Chris Chibnall’s era of Doctor Who has perhaps been the most divisive of the show’s run. Praised by some and despised by others. Whatever you made of the quality of Chinall’s episodes, all Who fans were anxiously awaiting the BBC centenary special, “The Power of the Doctor”, as it marked Jodie Whittaker’s final appearance as the Doctor. The episode promised a lot, claiming to be a celebration of both Chibnall’s era as a whole, as well as one for the BBC’s 100th anniversary. It promised the return of old characters, a farewell for new ones, and a resolution to ongoing stories. But, did it deliver?
The core of this episode revolves around a classic battle between the Doctor and the Master (Sacha Dhawan), as one is determined to destroy the other once and for all. This storyline is probably the best Dhawan’s master is perhaps the best he’s ever been, delivering a genuinely purposeful and terrifying version of him that feels the most threatening of any monster during Whittaker’s run of the show.
And of course, the thirteenth Doctor is nothing without her longest-running companion, Yazmin Khan (Mandip Gill). Yaz’s story in this episode is one to remember, It forces her to confront losing the Doctor to the Master, possibly marking the end of the best time of her life with a woman she loves. She already has an established, strong connection with the Doctor, but it’s her scenes with the Master where she really shines. Despite the strong setup, Chibnall drops the ball at the very end by neglecting a large part of the Doctor and Yaz’s relationship that he’d been explicitly teasing since the specials earlier in the year.
While the Master vs the Doctor is an incredibly engaging story, the episode is bloated with dozens of others, all competing for time. Newly created cyber masters overthrowing unit, led by the lone Cyberman from series 12. Mysterious paintings and earthquakes as well as the return of classic companions Ace (Sophie Aldred) and Tegan (Janet Fielding), and a lone renegade Dalek wanting to destroy its own kind. There’s also, a mysterious artificial planet that has appeared out of nowhere, and Vinder (Jacob Anderson), investigating it alone. All of this is introduced in the first twenty minutes. All of these side-plots are loosely connected, but simultaneously feel like they’re there to artificially pad out the episode. They’re not big or exciting and take you away from the parts of the story that are.
Saying goodbye to John Bishop’s Dan at the very start seemed a misstep too. He tells the Doctor that the adventures have become too much for him and he just wants to live his life. The scene, albeit very short, works mainly due to the chemistry between the pair but it feels as if it comes too soon. Dan is a companion that felt lacking when it came to interactions with the Doctor, and bumping him off at the start of her finale reeks of awful, cruel irony for their relationship so far.
Sadly, another aspect that falls short is the use of the classic companions Ace and Tegan. In any other story, they’d their appearances would be hugely lorded and appreciated, but here they’re just the cherry on top of an already overflowing sundae. Due to the amount happening the pair gets very little screen time and when they do it is to say very little of importance or nostalgia bait catchphrase lines. I couldn’t help feeling slightly cheated that these legacy characters returned and were given so little to do. It would have been better to save them for an episode where they could be of bigger importance and relevance (such as Sarah Jane’s return in series two’s School Reunion), where they’d actually get to do things aside from delivering half-baked, jaded dialogue designed to resonate with fans of the classic era.
Of course, this kind of criticism can apply to most of the extra side plots in this episode. While they aren’t inherently terrible concepts on their own, they don’t get enough time to be fully realised when smashed together into a giant, loosely connected amalgamation. Vinder is an interesting character, returning from Doctor Who: Flux, and one that would be great to see if expanded more in a full episode, but here, he’s in and out, not getting much to do and taking away more screen time from the other interesting characters and plot. This also applies to Ashad, the Lone Cyberman, who makes a reappearance from the 12th season but does next to nothing to resolve his plot.
What’s really disappointing is just how cobbled together the episode seems to be. It felt as if Chris Chibnall decided to throw a bunch of concepts, cameos, and ideas at a wall, desperately hoping something would stick. When he already had something worthwhile there that’s being completely neglected for all the extra padding.
It’s hard not to stop and wonder what this episode could have been if it had trimmed the fat, and used the remainder of that time to flesh out its core cast. Maybe we could have seen more of Dan outside of the first ten minutes. Maybe we’d have gotten an even more satisfying conclusion to Yaz, both as a character and in regard to her relationship with the Doctor. Maybe Chibnall could have even slipped in some resolution for plotlines he started in previous seasons but never finished.
Finally, the episodes end. All good regeneration episodes provide a fitting and poignant end to the doctor, as well as a look toward the future. This is the most important part of the episode and while it may not be a saving grace, it did deliver in terms of surprise and satisfaction setting up the specials in 2023. The Doctor’s final lines were short but sweet, delivered beautifully by Jodie, with one of the most visually appealing regenerations yet.
I’ve been harsh but mostly because it felt like a missed opportunity at times. The episode’s final moments ignited something within me as a long-time Who fan and I can’t wait for what’s to come so I suppose it’s fair to say it did its job. Whatever your feelings on Chibnall’s tenure, the knowledge we have Russell T Davies back at the helm is properly thrilling. He’s someone who adores the show and knows what fans expect. The next era of the Whoverse is bound to be exciting and I can’t wait.