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Doctor Who: The Power of the Doctor (Review)

“Forced regeneration. Forced degeneration.”

The Power of the Doctor is in some ways a fitting conclusion to the Chibnall era, and an illustration of the era’s lost potential.

Trained for this.

It’s worth starting at the end, with the revelation that the Doctor’s former companions have all set up a support network for one another. The idea is that companions who find themselves leaving the TARDIS can be welcomed back into society. As Yaz departs, she is greeted by Graham and Dan. They take Yaz to a meeting, where she gets to reunite with Tegan and Ace from earlier in the episode. She is also put into contact with some of the companions who might have been too old to partake in the episode’s spectacle, like Ian, Jo and Mel.

On one level, this is obviously just an extension of the fan service that drives so much of The Power of the Doctor. It’s another excuse to wring out a few indulgent cameos from the show’s history, presumably from performers who weren’t necessarily physically capable of chasing Cybermen up and down the halls of U.N.I.T. It fits within the larger tapestry of continuity fetishism that informs so much of the late Chibnall era, which really came to a head in The Power of the Doctor.

More than that, it’s also a fundamental incapsulation of the era’s inherent conservatism. The Chibnall era has often struggled to articulate a vision for the future of Doctor Who, becoming increasingly entrenched in the show’s past as it progressed. However, this reflects the broader philosophy of the era around it. The Chibnall era of Doctor Who is essentially a show about how the future will never be better than the present or the past, and that the best one can do when confronted with that reality is to accept it and acknowledge it.

This is reflected in the show’s time travel episodes like Rosa or Demons of the Punjab, which are essentially about reducing the Doctor and her companions to passive observers of historical injustice. There is nothing that can be done to change the past, it can only be witnessed. This also extends to modern day and futuristic episodes like Kerblam! or Spyfall, Part II, where the Doctor has been shown to be unwilling and perhaps even unable to meaningfully correct systemic injustice. She can stop an invasion or a terrorist, but can’t topple a monstrous corporation or a corrupt technocrat.

Wicked callback.

During the Moffat era, Doctor Who really grappled with the central dynamic between the Doctor and their companions. The show wrestled with the fundamental and often patriarchal power imbalance between the show’s lead and their co-star. Moffat’s Doctor Who asked if the relationship had to be inherently toxic, or if it could change and grow. Could the dynamic between the pair be rebuilt and reconfigured, reinvented as something more equitable and less inherently toxic. Did every era of the show have to end with a companion dead, exiled or lost? Couldn’t they go on to something more?

Clara got to have her own TARDIS, and her own companion with Me. Bill got to travel the cosmos and go on cool adventures with a sentient artificial intelligence. These were endings that rejected the idea of any hierarchy between Doctor and companion, and certainly rejected any notion that the companion needed to be “put in their place” at the end of their story. There was an infinite array of possibilities. After all, these people had experienced something truly magical. They should be changed and transformed by the experience. They should grow and evolve.

Chibnall seems incapable of conceiving of the idea that things might grow and change. In fact, the episode is built around the idea that all companions eventually end up abandoned by the Doctor on modern day Earth and have to find their own way. He even conceives of this for Ace, who disappeared from the TARDIS at some point between Survival and The TV Movie. Script editor Andrew Cartmel had originally envisaged Ace leaving the TARDIS to study to become a Time Lord, an idea explored in spin-off media, but Chibnall assumes she had the same ending as Tegan or Jo.

Indeed, there’s an implicit rewriting of Mel’s departure to make it fit with this template. Mel left in Dragonfire, in the distant future on the ice world of Svartos. Mel decided to adventure with the smuggler Sabalom Glitz on his space ship. It wasn’t exactly as striking as Romana’s departure at the end of Warrior’s Gate or Clara’s farewell at the end of Hell Bent, but it was still a very different ending from that of Tegan in Resurrection of the Daleks or Jo in The Green Death. Instead, the cameo from Mel smooths and erases all of that. She is just like any other companion. She’s not unique. None of them are.

