Tegan and Ace return to Doctor Who: all the references you may have missed in The Power of the Doctor

Sophie Aldred and Janet Fielding returned to Doctor Who for the series finale - BBC
Sophie Aldred and Janet Fielding returned to Doctor Who for the series finale - BBC

It almost required two hearts and a doctorate in sci-fi studies to take it all in. Doctor Who returned for a one-off special which not only bade a fond farewell to the first ever female Doctor but was packed with treats for fans of the time-travelling institution.

Departing showrunner Chris Chibnall poured all his love for Whovian history into the feature-length episode, titled The Power of the Doctor. But if your knowledge isn't quite up to Chibnall's, here are all the callbacks, cameos, nods and in-jokes that he packed in.

Five classic-era Doctors made cameos

At the midway mark of this eventful episode, Gallifrey geeks exploded with excitement. As her old frenemy The Master (Sacha Dhawan) forced her to regenerate, the 13th Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) found herself at a desert crossroads. Here she met the “Guardians of the Edge” – “fragments of her past self” and “vestiges of her consciousness”. Translation? Former Doctors in surprise cameos.

Sacha Dhawan as The Master - BBC
Sacha Dhawan as The Master - BBC

In order of appearance if not canon, we had: the First Doctor (David Bradley, reprising his tribute to late actor William Hartnell), the Sixth Doctor (Colin Baker, now 79), the Fifth Doctor (Peter Davison, now 71), the Eighth Doctor (Paul McGann, now a comparatively youthful 62) and the Seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy, also 79). All wore black-and-red Time Lord garb except McGann, who deadpanned: “I don’t do robes.” “There’s always one who has to be different,” sighed McCoy.

As the quintet morphed into one another, thanks to the magic of CGI, they persuaded the Doctor not to “pass through” into non-existence and instead fight to take their body back from the Master. After all, she had to hand it over to “the next one”. Bradley-as-Hartnell had similarly counselled the 12th Doctor (Peter Capaldi) before his own regeneration in Twice Upon a Time. The Doctor was reminded that she wasn’t finished. There was a way back.

Then came the Fugitive Doctor

The encores weren’t over yet. Yaz (Mandip Gill) later summoned up a hologram of the Fugitive Doctor (Jo Martin). Swaggering in with the immortal words “I’m the Doctor, mate, who the hell are you?”, she confused the Cybermen and Daleks enough to exterminate each other. “You were a tour guide in Gloucester last time I saw you,” said Yaz, recalling 2020’s Fugitive of the Judoon.

The biggest surprise arrived at the very end: David Tennant was back (early)

Everyone expected Whittaker to regenerate into the new Doctor, to be played by exciting talent Ncuti Gatwa. In one last twist, she instead morphed into an old incarnation, played by David Tennant. Was the 10th Doctor somehow back? Or did the 14th just bear an uncanny resemblance to his former self? With that gasp-inducing 30-second scene, returning showrunner Russell T Davies has already made his mark.

"I know these teeth!" said Tennant, as confused as the rest of us. This referenced his first appearance back in 2005. When Christopher Eccleston's Ninth Doctor transformed into Tennant's 10th, his opening words were: "Hello, okay. New teeth, that's weird." Now the dental dream team of Tennant and Davies are back.

We already knew that Tennant is lined up to appear in the 60th anniversary episode next year. Now the BBC have announced that he and his old companion Donna (Catherine Tate) will appear in three episodes in November 2023, before handing over to Gatwa at Christmas. And, according to Davies, Gatwa will be considered the 15th Doctor, not the 14th.

Who was missing?

Well, the first three Doctors – Hartnell himself, Patrick Troughton and Jon Pertwee – are no longer with us. Tom Baker already returned as The Curator in 50th anniversary special Day of the Doctor. Christopher Eccleston has mixed feelings about the role, which only leaves recent incumbents Peter Capaldi and Matt Smith. Too soon, perhaps.

Two classic companions returned

Sophie Aldred and Janet Fielding as Ace and Tegan - BBC
Sophie Aldred and Janet Fielding as Ace and Tegan - BBC

In an episode packed with more Easter eggs than a springtime supermarket, the first was the welcome return of former companion Ace (Sophie Aldred, now 60). From 1987 to 1989, this troubled teenager from Perivale accompanied the Seventh Doctor (McCoy) on his travels. Ace was “a fighter, not a screamer”, soon kicking alien backsides on a regular basis.

