What is the “Power of the Doctor”?

Marvin Sommershof
5 min readNov 4, 2022


Doctor Who is on TV for almost 60 years at this point. The show is a staple in science fiction television that’s largely unknown in Germany (it's getting better though) and it just let go of the current 13th iteration of the starring timelord played by Jodie Whittaker (best known for her roles in Broadchurch and Attack the Block). The so-called regeneration happens in an episode titled “The Power of the Doctor” and it's this power that I want to shed some light on and as a tease: It's not as easy an answer as you may think.

The Doctor and I

To give some insight into me being a part of the so called Whovians (that's what the fandom calls itself) I briefly wanted to talk about my time with the show which started later than you may think. My first encounter with this weird British show happened around the time the 11th incarnation of the doctor stepped aboard the TARDIS which must be around 2011/2012 if I remember correctly. To say that I was hooked immediately would be a tremendous understatement. The heartfelt, funny and eccentric performance by then lead Matt Smith grabbed me and didn’t let go until his run was finished three seasons and a big 50th anniversary celebration later when I was first confronted with the doctor changing face. At this point, one answer to the question of what the power of the doctor might be (the easiest) is given: the doctor changes his/her face and the show is able to change direction. New fans get an entry point every so often, and old fans get heartbroken and shocked by the drastic change. These old fans then grief their favourite iteration, feel uncomfortable with the new doctor and learn to love them over time, until it's time to say goodbye once more. As a little side note for those not familiar with the show's concept: regeneration means that the doctor essentially dies and gets reborn with a new body and changed personality. This was introduced after William Hartnell, the man who played the first doctor way back in the 60s, got too sick to continue playing the role. Instead of cancelling the successful show outright, the BBC opted for a changed lead and the writers introduced the concept of regeneration. After the process, at least within the story, the old doctor is gone for good (former actors tend to reprise the role one way or another). But for me there is more to the power of this show, that made it a lasting success, and one of them is the way that Doctor Who tells its stories.

Telling every story

One other and very important power of Doctor Who lies in its storytelling. There are literally no boundaries to where the show might go (aside from the budget assigned by the BBC, maybe). The only constant is the space (and time) ship, the TARDIS. Leaving its console room, the doctor and their companions find themselves in a variety of different stories, from the typical space and aliens tale to the historical or even art house inspired. I’ll give some examples that stood out for me in that regard.

Caught in a loop — “Heaven Sent”

One of the most important and most talked about stories in recent Doctor Who is probably Heaven Sent. It's the aforementioned art house story. The Doctor is alone, caught in a loop — constantly dying just to be revived again to solve a mystery while being haunted by a monster (a corpse dressed in a white shroud). The look and feel of this episode is decidedly different from the rest of Who and makes it a standout amongst not only modern but also classic who. The power of the show in this case is its structural flexibility. Out of nowhere comes this chamber play about loss and grief, which probably no one would have expected from the quirky Sunday afternoon sci-fi show.

Historical moments done right — “Rosa” and “Demons of the Punjab”

On the other end of the spectrum stand two special historical episodes from the 11th series (or season if you're American). “Rosa” and “Demons of Punjab” are highly regarded, and that's for good reason. Writing historical episodes always bears the danger of misrepresenting important figures (like Rosa Parks) and critical events, like the partition of India. I can happily report that none of this happened, and both of these episodes intertwine character drama with historical accuracy and of course science fiction. And combining these aspects into a coherent whole requires the concept I mentioned before: when the doors of the TARDIS swing open, anything can happen.

Strange and alien — “The impossible Planet” and “The Satan Pit”

Of course, there are also strange planets and weird aliens to be found in the history of Doctor Who. I choose a double feature from the era of the 10th Doctor (David Tennant) as my science fiction tale (there are many more though). In this episode, the Doctor and his companion end up on a drilling station on a planet orbiting a black hole where strange writings and strange events occur (“The impossible Planet”) until the Doctor decides to take a closer look and finds the Beast (implying its Satan himself) within the planet (“The Satan Pit”). It's actually a pretty standard episode, where the big bad is defeated and jettisoned into space at the end. But I found it to be a good example of an exciting space adventure that could also fit into other shows like Star Trek and the likes.

I could ramble on about episodes of the show endlessly (and everyone who had the misfortune to ask me anything about Doctor Who can attest to this) but there is more to explore about the show's lasting impact and power.

A unique main character — The Doctor themselves

The elephant in the room is of course the Doctor themselves. A character that's ever-changing, but built around a core concept of character facets that make them different from other hero characters. As mentioned in the Den of Geek Article that also searches for the “Power of the Doctor” the doctor is special because of them outsmarting their opponent. Never wielding a gun or a laser (to paraphrase Steven Moffat, who was the showrunner from series 5 to 10) and sporting two hearts instead of some magical powers. The doctor wins because they are empathetic, smart and good-hearted, not because they are some muscular guy running in and killing everyone. As the aforementioned article (and the doctors themselves) state: in the end, the Doctor is a Madman with a box and “just a traveller” through time and space, helping out — not on any quest to save the universe but just to help here and there. The latest incarnation even had a fam and was all about the friendship with this “Team TARDIS” while hiding their darker truths within.

Great comfort — The very personal “Power of the Doctor”

There is one last aspect that I haven’t covered about this show, and that’s a very personal matter. The last few years have been rough. 2020 my dad and both of my grandparents died in quick succession, and it really seemed like all hope was lost (adding a pandemic didn’t help too). In these times, watching an episode of Who was like a warm and cosy blanket (and still is a go to). Every time I felt sad, I could pop a DVD in and be somewhere else for a bit. “Running away with a strange man in a box” never felt so fitting a quote from any show. And as a closing note: for me, the true power of the doctor is this cosy kindness, this love for the unknown within the two beating hearts of its protagonist.