Doctor Who is a ridiculous show. It is inheritly silly that a humanoid alien with two hearts, who ocassionaly regenerates their body, travels time and space in a little blue box. The stories told have been dramatic, serious and even heartbreaking at times but it’s still absurd. That’s part of why it’s such an easy show to fall in love with. The fanbase (or “Whovians” as we’re known) are one of the most passionate of any franchise and our excitement often peaks whenever The Doctor regenerates. There’s a palpable air of explosive tension as the episode approaches, which remains after the episode has aired and The Power of the Doctor is no exception. It features an added layer of hype because it coincides with the hundredth anniversary of the BBC’s founding, so it should be as Doctor Who as the show has ever been.
The feature-length episode sees the Thirteenth Doctor combatting The Master, whose plan involves Daleks,Cybermen and Raputin, although it’s so complex that it requires a PHD to understand. She is assisted by current companion Yasmin as well as former companions Ace and Tegan but the list doesn’t stop there. As an episode designed to celebrate the show and the network it airs on, there was no doubt that there would be cameos and references galore, but they really pulled out all the stops. The first batch of cameos occur shortly after The Master has succeeded in one of his plans many stages – forcing The Doctor to regenerate into him. Seeing actor Sacha Dahwan in the Thirteenth Doctors clothes having stolen her body (and by extention her regeneration cycle) would be thrilling enough but it allows Thirteen’s conciousness to interact with her former lives. (Think Aang in The Last Airbender conversing with former avatars). It allows for a lovely scene where David Badley as The First Doctor praises Thirteen for all she’s done, which should warm even the darkest of hearts. The First Doctor then morphs into his sixth, fifth and seventh forms which were to be expected given the good health of all the actors involved and their continued love for the show. The major cameo here is the presence of Paul McGann asThe Eighth Doctor, which is delightful. His TV movie has held a less than stellar reputation with the fanbase but over the years, people have softened and it feels as if Paul is finally getting the love he always deserved.
The second batch of cameos are equally wonderful. At the conclusion of the episode, Thirteen’s companions Graham, Yasmin and Dan form a former companion support group. In the room are the expected ones – Ace, and Tegan – as well as the semi-expected Jo Grant. However the cherries on top of this nostalgia cake are the appearance of Mel, who acompanied the sixth and seventh Doctors as well Ian Chesterton who was (along with Barbara) the very first companion. Actor William Russell may be 97 years old but he doesn’t look it and it so marvellous to have him involved. The same would have been true of Tom Baker (The Fourth Doctor) had he been well enough to be involved. The cameos were not the only way that the show was celebrated as there were plenty of references for people who knew where to find them. Whilst The Master is The Doctor, he puts together an outfit featuring Ten’s shirt with tie, Seven’s sweater, Thirteen’s coat, Two’s cordorouy trousers, Four’s scarf and Five’s stick of celery. It looks a lot cooler than it sounds. Further, on top of even that, is the presence of The Doctors AI hologram which adopts the physical form most familiar to their companion. It leads to a lovely scene of Tegan with Five and Ace with Seven, which are made all the more wonderful with a couple of iconic lines and a mention of former companion Adric.
This may all sound like gushing about how cool this is for fans but that’s because it kind of is. Proper analysis requires a slightly further dive.
This is still a Christopher Chibnall written episode, which means that his fingerprints are still visible. As lovely as all of those character moments are, the majority of the script is fairly basic. It’s most notable during the opening segment where Thirteen, Yasmin and Dan board a moving space train. It’s especially true of Dan (whose actor John Bishop isn’t a very good actor) but none of Chibnall’s characters have much…character. They are there to tell The Doctor how cool she is and to fawn over her but nothing more. At least Dan didn’t stick around for long and Graham had a semi-arc with Ryan but Yasmin has really gotten the blunt end of the stick. She doesn’t just fawn over The Doctor, she’s in love with her (which is alreaady a tired trope). This wasn’t the intial plan because Yasmin was initially interested in Ryan but that was changed when a section of the online lesbian community began to hope that they would end up together. It’s only truly been present in the Thirteenth series and in these last three episodes. The prior episode Legend of the Sea Devils featured it very explicitly but that episode was filmed last which means that those scenes were written knowing that there was no romantic ending for the two. “Thasmin” (a portmanteau of The Doctor and Yasmin) was a half-assed concept, executed purely to please a subsection of fans with the liklihood being that it would never pay off…which is queerbaiting…which is a really awful thing to do.
There are several contrived aspects that could be focussed on, but if it’s a mostly futile exercise. The AI isn’t ACTUALLY The Doctor which means that Ace and Tegan didn’t truly get closure with The Doctor herself, but it’s closure for them and allows for a couple of nifty scenes. The forced regeneration is never fully explained, but it propels the stakes as high as they’ve ever been and (again) allows for some very neat scenes. The Doctor should probably regenerate quicker than she actually does, but it gives her a final scene with Yasmin which some people will have liked. The biggest contrivance that can be truly critiqued is The Masters Dalek Plan (an in-episode gag, which got a smile). The episode never fully explains it because this Doctor refuses to talk to anyone about anything that matters. She claims that Yasmin is her best friend but this refusal to tell her anything is so cruel it’s a wonder she hasn’t already left. Even as she’s about to regenerate, The Doctor pushes her away for seemingly no reason.
This is the end of an era and in a lot of ways it feels like it. There are grand stakes and countless homages for the fans but it should also work as a series finale…which it doesn’t. One of Chibnall’s biggest issues as a writer is that he can come up with an interesting idea but often won’t fully see it through. There are a couple of dangling plot threads that are unlikely to go explained (a belief that Chibnall himself backed up in a recent interview). The concept of The Timeless Child works in theory, adding a new layer of mystery to an already mysterious character, but it has no resolution. The Fugitive Doctor (allegedly a pre-First Doctor incarnation) is a brilliant idea with an unfortunate placement in The Doctors history which allowed for actress Jo Martin to give a few stand-out performances…but that’s half the issue. She is relegated to a few minor cameos and her backstory is never properly explored on-screen. It is explained in a comic book storyline but that makes it feel like it wasn’t important enough to actually get Jo Martin back on a soundstage for. Then there’s this manic iteration of The Master, whose placement in the timeline is also never explained. Chibnall is all excellent concepts with poor execution and that isn’t missing here, it’s just being overshadowed by the pre-existing characters.
The regeneration itself is stunning. Credit has to be given for allowing Thirteen to regenerate outside which hasn’t been done since the fourth regeneration. It allows for a beautiful setting and a now iconic shot. Even more iconic are her final words which are short, sweet and very Thirteen. One could complain about the camera close-ups (another Chibnall staple) but honestly, it’s so near to perfect that it doesn’t matter. The introduction of the Fourteenth Doctor, however, is perfect. Portrayed by David Tennant, with a call back to the first Tennant Doctor (Number 10), it’s as funny as it is shocking. It can only be speculated why the body chose this face and why the clothes also regenerated but the current hypothesis relies on “forced degeneration gonna do something weird” although I personally would also throw in this being part of the new regeneration cycle. The Eleventh Doctor did warn that it may be a bit unstable.
The Power of the Doctor may have it’s issues but it’s still a delight to watch. As a regeneration episode and celebration of the shows history, it’s excellent and as a moment in that history it is unprecedented. There are thirteen months between now and the airing of the 60th anniversary specials, which are sure to be rife with fan speculation and social media teases. Whilst writing this, the new logo and momenteous pairing of the BBC and Disney+ were announced. It’s difficult not to be excited as a fan. As an underappreciated Doctor once said:
Change, my dear, and not a moment to soon.