Take it for Granted.

Instead of exploring this unsettling idea, The Power of the Doctor builds an entire infrastructure around it. The Doctor’s capacity to pick up and discard companions becomes just another system to be protected and maintained, like the eponymous mega corporation in Kerblam! or Noor Inayat Khan’s death in a concentration camp in Spyfall, Part II. It’s not a problem to be fixed, but just a fact of life. It can be acknowledged and accepted, but never challenged or repaired. It’s a very conservative worldview. Things cannot change, everything should always be the way that it is now.

The issue is somewhat compounded by Chibnall’s decision in Survivors of the Flux to make the Doctor’s relationship with their companions a perpetuation of the abusive relationship that the Doctor once had with Tecteun. The implication is that the Doctor keeps hurting their companions because Tecteun hurt them. Even if that memory was repressed, the revelation cannot help but shape how Chibnall colours the dynamic between Yaz and the Thirteenth Doctor. As such, the support group takes on a decidedly sinister connotations. Are these companions or are they survivors?

It’s a bleak thought, but it’s not one that The Power of the Doctor is particularly interested in exploring or interrogating. Indeed, despite ending with the revelation that the Doctor has created entire generatons of companions who need support groups to cope with their experiences, The Power of the Doctor is mostly built around how great the Doctor is. It is about reassuring the Doctor that, to quote Yaz, “She is loved.” It’s not a bad idea in the context of a centenary special or a regeneration story, but it also doesn’t fit with the portrayal of the companion story.

Again, there’s a strong conservatism at play here. The episode uses the conceit of a computer-generated simulation of the Doctor to give Tegan and Ace one final conversation with their Doctors, with the Fifth and Seventh Doctors respectively. Crucially, the rift between the Seventh Doctor and Ace is presented as an act of rebellion on the part of Ace, one that she regrets in hindsight. “I didn’t understand the burden you carried,” Ace explains. The Seventh Doctor is magnaminous. “All children leave home sooner or later,” he reflects. “The joy is to watch them fly.”

Seventh heaven.

The idea here is that the Doctor is something to be loved uncritically and unashamedly, which doesn’t quite fit with the way that Chibnall has problematicised the dynamic between Yaz and the Doctor. Again, this is all stuff that the show worked through during the Moffat era, particularly in the complicated relationship between River Song and the Doctor, where there was always a question about how healthy their relationship was and whether he was even capable of loving her back. The Moffat era ended that conversation on a hopeful note, suggesting the Doctor could change. The Chibnall era rejects this.

The Power of the Doctor is a mess of an episode in a way that feels very reflective of Chibnall’s approach to writing Doctor Who. However, it’s also very straightforward. The episode’s middle section finds the Master hijacking the Doctor’s body, forcing her to regenerate into him for reasons that are somewhat vaguely defined. There’s the germ of a good idea here, albeit one that the Moffat era already got to in World Enough and Time. What if the Master wanted to play at being the Doctor, what would that look like?

When Yaz confronts the Master over this evil plan, looking for a reason or a justification, the Master explains, “I’m going to make ‘doctor’ a byword for fear, pain and destruction so that when people hear that name in future they will quake in fear.” This is an odd beat for an episode that just a few minutes earlier had the Doctor casually considering genocide against “every Dalek” without batting an eye.  More to the point, it feels very odd that the Master’s plan should be to revert the Doctor’s public persona to that of “the Oncoming Storm” during the Davies era, particularly given that The Power of the Doctor ends with Davies’ return.

Of course, this is all rooted in the idea that the Doctor is a force for universal good that is widely and unequivocally accepted as such. It’s something that doesn’t entirely gel with the escalated stakes of the Chibnall era, where the Doctor is routinely wiping out entire fleets of Daleks, Cybermen and Sontarans without blinking an eye. It speaks to a weird blindspot within the later stages of the Chibnall era, where the show is continuously asserting the Doctor’s ruthlessness against her returning foes and willful ignorance of her companion’s emotional wellbeing while also insisting on her complete innocence.

