“Power of the Doctor” is the final special of Season 13 of the BBC sci-fi show Doctor Who, written by Chris Chibnall and directed by Jamie Magnus Stone. This is the final episode of Chibnall as showrunner of Doctor Who. It is also the last appearance of Jodie Whittaker as the Doctor, as well as Mandip Gill as Yazmin Khan and John Bishop as Dan. The Doctor is drawn to Earth as a triumvirate of her greatest enemies unite to destroy her entirely, using the planet and multiple points in time to do so.
Expectations were high coming into this episode and both Chibnall and Whittaker embraced it completely. At first, the pace was slow, unfolding a large story with multiple plans of attack. It looks from the outside as three separate plot threads, with the Master, the Daleks, and the Cybermen all enacting strategies in various places in the universe. But it is revealed that they are one and the same. There are also the old friends of the Doctor being brought in, lining this special with so much. That build-up takes a while, slightly too long, but once the “Power of the Doctor” picks up its stride, it is phenomenal.
There is a sudden explosion of energy that intensifies the pace and creates a magnificent second and third act. It is a vibrant story that is gigantic in its scale, yet it stays intimate with its characters. The Master’s plan has multiple levels that were completely unexpected. It flips the course of the plot every time. The final part is pure adventure and brilliance but brings with it an ending that many fans didn’t want to come. It is loving and heartbreaking at the same time.
What this special demonstrates is that Chibnall’s run has largely been empowered by the incredible talent and characters within it. They work in tandem because the dialogue and the storyline come from him and other writers, but it’s a cast full of soul. That is encapsulated by its star, Whittaker, who performs her swansong in the role of the Doctor with that same joyful demeanour she always has. It is a positivity that is infectious and belies a powerful depth in her performance. She also carries quiet anger that carries more weight than if it was loud and explosive. What will be dearly missed is the genuine love that Whittaker brings to the role until her very last second. She bounces off of any other character she comes across.
“The Power of the Doctor” includes a cabal of characters, the best of this era and beyond. The Doctor is joined for much of this by her most faithful companion, Yaz. Gill is sensational, especially in the last half of the episode. She shows a strength that matches the ancient being next to her. She can show resilience whilst on the verge of tears. There are parts where she is on her own, or among a large group, but Gill absolutely shines no matter what the occasion. It hurt to think that this was a send-off for her as well, but it was perfect. She is the hero of this special in more ways than one. The partnership between the Doctor and Yaz may be one of the greatest in Doctor Who’s history. Perhaps the love story between them didn’t flourish in the way some fans were anticipating, but part of the tragedy of Doctor Who is that it never does.
Then there are the returning figures from decades gone. Janet Fielding and Sophie Aldred are integral to the story as Tegan and Ace respectively, more than just a gratuitous cameo. They both have their own missions to fulfil, and the references to their adventures bear weight because it actually comes from their experiences. Ace and Tegan are given final moments with the Doctor that are so sweet and beautifully written. But they aren’t the only friend of the Doctor to come back one more time, many of whom were complete surprises.
Then there are the villains, which deserve just as much of a mention. In the spotlight is Sacha Dhawan who is absolutely exhilarating as the Master. What is glorious about him is that he is truly terrifying at times, especially with his opening tease. But there is a pathetic nature to him that is also glorious. The plan he enacts is universal in its scale, yet it is petty and vengeful. That’s what makes The Master a delightful character. He’s a small child with a despot’s brain. Like Whittaker, Dhawan has a quiet delivery that is soft but skin-crawling, with a terrific understanding of physicality and facial expressions. In that regard, he might be one of the best actors to embody the Master.
Then there are the Cybermen and the Daleks, the other two of the Doctor’s nemeses. Chibnall brilliantly makes each of their individual missions seem in tune with how they all usually operate. And the villains have old friends of their own, including the single greatest Cyberman design of all time. The shattered helmet, revealing the human face inside, is haunting, and that voice sends shivers down the spine. When he is unleashed, it becomes one of the most epic moments in the history of the series with a fantastic fight scene. It is so sudden, unrelenting, and fluid like an action movie.
The character that may seem hard done by is Dan, played by John Bishop. He leaves at the start of the special after the opening. And whilst it may be harsh, he wasn’t really working within the team. Maybe he was mistreated and he deserved more time, but he was a third wheel between the Doctor and Yaz.
The CGI and the production values of the special are a mixed bag. The opening is a fast-moving space scene that has both great effects and some slightly dodgy modeling that struggles with how much is happening all at the same time. Then there is perhaps the worst photoshopping I’ve ever seen, which inexplicably lingers instead of getting past the part as quickly as possible. But then there are planets and huge cosmic events that look fantastic, so it is a strange mixture. But the camerawork elsewhere is also superb, as is the score by Segun Akinola.
“Power of the Doctor” is a stunning send-off for so much. It truly is a love letter to Doctor Who, reminding us that all of those that came before are part of it, not just trapped in the past. It is an epic plot that leaves nothing left unanswered. All of the performances are terrific, but Whittaker, Gill, and Dewan steal the show. Whilst there is a deep sadness as the finality of the story sets in, the way in which the story of The Thirteenth Doctor and Yaz is concluded is capped off with an appreciation of what they have done. It still hurts seeing them go, as every major departure does, but remembering how brilliant they were left me smiling among the tears. The Chibnall era had problems, but it is these characters that will be the lasting legacy.
“Power of the Doctor” is available on BBC America and BBC iPlayer in the UK.
Doctor Who - "Power of the Doctor"
- Rating - 8/108/10
“Power of the Doctor” is a stunning send-off for so much. It truly is a love letter to Doctor Who, reminding us that all of those that came before are part of it, not just trapped in the past. It is an epic plot that leaves nothing left unanswered. All of the performances are terrific, but Whittaker, Gill, and Dewan steal the show.
Screenwriter with a love of comics and movies. Once referred to Wuthering Heights as “the one with the Rabbits.”