An overstuffed plot and underwhelming regeneration fall by the wayside to a whirlwind of fun, and a much needed return
So, there we have it. Jodie Whittaker’s tenure as the 13th Doctor has come to an end. Much more consequentially, though, Chris Chibnall’s era as showrunner is over.
In many regards, this was one of the most inconsequential episodes of the sci-fi series to ever air. It could have been excellent, and it wouldn’t have changed what had come before. It could have been awful, and it wouldn’t matter because a whole new era is starting. So I expected to approach The Power of Doctor with apathy.
In reality, though, I was nervous. I didn’t want a whole new era of the show to begin on the back of a disaster. More than anything, it’s just not good for the long-term health of Doctor Who. I also wanted Jodie Whittaker to end her tenure on a high note. Her legacy as the 13th Doctor is never going to be on the level of former Doctors (thanks, Chris) but a good ending might at least numb some of the most venomous and personal criticism directed at her.
As it turns out, all the overthinking was completely unwarranted. The episode was your run of the mill Chibnall episode – messy, with bad dialogue, endless exposition, and unable to live up to its potential. But, despite all that, it still managed to be something that so much of Whittaker’s era has failed to be: fun!
So what actually happened in the episode? The finale has a sprawling plot involving returning companions, Daleks, duplicate TARDISes (TARDi?) CyberMasters, UNIT, The Master as Rasputin, missing paintings and seismologists, a new planet in the solar system, and so much more.
This is all part of a diversion (or, three faced plan as The Master puts it) which culminates in forcing the 13th Doctor to regenerate into him. If that sounds confusing… well, it is. The Master, having trapped The Doctor, forces her to regenerate into him. There’s really no other way to say it. The majority of the episode is then spent with Yaz working with Tegan and Ace in an attempt to revert The Doctor.
The 13th Doctor, forced out of her own body, has a moment where she meets many previous incarnations of The Doctor. This could have been gratuitous, but it’s simply too much fun. If you have love for Doctor Who, the moment will make you smile.
The forced regeneration also results in Sacha Dhawan in Whittaker’s outfit, which is tremendously entertaining. Unfortunately, his time as her doesn’t last long. The forced regeneration is reversed, and we’re soon all back to normal. But, while everything seems to be resolved, and The Master defeated, he manages to scythe through her with an energy blast. Uh oh.
If it sounds underwhelming and anti-climatic, that’s because it is. The circumstances leading to her death are by far the weakest element of the episode, and her regeneration stands as the least impressive for a long, long time.
The other big negative is the plot itself. Beneath all the fun, it was a messy, overstuffed script full of far, far too much. Was the chained child really necessary? Or the missing paintings? It should have been much more simple and straightforward. All the fluff distracts from what should be the focus: the emotion.
This could all make it sound as if The Power of the Doctor is unentertaining. That isn’t the case. Its many problems aside, the episode is a wild ride, and a whirlwind of fun. Dhawan’s Master elevates the material that he’s given, and his needle drop is a pure, pure moment of camp ecstasy.
The returning faces all have their moments too, and will ensure that you crack a grin or two. Then, there’s the action set piece in UNIT with Ashad breaking The Master out of his confinement. It’s genuinely engaging in a way that action in the TV series only rarely manages to be. And, the truth is, the ludicrously over-eager plot acts like a pick and mix. If you like Daleks, there’s moments of fun for you. If you like UNIT, the same applies, and so on and so forth.
Of course, though, all of this falls into complete irrelevance at the reveal of David Tennant. Those final seconds made my heart race – despite the fact that I was already sure that they were coming. Seeing Tennant again, after such a disappointing few years of Doctor Who, was like a big warm hug. It sets up some much needed genuine excitement for the future of Doctor Who something that has been so lacking.
The reality is, most regeneration episodes are disappointing, barring the actual regeneration scenes which are typically emotional, gripping, and thrilling. This was the opposite. Though the regeneration scene was a total flop, the episode itself was a lot of fun, filled with enough insane moments and ideas to keep you engaged and bemused in equal measure.
Tennant will now pick up the baton during the Doctor Who 60th anniversary specials, before Ncuti Gatwa takes over for Doctor Who series 14. Doctor Who is about to get really, really exciting again. To my surprise, The Power of the Doctor set the ball rolling with a fun, if far too messy, final story for the 13th Doctor.
For more time-travel related fun, check out our guide to the scariest Doctor Who episodes.