The Power of the Doctor

Posted in Episode by - October 24, 2022
The Power of the Doctor

Aired 23 October 2022


And so ‘The Power of the Doctor’ by Chris Chibnall brings to a close the era of Jodie Whittaker’s Thirteenth Doctor, an incarnation initially heralded with such enthusiasm for being the first female and who proved the virtues of optimism and unity over and over again as she traveled with her adopted fam and continued to right unspeakable wrongs. While some of the writing and the overall darker tone of several episodes within this era certainly garnered some backlash, and while the extended supporting cast often meant that the Doctor herself could not focus as much as might have been expected, there is no denying that the ambition and scale on display have rarely been more grandiose. Given the tremendous upheaval of the entire filming industry- and life in general- that the pandemic caused which resulted in an unpredictable schedule that took some momentum away but that also delivered the unique and bold Flux serial, this is an era that has had to meet and overcome incredible challenges and expectations, and so it’s fitting that the final episode of the Thirteenth Doctor is tasked not just with celebrating this iteration of the beloved Time Lord but also with celebrating the centenary of the BBC given the profound importance Doctor Who has held for the company for nearly sixty years.

On lists of the most iconic and dangerous foes within Doctor Who, the Daleks, the Cybermen, and the Master will almost always be in the top three spots, and Chibnall ambitiously brings in all three following an impressive visual reminder of the power of the Cybermasters who hold the power of regeneration to continue their onslaught. Unfortunately, it’s this setting in which the Doctor fails to rescue a young girl the Cybermasters were determined to retrieve that proves to Dan that this life is not for him despite the truly amazing experiences he has had. John Bishop is as charismatic as ever in his brief scenes and shows the strong chemistry Dan has developed with the Doctor and Yaz during his tenure aboard the TARDIS, but his departure is a stark reminder of the fluidity of the programme and just how dangerous the Doctor’s adventures are and the incredible lengths she asks her friends to go to in order to help her worthy cause. It’s hardly the most emotional or profound departure for a companion, however, with no real foreshadowing other than this being a regeneration episode, and sadly he is not involved in any sort of Earthbound affairs after leaving to show how the Doctor’s legacy can persist within individuals. Still, the empathy and incisiveness Dan has shown since his introduction make him an enduring companion who will assuredly be remembered, but the celebratory nature and need to essentially wipe the slate clean by episode’s end does sadly mean that Dan is all but forgotten here.

Of course, Chris Chibnall originally insisted that his era would feature no returning foes or nostalgia, a mandate that has changed decidedly over his tenure, and he goes all in for ‘The Power of the Doctor’ by bringing back Fifth Doctor companion Tegan and Seventh Doctor companion Ace in prominent roles. While it’s never explicitly stated why these two in particular have returned given the lengthy list of companions the Doctor has had over the years, it’s incredibly satisfying to see that former companions have reached out to each other and are continuing to take an interest in the mysterious and unexplained. Naturally, Big Finish with its incredible library of audio adventures has allowed for an immense amount of exploration of these beloved characters during and after their time with the Doctor, but for those who simply enjoy the televised adventures, this is a remarkable moment that brilliantly showcases the enduring pride of traveling with the Doctor but that also touches upon the simmering remorse and anger that some former companions can feel given the Doctor’s propensity to not visit friends. Tegan and Ace were two of the most strong-willed companions of the classic era and certainly butted heads with the Doctor on more than one occasion, and Janet Fielding and Sophie Aldred expertly capture the drive and determination of their beloved characters as Tegan follows up on missing seismologists and Ace tries to discover why so many famous paintings across the globe have been taken down for restoration at the same time. And although there is strangely no mention of A Charitable Earth for Ace, her donning her classic jacket and going after Daleks with a baseball bat and Nitro-999 is a perfect nod to her past, as is Tegan having to confront the Master who killed her aunt as well as the Cybermen who were responsible for the loss of Adric so long ago. Indeed, the Master playing upon Tegan’s sense of nostalgia by leaving her a Cyberman figurine that eventually acts as a Trojan horse to allow an invasion of UNIT expertly brings disparate storylines together and allows Tegan a truly heroic moment as Kate Stewart’s stalwart belief in the Doctor and willingness to sacrifice herself to buy time likewise highlight this character’s implicit bravery.

Just as profound as the return of certain companions, however, is the return of certain past incarnations of the Doctor as the Master’s incredible scheme to- essentially- steal the Doctor’s body by a forced regeneration using the amassed conversion power of the Cybermasters and the natural power of a rare being of sentient energy that the Doctor saw as the young girl at the episode’s beginning. The Master seemingly pays homage to the Eric Roberts incarnation alongside the Eighth Doctor both in scheme and panache in dressing for the occasion, but the haphazard conglomeration of Doctor accessories he dons following a terrifying “I am the Doctor” in celebration- including a question mark vest, long multicoloured scarf, celery stalk, and recorder- is only a tease of just how important past Doctors will be to this celebration. Although again it is not explained just why the First, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, and Eighth incarnations are chosen to guide and support the Thirteenth Doctor as she approaches the possible end of her life, the combined impact on this Doctor in undeniable, just as Tegan interacting with the Fifth and Ace with the Seventh through a hologram interface proves to be in offering each a sense of closure. It is something of an odd choice even with explanation to have the fifth through eighth incarnations aged to match the actors’ true age, but the underlying emotion is incredible and a fitting tribute to those beloved incarnations and to Doctor Who as a whole that makes the most of David Bradley, Peter Davison, Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy, and Paul McGann in the brief allotted time. Even Jo Martin’s Fugitive Doctor makes a brief appearance by hologram to allow the Thirteenth Doctor to return victoriously, a quick nod to unquestionably the most controversial narratives as the Timeless Child and regeneration energy of the Cybermasters unite. Whether this was all planned long in advance or not, it’s a nice dovetailing of the shocking journeys both the Doctor and the Master have been on in recent years and provides a fitting closure to the- for better or for worse- ambitious and fearless storytelling of Chris Chibnall.

