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Doctor Who: The Power of the Doctor

"I guess you could say… mission partially successful?"

This could have been amazing. Big parts of it are. But at the end of the day, it's just... a lot.

And just like that, the eras of both Jodie Whittaker and Chris Chibnall are over.

So before we dig into this one a bit, I feel like we might benefit from addressing a few elephants with whom we're currently sharing the room.

One of, if not the, most irritating thing about Chris Chibnall's time as showrunner is that it's been damn near impossible to have any kind of productive conversations about it. Because there are plenty of legitimate criticisms of his era, and it would be great to be allowed to have interesting discussions about them. But there's also just so much disingenuous bullshit out there that's nothing but blatant misogyny wrapped in a thin veneer of fandom gatekeeping, and it's hard to muster the energy to even want to try.

That said, I'm about to try.

For what it's worth, here's where I'm coming from. I'm not a Chibnall apologist, but neither do I think he was the worst showrunner/producer that the show ever had. (There's a solid argument for that having been Innes Lloyd. That's a debate for another time.) I think that at the end of the day he's a good writer, but not as good a writer as either Steven Moffat or Russell T. Davies. That was always going to be an issue when people compare the eras and I strongly suspect that Chris Chibnall was keenly aware of it. And the reason I suspect that is because he spent a lot of his tenure trying to write scripts in their respective styles and having them compare unfavorably.

Which, of course they would. He wasn't writing to his own strengths, he was trying to write to theirs. His main strength area as a writer lies in subtle character dynamics. And he doesn't think that's what Doctor Who is, so he never really leaned into it. The times when it did creep in are among the best moments of his tenure.

Which is why he happened upon an absolutely brilliant central story idea for this finale, didn't trust it, and buried it under a mountain of Daleks and Cybermen. Which is frustrating.

I refer, of course, to the Master, and the way Chibnall threw an interesting new light on something that's been glaringly obvious for a very long time. The Master has always had a central internal conflict. I apologize to any non-binary readership; I'm going to go with he/him pronouns for the Master and she/her for the Doctor for this moment solely for the sake of clarity. He wants to corrupt the Doctor and bring her down to his level, sure. But he also desperately wants to BE her.

Which brings us to the fairly inspired plot device of making that literal. By using the forced regeneration technology, he literally turns himself into her. And then has to struggle with the dual desires to keep being evil and destroy her reputation, or actually take the opportunity to 'be' the Doctor the way he's always wanted. You can see it in the way he treats Yaz, at one point desperately begging her to believe that he can be 'fun' if she just gives him a chance. As the opportunity to be the Doctor is ripped away from him, his last words literally are 'Don't make me be me again!'

That's the seed of some really strong stuff, and it should have been the story the episode told. Through the hologram Macguffin, Jodie could still have been the central presence in her final episode, and we could have really dug into the complex and inherently contradictory feelings that drive the Master/Doctor relationship from his perspective in a way that they never tried to do before. But, as I said, it feels like he didn't trust that the idea could carry the story, so we get thrown in Cybermen converting humans into more Cybermen and the Daleks drilling into the Earth, both of which we've seen a couple dozen times by this stage. OK, that's an exaggeration, but my point is my point.

Putting it bluntly, the first half of this episode is kind of a mess. There are so many things being thrown at us in the spirit of 'going bigger' that it's hard to keep track of. The paintings of Rasputin don't really contribute anything. The Daleks really shouldn't be in the episode at all. The missing seismologists seem like a promising clue to something, but then the Master just Skypes in and spells out the plot point directly, so that's all screen time wasted as well. Vinder shouldn't be here. He shows up through a magic wormhole for vague reasons (why was he tracking the Qurunx exactly? It's just an excuse to get him there as far as I can tell).

I honestly believe that they found out pretty late in the day that Tosin Cole wasn't going to be available, so they brought Vinder in to do all the stuff that Ryan would have. It's the only thing that makes sense to me.

The Qurunx itself was a potentially really good idea. A self-aware being of super-powerful energy that instinctively disguises itself as the thing you'd most want to protect could be the core of a great story. It isn't here, sadly. It just shows up as 'the kind of concept that SM and RTD used to come up with' and then sits there doing nothing. It's very telling that the Qurunx is actually the thing that zaps and kills this incarnation of the Doctor, and yet I still repeatedly forget that it was in the episode.

Everything up to the forced regeneration is a confused muddle. There are a lot of nice little things hidden in it, but you have to dig for them.

But then we get to the Master's character study. And the shifting prior Doctors that we were all secretly hoping would turn up. And the really quite lovely unspoken goodbye scene with the Doctor and Yaz, eating ice cream and not saying the things that they couldn't find words to say. I've seen some criticism that Yaz' departure wasn't a big enough deal, given that they were supposed to love each other. And, fair enough, I understand that viewpoint. But I, personally, really loved how they underplayed it and made it all about the silences and the things not being said.