She’d been recruited by the Unified Intelligence Taskforce to investigate the disappearance of valuable paintings. Ace was delighted to be reunited with the Doctor at UNIT HQ, still greeting him with the affectionate nickname “Professor” – though was clearly hurt by how they’d left things. The show being axed meant the pair never got a proper goodbye.

But she was soon digging into her old backpack for her vintage bomber jacket (“very Eighties”) and weapons of choice: canisters of self-mixed explosive “Nitro-9”, now souped up into “Nitro-999”, and her trusty baseball bat. “Want to see how I dealt with Daleks in 1963?” she asked Graham (Bradley Walsh), referencing Remembrance of the Daleks.

The Master pointedly dropped her real name, the less tough-sounding Dorothy, and taunted her about being ditched by the Doctor when she grew frustrated by his manipulations. When she was reunited with “her” Doctor via the interactive AI hologram, Ace apologised for judging him. He forgave her and she asked “So we’re good?” “Oh, we’re more than that,” McCoy replied with a twinkle. “We’re Ace.”

Next to arrive was Brisbane-born flight attendant Tegan Jovanka (Janet Fielding, now 69). During her original Tardis tenure, Tegan called herself “a mouth on legs”. Little had changed. She starred alongside both the Fourth and Fifth Doctors (Tom Baker and Peter Davison) between 1981 and 1984, hence her repeated barbs about not having heard from the Time Lord for 38 years.

Like Ace, Tegan was moonlighting as a UNIT operative. Her mission? To probe the disappearance of 12 top seismologists. The Master gloated over her late Aunt Vanessa, who he killed in the 1981 serial Logopolis with his tissue compression eliminator. Stubborn as ever, Tegan refused to be cowed by her opponents, insisting: “I was an air hostess in the early Eighties. Trust me. Compared to that, a building full of Cybermen is nothing.” Slipping on the lift shaft ladder, Tegan even let slip her old exclamation “Rabbits!”.

When she spoke to Davison’s hologram, he reassured Tegan he’d never forgotten her. The Doctor’s pep talk included “Brave heart”, his familiar words of encouragement. They ruefully acknowledged their advanced ages and acknowledged the traumatic death of fellow companion Adric, who perished at the Cybermen’s hands in Earthshock – one of the original series’ saddest deaths, memorably followed by silent credits.

Jodie Whittaker left as she arrived

In 2018 episode The Woman Who Fell to Earth, the newly regenerated 13th Doctor arrived by crashing though the roof of a train. Now she began her swansong episode by (you guessed it) crashing through the roof of a train. Admittedly this one was a bullet train through the Toraji solar system, rather than a South Yorkshire commuter route, but it neatly bookended Whittaker’s four years in the role.

She also donned her steampunk goggles for a spot of engineering, as she did in her first episode while building her sonic screwdriver from Sheffield steel. Satisfyingly circular.

Gold is no longer a weakness for Cybermen

Ashad and the Cybermen - BBC
Ashad and the Cybermen - BBC

“Say hello to my friend Ashad. I killed him once but he’s forgiven me now.” Amid all the comebacks was a villainous one in the shape of Ashad (Patrick O'Kane), aka “The Lone Cyberman”. This partially converted human was the primary antagonist of the 2020 series but killed by the Master in The Timeless Children so he could ingest Ashad’s Cyberium. This was when he created the CyberMasters on Gallifrey, complete with their Time Lord headdresses and ability to regenerate.

The Master had since cloned Ashad, shrunk him with his tissue compressor and used him as a “Russian doll” to smuggle a legion of Cybermen into UNIT HQ. Ace and Tegan tried to shoot the “tinheads” with gold bullets – the precious metal was traditionally the Cybermen’s Kryptonite, since it could disrupt their circuitry, coat their respiratory apparatus and suffocate them – until Ashad intoned: “We long ago developed resistance to gold.” Uh-oh. At least it’ll make ammunition cheaper.

With Kate Stewart around, the Brigadier always feels close

The Doctor was summoned to present-day London by UNIT chief Kate Stewart (Jemma Redgrave) – a recurring character introduced by Chibnall in his 2012 episode The Power of Three. She proudly showed off the organisation’s shiny new HQ and reunited the Time Lord with “freelancers” Ace and Tegan, hired due to their first-hand experience of fighting alien threats.

