Warning: contains major spoilers for Doctor Who The Power of the Doctor
In a Q&A session alongside a screening of “The Power of the Doctor,” departing showrunner Chris Chibnall discussed his desire to pack the episode full of easter eggs, layering in the past, present, and future of the long-running programme.
While the story itself may have been somewhat messy as a result – more on that in our spoiler-packed review – there’s no denying there’s a lot here for long-time Doctor Who fans to sink their teeth into, with some references being more obscure than others. There’ll be spoilers ahead as we dig in…
Two classic companions returning in a single outing means there’s plenty of opportunities for nostalgic nods, and while Tegan is slightly less well served in the easter egg department than Ace, she has her moments:
- When facing a fatal fall through the bowels of UNIT HQ, Tegan exclaims, “Oh, rabbits!” The character would often use this as an expression of frustration or displeasure – because, as Janet Fielding pointed out, not even the hot-headed Tegan was likely to start swearing her head off on primetime BBC1.
- Tegan mentions having worked as an air hostess during the 1980s. Her debut appearance in “Logopolis” marked what should have been her first day on the job, leading to a running gag about the Doctor’s inability to reach Heathrow Airport. Tegan would eventually make it to Heathrow, only to resume her travels with the Doctor after being fired for assaulting a passenger.
- During Tegan’s conversation with the Doctor’s holographic AI, Adric is mentioned – a young companion of the Doctor who journeyed alongside Tegan and Nyssa and ultimately sacrificed himself to stop the Cybermen.
- During that same conversation, the AI tells Tegan “Brave heart!” This was a common phrase of the Fifth Doctor, usually when cheering up his companions.
- It’s no surprise that both Tegan and Ace think gold-tipped bullets will stop the Cybermen, as the conquering cyborgs displayed an almost magical vulnerability to the stuff in both “Earthshock” and “Silver Nemesis” when the companions first fought them. As Ashad knowingly points out, it’s a weakness that has long since been eliminated.
Dorothy ‘Ace’ McShane
- The iconic bomber jacket Ace dons when the Cybermen attack is part of her original attire, kept safe by Sophie Aldred since the end of “Survival” back in 1989.
- Both Tegan and Ace have encountered Daleks before. In fact, Ace infamously set about one with a baseball bat (much like the one she wields here) in “Remembrance of the Daleks” after it made the fatal mistake of describing her as “small.”
- “Remembrance” also sees a different character describe the Daleks as “pepperpots,” an insult Ace uses during this episode.
- Ace refers to the Doctor as “Professor,” which became an affectionate nickname used by the pair after encountering one another on the planet Svartos in “Dragonfire.” (That serial also marked her first meeting with one Melanie Bush, but more on her later…)
- Ace and Graham make liberal use of upgraded Nitro-9, a homemade explosive Ace created when younger. Flasks of Nitro-9 have previously been used to destroy both Daleks and Cybermen, and Ace clearly hasn’t lost her touch when it comes to crafting it.
Not to be outdone by the good guys, the Master’s time in “The Power of the Doctor” is absolutely littered with references, starting with his initial scene:
- Before we even see the Master’s face, a big clue as to his identity can be heard when the royal messenger knocks four times. John Simm’s “Saxon-Master,” of course, was endlessly hounded by the same rhythm of four.
- Goatees and beards in general have been a key look for many of the Master’s regenerations. Disguising himself as Rasputin gives Sacha Dhawan’s incarnation one of the most, er, masterful examples of villainous facial hair to date.
- Den of Geek will have more to say about the strange and myriad connection between Doctor Who and the historical Rasputin soon, but the Master’s triumphant dance to the chart-topping Boney M tune calls to mind “Last of the Time Lords.” In that episode, a similarly helpless Doctor was forced to watch his “best enemy” croon along to some Scissor Sisters as part of his vainglorious taunting.
- Upon arriving at UNIT, the Master reels off a litany of jibes that double as easter eggs. Firstly he asks after Tegan’s Aunt Vanessa – a victim of his Tissue Compression Eliminator during the Fourth Doctor serial “Logopolis.” Next, he verbally spars with Ace, who remarks that the last time she saw him he was “half-cat” (A throwback to Seventh Doctor story “Survival,” which ended the show’s original run.)
