The Power of the Doctor brings the Thirteenth Doctor’s story to a close with an epic love letter to Doctor Who history
And here we come to the end at last. As of the final moments of The Power of the Doctor, Jodie Whittaker’s time in the TARDIS, and showrunner Chris Chibnall’s Doctor Who reign, are over. It’s been one of the most tumultuous times in the show’s history, both on screen and behind the camera. While wild changes of direction every few years had been pretty much the norm during the 20th century, under Davies and Moffat the first ten series of 21st century Who had felt very much all of one piece. So the Thirteenth Doctor’s era represented either a reinvigorating shot in the arm or a disorientating change of pace. It all depends on your point of view.
But it’s undeniable that it brought a whole new look, a whole new type of storytelling, and a whole new way of looking at the Doctor herself. All this while in the last few years dealing with a global pandemic. And with it, the unprecedented production challenges it presented. All in all, this final episode had a lot on its shoulders. Perhaps more than any regeneration story before it. It was expected to sum up not just Jodie Whittaker’s incarnation, but her companions too. And, as well, Chibnall’s entire ethos for the show, and the twisting storylines of the past few years. And did it succeed? Bloody hell, did it!
If there’s one thing about this episode, it’s that you never know what’s coming next from moment to moment. But along the way, it’s one amazing ride.
Tonight’s special provided a worthy end to Jodie Whittaker’s time in the role
Jodie Whittaker herself has been on the greatest strengths of this whole era. She’s somehow managed to be a freewheeling ball of puppy dog energy, and one of our most sombre, reflective, Time Lords yet. Few of her predecessors had taken on so much pressure either. Being the first woman to play the Doctor meant she wasn’t just representing herself and her own abilities as an actor, but an entire concept. Ultimately she proved just how well a female Doctor would work. Moreover, she did it while providing a real grace in her interactions with young fans and the public. Ironically, in an era full of epic destruction at an epic scale, and glamorous locations, for many the highlight will be Whittaker, in costume, recording herself on a phone in her own cupboard to send a message of hope and comfort during lockdown.
One of the main requirements, then, for tonight’s special was to give her a worth send-off. All of the trailers certainly made it look like we were in for ninety minutes of high emotion and powerhouse acting from Whittaker as she faced a trio of overwhelming threats and stood on the edge of everything she loved.
Jodie Whittaker can proudly bow out having provided her best performance yet
Her time in the TARDIS has seen Jodie Whittaker dance on the head of a pin, from hijinks to raw emotion. But The Power of the Doctor brings her performance to a whole new level. Embattled on all sides, facing the worst possible fate one can imagine, and with old companions, enemies, and multiple apocalypses fired at her from all directions, the Doctor is pushed to her very limits here, and beyond. And every inch of it shows on Whittaker’s face. This is one gargantuan, even sprawling, episode. And she’s even, technically, dead for about half of it. But Whittaker’s always in full command of the action, the focus of each story beat. It’s a masterful performance (well, so to speak) which reminds us that Whittaker was one of the most respected dramatic actors of her generation before Doctor Who.
When called upon to deliver by a script at this level, she never disappoints. And, whatever she does next after an exit like this, Who fans are sure to follow her there.
Even at ninety minutes, it’s an episode packed with plotlines dancing here, there and everywhere
The Power of the Doctor also contends with the sheer number of balls it throws into the air, only adding to the considerable number already up there. Almost half of this Doctor’s time on screen was devoted, to one extent or another, to the mystery of the Doctor’s past. At the end of Flux she regains the fob watch holding all her old memories of working for Division but makes the conscious choice not to pursue them. Ultimately here that’s almost completely ignored.
There’s a fan pleasing cameo by Jo Martin, to be sure, but any hope that the Doctor’s past as the Timeless Child would be further explained goes unanswered. For The Vanquishers to really be the final word on that whole plot line feels oddly unsatisfying. Though we can look ahead for it being fertile ground for novelists and Big Finish writers in the decades ahead, even if Davies lets it lie.
Inevitably, the Master’s very presence reduces even the greatest villains to the role of henchmen
We also get the Master. the CyberMasters, Ashad, the Daleks, the return of Ace and Tegan… it’s safe to say there’s a lot going on in The Power of the Doctor. Answers to how on Gallifrey some of them are even alive are functional at best. Certainly with the Master that’s almost a given, with his “attention to detail,” his only explanation. But the one line explanation of Ashad’s return is a little disappointing, while the character also lacks a lot of the sadistic bite that made him such a memorable villain before.
Similarly, the Daleks here are rather generic henchmonsters for the Master, who needn’t really have been Daleks at all. Splitting the action across two time zones, London in 2022 and Russia in 1916, doesn’t really add anything but a bit of colour, and the 1916 scenes could have just as easily been set in 2022 too. But, perhaps that’s reason enough.
With so many returning companions and villains, it’s unfortunately Dan who draws the short straw, screen time wise
One aspect that certainly feels poorly served in the end is poor Dan. Introduced just nine episodes ago, he gets squeezed out of the action early on. Always more of a catalyst for the storylines of other characters, Dan’s probably one of the real victims of the changes covid required for Series Thirteen. It’s easy to imagine that if wasn’t for the reduced episode count, and compacted storytelling of Flux, we’d have at least one more Dan-centric episode. As it is, as lovely a character as he was, he never really got a chance to shine. And with so much else going on, The Power of the Doctor doesn’t redress the balance.