Well suited.

There’s something very strange and conflicted in the nostalgia at play in The Power of the Doctor. On the one hand, the episode is built around a wide variety of continuity references to earlier stories. This even extends to the Daleks’ plans to drill to the core of the Earth, as an obvious allusion to The Dalek Invasion of Earth. There are obvious set pieces lifted from earlier episodes, like the crowding of the supporting cast around the TARDIS console like in Journey’s End or the siege of a U.N.I.T. skyscraper recalling the Cybermen’s assault on Torchwood in Army of Ghosts or the Master dancing like in The Last of the Time Lords.

However, the actual script rehashes familiar old story beats as if they are brand new revelations. Yaz is shocked to discover that the Doctor has had female companions before her. “We used to be you, decades back,” Tegan tells Yaz, a moment that seems to emotionally shatter the younger woman. It was an interesting plot beat to write and explore back in School Reunion fifteen years earlier, but it is deeply unsatisfying when replayed as a rushed character beat in The Power of the Doctor. This episode assumes the audience cares about Peter Davison, but is shocked by a reheat of the core plot of School Reunion.

This is the central paradox of The Power of the Doctor, and what feels like the central paradox of the larger Chibnall era around it. Chibnall has always been caught between two competing impulses. The Power of the Doctor opens with an obvious allusion to The Woman Who Fell to Earth, a clumsy effort to bring the era full circle by have the Thirteenth Doctor begin both her first and final adventures by jumping through the roof of a speeding train. However, it also underscores how much has changed in the space between those episodes.

What was most striking about Chibnall’s first season as showrunner was how aggressively he stripped the show back to basics. There were no returning monsters that season, with a single Dalek showing up for the New Year’s Special, Resolution. The show’s aesthetic was decidedly minimalistic. It was firmly grounded in the surroundings of Sheffield. It was a fresh start. It was positioned as something similar to Davies’ first year as showrunner, a pared down approach to Doctor Who that was clearly intended to be accessible to new viewers lured by Jodie Whittaker’s casting. It even looked more polished and more prestigious.

It figures.

All that promise was encapsulated in the title of that premiere. Chibnall was clearly bringing the show “to Earth” again. There was an emphasis on location work, with the production team shooting in Spain and South Africa to give the series a globetrotting feel. There were lots of impressive exterior shots that gave the series a sense of scale and majesty. That first season was very rough, but there was a clear sense that Doctor Who was reinventing itself, as it had at various points over the show’s history in episodes like Spearhead from Space, The Ark in Space, Rose or The Eleventh Hour.

However, the show took a sharp left turn during Chibnall’s second season, bring back returning villains like the Master and the Cybermen, along with cameos from old favourites like Captain Jack in Fugitive of the Judoon. Suddenly, it seemed like Chibnall’s Doctor Who was less interested in trying to be anything new, and more interested in turning into a very insular and nostalgic property. Ascension of the Cybermen seemed to argue that the best that Doctor Who could offer was the storytelling of Earthshock with the big budget special effects of Star Wars. The Timeless Children filled a continuity gap from The Brain of Morbius.

While fans might obsess over the continuity changes made in The Timeless Children, in hindsight it is Ascension of the Cybermen that reveals the true aesthetic aspirations of the Chibnall era. Chibnall very famously appeared on Open Air, criticising the storytelling of the late Saward era. Indeed, that infamous footage might be why the Sixth Doctor is confined to a smaller cameo than the Fifth or Seventh, and never given a moment with Peri or Mel to match those that the Fifth had with Tegan or the Seventh had with Ace.

It often feels like Chibnall wasn’t embarrassed by the storytelling ethos of the Saward era, but instead by the technical limitations. Ascension of the Cybermen suggested that the epitome of Doctor Who should be a version of Earthshock that couldn’t be mocked for its cheap and unconvincing effect. Doctor Who should be able to offer blockbuster storytelling, on par with any major cinematic blockbuster or science-fiction franchise. If Disney+ and Netflix could bring that sort of scale to television, Doctor Who could finally do justice to the kinds of stories that it have been trying to tell in the mid-eighties.

