'The Power Of The Doctor' Ends Jodie Whittaker's Doctor Who Run As It Began — As A Disappointment

The best way to describe Chris Chibnall and Jodie Whittaker's era of "Doctor Who" is "stuff happened." And in the centenary special "The Power of the Doctor," which served as Whittaker's Thirteenth Doctor swan song, stuff certainly happened. Was any of that stuff emotionally, narratively, or thematically resonant? Well, that's another story.

Jodie Whittaker's run as the first female Doctor in "Doctor Who" history has been mired in clunky writing, nonsensical plots, half-realized characters, and empty spectacle — which on the surface, sounds par for the course for a show as silly and weird as "Doctor Who." But it's been missing the heart that made those kinds of quirks bearable, and as a result — despite some genuine bright spots through this four-year run — has felt like a chore to watch more than anything. And Whittaker's final episode as the Thirteenth Doctor certainly felt like a laundry list of fan service and confusing plot beats — none of which cohered into a good, emotionally satisfying episode. Instead, what we got was a mess of a two-part episode that ended as many a Chibnall-era finale did: it just ... ended.

Putting out fires

In a behind-the-scenes video for the first episode he penned for "Doctor Who," Chris Chibnall described the Doctor as at their best when they're constantly putting out tons of fires. And gosh, golly has he stuck by that belief. Rather than establish any real stakes, Chibnall will constantly manufacture suspense by having the Doctor run from one crisis to the other — never really solving any of them. And "The Power of the Doctor" is no different, introducing many, many conflicts after the other, prioritizing the plot over the story and hoping the audience never catches onto the fact that the whole episode is held together by prayer and spit.

A quick rundown of those plots: First, a group of the CyberMasters (who are still alive and kicking after half of the universe got swallowed up, apparently!) hijack a train and steal its precious cargo, a little girl. Also, the Master is also alive and kicking, now masquerading as Rasputin in 1916 Saint Petersburg, which has seen the appearance of a second moon in the sky. Also, that second moon was created by Cyber technology and is powered by a dead TARDIS. Also, the Daleks are harnessing the power of volcanoes to dominate the world, or something. Also, Classic Who companions Ace (Sophie Aldred) and Tegan (Janet Fielding) have received mysterious messages from the Doctor and are reunited with her after decades. Also, Vinder (Jacob Anderson) found a wormhole. Oh wait, now the Master is posing as a seismologist, giving a lecture in front of a group of seismologists that he's miniaturized (and subsequently killed) to lure the Doctor and Yaz (Mandip Gill) into his trap. And with each new development, the Doctor rushes toward it with a breathlessly delivered line of dialogue and a feeling that she's as many steps behind as we are.

Up until her very last episode, the Thirteenth Doctor is still frustratingly passive, and as much a victim to the plot as the rest of the episode. The hilarious thing is, the episode even gently lampshades this when Yaz asks the Doctor, "Are you still doing this? Running from one place to the next, never explaining?" but never stops to acknowledge that this is a problem. But what if — to give "The Power of the Doctor" the benefit of the doubt — we were to ignore the plot altogether and focus on what has always been the greatest strength of "Doctor Who," its characters? Unfortunately, they're not the saving grace the episode thinks they are.

Quick goodbyes and awkward reunions

The TARDIS might as well have rotating doors, with the amount of new and old companions leaving and reuniting with the Doctor in this episode. After immediately stealing the show with his appearances in "Flux" and the holiday specials, Dan (John Bishop) has a very normal reaction to his close brush with death and leaves the TARDIS. It's actually quite a bittersweet farewell scene, with Bishop's understated delivery of the line, "You don't need to come back for me," and the Doctor's quietly sad response. But like much of the episode, his goodbye is oddly rushed (hope your house gets fixed, my guy?) — the Doctor doesn't have much time to mourn the departure of her newest companion when she's suddenly reunited with two former companions.

Ace, the Seventh Doctor's (Sylvester McCoy) companion, and Tegan, the companion of the Fourth (Tom Baker) and Fifth Doctor (Peter Davison), are still fighting the good fight, but are dragged back into the Doctor's orbit with a mysterious message and a Russian Doll of a Cyberman that Tegan receives in the mail. Working for Kate Stewart's (Jemma Redgrave) newly revived UNIT to investigate the strange case of classic art pieces vandalized with the face of Rasputin (aka the Master), they're reluctantly reunited with the Doctor when Kate Stewart urgently calls her to help investigate. They're still bearing their grudges with the Doctor — Tegan over the death and destruction that led to her departure, Ace over some unseen slight — but despite an awkward introduction, they become a highlight of the episode.

Ace and Tegan's appearances are total fan service wedged in for the purpose of this centenary special (the celebration of 100 years of BBC), but Aldred and Fielding are so immediately game and enthusiastic that it's hard to resist cracking a smile when Ace calls the Doctor "Professor" and whips out her old bat and bomber jacket, or feeling a twinge of sympathy for Tegan's lonely life post-TARDIS. It's these small character moments with legacy characters that make the episode, and "Doctor Who," but alas, we must service Chibnall's plot gods and get on with it.

