Doctor Who: The Power of Three

Posted: September 24, 2012 in TV reviews
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Warning. Spoilers ahoy.

And so we come to the penultimate episode featuring Amy and Rory before they meet whatever fate Steven Moffat has in store for them next week…and again Chris Chibnall has the writing duties.

When millions of small black cubes appear out of nowhere all across the world, it seems like the harbinger of an alien attack, and the Doctor quickly appears at Amy and Rory’s house to investigate—little realising that, after almost ten years of travelling with the Doctor, they’re considering some major changes in their lives. Much as they love him, they also want to settle down and enjoy their real life, and it may be that they have to give the Doctor up.

Things are complicated when the cubes don’t do anything. They’re invulnerable, can’t be scanned, and they just sit there. And so, as Amy narrates, the year of the long invasion has begun, and in order to monitor the situation, the Doctor might need to hang around with the Ponds for once rather than them with him…

Well, after deriding him for some time, Chibnall has actually gone and written two enjoyable episodes this series, plus the interesting ‘Pond Life’ web serial. Don’t get me wrong, The Power of Three is flawed, and it lacks the sheer exuberance of Dinosaurs on a Spaceship (the best episode of series 7 so far) but it’s still a good episode in spite of this.

It’s also something of a nostalgia trip, not only for the current Tardis crew (complete with a fish fingers and custard reference) but also in more general terms, because it’s very reminiscent of an RTD era episode. The use of UNIT, the present day setting and Earth invasion storyline make it feel at times like David Tennant is going to show up.

It’s nice to see things revolve around Rory and Amy for once, and when the Doctor does intrude it’s on their terms, although there is an amusing scene where he takes them to the Savoy in 1890 as an anniversary gift, one which turns sour when, apparently, it turns out there’s a Zygon ship under the Savoy. There’s also a reference to Henry VIII which suggests that this episode sits before A Town Called Mercy.

In a nod to The Lodger/Closing Time, we get to see the Doctor try and deal with the mundane nature of everyday life, and while this gives Smith the chance to indulge in some great physical comedy, the notion that the Doctor would get that bored, that quickly seems a bit extreme.

The episode also features the return of UNIT, led now by Kate Stewart, the daughter of the Brigadier, which is a nice touch, and it’s good to see UNIT portrayed as a force for good rather than being incompetent/overly militaristic. UNIT perhaps don’t contribute much to the story, apart from providing the Doctor with some scientific facilities, but it would be difficult to imagine the story without the Doctor liaising with someone on Earth at a global level about the cubes, and better UNIT than anyone else. Jemma Redgrave makes an engaging Kate and I hope she and UNIT return soon.

Someone already returning is Rory’s dad, Brian, and again Mark Williams does a great job in what could so easily be a clichéd role as the dad who’s “expert” in everything and takes things far too seriously. Just witness his cube logs for details. Brian’s been a great addition to the show, and I hope we see him again, although given we won’t be seeing Amy or Rory after next week, this, sadly, seems unlikely.

There are some funny lines (Matt Smith gets most but not all of them) and some creepy scenes revolving around some monstrous orderlies skulking around Rory’s hospital, and the notion of the cubes appearing  and then do nothing gives the episode a nice hook, especially when so much time passes that they eventually become part of everyday life.

It’s a shame then that the resolution of the cube story comes to very little. They’re the emissaries of an alien race called the Shakri, played here by Steven Berkoff, a species the Doctor thought were mythical, but who have decided to purge humanity from the universe before they can spread to the stars. In order to do this the cubes cause a cardiac arrest in 1/3 of the population, and the Shakri are readying a second wave…

As villains go the Shakri are pretty banal, and it seems a waste of Berkoff. Surely the best reason to hire the man is to let him cut loose, to chew the scenery and basically ham it up something rotten, instead he’s given a role anyone could play.

And the Doctor’s solution to the problem is a bit too neat and tidy as well, given all the Doctor has to do is wave his sonic screwdriver around to get the boxes to reverse their effects, restarting the hearts they’d stopped. This seems very simplistic, and doesn’t address the fact that people’s hearts had been stopped for some time, yet there’s no mention of brain damage or other side effects.

But, perhaps, this off the cuff resolution is in keeping with the episode. As I’ve said, this felt very much like an RTD episode, and perhaps it’s only fitting that it gave us the patented Russell T Davies button pushing/knob twirling/lever pulling resolution that we saw so often?

If this was the intention then all I can say is; you can take nostalgia too far.

Similarly the robot girl/monster orderlies seem to be there just to service the plot/provide something more threatening than the cubes, and to give our heroes an excuse to get aboard the Shakri ship, and the issue of why they were harvesting humans, and why the Doctor left their victims (apart from Rory and Brian) behind to be blown up is left unanswered. One can only hope they were already dead!

Still, it’s churlish to focus on the episode’s flaws when it has far more plusses. It’s funny, nostalgic, and has a nice central mystery (even if it all comes to very little) but even without all of these it would rank as a great episode for two wonderful conversations. The first is between the Doctor and Amy, with Smith and Gillan on top, emotional form as the Doctor explains that Amy and Rory aren’t chasing him, that he’s chasing them, that he feels compelled to run towards them before they flare and die. As an exploration why a 1200 year old alien continues to be so fascinated by, let’s be honest, lesser races and by events throughout space and time it’s very telling, as a shared moment between two good friends it’s incredibly touching, and as prescience of next week’s episode it’s rather chilling.

As is the second conversation, the one where Brian asks the Doctor what happened to his other companions, and the Doctor answers that some left him, some were left behind and a few, just a few, died.

Arghhh! I want it to be Saturday NOW!

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