Doctor Who #1039: The Power of the Doctor

"Tag, you're it."

TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Oct.23 2022.

IN THIS ONE... The Master attempts to steal the Doctor's existence and it's goodbye for the 13th Doctor, her companions and her showrunner.

REVIEW: We say goodbye to Jodie's Doctor with a confused freight train of a plot that tries to hide its flaws with extremely pretty locations, sets and effects as well a liberal dose of Anniversary guests, cameos and references to the past. So... NuWho's answer to The Five Doctors, then.

Let me get the plot nonsense out of the way first. I don't want to dwell on it too much. Just gonna take a big breath... A lot of viewers are already asking questions about the Master's timeline in this, since his TARDIS is strapped to a moon in 1916, how can he move between Russia and the present day? I think that one's pretty easy to answer: He's got a Dalek spatio-temporal shifter device that does the job at these short ranges and we see him use it. The bigger questions are: Why hide in 1916 at all? Why impersonate Rasputin? They don't really use any of the historical character's story (aside from the hypnosis), so it just seems like they just really wanted to use the Boney M song and that's all. It's not even necessary as an element of his "lure", since the Doctor was drawn to 1916 by the Cybermen. Sorry, Cyber Masters. I get that the Master likes his branding, but why isn't this "Cyber LORDS"? Chibnall gives us false stakes early on, with a child of African descent being kidnapped by the Cybs who then use it as an energy source, everything to put you in mind of the Timeless Child, an abandoned storyline it does not good to remind us of. The thing is actually a very alien Qurunx that powers a moon that can convert anything into anything (and yet, the Doctor misses the trick of turning the Cyber Masters back into Time Lords at the end). There's all this stuff about the cyberium that's surplus to requirements - the Master can have a bonkers plan, because he's the Master, he doesn't need to magical prescience, nor as it turns out does he really, or he wouldn't be surprised by events. (Or the cyberium is in his Rasputin body, not his Doctor body, so he's blind by then, but why not say so - why make me do all the no-prizing work, Chibnall?!) Speaking of which, when the Master overwrites the Doctor, why aren't there two Masters? Why is the Rapsutin body inert? See The End of Time for how this has worked in the past. Vinder makes another pointless appearance (in that he and Bel never really fulfilled their potential in Flux), and plays a role that could have been filled by Yaz or even Ace. The new UNIT building collapses with apparently no hands lost and even the background extras can't be made to react. How does Graham get inside the volcano? How does Tegan survive her fall down an elevator shaft? Why bring back Ashad and also make him an Ark (see Doomsday) other than wanting to bring everything from the era back (in which case, why not more of an effort to bring back Ryan, or Yaz's family, or actually bloody resolve the whole Timeless Child thing?). When the Doctor's hologram shows up as Jo Martin, it's again so Chibs can play with his era's toys, but makes no sense from the perspective of the hologram accessing the Doctor's memories (she has few of this incarnation) nor from the Master's, since he doesn't know who she is. The main problem is that there is too much happening, and some of it feels very cursory. People show up in places because the scene needs them there, and you'll just have to fill in the blanks. Another example: When the Master is the Doctor, his destruction of two planets just happens out of nowhere and we're missing a whole scene/adventure; it's hard to focus on the evil that's being done, or care about these faceless victims. The script then feels like it needs to repeat information often, even to characters who already know what's happening, and it's clunky (as are certain lines, like Tegan's big speech to Kate, and Kate, of all people, asking why the TARDIS is bigger on the inside). *GASPS FOR BREATH*

Now for the stuff that works, or mostly does. Sasha Dhawan continues to give the best Master performance since Delgado, perhaps ever, and his plan to overwrite the Doctor, while needlessly complicated (that's in character), provides an incredible shocker. Just like that, Jodie could have been out (and is, for a while). Imagine this as part of a proper season where Yaz is strong-armed into being his companion for an entire episode or two! It's part the Anniversary stuff that he should create a costume that amalgamates most of the Doctors - he's trying to assert his dominance over all incarnations - but he must share the Doctor's memories to a point - BE the Doctor - proof in the song he chooses to play on the recorder. So I wish we could have explored this a bit more. But generally, between his cruel goading (oh Aunt Vanessa!), creepy dancing, and his sinister banter with Yaz, Dhawan's Master really shines. And it really is his action that mortally wounds the Doctor at the end, so he kills her twice in this story, adding to a total that already includes Doctors 4 and (indirectly) 10. The laughing TARDIS is also a nice touch.

The best thing about the Master-Doctor is that it then becomes Yaz's show. I think she does EXTREMELY well navigating the situation, and tricking the Master into undoing the forced regeneration. She flies the TARDIS (with post-it notes) and plays at being the Doctor while the real thing is gone, and I don't think we've ever seen a companion bodily heroically carry a Doctor across the TARDIS threshold like that before. It did a lot of good to Yaz as a character when Ryan and Graham left and she became the veteran companion, and this is the fulfillment of her story as much as it is the 13th Doctor's. Unfortunately, Dan has a near-death experience at the top of the episode and leaves before things escalate. Was John Bishop not available? It's a little anti-climactic, but it's not bad characterization, and I like his goodbye to Yaz (since the Doctor doesn't like goodbyes, Yaz foreshadows her later role as protagonist by standing in for her there).

