So, farewell then, The Woman Who Fell To Earth.
Having first made her debut on our screens back in 2017 as the first (official, anyway) female incarnation of the Doctor, Jodie Whittaker bows out alongside the present showrunner Chris Chibnall, in an epic, feature-length grand finale. One last big hurrah before a compete changing of the guard, and the triumphal return to the series of Russell T. Davies to take Doctor Who through its 60th anniversary celebrations next year – and beyond.
As well as clearing house, Chibnall also had the onerous task of providing an extravaganza to commemorate 100 years of the BBC, as well as putting together what was – at one point, apparently – envisaged as potentially the last episode of the show’s current run, before going on an indefinite hiatus. So, no pressure at all, then. It certainly means drawing a veil over perhaps one of the most contentious and divisive eras in the history of the programme’s almost six decades on television, which has also seen ratings falling.
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In some ways, it still seems as though Whittaker is the ‘new’ Doctor, her run as the lead impacted by a steadily decreasing number of episodes per series, along with disruption to the production schedule caused by COVID. Hardly being given a fair crack of the whip, compared to her predecessors in the role, it feels as though we have barely scratched the surface with her, and not really gotten to know such a radically new and groundbreaking incarnation of the Doctor. Hello, I must be going, in the words of Groucho Marx.
Actors who take up the mantle soon learn that this is one of the few jobs where people ask you when you will be leaving before you have even officially started. Pity, then, poor old Jodie, who attracted a particularly rabid pack of naysayers, opposed to anyone being the Doctor who happened to be a woman, and keen for her to depart before she had even shot a single frame. The ‘Not My Doctor’ crowd will no doubt feel vindicated, in the bizarrely perverse way that some sectors of fandom do, by wanting to see the thing they profess they love brought down, just to prove a point.
While she may have broken the glass ceiling in terms of the potential casting of other actresses as the Doctor in future, there are still parts of the fanbase who have resisted such a change. Hopefully, Whittaker’s time in the TARDIS will see a reappraisal in years to come, as she seems to have got short shrift, and been treated unfairly. This special episode – ‘The Power Of The Doctor’ – celebrated not just the show’s place in the BBC’s century long legacy, but also Whittaker’s tenure as our evergreen hero, and rightly so.
With Chibnall as creative lead, there have been a number of story threads set up and left hanging. Anyone who watched Doctor Who: Flux will realise that tying up loose ends is not his forte, so any long term viewers might approach this with a sense of trepidation. If you set out expecting to get a nice, neat wrap-up of the ‘Thasmin’ shipping between the Doctor and Yaz, or the ‘Timeless Child’ storyline which altered the Doctor’s origins, then you would have no doubt come away from this feeling disappointed, as these were either glossed over, or just ignored altogether.
But then, an hour-and-a-half is not a long time in which to wrap things up in a neat little package. Instead, it seems that Chibnall understood the assignment here, which was chiefly to venerate the character and the programme, and give us all one big party. On that front, Chibnall succeeded admirably, as he punched all the emotional buttons by reaching all the way back as far as 1963 to draw in elements from across the show’s continuity, partly as a nod to the fans, and partly to a view of audience which may have changed across the years, but who realise how much a part of the TV firmament Doctor Who has become.
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The plot itself is the kind of usual high-octane, nonsensical or outlandish bobbins Chibnall has been serving us up since 2018, with the tale jumping all over the place (and time) like a toddler hopped up on E numbers. From a space bullet train, to 1916 Russia, the present day, and a strange new artificial moon, ‘The Power Of The Doctor’ moved from one locale and setting to another at breakneck speed, which is probably just as well, as the audience never got chance to draw breath and think about how ludicrous everything actually was.
It was to be a huge showdown between the Doctor and some of her deadliest enemies – the Master (Sacha Dhawan), the Daleks, and the Cybermen, all of whom had come together to wipe her from existence once and for all. Hush your brain and just relax, worry not about the logic or the logistics of things, simply sit back and enjoy the spectacle. And, boy, just what a spectacle it was. Even if the end product did feel rather like a compilation of some of the series’ greatest hits, coming off ultimately rather like a Now That’s What I Call Doctor Who! collection.
The Master hanging up with epic legacy baddies? Check. A gaggle of faces both old and new joining forces to help the Doctor out? Check. Special guest appearances from some classic incarnations? Check. And so the list goes on, with Chibnall poaching elements used by other (and, arguably, better) writers, putting them all in an ideas blender, and serving up something which is a lot of empty calories, but still filling all the same. Given that he has still managed to somehow pull it all off with such relative panache, Chibnall has probably managed to earn himself a free pass here, so it seems churlish to be too harsh.
Warm, fuzzy nostalgia papered over a lot of the cracks, and how glorious it was to see the return of Ace (Sophie Aldred) and Tegan (Janet Fielding), having last appeared in the ‘80s. It would take a heart (or hearts) of absolute stone not to feel a little choked up at the sight of them back in action, as well as being all-too briefly reunited with ersatz versions of their own on-screen Doctors for much-needed pep talks in times of crisis. Who cares that those actors no longer look quite like their Doctors did all that time ago? A quick line in the script fixed all that for the pedants, but most people could simply bask in the warm glow of that Proustian rush of childhoods remembered.
Sacha Dhawan showed how much of an MVP he is, with his deeply unhinged, angry and self-loathing Master stealing focus and filling the screen. If you can judge a person by the quality of their enemies, then Whittaker’s Doctor deserves far more credit, as Dhawan is the perfect foil for her. For a big climactic adventure, the decision to sideline the Doctor for a hefty chunk of the story seems a curious choice to make, but Whittaker certainly makes the most of her remaining time, really tugging at those heartstrings, and also being given a parting line which neatly sums up her take on the character, full of such joy, curiosity and wonder.
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Yes, there were flaws in the episode, such as the somewhat perfunctory way in which Chibnall disposed of companion Dan (John Bishop) so early on, seeming to be just one of a multitude of boxes which needed to be ticked within the 90 minute duration. Perhaps the problem was having simply too much to do that even a movie-length tale still seemed to be too short a time in which to accomplish everything. As ever, Chibnall’s reach has exceeded his grasp, but you could hardly fault his sense of scale or ambition, especially when it comes to marking such momentous occasions on a number of fronts.
With the episode being titled ‘The Power Of The Doctor’, Yaz indicates at one point that this ‘power’ is the Doctor’s ability to make friends across all of time and space, all of whom care so deeply about her. Perhaps the Doctor’s real power is being able to endure and survive against all the odds, including the fickleness of viewers. Life depends on change and renewal, and just like the character, the show has reinvented itself so many times over, always coming back with a fighting spirit. Special props, then, to Jodie Whittaker, whose run has been especially embattled, but who has never been anything less than brilliant.
Oh, and that ending. What? What?? What???
Doctor Who – The Power of the Doctor is streaming on BBC iPlayer, and out on DVD and Blu-ray on 7th November.