Julien Neaves, Sci Fi Head Writer
The era of Jodie Whittaker’s Thirteenth Doctor on long-running British Sci Fi series Doctor Who came to an end last month with the epic, nostalgia-heavy BBC centenary special The Power of the Doctor. And it capped off the most divisive run in Modern Who.
For me, the first two series saw the Thirteenth Doctor struggling with mostly mediocre writing and inept series plotting by showrunner Chris Chibnall, the occasional bright spot notwithstanding. But the truncated series The Flux and the subsequent specials saw a massive improvement in quality, though it rarely attained the heights of the best of Who. Which brings us to The Power of the Doctor special. And love it or loathe, no one can deny that Chibnall and company did not go all out with the final adventure. With a wibbly wobbly timey wimey SPOILER ALERT let’s dive in with my review in four regeneration blasts:
Regeneration Blast #1 Old Friends and Old Selves
It took me all of two years to watch every episode of Classic Who (including the audio reconstructions) and it is a journey I thoroughly enjoyed. And for fans of the Classic era like myself there was a whole lot of fan service to be had with The Power of the Doctor. Like A LOT. And I am definitely not complaining. We have the return of two of my favourite Classic era companions, the bat swinging, bomb-loving, leather jacket wearing spitfire Ace aka Dororthy (Seventh Doctor), and spunky, opinionated former flight attendant Tegan Jovanka (Fourth and Fifth Doctors). I enjoyed seeing Ace lay the smack down on some Dalek behind, flirt with Graham and have a touching reunion with the Seventh Doctor aka The Professor, which I definitely did not expect. Tegan was not as well utilised, though I presume pitting her against the Cybermasters was meant to be revenge for former companion Adric’s death in Earthshock (though it was his own arrogance that caused it, not the Cybermen directly).
While Ace and Tegan appeared in the trailers for the special, they were not the only companions to make a protracted return. The ex-companions club gave us Sixth and Seventh Doctor companion Melanie “Mel” Bush (best remembered for her bright red hair and penchant for screaming), super sweet and fashionable Third Doctor companion Jo Jones (nee Grant), and in the biggest surprise of all one of the very first companions, intelligent and resourceful retired teacher Ian Chesterton. I felt like a kid in a candy store in this scene, and with all these returning characters it almost felt like it was the 60th anniversary special and not the centenary special.
And speaking of feeling like the 60th, we also had not one, but FOUR returning Classic Doctor incarnations, namely the Fifth, Sixth, Seventh and Eighth. I thought the combination of the manifestations of previous selves and the holographic device was a clever way to bring back these Doctors without the use of time travel, or the Doctor randomly switching incarnations like in the detestable non-canon special Dimensions in Time. If you’ve seen The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot comedy spoof this felt like a spiritual successor, though more serious.
And while I enjoyed seeing all Doctors, including the Fifth and Seventh with Tegan and Ace respectively, I was most excited to see Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor. On my list of Doctors who need to return he was number one, so I was pleased as punch that he made his third onscreen appearance (the first being the ill-conceived Doctor Who movie and the second The Night of the Doctor mini-sode). I was hoping to see him in the 60th anniversary and in a bigger role but if that does not happen, seeing him here still made me happy.
Regeneration Blast #2 A Tale as Old as Time
While the nostalgic elements were enjoyable, the story itself is a bit of a mess. With the Master, Cybermasters, Daleks, energy alien Qurunx, multiple time periods, defaced paintings, missing seismologists, a cyber planet, the threat of volcanoes, and returning Classic companions and Modern allies (whew!), there is just way too much going on and it is barely tied together. I feel Chibnall wanted something at the scale of Russel T. Davies’ The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End but lacked the skill to effectively pull it off and balance everything. All the things happening just seem to be an excuse to have the characters do something. And some of the things were kind of dumb, including Ace and Graham being inside a live volcano with no protection and Kate Stewart surrendering so easily to the Cybermasters.
I also have to give Chibnall a strike for not actually paying off any of his previously set up major storylines. Sure, the Fugitive Doctor returns (and always lovely seeing Jo Martin’s version) but we still do not know conclusively where she falls in the Doctor’s incarnations. There is zero mention of the Timeless Child and Division. And the galaxy shattering impact at the end of the Flux seems all but forgotten. I’m sorry, but you setup all these lore-shaking storylines and then leave them pretty much hanging. That’s not fair to the fans nor to the show Mr Chibnall. Not fair at all.
Regeneration Blast #3 The Master and the Doctor
While the story is a bloated, convoluted mess, I did enjoy Sacha Dhawan’s return as the terribly unhinged, Joker-esque Master. He seems to be having quite a blast here and he keeps the energy high. Sure, his plan to become the Doctor is weird, but then again John Simm’s Master once turned almost everyone in the world into him. So yeah, this cracked plan is on brand for the villain. And I doubt any fan will forget his Rasputin dance any time soon. That boy so crazy. With his version of the Master dying at the end of the episode it is unlikely he will return, but he definitely left his mark on the iconic character.
But while I have always enjoyed Dhawan’s take on the Master, Jodie Whittaker’s Thirteenth Doctor has been a mixed bag, rising and falling based on the quality of the particular script. Thankfully, the writing here for her is some of the best from Chibnall, allowing Whittaker to deliver her best acting yet. And I was glad they didn’t double down on the aborted romance between her and Yaz, because that never worked for me and just felt awkward. Instead, we got a truly touching, beautiful farewell and a regeneration scene with one hell of a performance. Really good stuff and a fitting goodbye.
Regeneration Blast #4 The Fourteenth Doctor?!
And speaking of the regeneration scene, I was not surprised that Whittaker turned into David Tennant as multiple sites and fans had already spoilt it before I watched the episode. I have mixed feelings about Tennant as the Fourteenth Doctor though. He is the most popular Modern Doctor (personally he’s my second favourite after Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor) so I can understand why they brought him back. But he already had three series and a year of specials. Bringing him back for multiple specials feels a little like overkill. I think seeing Ncuti Gatwa in the role earlier or even the Eighth Doctor would have been cool. Of course, I am still going to watch the specials and I have faith Tennant and Russel T. will knock it out of the park. It just would not be my preference.
But returning to The Power of the Doctor, I found it to be a mix of highs and lows. An entertaining, fan-servicing episode with a strong regeneration ending, but one that could have been tighter, more satisfying and more cohesive.
Score: 6.5 out of 10
So that’s my review. How would you rate The Power of the Doctor? And you can check out more wibbly wobbly, timey wimey content below:
Julien “Editor Jules” Neaves is a TARDIS-flying, Force-using Trekkie whose bedroom stories were by Freddy Krueger, learned to be a superhero from Marvel, but dreams of being Batman. I love promoting Caribbean film (Cariwood), creating board games and I am an aspiring author. I say things like “12 flavours of awesome sauce”. Read more.