Home Doctor Who Doctor Who: The Power of the Doctor – SPOILER-FILLED Review

Doctor Who: The Power of the Doctor – SPOILER-FILLED Review

And just like that – as has happened many times before – an era comes to an end. But what an end it has been. The Power of the Doctor was determined to be an epic blockbuster, a celebratory special and a finishing flag for Chris Chibnall’s time as showrunner. It has certainly taken care and all of its eighty-seven jam-packed minutes to deliver. Once again, a reminder – as with the title – that this is a SPOILER-FILLED review, so if you haven’t seen the episode yet; don’t read past the image below!

Jodie Whittaker as the Doctor in The Power of the Doctor [Credit: James Pardon/BBC Studios]

Of course, we know a lot of people are going to want to know about that final surprising moment at the end of The Power of the Doctor, and we’ve got an article just about that…

But The Power of the Doctor itself starts in a bit of an unexpected place. Well, expected in locale… but the all-out explosive battle between Cybermen and transport marshals (including those played by Joe Sims & Sanchia McCormack) is an immediate sign that we are in for an action-packed escapade. And it rapidly drops us in with some regenerations in this regeneration episode. What? Who said the CyberMasters couldn’t do a bit of it too?

The Power of the Doctor – The Story

The story immediately sets up quite the mystery of its own, with the Cyber-Russian doll strand. (Bonus points, BBC Marketing for sending some people replicas of the miniaturised Ashad!) And it’s interesting to see how the shock of near-death has given Dan a simple but clear sense of what he wants in life… even if he no longer has a house. (Evidently, the TARDIS team have not been back to Liverpool to fix it since the end of The Vanquishers.)

And it all runs swiftly from there. Rasputin-Master taking control of St. Petersburg. A TARDIS core and a creature tethered into the metallic Cyber-planet. The Master in a lecture hall full of shrunken seismologists. Vinder’s return by surfing a wormhole. It all keeps spinning.

But it all lines up quickly enough. The Russian doll payoff – that the toy was a bigger-on-the-inside container of a Cyber battalion is wonderfully continuous of The Timeless Children. There, the Master combined Cyber-tech & regeneration… and now, he brings dimensional transcendentalism together with their battling! Clever Chris Chibnall!

Speaking of… well, you could not have Rasputin-Master without Boney M’s ‘Rasputin’ playing & Sacha Dhawan even giving us a bit of a dance as he awaits his victory. Best use of an existing song in Doctor Who, I’d say.

The Latter Half

And what a glorious moment of horror to be had, as Dhawan makes his way out of the conversion chamber dressed in the Doctor’s clothes and wearing her earring. Quite the mid-story twist. (Imagine if this was a two-parter. You’d be screaming!) And that’s before we get to the Guardian of the Edge. With the older companions left to make their way out of the UNIT HQ and stop the Cybermen, Yaz and Vinder have their work cut out dealing with the forced regeneration.

But the real beauty of this episode is in the nods to classic strands, in Tegan’s stepping up to save Kate, in how Graham and Ace stop the Daleks, in how Yaz and Vinder get Thirteen back. All of them save the day, having been inspired by the Doctor. And that is The Power of the Doctor.

It all comes to one final tragic demise for the Master, and a fatal blow for the Doctor. And from there, we have quite the inversion. Usually quite a speedy tragedy, instead the regeneration is given a gentle finality, with the scene of the Doctor and Yaz on top of the TARDIS sure to be a memorable and very emotional one. (Tears down my screen writing this…)

Spectacular Visual Work

It may have been quite the wait for The Power of the Doctor, but it’s readily clear in the episode that the long production period from after filming finished until edit lock-in has allowed DNEG and company to really fly with the VFX. The destruction of UNIT HQ is a particularly neat moment, as are the many sprawling locales. From the bullet train’s almost-kaleidoscopic tunnel to the shocking moment in which the Master enacts his conversion plan, it is a real feast for the eyes. Fittingly so for such a large-scale story like this.

As is the multitude of volcanoes across the planet exploding. (And we bet those location cards are deliberately in high-supply to play into what of the usual expectations of the era.

And how wonderfully cruel but fab to see Sanchia McCormack’s marshal make a sad but visually incredible exit. The update on the RTD era electrocution effect is rather fab, and shows the power that has come from another decade of VFX advances. (Did you spot the ‘second moon’ above St. Petersburg just before we are first introduced to Nicholas and Alexandra?)

Powerful Performances

Well, there can be no review of this episode without talking about our three leads. John Bishop’s grounded performance of Dan gets to push out into a much more determined – and ultimately panicked – space, as the opening train segment escalates. (Though, it is fun to have among that a rather fun announcement from Dan over the speaker system of the train.) The sudden uptake after the forced regeneration of Thirteen with Mandip Gill gives her a real opportunity to showcase Yaz’s inquisitiveness put to the test as the situation propels her through equally tough times & she fights to keep up with the Doctor after her imprisonment by the Daleks. Something that feels all so painful, when the Doctor meets her fatal blow & Yaz’s denying insistence that she will be fine makes us all worried.