Off the rails.

This is obvious even just looking at The Power of the Doctor. If Doctor Who stories can be broken down into “gun” and “frock” stories, then The Power of the Doctor solidifies this as the most “gun” era of the show since Saward was script editor. The Doctor’s relationship to guns has always been complex and multifaceted, but the show’s embrace of firearms has never been quite as enthusiastic as in The Power of the Doctor. The Doctor insists that Yaz be given a firearm, a reminder of her status as a police officer. Yaz trains the gun on the Master. “Don’t worry, I’ve had weapons training,” she boasts.

The Power of the Doctor takes great pleasure in footage of people firing gigantic machine guns at Cybermen. Indeed, the episode goes out of its way to give Tegan and Ace a celebratory moment where they both take out gigantic rifles and blast away at armies of bag guys. It’s a weird sequence in the context of a British family television show, and is especially weird in th context of Tegan’s departure at the end of Resurrection of the Daleks because the show had become too violent. It feels like Chibnall channelling modern American blockbusters.

To be fair, there is perhaps something to be said for Chibnall as a screenwriter chasing mainstream popularity in a way that his direct predecessors never did. After all, when Moffat riffed on superheroes in The Return of Doctor Mysterio, he was riffing on the timeless archetypes of the Richard Donner Superman movies rather than any modern spectacle. In contrast, Chibnall often seems to be shasing the next anticipated fad. The Stenza that appeared in The Woman Who Fell to Earth, The Ghost Monument and The Battle of Ranskoor av Kolos seem to have been created assuming The Predator would be a bigger hit.

Chibnall’s tenure as showrunner often seems built around spotting a long-scheduled blockbuster release date and trying to determine if it might be a zeitgeisty hit that he could play with. At times, Resolution recalls Venom. The James Bond riff in Spyfall, Part I aired just two months before No Time to Die was originally planned to open. Even here, with the high-speed action on a militarised train, it is interesting to wonder whether Chibnall was betting on Bullet Train being the lingering hit of the late summer.

On the wrong track.

After all, this is the big difference between the train sequences in The Woman Who Fell to Earth and the train sequence in The Power of the Doctor. The train in The Woman Who Fell to Earth was a real and recognisable train. The train in The Power of the Doctor is a gigantic computer-generated effect. Chibnall has boasted that The Power of the Doctor contains more visual effects shots than any previous episode of Doctor Who. (To put it frankly, it’s impressive how good the practical effects glimpsed in the anniversary teaser look in comparison to the visual effects in The Power of the Doctor.)

As such, The Power of the Doctor feels like the apotheosis of a Chibnall’s vision for Doctor Who as a very particular sort of populist spectacle, one worlds removed from the restrained aesthetic of his first year as showrunner. To put it simply, Chibnall wants to build a nostalgic blockbuster version of Doctor Who that is very similar to the kinds of nostalgic blockbusters that dominate modern moviemaking. This is an attempt to build a version of Doctor Who that competes with Jurassic World Dominion or Black Adam, in the same way that Saward was clearly chasing Star Wars or Alien.

In theory, there is nothing wrong with this. The beauty of Doctor Who is that it is infinitely adaptable. It can be anything at anytime, and the only limit that exists is the imagination of the production team. However, Doctor Who is at its most interesting when it is actively engaging with the genre that it is emulating, when it is finding something fun or interesting to do with it. The show is a toybox, it should be fun to play with. The big problem with the approach of both Chibnall and Saward is the tendency to forget to this, to turn the show into a hollow imitation of an object with much greater production values.

Indeed, there’s a solid argument to be made that, with The Power of the Doctor, Chibnall is effectively turning Doctor Who into “a Marvel movie.” It’s all there: the existential stakes, the heavily reliance on computer-generated effects, the clumsy macguffins, and the copious amounts of nostalgia and fan service packaged within this. To some extent, The Power of the Doctor clearly aspires to be Chibnall’s attempt to homage Avengers: Endgame as a Doctor Who episode. Indeed, it’s telling how much of the episode’s pre-publicity was built around the promise of fan-appeasing “easter eggs.

