This surely wins the prize of the Doctor Who episode that has the most to do. It’s a celebration of 100 years of the BBC, and therefore has to function in some way as a celebration of the 59 years that Doctor Who has been a part of that. It’s the regeneration story, so it also has to be a celebration of the Jodie Whittaker era, bringing back her previous companions for a final send-off. Part of that celebration also involves bringing back previous enemies from her era: Sacha Dhawan’s Master, the uninspiring Ashad and the frankly embarrassing Cybermen/Time Lord hybrid things. There are Daleks and Cybermen, and UNIT is represented by Kate Stewart, working at a new UNIT headquarters. The other Doctor who was created as part of the Chris Chibnall era, which ends here, is also included.
Then there are the magnificent nods to the past of the show: the ones we knew about, and the surprises that made this soppy old fan gasp. Let’s start with Tegan and Ace. I’m not sure that every reunion with an old companion needs to be recriminatory, and the grumpiness turns something that should be a hugely significant moment into something slightly underwhelming. But both of them are well-served by the script, once they have met the Doctor again for the first time. Tegan gets to be incredibly heroic and stubborn, while Ace doesn’t quite seem like Ace until she puts on her jacket, jumps off a building and starts hitting a Dalek with a baseball bat. It’s a triumphant return for both of them, and long overdue. I hope this signifies the start of more frequent reunions with older companions, because it’s a huge amount of fun.
Before we talk about the surprise guest stars, let’s take a moment to recognise how amazing Sacha Dhawan has been as the Master, because this is presumably his swansong as well. It’s a performance that must have been exhausting for the actor, with barely controlled rage and insanity visibly bubbling just beneath the surface all the time. I loved his quips about Auntie Vanessa, and the “Master’s Dalek Plan”, and his dance to Ra Ra Rasputin grabbed the baton from John Simm dancing to I Can’t Decide, and ran with it at double speed. It was very weird and completely wonderful. And of course the Master’s scheme to beat all schemes would be to literally become the Doctor, and then go and cosplay him, with question mark pullover, scarf, recorder and stick of celery. Dhawan has brought a huge amount of fun to his portrayal of the Master, but also surprising subtlety. Look out for the flicker of sadness when he says the Doctor is “gone, really gone, gone forever”. The Master is at his best when he is ruthless but just a bit conflicted about being really, really mean to his old friend.
As a fan who grew up with the classic show, the surprise guest appearances were of course hugely exciting moments. Chris Chibnall found a very clever way to include the older Doctors, but the icing on the cake was the chance it offered to briefly reunite Ace and Tegan with their Doctors. That put something in perspective. It’s great to see older companions returning, but when they are brought back to meet a version of the Doctor who isn’t their own, it doesn’t quite pack the emotional punch that it ought to (unless we’re talking about acting geniuses like David Tennant with Elisabeth Sladen), because you’re reuniting the characters but not the actors. The moments when Tegan came face to face with Five and Ace with Seven were electrifying in comparison. There wasn’t time for much to be said, but what was said was perfect. Chibnall is deserving of much praise for managing to pack an emotional punch with so few words. For Tegan, all it needed was this:
“What am I thinking, seeing all these Cybermen?”
Then we had the cherry on the icing on the cake, the support group for old Doctor Who companions. What a beautiful moment. Chris Chibnall’s era has been hit and miss to say the least, but say what you want about his writing, he came good when it really mattered. There have been moments where I have felt like I have been drifting away from my love of this show, during both the Capaldi and Whittaker eras, both of which were often an acquired taste to say the least, but watching The Power of the Doctor made me realise something. Doctor Who is capable of provoking an emotional response in me that no other television show can ever match. There’s something uniquely special about it. As my heart started beating at a million miles an hour, at the sight of a bunch of old people having a chat in a room together, I finally realised something: my love for this show isn’t ever going away, and as the new/old Doctor recognises a familiar set of teeth, my inner child jumps for joy with the excitement of it all. Goodbye Doctor, and welcome back, Doctor Who. RP
The view from across the pond:
When I was a preteen, I read a lot. I enjoyed reading so much that I wrote a story about a hero who is trapped on a gauntlet planet. He went from room to room like that of the Exxilons room in Death to the Daleks. I think I did a passable job with a descriptive story and some fair dialogue, but the problem was I was a kid; I didn’t know how to write stories and I had no idea how to give it depth. It was just one tricky situation after the other. Of course, this was over 40 years ago; I have learned and have grown and that’s important. Interestingly, Chris Chibnall was so sure of his own abilities that in 1986 he publicly criticized writers Pip and Jane Baker for subpar episodes that lacked depth. The issue here is that Chris hasn’t produced anything as good as even the worst of Pip and Jane Baker. Time and the Rani was still miles better than any of Chibnall’s stuff and that’s typically considered the worst of their work. (Although when it aired, I loved it!)
