Sunday, 23 September 2012

DOCTOR WHO, 7.4 – 'The Power of Three'

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Something of a throwback to Russell T. Davies' era, "The Power of Three" was one of those knockabout trifles that Doctor Who indulged more often before Steven Moffatt took over—although putting The Doctor (Matt Smith) into a domestic setting seems to have remained a yearly feature, with "The Lodger" and "Closing Time" fulfilling a similar remit. However, Chris Chibnall's second story this year was also paving the way for the loss of Amy (Karen Gillan) and Rory (Arthur Darvill) next week. It just remains to be seen if Doctor Who will have the guts to crush a generation of kids with literal death, or just part with the Ponds.

Mysterious black cubes are appearing all over the Earth, to the consternation of the population (particularly real-life BBC newsreaders and particle physicist Brian Cox). The Doctor (Matt Smith) is understandably fascinated by this "slow invasion" of indistinguishable objects, so decides to stay with Amy and Rory to observe them in real-time—with the help of Rory's meticulous dad Brian (Mark Williams) and his video log. After a chunk of time spent getting laughs from the incongruity of The Doctor trying to fit in as a "normal person" (something the show has done much better before), I was glad when "The Power of Three" pushed forward with a slightly juicier story once the cubes started behaving in various unique ways—levitating, shooting lasers, emitting fire, inducing emotion, taking pulses, playing "The Birdie Song", etc.

From there, the episode improved a great deal with the return of U.N.I.T, now headed by the famous Brigadier's daughter Karen Stewart (a brilliant Jemma Redgrave), and the worldwide panic once the cubes started inducing heart attacks in a third of the population after a synchronised countdown. The story wandered down some familiar paths, resulting in The Doctor discovering a portal in a hospital elevator leading to an orbiting spaceship belonging to aliens (the time-travelling Shakri) who want to eradicate humans at a time they've yet to colonise the universe. A fun detail was the Shakri being frightening myths that young Time Lords are told, and I'm hopeful they're return to the show at some point. The lead villain, played by the great Steven Berkoff, was one of the better baddies the show has given us, and is quite able to make a return given his appearance here was via a projection.

"The Power of Three" wasn't the most original of Who episodes, as there were influences and similarities from a great many previous stories (such as "The Christmas Invasion"), but it overcame these thanks to a solid grounding in character. The Doctor, Amy and Rory haven't been this dynamic together for a long time, and it was great to see them working together in a story that benefited from that literal "power of three". It was just a pity the solution to the problem came down to The Doctor waving his sonic screwdriver at a computer screen (as I mentioned, this was a very RTD-influenced episode).

Chibnall also managed to include some lovely scenes for The Doctor—particularly his admission to Brian that some of his companions die; and the touching scene with Amy outside the Tower of London, where he insists he's "I'm not running away from things, I'm running to them, before they fade forever". There was lots of unsubtle foreshadowing of The Doctor having to cope with losing Amy and Rory (not to mention having to deal with Brian if that ever happens), and it should all make next week's episode even better once we understand the fate of the Ponds as they wave goodbye to the series. What do you think: death or loss?

Overall, I think "The Power of Three" will be mostly appreciated by fans who miss the melodrama and alacrity of Russell T. Davies' episodes, but also people who simply enjoy moments where The Doctor's interacting with his companions to a far greater extent. In terms of the core story about those bizarre little obsidian cubes, it was decent but unremarkable; a familiar story to give structure to an episode that was more about The Doctor and his companions realising just how much they need each other, even if Amy and Rory were edging away into domesticity the longer the gaps between space-time adventures were becoming...


  • The last moment Smith, Gillan and Darvill filmed together for Doctor Who actually appears in this episode—the scene where they get into the TARDIS together at the very end.
  • At one point I was wondering why the Shakri didn't try and eliminate mankind at an earlier point in time, when they're less capable of understanding what's happening, but I guess the "cubes ruse" wouldn't work on generations from the past. Chances are most people would dispose of them as the Devil's work from history. So I guess it makes a loose kind of sense to attack at a time when humanity is obsessed with material things and collecting pretty items. Well, if that's their only plan of attack, I mean. It still makes more sense to simple carpet bomb a prehistoric Earth from space.
  • Technically, this isn't Kate Stewart's first appearance in Doctor Who; she was actually part of the direct-to-video Who spin-offs Downtime and Dæmos Rising.
  • The Doctor's scathing mention of Twitter is something Matt Smith half-improvised because of his own dislike of the social networking service.
  • Did you spot this week's mention of "eggs", from Brian? I'll be astonished if this isn't important to the series in some way now!
written by Chris Chibnall / directed by Douglas Mackinnon / 22 September 2012 / BBC1

Next time...