The second half of this isn't perfect, but it's reveling in the character moments, and that's where Chibnall works best. The reconciliation scenes between Tegan and the 5th Doctor and Ace and the 7th were everything I would have hoped for them to be if I'd had any idea they were coming. And the flirtation between Ace and Graham was an unexpected delight that I could have watched an entire spinoff movie about. I felt compelled to check – Sophie Aldred is 60 and Bradley Walsh is 62. I will now be accepting any fanfic anyone would like to send my way. (Bonus points for their couple name clearly being GrAce.)

The second half of 'Power of the Doctor' is where almost all of its positives are to be found. I just wish it could have wrapped up after the de-regeneration and not have been obligated to spend another half hour defeating the Cybermen by pushing two buttons and pulling out a wire (which seemed to simultaneously reverse the cyber conversions and blow up the building, so points for efficiency) and then stop the Daleks by blowing up two of them, and then plugging all the worlds lava vents with steel. Which actually melts at a slightly lower temperature than lava, which means that either the steel is going to melt in fairly short order, or the Doctor just turned all the planet's magma into solid metal, which is going to have some less than pleasant effects on the planet. Oh, and it wouldn't do anything about the tectonic plate business the Daleks were up to which was the actual cause of the problem.

Still, as bitchy as that last paragraph ended up being, I kind of loved the second half of this one.

I will, however, go to my grave angry at how perfunctorily they wrote Dan out that early in the episode.

Bits and Pieces:

-- The Companions-Anonymous meeting was kind of adorable. It should have been unbearably twee, but it was kind of sweet. I have two regrets about it, however. I wish Mel and Ace had acknowledged one another in some way, and I wish Ian had said 'Barbara would have really loved this.' Those are my sad fan complaints.

-- Please don't bother arguing that Steven Moffat and RTD aren't both incredibly talented writers. They each have their strengths and weaknesses and there are valid complaints to be made about either of their eras, but that doesn't change the fact that they are both clearly objectively talented. What they write might not be to your taste, but that's not necessarily the same thing as it being bad.

-- Sophie Aldred did a particularly good job of showing us the same Ace, but tempered by time and adulthood.

-- They went an entire bonus length special episode in which there's an extra planet in the solar system being maneuvered by Cybermen and no one ever mentioned Mondas. That felt odd to me. The whole thing was so clearly a callback to 'Tenth Planet.'

-- I really enjoyed the Boney M dance number. There should be more disco music about history.

-- I get why they did it. They were obligated to have one special anniversary episode this year, and then a long gap before another special anniversary episode next year, and only after that can they 'start the new era.' Having Ncuti Gatwa appear at the end of this episode would have been incredibly awkward. But I'm not a fan of them bringing Tennant back like this. That, combined with the return of RTD, could be read dangerously easily as a victory for themselves by the misogynist dipshits of the internet, and I really hate the thought of them feeling validated in any way about anything in their lives.

-- I'm just going to say it. I believe Neil Patrick Harris is playing the Toymaker, and I'm desperately hoping that means they're going to announce that they found those episodes. Like what they did with the Great Intelligence when they found 'Web of Fear.' Yes, I am setting myself up for disappointment.

-- The Cyberman action figure in no way resembled a Russian doll, no matter how many times they insisted on calling it that. Yes, eventually it turned out to sort of be one by having multiple Cybermen inside, but that's no excuse for pretending it looked like one before.

-- Bringing back Ashad was a mistake. Yes, it was a mistake to have killed him off back in 'Timeless Children' because he was an interesting villain, but you can't just announce, 'Oh, we made a clone of him,' bring him back, and then not do anything interesting with him.

-- So, was the Master always Rasputin now? Did he substitute himself for the real one, or was he always the real one?

-- Interestingly, they inadvertently resolved a thirty year old measuring contest between Doctor Who Magazine and the Virgin New Adventures novels. After the show went off air in 1989 there was a serious power struggle over which of them was the 'real' continuing story. It got to the point that DWM killed off Ace just to make a point. In the novels, Ace and the Doctor had kind of a bitter falling out (although it did get worked out eventually in the books.) So, I guess we now know who was right. We can all sleep again.

-- 'The Master's Dalek Plan' is a legitimately funny deep cut joke. I'm desperately resisting the urge to fan-splain it.


Doctor: "Have you any idea what’s going on in outer space in 1916 right now?"
Kate: "Strangely enough, no."

Ace: "That is a good look on you Professor."

Yaz: "I’m Yaz. The only one here that doesn’t really know what’s going on."
Tegan: "We used to be you, decades back."

Ace: "Last time I saw you, you were half cat."

Ace: "Beyonce copied all my moves."

8th Doctor: "I don’t do robes."
7th Doctor: "There’s always one that has to be different."

5th Doctor: "You think you left and I never thought of you again. I never forget any of you. I remember everything."
Tegan: "Yeah? Then what am I thinking seeing all these Cybermen."
5th Doctor: "...Adric."

Ace: "So... We’re good?"
7th Doctor: "Oh, we’re more than good. We’re ace."

Master-Doctor: "Don’t let me go back to being me!"

The Doctor: "Right then. Doctor whoever I’m about to be. Tag. You’re it."