Jemma Redgrave as Kate Lethbridge-Stewart - BBC
Jemma Redgrave as Kate Lethbridge-Stewart - BBC

When Kate took the Master into custody, he wound her up by spitting “Your dad was an idiot” – meaning, of course, dear old Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart (the late Nicholas Courtney), UNIT’s co-founder who was a loyal ally of the Doctor between 1968 and 1989.

Chip-off-the-old block Kate heroically offered up herself up to the Cybermen to save soldiers’ lives and play for time. When the building was reduced to rubble, she deadpanned: “I don’t think I signed the lease.” As a parting gift from Chibnall, she also got a glimpse inside the Tardis and nabbed this episode’s “How is it bigger on the inside?” line.

This wasn't the first time the Master has been involved in a regeneration

The Master has already been partially culpable for the end of the Fourth, Fifth and Tenth Doctors (Tom Baker, Davison and Tennant). So it was unsurprising that he should spark the 13th Doctor’s regeneration too – initially into, well, himself but ultimately into the 14th. First he subjected her to the ultimate Time Lord sanction of a forced regeneration, noting that their elders “did it to you once before”. This was when they punished the Second Doctor (Troughton) for stealing a Tardis and breaking the non-interference law.

When the Doctor temporarily transformed, she became a fresh-faced, clean-shaven version of the Master, albeit still in the Doctor’s clothes and earring. He raided the Tardis wardrobe and emerged in a mash-up of old Doctor outfits, including McCoy’s question mark tank top, Tennant’s brown tie, Davison’s lapel celery stalk and Tom Baker’s striped scarf. He later whipped out Troughton’s recorder for a blast of the Second Doctor’s trademark tune, The Skye Boat Song.

The Master taunted his nemesis by tolling his Tardis’ Cloister Bell and changing its door sign to a demonic laugh. He poked fun at the Doctor’s “fam” by referring to the Cybermen and Daleks as his own. In return, Ace told him: “The last time I saw you, you were half-cat” – presumably a reference to his alliance with the Cheetah People in 1989 serial Survival, the final story of Who’s classic era. “A man’s allowed to experiment,” shrugged the Master.

Welcome back Graham and Vinder

Current companion Dan Lewis (John Bishop) bowed out surprisingly early, spooked by getting shot and nearly floating off into space. The phlegmatic Liverpudlian made a low-key exit but would pop up again before the credits rolled.

With Ace, Tegan, Kate and Yaz all assisting the female Doctor, this was a pleasingly girl-powered episode. However, a familiar pair of male faces did contribute. We not only welcomed back retired bus driver Graham (Bradley Walsh, who still hasn’t got the hang of psychic paper) but space pilot Inston-Vee Vinder (Jacob Anderson).

Jacob Anderson as Vinder - BBC
Jacob Anderson as Vinder - BBC

Vinder crash-landed his ship on the Master’s metal planet before teaming up with Yaz to outmanoeuvre him. When the Master doubted that a friend of the Doctor’s would actually use a gun, Vinder casually shot him in the arm and said “I’m freelance”. Before they parted ways, the Doctor asked: “How’s your family? Send them my love.” Vinder’s wife is fellow flying ace Bel (Thaddea Graham), last seen pregnant in Flux. Presumably they’ve now had their baby.

And then even more old companions turned up

There was still time for one final flurry of old faces. Realising he couldn’t tell anyone about his adventures without them “locking him up”, Graham set up a support group for former companions, so they could share stories of the Doctor. In attendance at its first meeting were Yaz, Dan, Tegan, Ace and Kate (who had one eye on recruiting more UNIT freelancers).

And then we saw an even more exciting trio. Behold perky Eighties-era computer programer Melanie Bush (Bonnie Langford, now 58), Jon Pertwee’s early Seventies sidekick Jo Jones née Grant (Katy Manning, now 76) and, most yelp-inducing of all, trailblazing companion Ian Chesterton (original cast member William Russell, now a grand old 97). It was a beautifully nostalgic way to link back to the show’s beginnings in 1963. Ian raised an eyebrow upon hearing the Doctor was now female. A lot can change in 59 years, my boy. Quite so, Chesterfield. Or Charterhouse. Whatever your name is.

Did you spot any details we’ve missed? Please let us know in the comments section below…