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Doctor Who Review: “The Power of Three” (SPOILERS-ISH)


Somebody needs to remind Chris Chibnall that he’s supposed to write the Doctor Who episodes people don’t really like. He’s written two of the last four stories and I’ve really enjoyed them both. What is that about? With both of his Series 7A episodes, “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship” and “The Power of Three,” he’s given us possibly the strongest outings for Amy and Rory we’ve seen since, probably, “The Girl Who Waited” or “The God Complex.” A while is what I’m saying. With “The Power of Three,” Chibnall’s explored what it’s like to be a companion who doesn’t necessarily want to give up their regular life and the effect that has on both them and the Doctor. He also seems dead set on referencing the Pertwee era as much as possible, which is perfectly fine with me.

The Ponds have two lives: Doctor Life, and Regular Life. They aren’t ready to give either up entirely, and in fact they’re slowly leaning toward just living quiet, day-to-day, normal life. One day, the cubes showed up. These cubes are small, black, and seemingly inert. Amy’s voiceover tells us it’s the year of the slow invasion. The Doctor, as you probably noticed, hates slow. UNIT arrives, led by scientist Kate Stewart (Jemma Redgrave), and they’ve got nothing to go on either. The Doctor tells everyone to pay close attention to the cubes, and no one heeds this instruction more than Rory’s father, Brian Williams (played again by Mark Williams). For about a year, nothing happens with them. Rory and Amy make commitments that require them to be in one place for an extended period of time. The Doctor arrives to take them on a seven-week vacation on their anniversary party, and Brian is concerned. Eventually, the cubes begin to do things and the nature of the plan is revealed. But what does this mean for the Doctor and his two conflicted companions?

There’s a whole lot to like about this episode, not least of which are the performances of the three leads. As I said during “Dinosaurs,” it’s terrific to see them working as a team so well, which makes perfect sense if, as Amy says, they’ve been traveling with the Doctor on and off for the better part of a decade. Part of what I love about the Eleventh Doctor is that his life isn’t linear, the way the Ninth and Tenth Doctor’s were. Each new series only added one year to the Doctor’s age, but here, with the way Smith’s Doctor pops in and out as he likes, we know that he has countless adventures on his own, with the Ponds, or with other people entirely, that we won’t get to see. I loved the scene where the Doctor and Amy sit on the wall and discuss the nature of their traveling. You get the real sense of how deeply they care for each other; they are absolutely best friends. We’ve always known Amy’s feelings toward the Doctor, given how long her life has been intertwined with him, but the Doctor finally reciprocates; hers is the first face this face saw. A great line and a great sentiment. Amy has been the longest-running consecutive companion of the new series, and Rory’s not far behind.

Mark Williams again brings something very interesting to the role of Rory’s dad. He’s certainly not dumb; the way he quickly rattles off possible (though wrong) explanations for what the cubes might be doing proves that he can think critically, but the sort of adorably simple things he does means that he looks at the world a little differently. From sitting in the TARDIS for four straight days just because the Doctor said to, to making daily video diaries (“Brian’s Log”) about the nothing happening with the cube, to the strange and hilarious moment when Rory finds him in the hospital, apparently contemplating an IV bag, Brian is a weird and fun character and I’m glad he’s been introduced this series, even if it’s at the end of Amy and Rory’s time. Also worth noting that Brian is the one who insists his son and daughter-in-law go off with the Doctor again. If the next episode is as sad as Steven Moffat has promised, then it’s this moment, when he essentially gives them permission to go along, that will prove to be the most tragic.

It’s very easy to say that this episode harkens back to the kinds of stories from Russell T. Davies’ tenure, having it set on Earth and featuring not only companions’ friends and family but also a worldwide invasion and news snippets. I think, though, this has more to do with Chibnall’s inherent love of the early 70s. Chris Chibnall and I share a love for the Third Doctor’s era. He wrote the Silurian two-parter in Series 5, which was essentially an amalgam of several elements from Pertwee’s first two seasons. With this story, we see a return to modern day (or possibly slightly in the future), and we see the Doctor working again with UNIT, the military investigation branch Pertwee worked with almost his five seasons. We learn that Kate Stewart is the daughter of the late Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart. It’s stuff like this that I really find fascinating, especially in light of the fast-approaching 50th Anniversary. The show has always been about legacy, and this episode highlights that exceedingly well, alhough the fact that UNIT still remembers the Doctor when even the Daleks do not is a bit strange. Perhaps it’ll be explained. It doesn’t need to be, though.

The plot itself was a bit secondary, but that, I think, is the point. The threat takes a whole year to manifest, something the Doctor is neither accustomed to nor prepared to deal with. There’s enough there to keep us interested, and it’s pretty satisfactorily handled. I don’t really understand why the evil twin nurses have geometric faces, but there we have it. The “villain,” though only a hologram of the other-dimensional Shakri, gained a lot of points by being played by writer/director/actor, and former Bond villain, Steven Berkoff. I love the star supporting cast this series, especially because they’re all cast perfectly.

