Doctor Who- The Power of the Doctor review


Action and nostalgia aplenty mark a great finale for Jodie Whittaker

Regeneration stories always stand apart from regular series of Doctor Who though sometimes can feel either anticlimactic or too over the top. Laced with heavy doses of nostalgia, `The Power of the Doctor` (complete with its double meaning title) manages to hold together remarkably well considering the number of enemies and friends mounting up as it progresses. It has the heft of a sixtieth anniversary story even though the date is a year away and you wonder exactly what the series can do for that birthday. This ninety-minute special is exciting and includes moments that will make you cheer and gasp with surprise in one of Chris Chibnall’s more rigorous scripts. Ironically just as he leaves, he finally seems to have got the hang of how to put together an epic Doctor Who story that doesn’t fall flat at the end.



Rather like `Flux`, we open with a series of diverse events that take in present day London, 1916 Russia and a bullet train in space, each scenario of which would happily fill a standard episode. The train is the first of many obvious and not so obvious callbacks to the show’s history as this is a riff on the way we first met Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor. It carries a precious cargo which we expect to be The Master but is actually a child who turns out not to be a child at all. Its one of several rug pulls that open up some interesting ideas. Far from feeling stretched out like Peter Capaldi’s finale was, `The Power of the Doctor` is brimming with ideas to keep up the momentum. We end up on an `extra moon` created by The Master and his alliance of Cybermen (or Cyberlords as they now prefer to be known) and Daleks. Once again the Daleks are treated as second string given the mechanical jobs but its interesting to see the two races working together.

Two further aspects elevate the story. One is the visuals. Doctor Who has always looked good since it came back in 2005 but it is remarkable how good it looks these days. The newly minted planet compete with jets of steam and its manacled sea anemone type creature is the sort of thing that could once only be done in comic strips. The grand hall of imperial Russia and the volcano sequences are equally stunning to look at while UNIT’s new HQ is definitely a step up from the two rooms of old. By mixing well sourced locations, digital effects and costumes the production team have come up with one of the best-looking stories of recent times. Its rich in colour - space and time has never looked so beautiful.

The other big asset is Sacha Dhawan who rips through the story like a dervish yet also incorporates moments of menacing stillness and even some dancing in a sequence inspired by more recent vintage. His Master breaks free of the cliches that can easily bog down a role like this and this time is funnier than before. He’s gifted some great lines and delivers them with panache. His turn as `the Doctor` is perfect and suggests he would have made an astonishing Time Lord. He was actually my choice for the role five years ago when we were all speculating who it would be.

That’s not to take anything away from Jodie Whittaker who is once again full of energy leading from the front. As often seems to be the case with these ambitious stories there are periods when the Doctor is sidelined a little and it would have been satisfying to have had more interplay between the two rivals (The Doctor says very little when first captured by The Master) but she has given her all for the show and proved that a female Doctor works just as well as a male one.

It’s a strong episode too for Mandip Gill who has been the first companion to sit out an entire Doctor’s era and is as much a part of the fabric of the period. Yaz has not always been as well served with storylines and really she should have been given the huge amount of lines the Doctor gets. Surely a re-working of some episodes could have helped her take on some of the heavy lifting. She’s great here though even if the script more or less ignores the unrequited love element of their relationship which never really worked.

Thankfully the even more awkward Timeless Child story is more or less ignored in favour of much more action with several impressive battle sequences and moments of jeopardy for all our characters. The episode also manages to weave so many `kisses to the past` into its narrative not just with a multitude of former Doctors and companions showing up but in its structure and even seemingly throwaway lines. Tegan and Ace get the lion’s share playing a full part in the story as Janet Fielding and Sophie Aldred revive their roles in a suitably age appropriate way. Other cameos are brisker but delightful nonetheless especially a sequence featuring several other Doctors and the witty idea of a support group for former companions.

It ends, as it must, with a regeneration- outdoors this time perhaps to avoid destroying the Tardis! The Doctor approaches it with the same common sense attitude that has been her forte throughout. I’d guessed how it would end months ago. I think everyone did! “What!” indeed.

Chris Chibnall’s period at the helm has had a mixed reception from fans and the series no longer holds the attention of the wider public the way it did a decade ago though this may have happened whoever was the showrunner. I’ve found the last three seasons variable but entertaining enough if perhaps lacking in a depth that would make me want to re-watch some episodes again. `The Power of the Doctor` certainly ends the era on a high and it is something I definitely will watch again. I guess the Doctor still has the power!

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