Jodie Whittaker’s time on Doctor Who has come to an explosive but confusing close, which is par for her time as the iconic hero.
“The Power of the Doctor” is a perfect example of what made this era of the show inarguably daring, but also hard to love outright. When Whittaker first started under showrunner Chris Chibnall, the stories were small and innovative. A lot of the show’s decades of baggage were jettisoned for new villains and smaller tales that kept things focused on the characters. Series 11 wasn’t the best season by a long shot, but it had the guts to demand an audience come along on different adventures rather than relying on the gut reaction of seeing a Dalek. While Whittaker was still denied her true “I am The Doctor” moment, it felt imminent.
The next two seasons, though… that was like binge drinking an alcohol made of distilled fan fiction. The Master turns Time Lords onto Cybermen and he’s shrinking people again! Here come Tesla and Mary Shelley, two historical figures so obviously fit for Doctor Who that it’s probably why the BBC had never put them on television before. Captain Jack Harkness is back, even though he barely has a point to. It was so focused on sampling old tunes that it drowned out what original melodies were present.
And so was “The Power of The Doctor.” Look, every cameo hit straight to the hearts. Goodbyes and closures that were left unsaid in the classic series were rectified, and The Doctor’s confrontations with her past were incredibly done. I doubt anyone who truly loved this show could have made it through without shedding a few tears or gasping in surprise.
Sadly, that all came at the expense of the story. Chibnall dragged so many plot points from Season 12 and Flux that it was hard to keep up. Three different villains vied for the spotlight in a massive plan that spanned two time periods, and even then, the episode invented a whole new alien species and a new breed of nihilistic Dalek. Both of those fascinating possible plot threads went nowhere because there simply wasn’t time. There was a space train heist, The Master as Rasputin, volcanoes, and a Cyberman attack on UNIT. Any one of those would have been a single episode in years past.
That’s been the problem with Doctor Who since Whittaker’s second season. It was so focused on hurling new twists at viewers, and cramming them in so that the longer runtimes have still felt rushed, that it leaves grand ideas on the table. Despite being together for three seasons, Thirteen and Yaz’s relationship never felt like it got the chance to breathe the way Ten and Rose’s did. Likewise, the return of classic companions felt tacked on. The Doctor (in her current form) doesn’t have to address the fact that she changed and left her human friends behind. She outsources that emotional beat to guest stars this time round, and as cool as the moments were, they had nowhere near the impact of Ten finally saying goodbye to Sarah Jane.
It’s sad that Whittaker’s tenure began with a version of The Doctor who was willing to stay on Earth and make time for the people she loved. Chibnall was equally willing to take frankly goofy ideas and let them play out, almost always to the benefit of the adventure. It was solid, if not spectacular, television. That era has ended with a muddled mishmash that used the show’s long history as a crutch after it cruelly crippled its star in a pinballing game of plots.
And that last shot with its final surprise? Just one more example of the show heading full speed backward instead of forward. Doctor Who just doesn’t seem to have a present, let alone a future anymore.