Though limited, The Mill’s CG work with the blocks and especially the Shakri ship is gorgeous. It really helped bring everything together nicely. The directing duties fell to Douglas Mackinnon, whose only other Who credit is directing the Series 4 Sontaran two-parter, which was also set almost entirely on Earth. His direction here is a lot better than in the earlier episodes and, once again, Michael Pickwoad’s production design adds heaps of atmosphere and believability to anything he touches.

A couple of things I didn’t like: 1) The narration, especially at the end. It was very hokey and obvious; and, 2) The scene where Amy has to defibrillate the Doctor’s second heart. I liked the idea behind it, but it was very convenient that there was a crash cart mere feet from where they are (which is also mere feet from where the “little girl” was). Chibnall is all about convenience. In the same scene, I think Smith goes a little too over-the-top with his joyous “Welcome back, Lefty,” jig. There’s a level of silliness I’ve grown to expect and appreciate with Smitty’s performance, but if ever it goes too far, there’s a steep drop-off.

That’s really it, though. Overall, I absolutely loved this. So far, even given my dislike of the way the story unfolded in last week’s “A Town Called Mercy,” I think this series is the most consistent in quality that we’ve had in quite a while. Even Series 5, which is still my favorite of the new series, had a couple stinkers early on, but Series 7A so far has a 3.5 out of 4. I hope next week’s mid-series finale, “The Angels Take Manhattan,” can keep it up. From the looks of the trailer, we’re in for some scary-ass, sad-ass, exciting-ass television. Cannot wait.

-Kanderson. TWITTER. PODCAST.

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21 comments

  • Wow, I couldn’t disagree more about this season as a whole, though I did enjoy this particular episode. What has made the resurgence of Doctor Who so enjoyable since the Christopher Eccleston season is the actual thru-line with the intense relationships between the Doctor and all his companions. In the old days, only Sarah Jane had the kind of chemistry with her doctor that Rose, Donna, Martha, Rory and Amy have had. These one-offs that haven’t really advanced the relationship between the Doctor, Amy, and Rory have been a little empty, especially in the wake of the River Song saga. This episode gave us just a little taste of the deep affection between the three that has been missing all season, and, sadly, it’s just in time for the exeunt of Rory and Amy.

  • I didn’t really enjoy this one that much. The narration really put me off, and the whole thing didn’t seem at all like the Doctor Who I loved as a kid, which may be why it’s gotten so much more popular in the new incarnation. Too many mentions of things, like Twitter, that date lots of the episodes since the reboot.

    Why would UNIT forget the Doctor, they aren’t plugged into the Dalek consciousness that made them forget him?

    It’s always interesting to see how the rest of the world needs Britain to show them what to do whenever there’s a worldwide problem. What are the odds of that happening in the real world?

  • Good read. I generally agree with your assessment. the only thing I have to say is the reason the Daleks don’t remember the Doctor is because Oswin deleted their memories of him. That has nothing to do with UNIT. Also, I’ve been really loving this season so far, even with my own sort of harsh criticism of this episode. I think this season is 4.5 of 5 so far!

  • IT might not have anything to do with UNIT but remember when the Doctor was scanned for value in the second episode, he did not show up. So obviously it had more to do than just with the Daleks.
    Also i like the fact that they showed that episode 3 happened during episode 4 during the ponds 7 week trip. And if you pay attention it was the doctor who let Rory’s charger in Henry’s the VIII not rory who the doctor blamed. Over all very strong season

  • Scott: I dont mind the show centering on London and like you said, London being the center of the world / being the ones to save it (like unit or torchwood) because as a American, i can only imagine what other countries have to go through considering the majority of our shows have America be the center and the savior and our soldiers/spies being the only ones that can save the day.

    PurpleSlog: Oh i didnt catch it! What was the Torchwood reference?

  • The cubes are a fitting metaphor for the season so far: intriguing at first, then after several weeks of waiting I find out they are empty and it breaks my heart.

    The Pond Life shorts were better than this episode.

    You have a poorly-defined villain with a ridiculous method of destroying the human race. If you could traverse dimensions and manifest billions of indestructible cubes, would it take you a year to give a fraction of the population heart attacks? Would you use speaker-mouthed interns as your minions and a robot girl as a redundant spy (the cubes are already spying)? The story with the Doctor’s relationship with the Ponds is sweet, but the monster of the week feels tacked on and dangling.

    All of the episodes this season make great trailers (Daleks! Dinosaurs! Cowboys! Cubes! Angels!) but the logic of the plots have been thin or absurd, even by Doctor Who standards. If this sounds like the whining of a disappointed fanboy, you’re damn right it is.

