a question that is complicated to answer as there is so much about “The Power of the Doctor” that works and it certainly manages to be a high-stakes blockbuster story but it also contains a lot of unnecessary bloat that could have been cut with very little alteration to the overall story. It ends Chibnall and Whittaker’s tenure on a meaningful note and builds anticipation for what comes next so it mostly succeeds in what it sets out to do.
One of the major issues with the Chibnall era was a lack of grasp on how to handle this Doctor as a character. Over the course of the run, there were a lot of suggestions as to directions the character could take but there was a lack of commitment to most of what was presented. Her first episode characterised her as a mad inventor only for that to be abandoned very quickly, later episodes would have her as a passive figure who let events play out around her after deciding it wasn’t her place to interfere. Later still was an attempted deconstruction of the Doctor as an entity by revealing that her origins weren’t what she thought they were. Added to that is the knowledge that she has many lives she doesn’t remember so her tenure is more defined by what she isn’t and what she doesn’t know rather than what she is. The lives she doesn’t remember remains an unanswered question with the fob watch that contains all the answers remaining unopened. Whether that will be picked up by Russell T. Davies or quietly forgotten remains to be seen but perhaps it’s for the best for it to be forgotten.
To Chibnall’s credit, he takes one of his weaknesses as a writer/producer and turns it into a strength. “The Power of the Doctor” is more about the Doctor’s companions rather than the Doctor herself. Prior stories have played with the idea of the Doctor irrevocably changing their companions in either positive or negative ways. All sorts of commentary has been delivered including fashioning them into weapons, changing them into completely different people unable to live a normal life and ruining their lives completely. Jodie Whittaker’s swansong focuses on the positive aspects without ignoring the discomfort that comes with them. The story features Yaz, Dan, Graham, Ace (Sophie Aldred), Tegan (Janet Fielding), Vinder and Kate in prominent roles each with a part to play in resolving the story without the Doctor being directly involved.
Seven companions on the surface seems like a very busy cast list and that’s certainly the case but the episode balances the screen time well enough. Dan leaves very early on, Graham arrives very late in the story and no time spent reestablishing him and Vinder -as always- could have been cut entirely. The others are an organic part of the narrative and bringing back two companions sends a clear message that the Doctor may have physically changed but their influence remains constant and strong.
The story itself is fast-paced and incoherent. It’s a blockbuster where common sense is far from a priority so consists of a lot of things happening at a fast pace purely to increase stakes and pull the story in different directions. The Cybermasters attack a space train to capture a being that can power their Cyberconversion moon as the Daleks drill into the Earth’s core to set off all the volcanoes on Earth to support Cyberconversion all so the Master can lure the Doctor into his trap that also requires the Cyberconversion moon as well as his TARDIS to provide power. It’s a story that could have functioned on a more intimate level with most of the extraneous elements being cut. The impulse to include the Daleks, Cybermen and the Master in the final story of an era of a show was undoubtedly powerful but the Daleks and Cybermen weren’t used to good effect so their presence wasn’t necessary.
Sacha Dhawan’s Master has been one of the strongest aspects of this era of Doctor Who and the final story being built around his plan to become the Doctor and sully her name across time and space was a great touch. My knowledge of the Doctor’s antagonistic relationship with the Master is largely confined to the modern era of the show that started in 2005 but there has always been an undercurrent of jealousy in the Master with a lot of their plans being about proving their superiority to the Doctor and have that recognised. The next logical step is to become the Doctor and demonstrate that desired superiority by unwinding the Doctor’s heroic reputation.
The forced regeneration idea with the Master forcing the Doctor to regenerate into him while he transfers his consciousness into their body was an interesting one that doesn’t make a lot of sense when put under scrutiny. Since the Master is also a timelord then all he would have to do is kill the Doctor and go around the universe using the name. It’s in character for him to concoct an over-the-top scheme that has a built-in reversal but even for him it was overly convoluted and his aim could have been achieved far more simply. What actually happens doesn’t live up to his promise of the Doctor being erased from existence considering what he actually plans to do is very much the opposite. He wants the Doctor to be known as a destroyer rather than a protector which alters the reputation rather than erasing it.