Love to Eight.

This is obvious. Just look at the cameos that draw both from the franchise’s history and from the larger era, even when they make no sense in context. Why are the First, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh and Eighth Doctors standing as “guardians of the edge?” Why not the Second, Third, Fourth, Ninth, Tenth, Eleventh or Twelfth? The answer is obviously availability and interest. Why would the Master resurrect Ashad after killing in The Timeless Children? There is no plot or character reason for that, beyond using Ashad as a marker of the larger Chibnall era.

There are plenty of examples of this approach, which shoehorns in elements that the audience will recognise in ways that make no narrative sense. Is Vinder so essential to the era that he needs his own plot thread? Why is Graham skulking around the caverns, beyond the fact that Bradley Walsh was only available for a few days of shooting? Why is Ace wearing the same jacket and carrying the same baseball bat that she did over thirty years ago? This is all very weird, and there is no justification for it beyond empty nostalgia.

Of course, the irony is that Chibnall is essentially offering a bad cover version of what Davies did back in Journey’s End. That’s not a surprise. Davies was riffing on gigantic comics crossovers like Crisis on Infinite Earths or Final Crisis before those things had entered popular consciousness through comic book movies. In hindsight, Journey’s End is very similar in conception to something like Endgame. However, it’s also better constructed than The Power of the Doctor, because Davies understands that he needs something more than just nostalgia to hold the narrative together.

The Power of the Doctor lacks any glue or cement to tie all of this into a single coherent plot. Instead, Chibnall falls back on the writing crutches that have defined his era since The Woman Who Fell to Earth and which have only grown more frustrating over time. Most obviously, building off the approach that helped sustain the early episodes of Flux, Chibnall assumes that having multiple plot threads unfold simultaneously across multiple time zones will disguise the lack of narrative coherence. It’s an approach designed to distract from any individual flaw by overwhelming the audience.


To be fair, this was a technique that Chibnall was using The Woman Who Fell to Earth. It’s very apparent that The Woman Who Fell to Earth is cutting rapidly across various plot threads to disguise Chibnall’s weakness with dialogue and character compared to Davies or Moffat. Flux just heightened this to an absurd degree, with the plot threads further apart in terms of spatial and temporary geography. The idea is to create a sense of momentum and curiosity that can lure the audience in.

The Power of the Doctor makes a big deal of various things happening simultaneously in different times and places. Ace is investigating stolen painting. Tegan is investigating missing seismologists. The story jumps from Russia in 1916 to London in 2022. The Doctor is dealing with both the Cybermen and the Daleks, not to mention the Master. “It’s all happening so fast,” the Doctor complains. When Tegan pushes for a confrontation, the Doctor responds, “Sorry. Dealing with multiple somethings.” Yaz appreciates the magnitude of the threat, “Daleks on the same day as the Master and Cybermen.”

There is a sense in which this fragmentation could be read as a metacommentary on the increasingly fracture world, a world where everything seems to be happening all at once, and where multiple existential threats from climate change to financial collapse to the rise of fascism all present simultanously. It might also be a comment on the world shaped by the internet, where everything seems to be happening all at once continuously in a way that is overwhelming. However, Moffat was much better at this sort of anxiety about collapsing realities in The Big Bang and The Wedding of River Song.

Indeed, it’s telling that The Power of the Doctor falls back on what is essentially a riff on the previous two season finales, underscoring the extent to which this is Chibnall revisiting his favourite narrative tropes. As in The Vanquishers, with the show establishes multiple versions of the Doctor to solve the various problems simultaneously. In this case, it is a computer projection of the Doctor that can change forms, but allows the character to be present even when not literally present. As in The Timeless Children, the Thirteenth Doctor spends a lot of the movie’s mid-section in a liminal space, talking to various versions of herself.