Despite large portions of this review appearing to say otherwise, I actually enjoyed this one a lot. Parts of it were frustrating. Parts were muddled. Parts should never have been included in the first place. But large parts of it also put a big, stupid smile on my face, and when Chibnall allowed himself to Chibnall the character work was really great. It's all worth watching at least once. On repeat viewings, start at the Master's dance number.

Eight out of thirteen Doctors. I'm giving it a bonus point for hitting me hard in the feelings with the 5th/Tegan, 7th/Ace stuff.

Mikey Heinrich is, among other things, a freelance writer, retired firefighter, and roughly 78% water. You can find more of his work at the 42nd Vizsla. If you'd like to see his raw notes for this and other reviews, you can find them at What Was Mikey Thinking.


  1. Okay so prefacing this with I haven't seen this comment with "I haven't seen this episode, I haven't watched much of Chibnall's era at all" and here we go. I read this review because, although I didn't see the episode, I was excited to see what you thought, Mikey. And I'm so glad I did because I came across this: "[Chibnall] wasn't writing to his own strengths, he was trying to write to [RTD and Moffat's]." What a brilliant commentary on all the shortcomings of this era.

    Poor, long suffering Mark has listened to me opine AT LENGTH about what a good writer Chibnall was on Broadchurch only to bemoan how disappointing I found his DW tenure to be. Maybe he wasn't the best choice to run Doctor Who (although they really didn't seem to be overburdened with choices, did they) or maybe Chibnall could've shaped Doctor Who into something a little different, for a while. That would have been okay. More of a focus on character, less on explosions. Some parts of the fandom would've rebelled but some part of the fandom is always going to be unhappy. It's what fandoms do.

    I also want to express that I, too, have found it difficult to argue about the show because you inevitably come across NMDs (Not My Doctors) who insist that this era is bad and was always going to be bad because the Doctor is a girl now and girls are gross. Grow up, please.

    As for Jodie regenerating Tennant, first of all, HUGE disappointment that their clothes regenerated too. Seeing the new Doctor in the old Doctor's clothes is like one of my favorite things. Perhaps there's a timey wimey explanation for it (it does look like we're getting Ncuti in Tennant's clothes from the trailer) but I wanted to see Tennant in that striped shirt damnit.

    I'm not at all sure I like David Tennant being the fourteenth Doctor and Ncuti being the fifteenth. That said, viewership of DW is at a crazy low so maybe RTD felt he needed to recapture that Tennant magic to get people to watch the show again before shifting to Ncuti (say that three times fast). The trailer looks GREAT. Ncuti in his brief appearance made me so excited for what's coming. I hope it will be better than what we're leaving behind.

    Also: no shade at all to anyone who enjoyed this era, I'm glad you were able to.

    Sorry this got so long!

  2. A messy but not horrible finish for Chibnall and 13. I watched every episode of this era, often painfully, and I've honestly been waiting for this day since 13 was announced (and especially since her first episode). Partly as a straight female with a crush on the Doctor, partly as someone who would rather see new female characters rather than rewriting male characters as female, and partly because one reason the character of the Doctor is so great is precisely because it undermines the typical "male hero" role.

    But amid the overexplained dialogue, the poor third acts, and the canon-destroying twists, 2 of the best things Chibnall added to the show were Graham and Sacha Dhawan's Master, and I'm glad they were both in this episode. I was a bit miffed about Dan's write-off too, and thought Yaz deserved more of a proper ending (even though I never warmed up to her much).

    Chibnall did seem to be pulling a bit from both Journey's End and the 50th anniversary (the paintings in particular seemed to be an out-of-place nod to that). While I've watched some classic Who (an adventure each of 1 and 2, all of 3, and most of 4), I haven't yet gotten to Tegan and Ace, so their appearance didn't mean as much to me. I was glad to have Kate back, but the episode just felt crowded (which is probably one reason they wrote off Dan so early, though I don't know why Vinder was needed back).

    The Master impersonating Rasputin and dancing to Boney M. was one of my favorite parts of the episode, and the Cyberman and Dalek just looking at each other was hilarious. Is this the first episode to feature all 3 of the Doctor's best known foes?

    I'm surprised that Tennant will be officially considered 14, but out of all the modern Doctors, he's the one who seems the most logical to have more time (since Eccleston is unlikely to come back). Especially when you consider how many hundreds of years both Smith and Capaldi's Doctors were around. I wonder if they did a test run with Tennant in 13's clothes and decided it was too ridiculous. At least we did get the Master in 13's clothes for the sight gag.

    I don't know that bringing Tennant back was some big ploy to raise the numbers - I think that both he and RTD honestly wanted to have fun on the show together again, and of course the BBC signed off on it because they know how beloved 10 is. I'm excited to see their work with better CGI and effects - the main downfall of RTD's era. And I'm very excited to see what Gatwa brings to the table.

  3. That line about fearing Tennant's return will be read as a "victory for the misogynistic dipshits of the internet" is something I relate to a lot as a Star Wars fan.


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