One thing his actions allow is for the Doctor to be considered as an idea rather than a person. Unfortunately, this doesn’t equate to anything interesting with the Master as he is unceremoniously dumped on a moon while Yaz works on solving the problem. It’s clear the intent was for the Master to be humiliated in defeat which prompts his desperate move to inelegantly kill the Doctor when it’s evident that he has lost but it isn’t as meaningful or as satisfying as it needs to be and falls into the trap of ending the story with the presumption of his death when that definitely won’t be the case.
As for the Doctor, the narrative focuses on what various companions have learned from them. Yaz is one of the more active companions with greater agency than many others that allows her to be proactive following what happens to the Doctor. She has been taught how to fly the TARDIS -with the help of some notes- and is intelligent enough to start working the problem in front of her. There is support in the form of an A.I. hologram that can fill in the gaps but it’s mostly down to Yaz and how she works the problem. Her priority is putting things in place to deal with the Dalek threat while finding a way to reverse the forced regeneration. It’s a great showcase of how capable Yaz is as a companion and supports the idea of the Doctor helping people rise to their full potential. Yaz makes that point by pointing out the major difference between the Doctor and the Master is that the Doctor has friends and is loved whereas the Master is bitter and alone with no meaningful connections. He could never inspire anyone to fight or die for him nor could he expect loyalty because he holds everyone that isn’t himself in contempt. It’s an obvious yet effective summation of the high-level characteristics and a confident declaration of the main theme the episode explores.
The hologram also allows for meaningful moments between the old companions and their Doctors. Tegan confronts the Peter Davison incarnation about feeling abandoned and unwanted for nearly four decades. He tells her that he misses her and that being left behind had nothing to do with what she fears it is. The moment is undercut by the fact that Janet Fielding is noticeably weak as a performer but there’s some innate resonance to it that will likely mean more to those familiar with their adventures.
Ace gets a reminder that it’s never acceptable to blow stuff up but it’s also unfortunately sometimes necessary provided it comes after a warning. He laments failing to teach her good habits and she apologises for her behaviour while acknowledging it came from not understanding the burden he shouldered. This isn’t as easy to follow as the Tegan/Doctor scene because there’s a lot more to take in than the easier-to-understand idea of being left behind. Ace’s interaction with her Doctor references animosity created between them that won’t mean anything to those unfamiliar with their relationship. Sylvester McCoy is excellent in the scene itself but it’s too esoteric to work.
Having the companions come together with some extra faces in a companion support group is an idea that really should have been exercised long before now. Graham’s point about his life being forever changed by his adventures with the Doctor and not being able to talk about it with anyone as nobody else would understand is valid and definitely shared by a lot of people so it’s odd that he was the first to have the idea of reaching out to those who used to know the Doctor so that they can swap stories. It was a nice scene and further showed the weight of the Doctor’s influence while acknowledging that there’s a downside to it as there’s no outlet for the feelings once the adventure ends. A morbid reading of this is that Chibnall is saying that the Doctor will never change the destructive behaviour they engage in and that others will always be harmed by their inability to break the pattern. Instead of pledging to address or improve things, a support system has been created to pick up the pieces. Now when the Doctor destroys someone’s life there will be people that person can talk to. One frustrating thing about the Chibnall era was the resistance to letting the Doctor develop and doubling down on how damaged they are with no hope of correction.
It is unfortunate that Jodie Whittaker spends a lot of the episode as a passenger in her own show but some attention is given to her iteration of the Doctor’s ongoing identity issues. The forced regeneration sends her consciousness to the edge of existence where some of her prior regenerations are lingering. David Bradley, Peter Davison, Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy and Paul McGann all appear to tell her she’s doing a great job as the Doctor and has to go back to continue the legacy. It’s a definitive affirmation of Jodie Whittaker’s place in the canon and that her previous lives are proud to have her carry on what they all contributed to. She does get to use the available resources to end all of the threats at once in true Doctor fashion and includes the companions in semi-vital roles within that plan but a lot of the episode is spent with her off the board.
