Doctor Who: The Power of the Doctor review – A satisfying finale to an erratic 4-year chapter
Despite an abundance of distractions, Jodie Whittaker and Mandip Gill remain the throbbing heart of the story.
The Power of the Doctor does not disappoint. It excites. It surprises. It confounds. It confuses. It brings an erratic four-year chapter of this constantly evolving saga to a satisfying close.
Showrunner Chris Chibnall started with a clean slate in 2018, deliberately eschewing the trappings of the past, but bows out on a tsunami of the stuff. His frenetic, 90-minute finale is a prime example of what I call "kitchen-sink" Doctor Who. Here, we see not just ancient foes but antediluvian Doctors and companions – characters that one might expect in an anniversary (the 60th is only next year) but who have been revisited for a special to mark the BBC’s centenary. And let it be noted, The Power of the Doctor is the 300th story since Doctor Who began in 1963.
Despite an abundance of distractions, Jodie Whittaker and Mandip Gill remain the throbbing heart of the story, as the Doctor and Yaz breeze through a rollicking adventure but must prepare for a sorrowful parting. Chibnall’s script pitches the emotion at just the right level for a show like Doctor Who. No love-in. No smooching. Just a convincing display of empathy between two women who accept they can no longer travel together, despite adoring each other as much as the actors playing them clearly do. The composition of the duo, perching on top of the police box gazing at planet Earth, is gorgeous.
Dan (John Bishop) is jettisoned surprisingly early, after the well-staged space-train sequence at the beginning. Halfway into the tale, Graham (Bradley Walsh) pops up inexplicably in a volcano, and Vinder (Jacob Anderson) crashes through a wormhole conveniently close to the seat of the action but sadly has little to contribute. This leaves the special clear for a broadly female line-up of heroes – which works in its favour.
As Kate Stewart, Jemma Redgrave has been a constant since Chibnall introduced her 10 years ago in the Matt Smith episode The Power of Three. She is always welcome. More significantly, Chibnall reintroduces 1980s companions Tegan and Ace after many decades’ absence. For some fans who’ve followed their adventures in the Big Finish audio dramas (I have not), perhaps they’ve never really gone away. It’s delightful to see actors Janet Fielding and Sophie Aldred stepping with apparent ease back into the mother show.
Age has not withered their spirit. Now investigating mysteries of their own volition, Tegan and Ace are stronger, wiser and a shade more humorous. The moment when, after decades, they are reunited with the Doctor as a young woman is priceless. "I think I handled that quite well," shrugs the fractious Tegan. In nods to their heyday, Tegan rolls out her singular cuss "Rabbits!", and Ace is still calling the Time Lord "Professor". More than that, though, they relive their greatest hits. Tegan moves stealthily through an infrastructure evading Cybermen in an echo of the 1982 classic Earthshock, while Ace dons her old bomber jacket and takes a baseball bat to a Dalek, just as she did in 1988's Remembrance of the Daleks.
There will always be an appetite for the Time Lord’s archenemies but, after decades of bluster and defeat, I do wish the baddies could gain one victory. The Daleks and Cybermen remain the lousiest shots in the cosmos and are easily dispatched like coconuts in a shy. I enjoyed how Steven Moffat developed the Master, and showed Missy (brilliant Michelle Gomez) seeking redemption, but under Chibnall, the Master has reverted to the ridiculous; his motivation unclear, his disguises daft.
Why is he bothering to pose as Rasputin with blue eyes and a manky beard in Siberia and St Petersburg in 1916? I remain baffled by the "selective regeneration" that the Master forces upon the Doctor. Is Sacha Dhawan playing a new Doctor, or the Master inside the Doctor’s body and mind? Or both? Sure, he’s an obsessive weirdo and loves dressing up, but now in the middle of a blithering "Master’s Dalek Plan", he has time spare to robe himself in a mishmash of former Doctors’ garb, with accoutrements such as Doctor Two’s recorder and Doctor Five’s lapel celery. Mercifully, we’re spared jelly babies. The air of confusion isn’t helped by the Master’s TARDIS being a minimally re-dressed, relit version of the Doctor’s horrible domain.
I do love the devilish trick he plays on Tegan, though, with the Cyberman figurine in fact being a Russian doll, a "tissue-compressed" but reversible Trojan horse. The attack on UNIT HQ is quite fun if you enjoy a lot of clashing and banging. The Taskforce’s new skyscraper home is an architectural miracle, which can topple into itself, leaving its fleeing personnel safe on the forecourt, merely puffed with dust.
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There are various daft ideas in this special, such as a Dalek being able to breach the TARDIS defences to lay an obvious trap. Why hasn’t this gambit occurred to them before? Because it should not happen. Another is the hologram of the Doctor. We’ve seen versions of this since Christopher Eccleston’s last episode, but here the holo-Doc is a tad too interactive. Why shouldn’t a holo-Doc always appear wherever and whenever to talk their companions through a crisis? It’s playful and forgivable, though – and allows Ace and Tegan to interact with their own Doctors.
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Yes, old Doctors are back in the Whoniverse. What a gift! Not just Jo Martin’s refreshingly strident turn from recent years and David Bradley’s endearing take on the "original" Doctor, but now Peter Davison, Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy and Paul McGann. It’s poignant to see this quarter of venerable gentlemen, their aged countenances glossed over in a throwaway line. All still possess the Doctorly charm. But why these incarnations and not others? Obviously, some of the actors are no longer with us and their parts haven’t been recast, whereas others were unlikely to be asked or are being withheld for the coming 60th.
A further fleeting but incandescent blast from the past comes near the end at the inaugural gathering of a kind of Companions Anonymous. Yaz, Graham and Dan join Kate, Tegan and Ace as well as three other souls whose lives were turned upside down by the Time Lord. Thus, Mel (Bonnie Langford), Jo (Katy Manning) and Ian (William Russell) return to the programme for the first time in (respectively) 35, 49 and a staggering 57 years – representing 1980s, '70s and even '60s Doctor Who. Another gift for this BBC centenary. All-too-quickly glimpsed. And all proving that, across a lifetime and long careers, there’s no resisting the allure and the power of the Doctor.
Read more about Doctor Who:
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