Thirteen… Well, where to begin? Firing on all cylinders, Jodie Whittaker’s final turn as the Doctor gives her ample opportunity to showcase the facets of her incarnation – dark and light. From first moment until last, she is really compelling.

A Masterful Run

Mention must also be made of the electrifying Sacha Dhawan. Back as the Master, he really flips expectations by showcasing a vengeful but more controlled performance. With the rage dialed back to lead a more manipulative style of conversation: he immediately raises all the questions you could imagine. Poking into the Doctor’s double-sided approach on guns, and goading Yaz with the promise that the Doctor will ignore his warning: The Power of the Doctor barrels along partly because his portrayal keeps it all going.

And all of that is further supplemented by his contrasting turn in disguise as Rasputin. A much more restrained interaction with those around him, but with equally as much fury and power. But you also see the desperation. As he takes the Doctor’s place, Dhawan’s Master immediately is in joyous playful mood. There’s a sense that he feels he’s in the place he’s always wanted to be, but struggling. He’s determined to take the Doctor’s place. To take Yaz as his companion, after he saw something in her in Spyfall. Long before he says it outright, there’s a distinct sense that he is torn between his usual desires and his care for Yaz.

And when that final lament comes from the Master about not wanting to be himself again. Well, for all the evils of the Master, one can’t help but feel a tinge of sadness for him.

Further Casting Glories

How long did you say Janet Fielding has been away from acting onscreen? Well, you’d never believe it – because she fits as natural as ever from her first scene. Her reunion with the Doctor is a pinpoint recapture of Tegan’s strong no-nonsense approach to life in the Whoniverse, and pointedness (“38 years!”). How lovely to see her get opening credit billing… alongside the glorious Sophie Aldred! Strutting back in as Ace – though with other more recent live-action appearance – she is immediately in perfect investigative mode. (And the museum used in the brief scenes makes a fitting backdrop. All Silver Nemesis in vibe…)

Jemma Redgrave gets an equally commanding turn, even in such a busy story. And the palpable fear of Kate, as she is marched towards conversion says all that needs to be about how this invokes her father’s fate without any dialogue. And Jacob Anderson makes a great foil with the Master – if only we could’ve had more of them together in Flux.

Nicholas and Alexandra, though sadly featured for much much more brief a role than would be the case in a typical historical (but understandable given the time available), are well-portrayed. Patrick O’Kane gives another solid turn as the monstrous Ashad… but I can’t help but feel that the stronger modulation on him this time round dampens his vocal performance, which was his highlight strength last time round.

Technical Prowess

As Segun Akinola bows out, he brings with him some wonderful musical pieces. The piece under the reunion of the Doctor and his old companions is gentle but emotional. The somber variation of Yaz’s theme as the Doctor insists to her that heading to the volcano to deal with the Daleks is a necessary risk. His music for the Guardian of the Edge runs very nicely. And the tragic reprise of 13’s theme as she is hit by the blast of the laser is a painful hell.

The tense stinger, followed by the reprisal of the Cyberman theme, as Tegan clambers up the lift shift is quite the treat too.

It’d be remiss of us to not also note the regeneration shot. A wonderful feat from Jamie Magnus Stone, as it all comes to a close on that one pull-out to a long shot. (Well, for the episode as filmed with Chibnall…) And his direction allows one to keep a strong sense of where one is across the disparate strands of the plot.

Oh, and the internal reconfiguration of the Master’s TARDIS to look like the Doctor’s is a nice fit for the plot (see the foreshadowing now? First, his TARDIS like hers… and then, him like her.), as well as being a neat way to use one set twice over rather wonderfully. (Though, I do now wish Thirteen’s TARDIS interior had been given a bit more purple. It fits quite well.)

And it’s a subtle but lovely touch of Ray Holman to add a golden headdress to a ‘superior officer’ CyberMaster. Speaking of, the Master’s new threads work as a wonderful re-visitation of elements of Thirteen’s outfit. Jodie even gets to return to the dark-inversion coat previously seen in Once, Upon Time. And the Guardian’s robes are a nice development of the usual Gallifreyan robes.

Monumental Surprises

Plenty of lips have been sealed for weeks and even months, but at long last, it’s known! As a celebratory Centenary special, Chris Chibnall managed to weave into the narrative of The Power of the Doctor quite the surprising appearance. David Bradley, Peter Davison, Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy and Paul McGann all return as manifestations of the Doctor’s consciousness – Guardian of the Edge of Existence.

And seeing the AI interface reflect Davison, in his full regalia, is a gloriously touching moment; especially when Adric is mentioned.

Graham’s return is wonderfully weaved back into the psychic paper he was given in Revolution of the Daleks. And Jo Martin’s crafty AI hologram reprisal allows her to play a vital role in the episode – giving both Jodie and Jo their place in this finale.

Tegan makes mention of two divorces and an adopted son. We can’t wait for someone to have to put that on the TARDIS Wiki page. And then make sense of it in Big Finish.