- In the same encounter, the Master angrily informs Kate Stewart that her father was an “idiot.” Kate’s Dad was Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, who – along with UNIT – proved a continual thorn in The Master’s side throughout the Third Doctor’s era and punched him clean out during “The Five Doctors.” A cyberised Brigadier also came very close to disintegrating Missy at the end of “Death in Heaven” – all acts the Master seems to have taken personally.
- The Master’s plan to take over the Doctor’s body is extremely similar to several of his classic schemes. Having run out of lives, a decayed Master (Peter Pratt/Geoffrey Beevers) was forever seeking a way to steal the Doctor’s regeneration cycle for himself – a goal he continued to strive for in the TV movie. (Conversely, in “The End of Time,” the Master decided to copy himself into the bodies of more-or-less everyone who wasn’t the Doctor…)
- Having successfully taken the Doctor’s place, the Master dons an outfit that’s an amalgamation of previous Doctor costumes: the Fourth Doctor’s scarf, the Seventh Doctor’s jumper, the Fifth Doctor’s decorative celery, and the Thirteenth Doctor’s coat – accessorising with the Second Doctor’s cherished recorder.
- Lastly, we have an easter egg for the Master that’s so layered, it might actually be a triple-yolker: when he brags that his scheme could well be called “The Master’s Dalek Plan.” First, this is a reference to the First Doctor serial “The Daleks’ Master Plan.” Second, it’s not the first time the Master has broken the fourth wall by riffing on episode titles – in “World Enough and Time,” he crows that he’s arranged a “genesis of the Cybermen,” which is pretty obviously a shout-out to all-time classic “Genesis of the Daleks.” And third, thanks to Big Finish, there actually is a story titled “The Master’s Dalek Plan,” starring Sir Derek Jacobi’s War Master incarnation! Whew.
Last, but certainly not least, we have all the ways the episode pays homage to Doctors old and new.
- The Master is quite correct to say that their hatred of the Doctor is the one thing that might unite the Daleks and Cybermen – in fact, we’ve seen this happen before, leading to the events of “The Pandorica Opens.” Mind you, the universe has been rebooted since then…
- While we know that the Doctor – or more accurately the Timeless Child – underwent countless forced regenerations during their time on Gallifrey, the Master is most likely specifically referring to the Second Doctor’s capture and subsequent transformation by the Time Lords, ending Patrick Troughton’s time on the show.
- When the Doctor arrives at the edge of existence, she encounters aspects of her former selves. Four are played by original actors Peter Davison, Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy and Paul McGann, while David Bradley once more steps in place of William Hartnell. So that’s Five(ish) Doctors, which also happens to be the name of an Anniversary romp starring four of the said Five – not to mention Janet Fielding and Sophie Aldred…
- While the other aspects of the Doctor are content to appear in Time Lord robes, the Eighth Doctor insists on retaining a less formal outfit. And why shouldn’t he? It suited him so well when it made its debut in “The Night of the Doctor.”
- Three of the Doctor’s companions make fleeting appearances at the episode’s end. Melanie Bush apparently made her way back to 21st century Earth somehow after departing the TARDIS in the company of mercenary Sabalom Glitz. Jo Jones most recently met the Eleventh Doctor during The Sarah Jane Adventures, and – in a wonderful surprise – we can spy Ian Chesterton, who found his own way home along with Barbara Wright in a hijacked Dalek time ship, and now governs Coal Hill School.
Seeing the Blossom
Uttered during the Doctor’s final speech before she regenerates, the phrase “blossomiest blossom” at first sounds like a call back to something Thirteen might have said during her time. Instead, it’s quite likely to be taken from an interview with Dennis Potter as he reflected on his advancing cancer and approaching death.
As Potter put it when discussing the blooming tree outside his window, “I see it is the whitest, frothiest, blossomest blossom that there ever could be, and I can see it. Things are both more trivial than they ever were, and more important than they ever were, and the difference between the trivial and the important doesn’t seem to matter.”
Which, in a geeky list of references and trivia like this, seems the perfect way to end.
Spot anything we missed? Let us know in the comments!
The Power of the Doctor is available to stream now on BBC iPlayer.