Doctor Who: The Power of the Doctor Review

by thethreepennyguignol

Well, here we are.

I’ve got to admit, I’m a little sad to be writing this review, because it marks the end of Jodie Whittaker’s run as the Doctor on Doctor Who. As I wrote way back in the day when all of this started, she’s meant a lot to me in this role – but beyond that, I’ve genuinely loved her performance and her tenure as the Doctor. Yes, there have been major issues with the writing in her run, but Jodie Whittaker herself has brought an absolute joy, warmth, and love that I’ve been missing from the Doctor for far too long, and that’s something so inherent to the point of the show that I can’t deny how much I love her for it.

Beyond that, too, while I’m really looking forward to seeing what Russel T Davies and Ncuti Gatwa bring to the show next, we’re seeing off a few other characters and aspects of the show I’m for sure going to miss. Mandip Gill as Yaz has without a doubt been one of my favourite companions of the new era – her coming out arc, in particular, has been really meaningful to me, and I just love the connection between her and Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor. It’s easily up there with the Rose/Ten romance of earlier seasons, and by far one of the most impressive things this era has pulled off. We’re also bidding farewell to Sacha Dhawan’s Master (as far as I know), who secured himself in the pantheon of great Who villains within one episode flat and who I think is just so pretty God so beautiful look at him LOOK AT HIM always brings out the best of the rest of the cast, especially Whittaker.

So, yeah, I’m sad to see this era go, even if I’m aware I’m in a real minority with that. But the question is – will Jodie’s send-off be thrown in the pile of the rest of this era’s maligned episodes, or can Chris Chibnall actually pull it off and give us something worthy of her brilliance during her run?

Okay, so let’s talk about it: The Power of the Doctor. Let’s talk about it. First, what I loved, and then, what I really, really fucking didn’t.

As a whole, I think this episode is actually one of the best of Jodie’s run. It captures, fundamentally, what her run has been about, which is companionship and the power of found family – Chibnall makes use of the history of Who as well as some of the highlights of his run to really bring home how important love, relationships, and connection have been to this era. The generous runtime gives room for plenty of old favourites (like Tegan and Ace, as well as some of the previous Doctors, including my beloved and underused queen Jo Martin) to make a return, along with little cameos from the likes of Vinder and Graham, in a way which lends this world a richness and fullness that works beautifully for a finale like this. The Power of the Doctor has a wonderful depth to it in terms of character relationships that really underlines just how vital it’s been to Jodie’s era, and it’s something I value so much from the show, too, so it works well for me.

And then, of course, there’s the Sacha Dhawan of it all. Sacha Dhawan very nearly runs away with this entire episode – from taking up the role of Rasputin and dancing to Boney M, to stealing the Doctor’s identity and claiming what he sees as his rightful place as the centre of the Time Lord universe, to his eventual bitter passing, it’s just a powerhouse from him. The Master, at their best, should bring out the most interesting side of the Doctor, the one conflicted between mercy and revenge, and that’s exactly what he does here, commanding the Daleks and the Cybermen against the Doctor in a suitably insane and convoluted plan that serves as the engine for this episode. It’s a gloriously perfect send-off for his version of the Master, and I’m genuinely sad to see him go; like John Simm and Michelle Gomez before him, Dhawan has owned this role from the split-second we knew it was him, and he’s undoubtedly one of the unmitigated triumphs of the Chibnall era of Doctor Who.

But what of Jodie? Well, as I expected, she dominates this episode with her performance, and pretty much has my heart in her hand from second one. The slightly clunky but swift dumping of Dan in the first act allows room for her to work with her best counterparts, Yaz and the Master, for the rest of the episode, and it really brings out the best in her. Her incredible tenderness with Yaz is the beating heart of her finale, and the Master makes for a perfect balance with that. One of her defining features in this performance has been her warmth and ability to build connection with almost anyone she shares the screen with, and this is a celebration of it, as it well should be.

Though it’s not as much of a celebration of her and Yaz’s relationship as I would have liked. I thought we were going to get a bigger pin in Yaz’s coming out story than we got here, and I have to admit, I’m more than a little disappointed. Yes, the show does acknowledge their feelings for one another, but at the same time, it doesn’t really offer a big moment of self-acceptance that I was hoping for. I felt like what we saw in Legend of the Sea Devils and Eve of the Daleks was the beginning to her coming to terms with who she was, and I expected at least some of this episode to be dedicated to her arc in that sense. Not to dunk on Mandip Gill here, who utterly bodied this episode – the moment she and the Doctor shared as the latter realized she was entering into regeneration was so moving, perfectly played by both actors, but Gill’s stoic grief in the face of her impending loss absolutely took me out – but I felt like we could have had a more satisfying and explicit close to her arc of acceptance (though perhaps if you’d like a lesbian love story/genre fiction tale about coming out that is more explicit in its queerness, maybe check out my book Lagrasse perhaps?).

So, as a whole, yeah – I thought this was a great episode. Or, I did, up until the last sixty seconds or so.

Jodie Whittaker stands on the edge of a cliff, says her goodbyes, feels the sunlight one last time, and then begins to regenerate. Now, these moments follow a certain outline, or at least, have in the new season’s run: we have that moment of sadness, for the passing of the last Doctor, a few minutes of bidding farewell to their version of the character and allowing the actor to be truly vulnerable in the role in a way the rest of the show often doesn’t. It’s a scene of pure, unfiltered, Doctor – the heart of the show, transitioning, passing the baton from one to another. And then, the episode ends on that brief upswing, the promise of the new Doctor and all of what their adventures will bring. I sat there, happily enough, waiting to see Ncuti Gatwa, wondering what his introduction was going to be like. And then…

She turned into David Tennant. Now, this show has to go pretty far out of it’s way to make me sad to see David Tennant turn up, but if ever they could do it, it’s now. Because this isn’t the baton-passing it should be – it’s a gimmick, a sting, that instantly shifts the focus of this episode away from the goodbye to Jodie Whittaker it should have been, to the obvious shock factor of having a previous Doctor return. This episode should, if it didn’t want to end with Ncuti Gatwa’s introduction, have closed out on Jodie Whittaker. This is her episode, her final goodbye to the show, her goodbye to the character, and instead, it feels like the show desperately scrambling to tag on something to pull in fans who didn’t like this era – look! Here’s David Tennant! You all loved him, right? No need to think about everything else that just happened! We’re going to make it all right!

I have to say, this ending genuinely pissed me off. What should have been – and ended as – a true celebration of Jodie Whittaker’s run on the show became a shock twist meant to steal all the water cooler valour from her farewell. It builds to this pretty solid climax and fond goodbye to a wonderful character, and then undercuts it before the credits with a stupid gimmick that doesn’t allow us the time to bask in her exit. Am I still interested in what Tennant’s return will look like? Sure, but I was more invested in seeing Jodie Whittaker off with the respect and time she deserved, and I feel like The Power of the Doctor doesn’t give it to her.

I think this episode will stand up better in retrospect, once Tennant’s return has grounded in a little more and feels like less of an obvious shock twist, but my gut reaction is disappointment. Not just for that ending, but because the rest of the episode was so strong and served as a really strong send-off, only to be undercut at the last moment with a cheap gimmick.

What did you think of The Power of the Doctor? Did you like the ending, or were you hoping for something different? Let me know in the comments!

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(header image via GlouctershireLive)