No one knows what it’s like to be Ashad man… to be a bad man…

None of this is particularly interesting or satisfying. It often feels like noise. It’s just eating time. It is stuff happening, in the hope that the audience might confuse movement for momentum. It also showcases one of Chibnall’s consistent weaknesses. He is terrible at exposition. Large chunks of The Power of the Doctor consist of characters asking each other inane questions and responding with nonsense technobabble that means absolutely nothing. Consider Ace and Tegan’s first conversation. “Where are you Tegan?” Ace asks. Then, “What are you doing there?”

To pick one small example, it’s worth considering the child that the Doctor attempts to rescue in the opening sequence. The Doctor discovers that the Cybermen are trying to steal a scared little girl from the train. This is a potentially interesting hook. What if the Thirteenth Doctor’s final adventure isn’t about the end of the universe or the end of the world, but just about helping a scared little girl. There are any number of obvious parallels that might tie back into the Doctor’s own back story as revealed in The Timeless Children, and offer some semblance of closure.

Instead, the child is just a plot point. She is a magical energy being that the Cybermen need to power their knock-off Death Star. Exposition strikes again. “The Cybermen have tethered that child into the planet,” the Doctor states. “She’s registering as an energy source.” Yaz asks the necessary question to move the conversation along, “How is that child an energy source?” The Doctor exposits, “It’s a consciousness shield. A creature trying to evade capture, hiding behind a visual protection shield – and this one shows us what we instinctively want to protect as a defense.”

That’s awful exposition for a number of reasons. It lacks the musicality that Davies and Moffat brought to technobabble. “Imagine a great big soap bubble with one of those tiny little bubbles on the outside,” the Doctor told Rory in The Doctor’s Wife, before adding, “Well, it’s nothing like that.” In The End of Time, Part II, the Doctor monologued about “the Skaro Degradations, the Horde of Travesties, the Nightmare Child, the Could-have-been King with his army of Meanwhiles and Never-weres.” Those are far more interesting and thrilling pieces of dialogue than one that uses the word “shield” to define a “shield.”

The Devil In Cyber.

There’s no attempt to unpack this strange creature and its unique defense mechanism. After all, does this imply that the Doctor would have been less likely to help the creature had it shown its true self? Did it pick the image of a child specifically to play on the Doctor’s unresolved trauma from The Timeless Children? The Power of the Doctor is uninterested in any of this. It is darkly hilarious when the Doctor returns to the creature at the climax, and watches it tear the planet apart with a giant laser. “What a universe. I’ll never understand it.” She’s reacting with wonder to an image that is frankly terrifying.

The end result of all this is that The Power of the Doctor is a story about the Thirteenth Doctor’s regeneration that is about anything but the Thirteenth Doctor’s regeneration. Early in the episode the Master hijacks the Doctor’s body. This would be a potentially interesting plot, if it weren’t one of a dozen things happening simultaneously. Indeed, it feels very much like Chibnall pulling a trick built around the suspense of a regeneration story to the detriment of that story. The audience knows that the Thirteenth Doctor is going to regenerate, so making regeneration a plot device is conceptually quite clever.

However, it doesn’t serve any larger purpose. It would be something if the Master’s hijacking of the Thirteenth Doctor and cosplay as earlier incarnations was a commentary on a certian kind of nostalgic fan obsessed with the show’s past and its perceived glory days, but the rest of The Power of the Doctor is built as a monument to those fans specifically by bringing back a rake of characters who last appeared before most of the show’s target audience was born.

More to the point, it’s a bad decision because it very forcefully sidelines Jodie Whittaker in her final episode. Whittaker has been an excellent ambassador for Doctor Who, and deserves far more than the era has given her. Whittaker doesn’t get much to do in an episode that is supposed to be her grand finale. She is overshadowed by the return of David Bradley, Peter Davison, Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy and Paul McGann. She is taken out of the plot for a lot of the episode, like she was in The Timeless Children, to received an extended monologue about her own importance.