  • I’m hoping that this episode will be better in retrospect in view of a full season. While I loved the focus on the Ponds and the Doctor as a prelude to their final episode, the story it was built on felt rushed and empty. I love the puzzles that most villains give the Doctor but this time it’s clear we weren’t meant to care about the puzzle at all.

    That being said I fully expect to be proven wrong in the rest of the season. Perhaps this sets up way more than I realize.

  • I liked this episode, and it somewhat addressed something that I felt had been greatly missing this series… the TARDIS! My favorite moments involve the TARDIS either flying through space or just being inside of it. At the very least it was parked interestingly (or ended up pasted with flyers in the Van Gogh episodes). It seems like the extent of the TARDIS before this episode was we saw it materialize around the Ponds in “Dinosaurs” and then they came out on the spaceship. Chris Chinball is the only one keeping the TARDIS around.

  • I liked the relationship stuff, but the danger-plot, as Alex said, was really rushed. It ended so quickly I wondered if I missed something. A second viewing is in order, but it seems there were a lot of unanswered questions. You can’t say the plot doesn’t matter. It’s the plot, after all.

  • I agree with @Char. It felt really rushed. Like Mofett told Chibnall to work in the Pond’s pre-cursor to farewell, and try to work in a sci-fi thing or 2. The plot really felt secondary, and even if intentional, or that was the point, doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. At the end of the day, this a story, and if your story has a weak plot, the entire story will suffer for it…and this episode did just that.

  • I pretty much agree with all the comments but I only had one real problem with one episode this season “a town called mercy”. I don’t have a problem suspending my disbelief, so the leaps of logic are fine. Just don’t don’t bore me, and that’s what that episode did. The power of three on the other hand had lots of moments that made me smile but the stories sometimes seem just to big for 45 mins. And that’s where compromises have to be made and where the production biggest mistakes are made, cutting scenes either from the shooting script or at the editing stage because “it doesn’t move the plot along” but in hind sight are vital for the story to make sense. But that said i have on the whole really quite enjoyed the season so far.

  • I like the idea of these being specials rather than a season of linked episodes telling one story. I think it will appeal to me more in the future if I just happen to pop into an episode on BBCA, rather than getting all the buildup to Important Things coming up in the next few episodes.

    I thought the numbers in the cubes looked really cool.

    Do you think they think about where commercial breaks are going to go more now than they used to, with the increased American popularity and same-day premieres in the States and UK? The commercials don’t seem as tossed in as they used to.

  • I just started watching Doctor Who some months back and I am finally caught up to your blog! (I hate not having the next episode to watch right away) Wanted you to know that I love your pieces. You are inspiring me to watch the old Who’s. Keep em coming!

  • This had the makings of a great episode. There was the wonderful frustration of the Doctor and the great interplay between the Ponds and Rory’s dad. I was so excited to see that the cubes did and even killing one third of the population was pretty neat. But then, we got to the spaceship and the episode completely fell apart. First off, if you are going to wipe the human pestilence from the universe then why not kill them all in the first wave of cubes. There certainly were enough. Secondly, there was no real bad guy, just a automated ship. Third, there was no real showdown where the Doctor proved the worth of the human race. Fourth, all he had to do to save them all was a little sonic screwdriver waving. Lame. Fifth, you can’t resurrect a bunch of people who’ve been with out oxygen for much longer than 5 minutes without severe brain damage. The Doctor’s fix was just really really really bad science. I mean honestly. And last, Rory and Amy were completely unnecessary in the entire showdown so what was this whole power of three nonsense? They contributed nothing!
    Oh, and why does Brian want to send his son and daughter-in-law into harm’s way? No, this episode has potential to be great and blew it completely in the last five minutes with very lazy writing. (Not the actors’ faults, but the writers is better than this usually.)

    I also thing this season has been wasted for the most part. Here was an opportunity to create an epic 5 part miniseries to send the Ponds off in epic style. And the first episode held so much promise! But beyond that, I’m not impressed. Mostly the issue is lazy writing and the fact that we never care about the characters because there ARE NO REAL CONSEQUENCES! Everyone gets to live or only the very bad guys die, all the freakin’ time. That used to be a hallmark of the Doctor, that so often the things he tried to do resulted in an innocent’s death. A real death, not a Rory death. Someone sacrifices themselves. (Yes, I know the Sheriff sacrificed himself but that episode was so boring it barely registered.) One of the best lines is “Just this once, everyone gets to live.” of the 9th Doctor (I think 9th?) Now there is no emotional payout because there are not real consequences for any character we love. I hope next week is an epic story but overall, I think Moffat could have done a lot better for a last season of Ponds. Also, shoot me for the blasphemy but it’s time to kill off Amy. Like Rose, she has been too key a companion for the Doctor to not keep going back to her. She has to die for him to move on to another companion. Plus, no one will believe that a Rory death is real.