Would there have been much room for Dan anyway? As an Anniversary Special (the BBC's if not Doctor Who's), it also includes Tegan and Ace as major characters, in addition to Kate Stewart and Graham. That's a lot of people to give moments to and pay off. It's a bit unfortunate that the episode seems to wipe away the New Adventures, but like Peri, it's understood that Ace has lives across different timelines (I believe Sophie Aldred alludes to it in her recent Ace novel). We also get past Doctors in this, first as Guardians of the Edge (a psychological space Time Lords traverse during regeneration, giving some credence to Doc10's opinion that regeneration is a kind of death) - and boy, isn't it great to see David Bradley, Peter Davison, Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy and Paul McGann? - some of whom get to interact with their old companions as the Doctor's hologram and give those relationships closure. In the epilogue, we get even more cameos - Jo, Mel and (wow) Ian are all there at the therapy group for former companions, as is a chair with a laptop open on it, so decide which of your favorites should be on the zoom call (or imagine it's an empty chair left for Sarah Jane and weep). Kate Stewart is on a recruitment drive, essentially giving the show (or its spin-offs in other media) full license to bring back old companions under the UNIT banner. Other than the characters, you'll find references and story elements from across all eras of Doctor, most prominently evoking Gridlock, Journey's End, Remembrance of the Daleks, The Dalek Invasion of Earth, School Reunion, The TV Movie, Earthshock, The Hand of Fear, and many others, including Big Finish audios like Zagreus and He Jests at Scars. To the point where the plot can seem derivative at times, but generally, it's meant in fun, and received as such.

Energetic and awkward as ever (ooh, and she breaks out her engineering goggles too), the 13th Doctor is equal to herself in her farewell episode, talking about love and friendship to the end. As The Time of the Doctor showed, you can screw up the plot, so long as you ace the Doctor's final moments. And I think Chibnall managed that. When she wakes up after being wounded, surrounded by her "extended Fam", it feels a lot like an in-person version of the 5th Doctor's regen, and so perfect for her, you almost wish it had happened then and there. Instead, she passes out again and Yaz takes everyone home, gets really emotional, and then the Doctor takes her on a final adventure... to get ice cream. It's all very sweet, as is Yaz's offer of not saying goodbye. And so the Doctor must regenerate alone, without -        witness. I love her final words, tagging the next actor - or actors in this case, since the Russell T Davies era returns in full force and rather than Ncuti Gatwa, David Tennant appears shouting "What?" in triplicate. Oh naughty Russell, we missed you and in a way we didn't. He certainly has some explaining to do as to why this 10th/14th Doctor regenerates INTO COSTUME, but otherwise it's a fun, if fan-servicey, twist. And here I thought the 60th Anniversary Special was going to take place during the original Ten/Donna era. Anyway, if you thought the War Doctor or Timeless Child screwed up the Doctor numbering, The Power of the Doctor is here to say "hold my beer".

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - The plot is exciting, if full of holes, but there's so much fan service (a fan of New, but not Classic Who told me "I guess these things meant something for you", mileage may thus vary) that you forgive  it its trespasses. As far as I'm concerned, Jodie goes out on a high.


daft said…
Going in, the Master, the Daleks and the Cybermen combo never promised anything by way of actual subtlety. As with most of Chibnall's era there were some nice ideas posited but never fully realized. He could have really lent into the Master's psychological desire to become the Doctor, fore instance, but in practice he barely scratched the surface, especially frustrating in light of recent Timeless Child revelations.

It seemed remarkably perverse to sidestep the Timeless Child motif altogether, no matter the other associated strands.

Fan service almost invariably makes me flinch unless robustly motivated. Obviously revisiting themes from Class Reunion duly provides that platform, there were some nice moments between Classic Doctors and Companions and the final gathering obviously suited the centennial theme. I did have reservations about the presentation of Ace, given the Pygmalion-style relationship which had existed between 7th Doc and Dorothy, having the sixty year old actress turn up running around with a baseball bat, nitro-9 canisters and the old jacket felt perverse, even if we've come to accept the tired convention of returning Doctors doing a knowing comic turn.

I wondered why I cared so much about Yaz's fate, clearly, she wasn't all that fussed. ;P I suppose that's one way to allay fears of the dreaded 'Bury Your Gays' motif being invoked. That said, she was surprisingly central to the finale's events, Mandip Gill given a chance to properly shine when effectively the lead had been erased from all space and time - so that's what it took. ;)

Here's looking forward to charismatic Ncuti blazing his way across the still half-fluxed galaxy...
As glad as I am to sidestep the Timeless Child, it's telling that this era felt it's finale was better spent on egregious 80s fanservice than the actual main plot tumor of the last two series. I suppose it's fitting that this era closes out by neglecting the Doctor's present to obsess over her past. It's a massive shame that in Jodie's last (and best by proxy?) story, she spends most of it as a dozen other actors. It is nice to see Yaz treated like an actual protagonist for once. I have no idea how Chibnall manages to see the Davison years as the show's platonic ideal rather than it's dullest point!

Ultimately I had fun with this one. I prefer mental 'Dinosaurs on a Spaceship' Chibnall to dull 'Av Kolos/Timeless Children/The Ravagers' Chibnall any day, if I have to pick a poison. This was his best script since the first two acts of The Power of Three.

The Tennant stuff will probably be alright, but it does sting knowing that I'll have to wait even longer for properly 'new' Doctor Who, on top of the second hand fan-embarrassment that the show has to revert back to the way it was over a decade ago to stand a chance at regaining a general audience. Still, it's nice to feel properly excited and happy about Doctor Who for the first time in four years.
Jeff R. said…
I'd have liked to have seen a NuWho companion involved, but I guess the only possibility for that would have been Martha and with only one choice availability becomes more difficult. Maybe Donna during 10/14 though. (ignoring them other counts)

(Have Big Finish or other other media everdone a story titled "The Hundred Companions"?
Siskoid said…
There's an audio called The Five Companions, that's as high as it's gotten.
LiamKav said…
It's kinda funny that, watching it, I enjoyed myself than I have with most Chibnall stuff, but looking back I feel almost nothing about the episode. It was just... there. And considering everything that was packed in to it, that's not a great look.