Constant companion.

That said, the conversatio at “the edge” is interesting, because it suggests that the Chibnall era is approach some level of self-awareness. There is a sense of the show contemplating its own existence. According to producer Matt Strevens, the production team “did not know there would be another series of Doctor Who” while they were working on The Power of the Doctor. There was a very real possibility that The Power of the Doctor could have been a series finale for Doctor Who, something that no other production team had ever truly grappled with.

There’s a sense in which The Power of the Doctor is wrestling with this in those conversations. It feels a little bit like Chibnall wrestling with the possibility that he might end up being the showrunner to preside over the end of Doctor Who, and what that might mean. “This is supposed to be handed over,” the Sixth Doctor tells his Thirteenth self. “You can’t ruin it for the next one.” He is not just talking about the Thirteenth Doctor’s existence, but Doctor Who itself. Indeed, there is a hollow triumphantism in the Eighth Doctor’s assertion, “You are not finished.” The First Doctor doubles down, “We are not finished.”

In a small detail, it’s notable that the Thirteenth Doctor is visited early in the episode by a Dalek that has decided that their entire species needs to end. “We have lost the right to survive,” the Dalek explains by way of motivation for its willingness to assist the Doctor in genocide of its own species. The Daleks have always represented the death impulse within Doctor Who, certainty and inevitability in contrast to the mercurial nature of the Doctor. So it’s interesting that The Power of the Doctor ends with a Dalek embracing self-negation in an episode that could be the last ever episode of Doctor Who.

A stronger episode might draw a clearer connection between the Thirteenth Doctor at “the edge” and that Dalek at the crossroads. The Dalek has accepted the argument that all things must die, that the Daleks have moved too far from their starting point to be sustainable. There is a sense of a better version of The Power of the Doctor that finds the Doctor in a similar position, contemplating whether it is worth continuing on. To be fair, this might echo the character arc in Twice Upon a Time, but it would be appropriate and it is also not as if The Power of the Doctor is shy about borrowing whole plots and arcs.


An evicted Tennant returns.

And yet, with all that in mind, there is no substance to The Power of the Doctor. The episode makes no profound statement about who the Doctor is underneath it all, or what they stand for. Indeed, at the end of The Power of the Doctor, the Thirteenth Doctor is forced to regenerate not because of anything that has happened over the course of the episode, but because she can’t get out of the way of a giant laser while boasting to the Master. It’s a very humiliating and underwhelming ending for all the episode’s bombast, recalling the Sixth Doctor slipping and hitting his head.

The closest thing that The Power of the Doctor has to a character moment arrives early on. It seems to be present almost by accident. After the opening set piece, Dan decides that he has had enough of adventuring in time and space, and decides to leave the TARDIS. This makes a certain amount of sense. After all, Dan always seemed like a traveller by coincidence rather than by design. “You don’t have to come back for me,” he tells the Doctor. He acknowledges that he got lucky on the train. “I don’t want to push my luck any further.”

The revival has never done a companion departure quite like this, at the start of an episode rather than the end and as a choice made by the companion rather than forced by circumstances. After all, Dan doesn’t have to live through Martha’s experiences in The Last of the Time Lords to decide that the best course of action is “getting out.” It’s one of the most interesting and bold creative choices in Chibnall’s tenure, because it upends how audiences are conditioned to think about these sorts of stories.

More than that, it potentially establishes stakes. After all, if Dan is smart enough to leave the TARDIS after one near-death experience, what does that say about Yaz? What happens to Yaz if she continues to “push [her] luck?” Dan walking away from the TARDIS is a potentially brilliant storytelling choice if The Power of the Doctor decides that Yaz’s tale should be a cautionary story about the dangers of not walking away. It is a beat that says a lot about Dan, a lot about Yaz and a lot about the Doctor. At least in theory.

Dan cuts Lewis.