The latest installment of the Chris Chibnall era is another example of his spaghetti approach. He believes if he “throws everything at the wall without any need of logical storytelling, something is bound to work”. Law of averages say that’s probably true but boy does he throw logic to the wind! The plot is more sophomoric than my own story from my childhood. There are gaps in the storytelling that make me angry: there’s no segway from the Doctor being on the roof of a train while nearly floating off into space, to the next scene as she and her fam enter the train. The Master gets handcuffed from behind, but the very next scene shows him handcuffed up front. I mean, we’re talking during the same minute here, he’s shown marched away, hands behind his back, to entering the TARDIS with his hands in front of him! There’s an explosion that nearly destroys a building only for the Master, who was left behind, to get up and stagger away, then appear in a TARDIS on another planet. How was that then? Tegan falls down a shaft and nothing is said about how she survived…. These are all things that make me irate with Chibnall because: STOP RUINING DOCTOR WHO!!
But then he surprises me and I realized that The Power of the Doctor isn’t about the plot. You can throw the Master and Cybermen, and Daleks, and Rasputin into a mix and still have fun because this episode is a love letter to a series that’s full of wonder, amazement, silliness, heroism, joy and friendship. Maybe it’s best embodied by the Master who always “dresses for the occasion” (a nice tribute to Eric Roberts’ Master) when he dons Troughton’s pants, Baker’s scarf, McCoy’s jumper, and a stick of celery in the lapel while still wearing Jodie’s coat. It’s a tribute to all that the series was and could still be. It reminds us that Doctor Who has always been silly, fully of wacky plots yet we tuned in time and again because it was about something else too. It was about people doing the right thing in the face of the most dreadful danger. You can “silly that up” however you want, but when it comes down to it, it’s not the threat that has to make sense. It’s the idea that friends will stand by one another and save the day because that’s The Power of the Doctor. That’s what the Doctor does: he or she makes us better people.
And I am not ashamed to tell you, I choked up more times than I ever did over a Doctor Who episode. When the Doctor was on the cusp of regenerating only to find David Bradley as the First Doctor, I was giddy and a bit teary eyed. Bradley makes a great First Doctor. To see him then transform into Colin Baker, Peter Davison, Sylvester McCoy and Paul McGann… I felt all of that childhood energy bursting through me like a regeneration waiting to happen. (The fact that Jo Martin does not appear here, I found very interesting. I’m still hoping RTD comes in and fixes the errors Chibnall caused! Her later appearance is simply as a hologram and I think that’s a really hopeful sign!)
Where I almost burst into a full-fledged torrent of tears was when Peter Davison, in his classic attire, addressed Tegan about their past… whoa! “I never forget any of you!” Even the reference to Adric got me! I rarely liked Adric, but this almost made me cry like I’d just been reminded of the death of a family member! Then when Ace was confronted with her Doctor and she tells him, “you never failed me, Professor.” Their dialogue was lovely and offers a chance for them to reconcile for any bad blood between them. All I can say is, even watching these clips for this review had tears welling up in my eyes.
The arrival of Graham was another delight and the epilogue offers one more burst of amazing. A tearful goodbye to Yaz with a stunning image of them sitting together on top of the TARDIS is countered by the extremely joyful reunion of classic era companions: Mel Bush, Jo Grant, and Ian Chesterton (97, at the time of filming this, God bless the man!) I felt like I was a child all over again. Good lord, did I need this! And then there’s the final OMG-moment where the Doctor regenerates. As her clothes started to change with her, I started to comment aloud how idiotic that was but rather than seeing the new Doctor, I saw David Tennant who was equally stunned by the change of clothes as much as by his own return… I have never been more excited for Doctor Who to return.
I remember the excitement I had when the 50th anniversary was approaching. I have that same excitement again. Is Chibnall a good writer? I would say categorically no. But was he able to pull a victory out at the last minute? Without a doubt. Was this episode good? For what it did to my excitement, I’d say it was better than good. To borrow a phrase, I’d say it was ACE! ML