His early exit and the manner of his return in the final scenes, does lend a lovely acknowledgement of the nature of travelling with the Doctor and, even more importantly, the nature of quitting. “It’s stopped being fun,” as Tegan herself once said. Even in the context of this review, these closing scenes are too good to spoil, so Blogtor Who won’t be specific. But suffice to say that for Blogtor, amid all the action and goodbyes, it was that surprise aspect of the finale that caused him to unexpectedly choke up and shed a tear. And if you haven’t seen it yet, stop reading this and go now!
Much more than just a pair of cameos, Ace and Tegan are a fundamental part of a story about saying goodbye to the Doctor
Between Dan’s subplot, and the return of Ace and Tegan this is at least a story about coming in terms with saying goodbye to the Doctor. There’s so much else going on, it never becomes the focus of the episode, as with School Reunion. But being able to say that that part of your life was good, and important, and beautiful, but now it’s over, is a subtle undercurrent right through the various subplots. Not just for former companions saying goodbye to the Doctor, but for the Doctor saying goodbye to themselves.
There’s a surprise conceit used in The Power of the Doctor, which allows for truly beautiful moments between the Doctor and her former companions. Especially for Ace, who finally, finally gets to say goodbye to her Professor on screen. It’s such a lovely little trick Chris Chibnall has conceived that, again, we won’t spoil it here. But if anyone ever had doubts about the iron curtain of secrecy around Chibnall’s BBC production office, tonight’s episode proves that at least sometimes, that approach really does pay off.
But that would all falter is Ace and Tegan weren’t absolutely the women we remember. Ace is gutsy and brave, and with her emotions running close to the surface. Tegan is endearingly spiky and ready to call the Doctor, any Doctor, on their nonsense. They’re absolutely, completely, them.
But what of Yaz? The only companion ever to stay right through for a Doctor’s first story until their last. Satisfyingly wrapping up the Thasmin relationship was another of the great challenges The Power of the Doctor set itself. By the end of Legend of the Sea Devils, the Doctor and Yaz had admitted their feelings not just to themselves but to each other. Yet this Doctor’s compulsive secrecy still created a wall between them. The Doctor’s been told, by Time no less, that she’s soon going to die. But she’s neither told Yaz, nor felt she can move forward with their relationship when her doom is closing in.
The ending of their love story is surprisingly tepid, unfortunately. On Yaz’s part at least, we get to see the extreme and heroic lengths she’ll go to save the Doctor. And at that level, this is a story all about Yaz’s incredible, indestructible, love for the Doctor. The woman whom she’ll do absolutely anything for, no matter the danger or the cost. But there’s no Bad Wolf Bay scene here, no real sense of the pain and the tragedy of them being torn apart from each other. In fact, they’re both almost casual about it. Almost as if they’ve read in Doctor Who Magazine there’s a new showrunner incoming and it’s simply time to make room for new characters.
And then finally, inevitably, we come to the tears. It’s a scene destined to be replayed over and over again. One which will take its place in Doctor Who history, edited into montages of the Doctor’s regenerations from here until the end of time. The regeneration. The final words. The inconsolable blubbing on couches across the world.
And then, once more, equally inevitably, the thrill, the quickening of the heartbeat. The first words. The new Doctor.
This time out, there’s much less emphasis on the notion of regeneration as a death scene. Instead, as perhaps it should be, it’s almost celebratory. The Thirteenth Doctor might be going, but this isn’t the Doctor’s death. Rather it’s a victory over death. A celebration of life. That’s rather lovely.
As for our new Doctor, it’s easy sometimes to forget how insulated more casual viewers are from the minutiae a reader of a site like this is exposed to. Blogtor Who’s wife life literally almost fell off the couch in a mix of excitement and surprise at the final moments of tonight’s episode. And that feels like a very good sign for next year’s 60th anniversary.
Goodbye Jodie Whittaker, hello…
It’s the end of an era. The start of one too. As a wise man once said, everything ends and it’s always sad, but everything begins again, too. And that’s always happy. Jodie Whittaker gave us one of the most breathlessly exciting, unpredictable, and ground-breaking eras of Doctor Who’s six decades. And when Doctor Who is one of the most exhilarating, astonishing, and brilliant shows in a century of the BBC, that’s saying something.
The new era starts here, and the page turns again. Who knows what will happen next? Russell T Davies may be a returning showrunner but don’t mistake him for someone predictable. Anyone who has followed his post-Doctor Who work (well, post the first time) knows he’s a writer who never keeps still. While Ncuti Gatwa looks set to explode onto our screens and into our hearts with the force of an atomic bomb. If you think you know what’s coming, you don’t. If you think it’s going to be spectacular. Well, Blogtor Who wouldn’t bet against you.
Everything begins again. Be happy.
Doctor Who returns in November 2023 for three 60th Anniversary specials