The end to Jodie Whittaker’s tenure demands closure on her relationship with Yaz. It’s her core relationship as Yaz was her companion for her entire run. An ongoing emotional plot was that Yaz fell in love with her and there was a suggestion that the Doctor reciprocated those feelings. This episode doesn’t acknowledge the romantic aspect of their relationship but does acknowledge the closeness. Mandip Gill’s subtle performance when she notices the regeneration energy building up on the Doctor’s hand and starts to internalise what is about to happen is devastating. Her admission that she doesn’t want what they have to end followed by the creeping acceptance that it has to worked brilliantly. It also makes sense that Yaz would only want to travel with that Doctor and couldn’t get her head around the idea of travelling with the same yet different person so it was best to say goodbye as they are now. Their final quiet moment together on the roof of the TARDIS looking at the world they just saved is heartwarming and allows their parting to take on a bittersweet quality. Some may be disappointed in the lack of direct acknowledgement of the romantic aspect of their relationship but what was delivered was fitting and moving in its own way.
An era’s end comes with regeneration and Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor takes it in her stride. There’s a sadness to one life ending while another begins but she accepts the reality of it. Asking the TARDIS to look after the next one before taking in one last sunrise was beautifully delivered as were her final words before allowing the change to overcome her. She regenerates into David Tennant but it’s not as he is remembered. The costume is different and he’s confused about the whole situation. Answers will eventually be forthcoming so let’s see what the next era of the show looks like starting with a familiar face.
A satisfying conclusion to the Chibnall era with plenty of heart and a strong exploration of what the Doctor represents as an idea. Chris Chibnall takes one of his core weaknesses as a writer/producer and turns it into a strength by crafting a story that is about the Doctor as an idea rather than as a person. The companions are the central focus of the story which does make Jodie Whittaker something of a passenger in her final story but the companion-led narrative works well which mitigates some of the issues. As a story, it’s needlessly convoluted and the Master’s -albeit in character plan- falls apart when any thought is applied to it. Some of the blockbuster elements could have been cut with little impact on the overall story. The Master’s final defeat isn’t as satisfying as it needs to be though Yaz telling him why he’ll never be the Doctor works well. Sacha Dhawan is a delight as always in this role. The use of the hologram to allow the returning companions final moments with their Doctors was a nice touch and Tegan’s interaction is easy to follow but Ace’s is too esoteric for the meaning to land. The companion support group is a great idea that realistically should have happened long before now but it also creates a support structure for the pattern of behaviour the Doctor will continue to exhibit rather than do anything to try and fix it. The ending of the Doctor/Yaz relationship is beautifully handled with Mandip Gill enhancing the moment with an excellent performance. Jodie Whittaker’s regeneration is also handled well; her final words to the TARDIS and her next incarnation work and the shock factor of David Tennant being the face that appears is an engaging setup for the next era.
- crafting a story about the Doctor as an idea and how they impact those they encounter
- Sacha Dhawan’s Master continuing to delight
- Yaz displaying what she has learned in order to save the Doctor and work the problem
- Yaz stating definitively to the Master why he could never be the Doctor
- using the hologram to give returning companions meaningful moments with their Doctors
- returning Doctors fully affirming Jodie Whittaker’s place in the canon and her worth within it
- the companion support group
- Yaz and the Doctor’s wonderfully handled farewell
- Jodie Whittaker’s final words before passing the mantle onto someone else
- unnecessary blockbuster elements
- an incoherent plot
- the Master’s plan making no sense when put under scrutiny
- the Master’s unsatisfying defeat
- Jodie Whittaker being a passenger for a lot of her final story
- Ace’s final moment with her Doctor being too esoteric
- the support group representing a continuation of the damaging pattern of behaviour exhibited by the Doctor
What did you think? Select your rating in the “User Review” box below
User Review( vote)
We’d love to know your thoughts on this and anything else you might want to talk about. You can find us on Facebook and Twitter or just leave a comment in the comment section below. You’ll need an account for Disqus but it’s easy to set up. Don’t forget to share your rating in the “User Review” box
If you want to chat to me directly then I’m on Twitter as well