WARNING: Contains spoilers for the latest episode of “Doctor Who”
“Can somebody tell me what the hell is going on?” says incoming “Doctor Who” star Ncuti Gatwa in a trailer for next year’s series premiere. After seeing “The Power of the Doctor,” it would be hard to find any “Who” fan who doesn’t feel the same way.
Airing on the BBC on Sunday, “The Power of the Doctor” was advertised as a sendoff for the Thirteenth Doctor, Jodie Whitaker, after four years in the role. But with the special also airing as part of the BBC’s 100th anniversary celebrations, it also was overloaded with cameos from past Doctors and companions.
As advertised, we got Sophie Aldred and Janet Fielding returning as 80s “Who” companions Ace and Tegan, but we also got cameos from four previous Doctors. Doctors No. Five through Eight — Peter Davison, Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy and Paul McGann — all appeared as part of the Doctor’s mind just before her regeneration alongside David Bradley, who had previously filled in for the late William Hartnell as the First Doctor in the series’ last regeneration episode, “Twice Upon a Time,” in 2017.
Davison and McCoy’s Doctors also reunited with Tegan and Ace as holographic versions of themselves created from centuries of data of the Doctor’s by the TARDIS as a guide for the companions when she’s not around. Along with helping them take on the Daleks and Cybermen, the holograms gave the two companions some closure to their time with the Doctor, especially given that the two felt like they had been forgotten by the Time Lord since they never reached out to either of them after they said goodbye.
“You think you left and I never thought of you again?” asks Davison’s Doctor. “I never forget any of you. I remember everything.”
But the episode’s biggest shock came at the end, when after saying goodbye to the companions she personally spent time with, the Thirteenth Doctor said “tag, you’re it” and regenerated. But instead of turning into Ncuti Gatwa, the Doctor transformed into…
Yes it seems that when Russell T. Davies, the first showrunner of the “Doctor Who” revival, returns to the show next season, he will begin with the actor who played the Doctor during most of his tenure. As the Tenth Doctor, Tennant propelled “Who” to never-before-seen levels of popularity before departing in 2010, with a reappearance alongside Matt Smith for the show’s 50th anniversary special in 2013.
But further complicating things is that according to Davies, Tennant isn’t playing the Tenth Doctor. He’s playing the Fourteenth Doctor, and when it does come time for Gatwa to take over, he will be the Fifteenth Doctor.
“The path to Ncuti’s Fifteenth Doctor is laden with mystery, horror, robots, puppets, danger and fun!” teased Davies in a statement. “We’re giving you a year to speculate, and then all hell lets loose!”
Indeed, it won’t be until November 2023 that Doctor Who’s 60th anniversary special will air with Tennant reuniting with past “Who” co-star Catherine Tate, who played the beloved companion Donna Noble in the late 2000s, to take on a new villain played by Neil Patrick Harris.
But for now, “Who” fans seem to be processing what they’ve just seen. While all the cameos delighted long-time viewers, others were critical of the relentless, confusing pacing of the episode’s plot, a common criticism of writer Chris Chibnall during his now completed tenure as showrunner. With the Doctor and pals zipping around the planet and across dimensions to stop the Daleks and Cybermen, there was no time to breathe during this overstuffed finale.
Here are some of the reactions on social media: