Tuesday 25 October 2022

Reviews in Time & Space: Doctor Who 2022 Centenary Special - The Power of the Doctor

Doctor Who 2022 Centenary Special - The Power of the Doctor

"It's the end, but the moment has been prepared for." After four years and 31 episodes, the time of Thirteenth Doctor Jodie Whittaker and showrunner Chris Chibnall has come to an end. Combined with the celebration of the BBC's centenary, such an exit deserves an extra-special episode of Doctor Who. The Doctor's greatest enemies converge on her in The Power of the Doctor – a feature length special clocking in at an incredible 90 minutes. As teased following the credits of Legend of the Sea Devils, the episode brings back classic companies Tegan Jovanka (Janet Fielding) and Ace (Sophie Aldred) – along with several other familiar faces that were kept top secret ahead of the episode airing.

(This review contains major spoilers, make sure you've seen the episode first!)

The Cyber MastersThe Daleks

As the Doctor investigates an outer space train heist by the deadly Cyber Masters, a series of events are also taking place on Earth. Seismologists are disappearing, a mysterious planet has appeared next to the Earth and famous paintings are being defaced with the image of Rasputin. Only it isn't Rasputin, it's the Master. Meanwhile a lone Dalek contacts the Doctor, offering her the secrets of how to destroy the Daleks forever.

But these seemingly unrelated events are all connected, with the Daleks, Cybermen and Master joining forces in what might be the latter's most diabolical scheme yet. If he can't defeat the Doctor, then the Master will become the Doctor. With friends old and new allying to save her, the Thirteenth Doctor's final adventure begins.

Tegan & AceThe Master returns

At 90 minutes long there's no denying that The Power of the Doctor is a lot. Not just in terms of the running time itself, but Chibnall packed as much into this episode as he possibly could to mark the occasion. On top of the final adventure of the Thirteenth Doctor and her battle against the Master, there's also Daleks, Cybermen, cameos from the classic series, returning faces from the current era and of course a regeneration to deal with. It’s an awful lot to get through even with the bolstered runtime, so naturally some elements aren't quite expanded on as they perhaps could be. However this certainly isn't a Legend of the Sea Devils situation where it feels like half the script was thrown out to leave a slapdash product – The Power of the Doctor is a streamlined product that puts spectacle and entertainment at the forefront. It's an episode that isn't bogged down by the various mysteries set up by the current era, playing on recent plot threads but very much presenting them for an audience who might be dropping in for the first time in a while. Combined with the more cinematic look Doctor Who has shown off in the last few years, The Power of the Doctor has all the qualities to be considered "epic" and definitely wants to be seen as such.

For an episode that's all about the Thirteenth Doctor, it's amazing how much of The Power of the Doctor technically has her out of commission. But even with the Master having taken her out of picture it's not enough to keep 13 down, either active within her own consciousness or guiding her friends as an interactive AI. Some of this Doctor's actions have been somewhat questionable (which admittedly can be said about any incarnation), and The Power of the Doctor isn't necessarily afraid to show this – balancing her cheery playfulness with her tendency to rush around without explaining anything. The fact it doesn't really delve into either extreme is a positive though, as it captures a good average of 13's personality over the course of her tenure.

The Doctor & YazDan

At her side though are her trusted companions, or one of them at least. Poor old Dan is unceremoniously dumped within the first 15 minutes of the episode, deciding he wants to go off and live his life. Whilst certainly a fitting exit for the character, Dan has very much felt like a background player whilst the relationship between Yaz and the Doctor developed so to see him go so quickly is quite disheartening. Yaz however is on good form though, especially as she has to take charge in the Doctor's absence. In some ways The Power of the Doctor is all about Yaz having to come to terms with life without "her" Doctor, albeit with unexpected circumstances. There have been so many stories where Yaz has simply felt like the Doctor's "yes man" (even when the Doctor is actively choosing not to explain anything to her), so it's nice to see her step out of the Doctor's shadow and come into her own for her final appearance. "The Power of the Doctor" isn't referring to the Doctor herself, but rather the friends she's made along the way.

But while this may have been Jodie Whittaker's swansong the episode really belonged to Sacha Dhawan, whose maniacally unhinged Master was at his very best. Gleefully glossing over his apparent death at the end of The Timeless Children, the Master quite literally dances through his latest scheme to destroy the Doctor. The plan to force the Doctor to regenerate into the Master is something that wouldn't have necessarily fitted the Masters of old, but is perfect for this crazed stalker-like interpretation that the modern series has cultivated over the years. There are plenty of nods to classic Master moments, from the return of the TCP to mentions of Ace and Tegan's previous run ins with the maniacal timelord. But on top of all that history Dhawan continues to built up his own brilliant portrayal, with his Rasputin dance certainly going down as one of the episode (and character)'s most memorable moments. Why exactly was the Master posing as Rasputin? Who knows, but enjoying a bit of theatrics certainly fits with the character. So unhinged is this incarnation that there's even a slight sense of sorrow when he is inevitably forced back into his own body. If this is the last time we see Dhawan's Master on screen, then he definitely went out with a bang.