The Master of this era is very much a return to form following the immensely intriguing redemption arc of Missy, and that does mean that here he is prone to overcomplicated plans and unnecessarily flashy gestures. Perhaps most confusingly here is why he insists on being incarcerated within UNIT since he already has his Cybermen in place who act of their own accord, and both the cloning of Ashad- except to again provide a nod to another earlier storyline- and even the brief glimpses of him as Rasputin just over a century ago don’t really add too much to this story. Indeed, it’s surprising that the Master hasn’t taken on the guise of Rasputin previously given this historic figure’s purported abilities, and including that idea here seems like something of a missed opportunity for something far more impactful in a dedicated storyline. Nonetheless, Sacha Dhawan is immense in this role throughout, instilling a genuine sense of danger and insanity to his performance that suggests absolutely nothing is off limits to this Master who has no compunction killing everyone- all of Earth included- to get what he wants. The Master is a survivor if anything, however, and so it’s fitting that he is the ultimate cause for the Doctor’s regeneration at the very moment the Doctor can finally let out a sigh of relief as she regains control of her body, frees the alien energy, and destroys the conversion planet, adding another dramatic element to this unending rivalry that continues to increase its stakes.

Like some of the Master’s plan, ‘The Power of the Doctor’ as a whole is littered with conveniences and elements that ultimately prove superfluous in order to give a grander sense of celebration. Why the Daleks have never before infiltrated the TARDIS by hologram to deliver a message to the Doctor is not mentioned, and although the Daleks drilling into the Earth is a fitting nod to the Daleks’ earlier onscreen adventures that even the Master references with the name of his own plan, the sudden appearance of Graham armed with nothing but psychic paper as Ace arrives underground with bat in hand is a bit too far-fetched and strains credulity. Worse, however, is the absence of Ryan altogether due to Tosin Cole’s other obligations, and that gaping hole in the Doctor’s fam without even a pre-recorded segment is even more notable given the inclusion of Vinder who ultimately adds relatively little to the plot except to provide a certain bluntness against the Master that Yaz would not. To be sure, Bradley Walsh and Jacob Anderson are incredibly charismatic with their performances that expertly recapture the spirit of their characters to bring further cohesion to the Thirteenth Doctor’s life as a whole, but having both somewhat superficially involved in the plot rather than simply as part of the farewells as past companions have been for recent Doctors’ swansongs feels somewhat forced even if allowing for a bit more rounding out of where each is at this point. Much more successful, however, even if again why specific characters for the scene were chosen remains unknown, is the support and talking group composed of previous companions with Graham, Dan, and Yaz now included. The images are fleeting, but seeing the likes of Ian, Jo, and Mel is a brilliant touch that shows again just how powerful the influence of the Doctor remains even decades later.

Despite remarkable odds given the incredible amount of plotlines and characters present, the Doctor and Yaz very much remain in focus throughout, however, and provide a fitting end to their time together that culminates spectacularly with one final ice cream while sitting atop the TARDIS above Earth. Yaz is the only companion to have been present throughout the entire life of a Doctor, and while the feelings that spilled out in the previous episode do not overtly focus here, both Jodie Whittaker and Mandip Gill convey an incredible amount of emotion into each and every line and scene. Yaz is at her finest and most determined when her best friend seems lost to the Master’s scheme, steadfastly refusing to give up or to back down from the enemy. It’s a testament to the character and just how much her implicit bravery and resolve has flourished since joining the Doctor’s fam, cementing her place on the long list of incredible companions and proving alongside so many others in this episode just how incredible the power of the Doctor truly is. And, truly, it is Whittaker who stands above everyone else, giving a powerful performance that will leave an enduring mark on Doctor Who. With a hologram protocol in place that is much more acutely aware and interactive than previous iterations glimpsed, the Doctor is able to assist even in seeming death, and her compassion, fortitude, and optimism are on full display even as the situation continues to become more dire. Whittaker also impressively delves into the forlorn and rageful at times as is befitting of a response to the Master’s audacity, allowing the Thirteenth Doctor to somehow always remain in control and to end her tenure on an impressive high. ‘The Power of the Doctor’ as a whole is undoubtedly filled with much more than is necessary, but its ability to interweave narrative threads and to satisfyingly bring in so much of the past of Doctor Who while still allowing Whittaker and Gill to feature so prominently and successfully is a remarkable feat and ends a tumultuous era that had to navigate the pandemic with a brilliant episode and an immensely intriguing regeneration into a familiar face for the sixtieth anniversary celebrations in 2023.

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