Doctor Who: The Power of the Doctor Fanserviced in All the Right Ways
Doctor Who: The Power of the Doctor is the end of an era, the last gasp, Jodie Whittaker & showrunner Chris Chibnall's swansong after three seasons and specials. Since this review is going out before the US broadcast, we thought we should keep the biggest spoilers out of here for now. Rich's more detailed review will come later.
You probably know the plot by now: the Doctor (Whittaker), Yaz (Mandip Gil), and Dan (John Bishop) deal with the Daleks, the Cybermen, and the Master (Sacha Dhawan) attacking on three fronts, portending her final adventure. UNIT returns under the command of Kate Lethbridge-Stewart (Jemma Redgrave) along with former companions from the 1980s, Tegan (Janet Fielding) and Ace (Sophie Aldred).
You already know the biggest spoiler of them all: the regeneration. Everybody in the world already knew that spoiler months ago, announced by new showrunner Russell T. Davies and the BBC before the media and the internet could leak it. Aside from those, there are still plenty of spoilers you might want to discover for yourself when you watch Doctor Who: The Power of the Doctor. We are not going to spoil you more than what you already know. What you want to know is, "Is it any good?"
Chris Chibnall Makes this Doctor Who Finale a Fanservice Fun Park
There are some fans who were dreading The Power of the Doctor after the middling mess that was Flux. Chibnall seemed to know exactly what was wrong with Flux and decided to go full-on Doctor Who fanservice and give fans everything they could possibly want In The Power of the Doctor.
So it's a lot better than Flux by going the other way, going whole-hog with a breathless pace and endless running and action instead of people standing around explaining the plot and tech gobbledygook at each other. There is nothing new here, nor does he attempt to do anything new. It's all fanservice: Daleks! Cybermen! The Master! Previous companions! Surprises! It feels like an episode from the 1980s with its callbacks and just enough plot instead of too much to keep everything running. Chibnall is like a TV writer from the 1970s and 1980s, more reliant on plot than characterization, which is grafted onto the plot. He relies on the standard format of not only Doctor Who but virtually all procedural television: something external drops on the hero's lap, and the hero and their friends must solve it. Meanwhile, it does and shows everything a fan could possibly want to see in a special like this, not just the final scenes of the regeneration. Chibnall has done this before: throw stuff at the wall and see what sticks during an utterly nonsensical plot that no one will remember, but everyone will remember the fanservice.
And it works. It's fun, it's fast, and it plays on Whittaker's strengths as the Doctor. It finally gives us her best Doctor Who episode, and it makes us sorry to see her go. It's a piece of old-school Doctor Who, going back past the 2005 revival to the classic show, but with all the production values and FX to make them look good. And unlike in Flux, everyone doesn't stand around interminably explaining the plot to each other. This time that takes just a few lines before speeding off to the next bit.
And now the Chibnall-Whittaker era is over. She should have had many more good stories on Doctor Who instead of just a small handful. The clock's been reset, the toys are back in the box, and Russell T. Davies takes over. Everything old is both new and old again. You know what that means, and you don't want it any other way.
P.S. This isn't a spoiler since you already know: UNIT troops are still totally useless in a firefight. They are the show's redshirts. Nothing new or surprising – that's been the mantra of this era of Doctor Who. So hopefully, now we're in for the opposite.
Doctor Who: The Power of the Doctor is on AMC+ in the US after the live broadcast premiere.