William Russell, returned to TV Doctor Who after 21 years since his last live-action appearance(and nearly 3 years since his last Big Finish recording… and 2 years & 1 day after his part in the unofficial charity short special Time And Doctors), appearing in the story for a lovely end-cap ‘companion support group’ moment. Alongside, Katy Manning and Bonnie Langford also make very warmly-welcomed returns.

Centenary Special Easter Eggs

Well, we couldn’t not mention some of the wonderful little items tucked into this BBC 100th special:

  • The story opens with a line referencing that the bullet train is part of the Toraji transport network – a lovely nod to the Toraji star system, and Chris Chibnall’s first TV Doctor Who episode in which the Toraji star itself was shown to be alive.
  • “That you are the Master, and I will obey you.” – such a nice riff on the Master’s usual catchphrase. And then we get the delicious inversion – “I am the Doctor, and you will obey me.”
  • One of the famous painting defaced with Rasputin-Master’s face is The Mona Lisa. Rather fitting for it has played a central part in one of the most iconic stories of the show: City of Death. (Though, we’re not sure what the painting herself would think.)
  • The long-used Dalek symbols (seen in episodes such as Evolution of the Daleks) make a return as co-ordinates shown on the TARDIS scanner.
  • The Master goads Kate on her father (last seen converted into a Cybermen by the Gomez incarnation/Missy in Death in Heaven.), and Tegan about her Aunt Vanessa. (murdered via tissue compression in Logopolis – itself a Doctor’s departing story.)
  • Ace gets to mention that last time they met, the Master was “half-cat”. Not just a neat remark for the two, but all a fitting reference. The story in which the Master was ‘half-cat’ or rather half-Cheetah person was Survival – itself a final end for a production era of Doctor Who. (And we’ll leave you to wonder about the potential parallels between the Cheetah virus and the Cyberium.)
  • Daleks mining into the Earth? Well, if you remember The Dalek Invasion of Earth, that’s not too surprising… Or perhaps Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150AD.

Easter Eggs Galore

  • Ultimate sanction by forced regeneration? We’re going all The War Games.(Okay, yes, I hear you Season 6B folks – I see you!)
  • “Gold star and a sticker.”
  • The Doctor-Master gets straight to the threads. 13’s coat, 7’s tie and sweater, 5’s celery, 4’s scarf. 2’s recorder.
  • Speaking of, the tune that the Doctor-Master plays on the recorder is the very same tune that the Second Doctor played in The Power of the Daleks, not too long after his regeneration from the First Doctor.
  • The Guardian-Eight’s remark about not doing robes is a nod to a Big Finish audio…
  • The Thirteenth Doctor’s holo-message for the event of her death is a nice riff on the Ninth’s similar emergency protocol hologram in his regeneration episode, The Parting of the Ways.
  • All of Ace’s badges and patches on his coat are the originals, as it is the very same coat she last wore in Survival.
  • “Brave heart.” – Because even an AI interface version of Five can use his old remark for Tegan.
  • Mention of Adric, and blowing stuff up only when necessary are tragic reflections on the tragic ends of Earthshock and Remembrance of the Daleks, ending in a companion death and a solar-system-wide genocide.
  • Ace and Graham make use of a baseball bat and some Nitro-9 to deal with the Daleks. We’ve been here before in Remembrance of the Daleks as well. (We’ll leave the theories for now about whether or not it’s a Hand-of-Omega-infused baseball bat rebuilt…)
  • Ryan gets a nice mention as being elsewhere, to cover for – presumably – Tosin Cole’s absence.
  • Thirteenth Doctor with goggles on, rebuilding machinery. Nice parallel back to The Woman Who Fell To Earth.
  • The Dhawan Master is left with a decaying body. We’ve been here before in The Deadly Assassin. (Even more than once if you’ve been a Big Finish listener.)
  • Yaz drops the other companions off in Croydon, rather than anywhere they meant to be. Sarah Jane Smith would like a word.

The Beginning Of The End Is End Of The Beginning

And there we go, after a beautiful conclusion… the Doctor regenerates into – David Tennant?! Again? Coming with his own set of clothes post-regeneration (how very The Power of the Daleks of him…), he’s back… but why? Time will tell…

Concluding Thoughts on The Power of the Doctor

There would be a temptation to rate this episode with some form of “x/5 STARS” or “x out of 10”, but the episode rather simply defies an easy categorisation. What it certainly is… is a bold grandiose piece that strove to reach for high heights as it brought an era to an end. And it wraps itself in most of the era’s highlight elements as it goes.

It’s got a historical involvement (like Rosa, The Witchfinders, Demons of the Punjab, Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror etc.), it’s got the seething and unpredictable rage of the Sacha Dhawan incarnation of the Master (Spyfall and The Timeless Children), and most importantly: it’s got heart and honesty as it sails for an emotional conclusion.

Farewell Jodie Whittaker, Mandip Gill, Chris Chibnall and all others for whom this is the last hurrah. The Power of the Doctor may not be perfect, but what a send-off. Simply transcendental.

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