“The Power of the Doctor” Is an Imperfect Ending to an Imperfect RegenerationPhoto Courtesy of BBC One TV Features Doctor Who
Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor has had a bumpy ride. Starting in 2018 with a season entirely consisting of one-off episodes and all-new monsters, there were some hits with quite a few misses alongside them, and a finale that fell entirely flat due to the lack of momentum. The 13th Doctor’s second season in early 2020 was probably her strongest, with a more compelling overarching story thanks to the introduction of a new Master (Sacha Dhawan) and the revelation that there were more Doctors before who we knew to be the “first doctor.”
Then, thanks to the pandemic making filming difficult, Whittaker and showrunner Chris Chibnall’s final season was shortened, cut from the usual ten episodes down to just six, with the entire season being one massive story. The potential for something like this was huge, but they completely dropped the ball, with convoluted A, B, and C-stories adding up to something that didn’t make much sense and wasn’t exciting even when it did.
Two specials later, and we arrive at “The Power of the Doctor,” the final episode for both Whittaker and Chibnall before we see the temporary return of the 10th Doctor (David Tennant) and the more permanent return of Russell T. Davies, Doctor Who’s showrunner from 2005 to 2010, what many consider to be the “golden years” of the series’ revived era.
Add to that the fact that this is a massive 90-minute special which serves as the 300th story since its revival in 2005, and that it’s set to celebrate the BBC’s 100th anniversary, and expectations for the special were rightfully sky-high. Sadly, while all these elements certainly make it an exciting time to be a Doctor Who fan, the episode itself adds too much to be a cohesive send-off to the 13th Doctor.
The episode starts in a weird way out of the gate, with Dan Lewis (John Bishop) abruptly leaving the series before the episode really gets started, which seems to me like a result of scheduling conflicts. After experiencing a brush with death while fighting the CyberMasters on a train in space, Dan decides that he’d rather keep his life than risk it fighting with the Doctor and says a quick goodbye. You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who says Dan is their favorite companion, especially since he’s only been a part of the crew for four total stories (although one was the aforementioned six-parter), but it’s still a weird start.
Fortunately for the Doctor, we see the return of multiple companions from the past, particularly the ‘80s. I’ll admit I haven’t seen any of Doctor Who from this era, but given as the ‘80s were when Doctor Who’s waning popularity forced it off the air for 16 years, it seems like an odd choice to draw nostalgia from. Tegan Jovanka (Janet Fielding) and Ace (Sophie Aldred) don’t add much to the episode’s plot either, and both actors’ performances have some of the worst acting I’ve seen in Doctor Who… probably since the hammy performances of the classic series.
It’s a good episode for cameos, though, since we also see brief performances from the Fifth (Peter Davison), Sixth (Colin Baker), Seventh (Sylvestor McCoy), and Eighth (Paul McGann) Doctors, although the majority are mostly here for the fan service and not particularly because they remain phenomenal actors.
Even though the episode is 90 minutes, there are so many elements to it that no one part gets enough time for it to be a fully fleshed out story. The Doctor is facing a triple threat of the Daleks, CyberMasters, and The Master, with the last one by far being the highlight of the episode. The Master has always had more than a few screws loose, but Dhawan brings a particularly chaotic, Joker-like energy, and it’s great to see him back after more than two years since his last appearance. The best part of the entire special, aside from the final teaser, is the Master dancing to “Rasputin” after taking on the historical figure’s identity.
The CyberMasters and the Master work well enough together, with the former taking on UNIT’s headquarters as the latter leads them on, but the side-story with the Daleks seems completely out of place and unnecessary. A rogue Dalek meets with the Doctor harboring secrets of how to destroy the Daleks, while the rest of them hide in volcanoes across the world in order to blow up the Earth. It’s almost entirely unconnected from the rest of the plot and adds a lot to the episode’s general incohesiveness and confusion.
“The Power of the Doctor” isn’t horrible, and it’s far from Whittaker’s worst outings. Unfortunately, however, with the meandering plot of the past season, there wasn’t much Doctor Who could do to give this regeneration her proper send-off, and so the result seemed to be cramming as many baddies into the story as possible while also stuffing it with fan service. In addition to all the previously mentioned appearances, there are also cameos from legacy companions Ian Chesterton (William Russell), Jo Jones (Katy Manning), and Melanie Bush (Bonnie Langford), as well as a brief return of 13th Doctor companion Graham O’Brien (Bradley Walsh).
The result isn’t a complete trainwreck, but still a slightly disappointing and underwhelming finale to a series that many have felt has fallen off under the direction of Chibnall. Fortunately, there’s still a lot of hope for Doctor Who’s future, as we’re seeing the return soon of some of the series’ best talent in the form of Tenant and Davies. It’s just a shame that the 13th Doctor didn’t get the proper send-off she was due.
Joseph Stanichar is a freelance writer who specializes in videogames and pop culture. He’s written for publications such as Game Informer, Twinfinite and Looper. He’s on Twitter @JosephStanichar.
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