Alright, here we go. The final story for the Thirteenth Doctor. It seems to be running at about the same time as both the 60th anniversary of Doctor Who and the 100th anniversary of the BBC, and I caught up in time to get it in a fairly timely manner.
It is very much a Chris Chibnall story.
Look, I have said a lot about what I don’t much care for when it comes to Chibnall’s writing. It’s rushed and hurried, with a lot of stuff tossed out and often feels rushed and overcrowded. That’s all true here. Did Vinder need to return for this story? Or Ashad? Not really. Then again, I only just figured out the actor playing Vinder was Grey Worm on Game of Thrones so I might be a bit behind on a lot of things anyway.
However, I do get the desire to want to put as much as possible into the Thirteenth Doctor’s final adventure. It does make a certain amount of sense. Between this final outing and the anniversary, going big is appropriate. The problem is all of Chibnall’s stories felt like they went this big whether they needed to or not. What happened to smaller stories? Like, there was a whole episode of the Twelfth Doctor looking for a apex predator so scary and efficient that not even the Time Lords had seen it, only for the whole thing to be something of a traumatic memory. The Eleventh Doctor spent a whole episode being bored. Every Thirteenth Doctor episode was paced like the world was ending after the first series.
Was the world ending here? Um, I don’t know.
In fact, I would go so far as to say this wasn’t really a good Thirteenth Doctor send-off in many respects. It was more of a good salute to companions past and present. The promos made a big deal about the return of Fifth Doctor companion Tegan and Seventh Doctor companion Ace. And while Dan bows out from the adventure fairly quickly when he nearly gets killed and realizes he has a life to get back to at last, Yaz proves to be much more of the hero here than the Doctor in many respects.
Essentially, the Master survived the destruction of Gallifrey and the Cybermasters–big shock, that is what he does–and not only was he the actual Rasputin, but he has a plan to capture the Doctor and force her into a regeneration where he takes over her body and becomes the Doctor and the Master.
Part of that was to ruin the Doctor’s reputation, but does he really need to be the Doctor to do that? Can’t he just, I dunno, just say he’s the Doctor? It’s not like most people would know the difference.
The Master actually pulls this off in his general over-the-top fashion by making his own “fam” made up of the Daleks, a resurrected Ashad and his Cybermen, and the Cybermasters with a captured living power source to cyber-convert a whole planet. Meanwhile, he sets up UNIT adjunct Tegan to take the miniaturized Ashad to UNIT HQ, knowing her trauma dealing with those beings and how her aunt died will get the job done if he just signs the Doctor’s name. Ace? Well, she’s thirty years older, a little more mature, but in many ways is still the same ol’ Ace, making her one of the highlights of the episode.
Honestly, there’s a lot of fan service in this episode, but the fan service is a lot of the stuff that works in this episode. The Doctor, basically sent into her own mind while the Master walks around in her body wearing a mishmash of other Doctor’s outfits and even playing a bit of the recorder at one point, gets to meet some of her past incarnations in the form of David Bradley’s First Doctor, Peter Davison’s Fifth Doctor, Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor, Sylvester McCoy’s Seventh Doctor, and Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor. They flip in and out, most of them dressed the same–the Eighth doesn’t like to wear robes and there’s always one–and it’s a nice moment. No modern Doctors there, and Tom Baker apparently couldn’t fit it into his schedule, but the better moments were even later there. Thirteen had implanted a device into her former companions, allowing them to interact with an AI hologram of the Doctor they knew best in order to save the day, at least until they could force the Master out of the Doctor’s body.
Basically, that meant Tegan and the Fifth had a conversation about how much she didn’t like the Cybermen because of what happened to Adric, and then later Ace and the Seventh could have a final conversation since their break-up was never actually depicted on screen.
Oh, and yes, Ace wore her jacket and attacked a Dalek with a baseball bat. Like I said, the fanservice moments were the ones that worked best. The includes the return of Graham in the same volcano Ace is looking to blow up with the Daleks inside. Why is he there? Who cares? He and Ace are the only companions to ever really get away with addressing the Doctor as anything other than “Doctor,” and there was a part of me that thought the two might make a good couple.
But, as always, the Master overstepped, and even though it was perhaps the Doctor’s plan, and a well-timed appearance by a holographic version of the Fugitive Doctor that really saved the day, I do have to wonder what the Master was planning. The Cybermen were getting Earth to convert the population, starting with UNIT headquarters, and the Daleks were given permission to exterminate humanity, so how do they both get what they want? Did no one listen when the Doctor tried to remind the Master that the Daleks and Cybermen hated each other? Though I did like a moment when a Cyberman and a Dalek seems to exchange glances of disbelief (as much as a Dalek can show such things) when the Master was being particularly ridiculous.
But yeah, the Doctor saved the day with a strong assist from her extended fam, including Kate Stewart, and particularly from Yaz who, it turns out, can pilot the TARDIS reasonably well. During the final confrontation in what should be another death trap for the Master, the Doctor took an energy blast and started to regenerate.
Now, here’s where I want to say a bit about Whittaker’s take as the Doctor. As much as I was never thrilled with Chibnall’s storytelling, I will say that I never took issue with her. She was a great Doctor, perhaps the friendliest there had ever been, a motormouth who loved her fam and just saw wonder everywhere. One of the least arrogant Doctors to come along in a while, she’s the type who, knowing she’s about to regenerate, will take a little time before the end to share an ice cream cone with Yaz on the TARDIS’s roof while overlooking the Earth. She was one that really came across as everyone’s best friend, an eccentric who just enjoyed being with the people she cared about. Obtuse when it came to recognizing the emotions of others sometimes, but overall, this was a Doctor that really treated her companions as equals, making her arguably equal parts the Fifth when it came to companions and the Eleventh Doctors in her general wackiness. Many of the modern Doctors get a final line that seems to sum up their time on the TARDIS, and for Whittaker, it was arguably one about how there wasn’t enough time. Given the pacing of episodes and the overall shortness of her series that sure seems true, partially due to COVID, but even her first batch of episodes that came out pre-COVID were a smaller number than most.
But the bottom line is I never felt like I had the time to get to know her. Everything was always so frantic.
That said, for a companion-friendly Doctor, maybe nearing the end with a companion support group was a good idea. That would be Graham’s idea from the looks of things, a group of people who had the chance to meet someone extraordinary and who don’t really have the ability to talk to anyone else about it. Dan and Graham meet Yaz and then take her to the meeting. And…it was a small group was my first impression. Including all the companions from the episode itself (including Kate), there was Ian Chesterton, Mel Bush, and Jo Grant. I would have thought there would be more of them, but then I mentally ran through the different classic era companions, realized many of them were played by actors who have since passed on or they weren’t left on Earth in the present to be there. Otherwise, I suspect there would have been a lot more people in that meeting given how many of those actors do the occasional Big Finish play.
Anyway, the companion stuff arguably worked better than the Doctor stuff as the Thirteenth went off to regenerate alone, reborn as…David Tennant?
OK, so, I kinda knew about that because I forgot the show, which I got to watch as it aired on BBC America, ran in Britain a few hours ahead of me, and accidentally saw a spoiler trending on Twitter. Color me unsurprised, but that was apparently the reason none of the modern Doctors appeared on that mental plane. For what it’s worth, the network and returning Who showrunner Russell T Davies has said he is not the returned Tenth Doctor but is, in fact, the Fourteenth Doctor, and the actor Ncuti Gatwa, previously announced as the Fourteenth, is now the Fifteenth.
Well…that will require a hell of an explanation.