A Master plan

One thing I will say is that Sacha Dhawan deserves more than John Simm's leftovers. A fantastic actor who brings charisma and range to a role that has once again been reduced to Joker knockoff, Dhawan is probably the closest to the episode's MVP — even if his Master's plan makes zero sense. The Cybermen and Dalek plots (including a traitorous Dalek who offers the key to the Daleks' destruction to the Doctor) end up not mattering much and even grand returns of one of Chibnall's all-time villains (Ashad!) are given little more than a quick "Oh he was cloned!" explanation. And in the end, as with half of the Chibnall finales, the Doctor spends most of it captured and frozen while the Master monologues his plan to her.

What is the Master's master plan (or as he cheekily jokes, the Master's Dalek plan)? To force her to regenerate into the Master, so that he can commit evil throughout the universe in her name, dragging her reputation in the mud. And he succeeds, transforming Jodie Whittaker into Sacha Dhawan with an earring. Which, you might now realize, didn't really need to be done at all because the Master could easily achieve the same thing by just wreaking havoc around the universe and calling himself the Doctor. And this might have been more sinister when the Master did this before in the season 3 finale, when he replaced the entire human race with himself. Wouldn't the Master's plan in this episode have been more efficient if the Doctor kept her form but had her personality replaced by the Master? It would've given Whittaker a chance to play evil and would've been richer narratively too — though it is undeniably fun to see Dhawan prance around in Whittaker's clothes.

Oh well, at least we have the genuinely fantastic scene of the Master dancing to Boney M's "Rasputin" while dressed as Rasputin. Now that's camp.

The Doctor, erased

But this is not the end for the Thirteenth Doctor. She wakes up in a dream world where she's greeted by the First Doctor (David Bradley, reprising the role after "Twice Upon a Time"), the Fifth Doctor, the Sixth Doctor (Colin Baker), the Seventh Doctor, and the Eighth Doctor (Paul McGann), all clad in austere Time Lord robes except for the still ruggedly handsome Eighth Doctor, who looks like he just wandered off of the cover of Big Finish's Time War audio drama. "You're not finished," they tell Thirteen, introducing themselves as Guardians of the Edge, that being the "edge" of existence.

It's a cool scene, and a welcome appearance by the Classic Who Doctors, especially McGann, who makes his first official appearance on the main TV series. But it's also the scene where the episode switches gears — backgrounding Whittaker's Doctor and suddenly becoming a Doctor-lite episode — not exactly ideal for the Thirteenth Doctor's last hurrah.

Journey's End ... again

Whittaker's era has always lived in the shadow of the David Tennant era — her characterization is clearly a combination of both the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors, while her second (and strongest) season was a clear retread of the Russell T Davies era stories and tone. And her last episode continues to thrive under that shadow with a story that basically rehashes Tennant's season 4 finale, "Journey's End." (The power of the Doctor is the friends you made along the way, get it?)

You've got your reunion of new and legacy characters, your return of old monsters, your interplanetary threats, and a scene where everyone pilots the TARDIS together. But while a few reunions do manage to eke out genuinely emotional moments — the hologram Fifth Doctor's "brave heart" to Tegan is especially touching, and Kate Stewart's noble gesture of self-sacrifice (which is naturally thwarted at the last minute) is a highlight — the episode just feels like Chibnall throwing everything at the screen with less emotional and narrative finesse than Davies or Moffat. The AI Doctor hologram barely holds the episode together, and with Yaz acting more like the Doctor in this episode than the Doctor was, "The Power of the Doctor" doesn't feel like a fitting goodbye for Thirteen.

To add insult to injury, an anticlimactic death, after Yaz and Vinder manage to reverse the forced regeneration, leads to an even more anticlimactic parting for the Thirteenth Doctor's incredibly large ensemble. The Master defeated, everyone goes their separate ways, only asking Yaz with slight concern in their voices, "Is she all right?" She is not all right, she is in fact dying. And Yaz, her stalwarts companion with whom she shared an intense connection that was frustratingly never truly acknowledged, a companion who waited years and traveled continents to be reunited with the Doctor, just ... leaves?

"Gonna take in one last sunrise," the Doctor tells her, which seems to be an unspoken declaration that they're parting ways, and Yaz leaves without a word which feels uncharacteristic, but hey this is a Chibnall episode and people just do things. But the cherry on top of this disappointing farewell for the Thirteenth Doctor, never really given her due and outshined in most of her episodes including this, is the regeneration reveal. Out of her botched regeneration, David Tennant emerges, fully clothed in a new outfit (weird!)."I know those teeth," he says, in a callback to one of the Tenth Doctor's very first lines. Confused, he lets out a three-pronged, "What?!" and the episode ends.

Farewell, Thirteen. Maybe you were just unlucky.

Tidbits in time and space

  • I was glad to see Jodie Whittaker don that familiar orange spacesuit a least once during her tenure.
  • RIP the Chibnall exposition dump, I won't miss you.
  • Chibnall's short-term memory when it comes to the Steven Moffat era once again rears its ugly head (I'm still mad about the erasure of Missy's arc), with the introduction of a Dalek that hates the Dalek race. That's Rusty. Bring back Rusty.
  • "I was only trying to teach you good habits Ace" feels like a dramatic misinterpretation of how the Seventh Doctor manipulated Ace when they traveled together.
  • Graham (Bradley Walsh) just shows up in a volcano?? Then appears again only to lead a companion group therapy session? Feels like Dan's exit may have been even more rushed than appeared.
  • Why did the Tenth Doctor 2.0 regenerate with an all-new wardrobe, something that has never happened in "Doctor Who" history? Guess we'll find out in the 60th anniversary special!