In reality, The Power of the Doctor stumbles on this hook entirely by accident and clumsily disregards it. It seems like Chibnall was writing Dan out of the story because either John Bishop had limited availability or because Chibnall couldn’t figure out how to integrate Dan into the central plot involving the Master. As with a lot of the Chibnall era, it seems like the narrative is dictated by cynical production realities rather than by any actual creative impulse. It’s hollow and empty.

That feels like as good a place as any to leave it.

6 Responses

  1. So the Chibnall era ends as it began. I know I’ve made my dislike of this era at times viscerally obvious, even looking back on my comments from 4 years ago. And I do regret that at times–I’m sure Chibnall himself is a nice guy doing his best in the role, a role which defeats 90% of tv writers, according to Steven Moffat. I have nothing against the man himself. Just clearing things up. The fact that he turned a nightmarish production into a healthy working environment is to his credit. Especially given what we know about RTD1.

    Creatively though…..it’s been a massive waste of potential for me. I don’t expect Doctor Who to be perfect. You yourself have documented how, despite how beloved they are, the Troughton and Pertwee eras sometimes stumbled into dull repetition and ill-thought-out politics. You’ve also written about Davies’ struggles with giant world-ending stakes every year (that become meaningless when used about 15 times in 4 seasons), and Moffat sometimes overreaching with what the show was actually capable of pulling off. And let’s not even start with the Saward era….But even allowing for all that, the Chibnall era sort of stands alone for me. It’s not ambitious, interesting, or exciting. It doesn’t have a fresh or interesting vision of Doctor Who–it lacks a soul. There’s been some very strong stuff in this era without a doubt, from confronting the scars of the British Empire head-on in “Demons of the Punjab” to the quirky weirdness of “It Takes You Away”. But overall, the feeling I’m left with is wasted potential.

    So it goes. I hope you’ll be back next year for RTD2–I know you’re busy at The Escapist actually getting paid for your writing, haha.


    1. “The Caves of Androzani”
    2. “The War Games”
    3. “Bad Wolf”/”The Parting of the Ways”
    4. “The Time of the Doctor”
    5. “Logopolis”
    6. “The Tenth Planet”
    7. “Twice Upon a Time”
    8. “The End of Time”
    9. “Planet of the Spiders”
    10. “The Power of the Doctor”

    Night and Day of the Doctor would damn near top the list, but it doesn’t seem right to include them in it…

  2. what was the point of the timeless child again? did it actually matter or mean anything?

  3. The Chibnall Era: Smaller on the inside.

    • I do enjoy your write ups, but I noticed that you didn’t say anything about the last couple of minutes. Is that because they’re a different writer and more a tease for the next story?

      (Also, after all of us criticising CC for overdoing the fanwank, literally the first thing RTD does is two call backs.)

      • I’m not a big fan of Tennant’s return, but I think there are practical reasons. General audiences perk up at the mention of his name in a way they don’t at Peter Davison or Sylvester McCoy (I love both of those incarnations by the way, more than Tennant’s).

  4. Great write-up as always, I really appreciate the work and the thought you put into these.

    I’m not gonna lie, I feel kinda deflated and tired right now. I had low expectations for PotD and I was still disappointed. It was so dramatically inert, it once again made me realize how wasted the first female Doctor (sorry for being saccharine, but an idea that meant much to me) was. Hopefully another actress gets a chance soon. But I have no doubt Gatwa will be great.

    Maybe it’s because of the lethal doses of fanwank (that the people who liked the episode mostly point to the cameos as their reason and not to Whittaker is telling) in PotD, but it’s kinda hard to get excited for TennantAgain! at the moment. I just worry it’ll embolden the line of thinking that Tennant and the RTD way of doing the show are the only valid approches. But hey, it is what it is – the show needs to be popular to survive.

    This is definitely just post-Whittaker blues and by the time the 60th rolls in I’ll be as hyped as ever (pre-PotD I was actually super excited. I was – and still am – looking forward to that streak of cynicism in RTD’s writing).

    Anyway looking forward to your thoughtful reviews of Doctor Who to come.

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