The Power of the Doctor

Story No. 327 Ra-Ra-Rasputin!
Production Code 100th anniversary of the BBC Special
Dates October 23, 2022

With Jodie Whittaker, Mandip Gill, John Bishop
Written by Chris Chibnall Directed by Jamie Magnus Stone
Executive Producers: Chris Chibnall, Matt Strevens, Nikki Wilson

Synopsis: Dozens of the world's leading seismologists have been abducted, and Rasputin's face has appeared on several famous paintings.

Reminder: The one-year moratorium on spoilers will be strictly enforced.


Escaping bland entropy with audacious fan-pleasing by Tom May 20/3/23

I found this story enervating and moving in about equal measures: a truly odd mix, but such is the late Chibnall era of Doctor Who...! In many ways, this was a continuation of Flux, in throwing everything bar the proverbial public loo in Tooting Bec into the mixing pot. Like Flux, it was ultimately too fast-paced, otiose and lacking in clarity and power.

The narrative was frankly utterly ludicrous, and unmemorable to boot. Too many things happening, too few of them worth caring about. There was the patented Chibbers mix of sporadic dull longueurs and frequent inane rapidity. I have never taken to Yasmin "Yaz" Khan as a companion; Aisling Bea's recent appearance as Sarah made you sad that we couldn't have her brazen elan ahead of probationary police officer Yaz's stolidness. Yaz is overshadowed here not just by Bradley Walsh and John Bishop, but by a range of stalwart companions of yore. The same goes for Jodie Whittaker's Doctor: Jodie, a fine performer, has been badly served by mostly tin-eared, unsophisticated writing from Chibnall. Where we should've had a Victoria Wood-like creation or an extension of Whittaker's Sam in Alan Plater's TV play "The Last Will and Testament of Billy Two-Sheds" (2006), Chibbers gave us a generic Blue Peter presenter. The showrunner finally seemed to give up on his own tiresome plot arc of having Yaz in love with the Doctor in giving this little, if any, pay off. It was as if this whole strand had been included for expedience all along, keeping a section of fandom engaged when, really, the sphinx was without any real secret.

The RTD-anticipating scene where Boney M's disco juggernaut 'Rasputin' is incorporated with arrant silliness actually does justify the ludicrously ill-fleshed-out Russian historical setting. This was an improvement on the dismal, insubstantial Legend of the Sea Devils, which had no such entertainment value at all.

Better still, Chibnall raises his game to give the returning characters some wonderful lines and scenes. There are wonderful lines about parenting, growing up and violence. Chibnall gives Whitaker a line from writer Dennis Potter's farewell TV interview with Melvyn Bragg in 1994, which is wonderful, but also makes you angry he didn't try and be so allusive and profound with the majority of his previous writing as showrunner. Any anger subsides when we get to the support group, which is just an inspired idea.

Yes, we had obligatory monsters, who crop up every other story in Chibnall era DW, used to peripheral, comic purposes in the 'Ra Ra Rasputin' scene. For once, here, there was a pleasing aspect to this era's lack of jeopardy. I thought that, like one of the better episodes of Flux, this story was a good deal more entertaining than most in Whittaker's first two series. It falls apart completely when analysed or thought about seriously, but it does possess a sense of fun and appeals deeply to the sentimental side of long-time Doctor Who fans like me.

Of course, conversely, this would all surely have been utterly baffling stuff to a mainstream BBC1 audience! But Chibnall has upped the pace and nostalgia to try and correct the disastrous course he'd set in 2018-20 of bland entropy. Surely, superior hokum like Doctor Who owes its adherents the occasional indulgence in familiar pleasures? Thus, while I am thoroughly pleased that this particular era of Doctor Who is ending, I'm also happy that it at least does so with tangible feeling. Next, it urgently needs to reassert its place in the British collective unconscious.