Ra-ra-rasputinThe Master Doctor

As much as The Power of the Doctor is the final curtain for 13, the celebration of the BBC's centenary brings along with it a celebration of classic Who that even rivals the likes of The Day of the Doctor. This of course starts with the appearance of Tegan and Ace, now working as UNIT freelancers alongside Kate Stewart. Bringing back two beloved companions to give them a reunion (and also resolution) with the Doctor could have easily been enough to sate fans, but the episode doesn't stop there. David Bradley, Peter Davison, Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy and Paul McGann all reprise their roles as Doctors 1, 5, 6, 7 and 8 – finally righting the wrongs of the 50th Anniversary special. Appearing as both fragments within the Doctor's mind and part of the aforementioned AI, not only are they able to interact with Jodie herself but also provide the opportunity for Tegan and Ace to make amends with their Doctors – adding even more poignancy to what are already two heartfelt scenes. But just when you think the episode have done enough, it hits a hattrick once again at the very end – bringing back several more classic companions for a gathering to share their stories. Seeing the likes of Mel and Jo is special enough, but the return of William Russell as Ian Chesterton all these later is more than enough to make the stoniest of Who fans misty-eyed.

It isn't a perfect episode though, and even with the additional runtime there are a lot of ideas in here that aren't really allowed to breathe. As is the case with any story that involves the Master, both the Daleks and Cybermen are a secondary threat here – background noise that allows the villains to have strength in numbers. The obviously shaky nature of their alliance is briefly touched upon, but done so in a way so that the audience is just meant to accept it rather than give it any weight. Both factions of villains suffer from their own individual problems too, particularly the Cybermen. Given the artistry that went into designing those costumes its no surprise that the Cyber Masters made a return, but outside of their ability to regenerate their status as "Time Lord Cybermen" feels severely underplayed when it's something the Doctor should at worst be more threatened and at best be deeply traumatised by. The return of half-converted Ashad doesn't really amount to anything either, revealed to be a clone that's entirely subservient to the Master. If that's the case, what does Ashad achieve that a normal Cyberman wouldn't? Meanwhile the Daleks' issues are a lot less glaring, and more along the lines of a missed opportunity. The idea of a Dalek that's lost faith in its cause is a fascinating one, particularly with the reason that the Kaled identity has been eroded. What's simply bait for the Doctor to be lured into a trap could have formed the base of a whole episode exploring Dalek identity, as well as continuing to restore some individuality to the Doctor's greatest enemies. Cybermen playing second fiddle to the Master has practically become a Doctor Who tradition by now, but it's a shame to have seen some genuinely good Dalek ideas lost for the sake of a big regeneration/anniversary special.

Some familiar facesIan Chesterton

Chibnall's legacy on Doctor Who will also be one of unresolved plot threads, with several of its defining elements none the clearer here either. The Fugitive Doctor makes an all too brief appearance, cleverly used as part of Yaz's plan to defeat the Master but completely detached from the still-lingering mystery of the Timeless Child. Granted Chibnall has now gone on record to say that he never really had any intention of explaining things any further, so it'll be interesting to see if future writers (outside of Big Finish) pick it up or it's eventually resigned to the depths of dubious canon. But what's perhaps more glaring here is the abruptness of Yaz's exit from the TARDIS – her very apparent feelings for the Doctor barely addressed in the episode. While the Doctor's decision to move toward her regeneration "on her own" does play into the more selfish streak this incarnation has often displayed, Yaz agreeing to leave so easily may come as a slap in the face to those who put weight into their growing relationship. Though the idea of the Doctor's past companions coming together to form a support group is both a fitting and clever one, there's the overwhelming sense that Yaz deserved better. Despite now being one of the longest running companies, she's gone from barely defined to almost being wholly defined by her fierce loyalty to her Doctor.

Finally we have the "death" and regeneration of the Thirteeth Doctor, which despite going to most obvious route imaginable still raises so many questions. Before getting into the finer details Doctor 13 goes out in a brief but incredibly fitting fashion, her final words of "Tag you're it" both instantly quotable and a perfect summation of her version of the Doctor. The transformation into David Tennant however, takes Doctor Who into uncharted territory once more. Curiosities such as the Doctor's changing along with her (which while having happened before is not commonplace) and Russell T Davies remarking that Ncuti Gatwa is actually the fifteenth Doctor only deepen the mystery, with answers feeling quite a long way off. Tennant's return to the role, particularly in this fashion, feels like something of a double-edged sword – like an act of desperation as much as it does celebration. Will it draw in fans for the arrival of the true next Doctor or just try to placate those who have given up on the show in the last few years? Either way, there's no doubt that Tennant will give it his all and next year's 60th anniversary special will be quite the spectacle.

13's regenerationHe's back

The Thirteenth Doctor's tenure has been at times divisive, but The Power of the Doctor ends it in way that undoubtedly does her era justice. While many of its elements might not hold up to scrutiny if you think about them too much, the feature-length special delivers the one thing Doctor Who does best – sheer entertainment. Celebrating the past and present of the franchise, it's an episode that'll guarantee a smile no matter which era of the show you love the most. As for looking toward the future? Well, we'll all have to watch in 2023 to find out.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I already miss her...