One more time: Jodie Whittaker with time-travelling team Bradley Walsh, Mandip Gill and Tosin Cole
Jodie Whittaker’s tenure as the first woman to play the lead in Doctor Who came to a spectacular end after four years last night in a special episode featuring a host of returning faces from the 59-year-old show’s past .
A surprise twist when she regenerated not into her recently announced successor, Ncuti Gatwa, but into the returning Time Lord David Tennant.
Gatwa, however appeared briefly in a trailer at the end of the programme, saying: “Someone tell me what the hell is going on here?”
The 90-minute special, The Power of the Doctor, was made as part of the BBC’s centenary celebrations, and also featured cameos from actors who had piloted the Tardis in the 1980s and 90s, with Peter Davison, Colin Baker.
And Sylvester McCoy and Paul McGann all reprising the role of the Doctor, appearances that had been kept a clo sely guarded secret by the BBC’s publicity machine.
Whittaker’s final episode pitted her against some of the Time Lord’s best-known enemies: Daleks, the Cybermen and the Master, played in this incarnation by Sacha Dhawan, seen hiding out in Russia in 1916 as Grigori Rasputin, and at one point dancing to Boney M’s disco hit.
At the episode’s premiere screening in London, Whittaker had described it as encapsulating “everything that’s come out of showrunner Chris Chibnall’s brain and his love of Doctor Who”, and said the experience of being the Doctor was something “you’ve just got to treasure”.
Speaking of her position in the history of the show, she said: “You are a tiny drop in the ocean of Doctor Who, and you’ve got to tread lightly and earn your place. This family grows, and it’ll be bigger than us, and it’ll go on.
Now we get to sit back and enjoy it as the fans that we can be, knowing whatever is to come, we were once a part of that.”
The Power of the Doctor harked back to the very origins of Doctor Who, with the actor David Bradley reprising his interpretation of the first Doctor, William Hartnell, and a cameo appearance by William Russell, now aged 97.
Russell starred in the very first episode of Doctor Who in 1963 as Ian Chesterton, one of the teachers whisked away into the Tardis for a life of adventures in time and space as a companion to Hartnell’s Doctor.
There was also a cameo for Jo Martin, who in recent years has played a mysterious “fugitive” version of the Doctor from her past.
Returning companions from the 1980s Tegan (Janet Fielding) and Ace (Sophie Aldred) played a major role in the story, with Katy Manning, Bradley Walsh and Bonnie Langford all also returning.
Although Joanna Lumley had previously played a female version of the Doctor in the 1999 Comic Relief special The Curse of Fatal Death, Whittaker was the first woman to play the role full-time.
During her tenure, episodes have focused on the US civil rights activist Rosa Parks, the partition of India and the treatment of women in English witch trials, and have explored mental health issues, as well as providing a steady diet of alien threats for the Doctor to battle.
Chibnall, the outgoing showrunner who previously worked with Whittaker on his critically acclaimed show Broadchurch, said the thing he was most proud of was “we made history, and it’s carrying on next year”.
He cited casting the first woman in the role and “the team of writers and directors who came onboard from all sorts of different heritages and backgrounds and then told their stories”.
Whittaker’s time in the role started with a ratings high, but has also led to some vocal social media criticism from disgruntled fans who objected to the gender being changed, but her enthusiasm for the role and fans was plain to see in her public appearances.
She said that she has kept her sonic screwdriver, and used to take her costume home with her after filming. That came in useful during the Covid pandemic, when she filmed herself in character hiding in a cupboard in her house.
pretending to be taking refuge from a space battle, to deliver a message to reassure children – and adults – that the pandemic would pass, and that people should listen to science and doctors to get through it.
Doctor Who is set to return next year with It’s a Sin creator Russell T Davies back at the helm.
Davies led the revival of Doctor Who from 2005 to 2009.
When Gatwa was announced as the Doctor, Davies said: “The future is here and it’s Ncuti!”, but there is clearly unfinished business with Tennant first.
Tennant is expected to feature alongside returning companions Catherine Tate and the late Bernard Cribbins in specials for Doctor Who’s 60th anniversary.