TV & Radio

Doctor Who review: Jodie Whittaker deserved more for this end of an era

Saying goodbye to Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor feels bittersweet. As the first female actor to play the Time Lord, she’s brought Doctor Who up to speed with modern times – but her tenure has often struggled to live up to its potential. That’s due less to her performance – lord knows, she’s been giving all she can – than the scripts the actor has been given. There’s been a renewed interest in the show with Russell T Davies, the brains behind the original reboot, taking back the showrunner reins for the next series.

We know that Sex Education star Ncuti Gatwa will be the 14th Doctor – a choice that was warmly received by fans. But rather than speculating about its future, I want this last review to focus on Whittaker. And, given the final moments of Whittaker’s regeneration were removed from the episode sent to reviewers, the Doctor’s latest guise remains a mystery for now anyway. (Update: it’s David Tennant.)

On paper, Whittaker’s last episode, entitled “The Power of the Doctor”, sounds as thrilling as it gets. The Master (Sacha Dhawan), plus Cybermen AND Daleks? It’s a bad guy bonanza! Realising that hatred of the Doctor might be the only thing to unite her metallic foes, the villainous Time Lord has hatched a plan to destroy the human race (obvs). Unfortunately, as has consistently been the problem, the action feels unnecessarily opaque, and bounds across time and space like the confusing miniseries “Flux” did.

In this episode, it’s Dhawan, not Whittaker, who gets to do the fun stuff. The Master disguises himself as Rasputin (yes, we get a Boney M dance break), then forces the Doctor to regenerate with him and swap bodies, Freaky Friday style. The Doctor, meanwhile, is running around trying to save the world, acutely aware that her time is running out. But the adventure plot and her looming regeneration feel disconnected, with Whittaker given little space to interweave that fear and emotion into the action unfolding around her.

Other friends and foes from Whittaker’s stint swing by to bid farewell. To mark the BBC centenary, the special also pays tribute to the show’s legacy as a whole. We get the welcome return of Eighties companions Tegan (Janet Fielding) and Ace (Sophie Aldred), who’ve been enlisted by Unit to help save the planet. Satisfyingly, it’s Fielding who gets the best line of the episode, as Tegan tells Ace, “I was an air hostess in the early Eighties. Trust me, compared to that, a building full of Cybermen is nothing.” But with its 90-minute run time, there’s room for further nods to old Who too. As Whittaker prepares to die, she’s greeted by not one, but five previous Doctors, their faces shifting and morphing into each other like a distorted Comic Con line-up.

Among the nostalgia and Easter eggs, the relationship between the Doctor and Yaz – the thing I expected this episode to really be about – is sidelined. When their hands lightly touch at the end of the episode, the camera doesn’t linger as it has in the past. It’s frustrating, but also throws off the power dynamics. The Doctor has to be stoic, but watching her comfort a teary-eyed Yaz when she’s the one about to regenerate implies the relationship was more one-sided than we’ve been baited to believe.

Still, Whittaker’s exit (or what I’ve seen of it) is predictably powerful. Initially, it’s very Tennant, the Doctor crying out that she “wants more time”. But eventually she finds peace in regeneration, spending her last moments atop the Tardis with Yaz, looking over the Earth with a smile on her face. “I have loved being with you Yaz,” she tells her friend. “And I have loved being me.” It’s a positive send-off to the Whittaker era. And, in some ways, I feel the same. I loved Whittaker being the Doctor; I just wish I could have loved being with her a bit more, too.

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