‘The Power of Three’, written by Chris Chibnall, is an alien invasion story that is very reminiscent of the Russell T Davies era of the show with all the highs and lows that entails. As with ‘A Town Called Mercy’ the slight plot allows us to focus on some excellent character moments between the Doctor and the Ponds as their time with him draws to an end.
Spoilers From Here On!
The departure of Amy and Rory has overshadowed every episode this season, each story addressing it in some way. ‘The Power of Three’ creates a scenario in which the Doctor can’t run away or use distractions to avoid the question. Here we finally have the issue addressed.
The catalyst for this scenario is the inexplicable appearance of millions of small black cubes. Everyone expects this to be the start of an alien invasion, including the Doctor who sets up his base of operations in the Pond’s house.
This opening has all the trademarks of a Russell T Davies story, from the newsreaders delivery exposition, they everyman’s response, the presence of the military and cameos from celebrities. I found them more tolerable here, perhaps because they were lower key and it had been so long since we’d last seen them used.
When nothing does happen we see how ill-suited the Doctor is to staying in one place. This was touched upon in ‘Amy’s Choice’ and ‘Vincent and the Doctor’ where the 11th Doctor becomes irritable if he has to stay still for more than a few minutes. This incarnation has to be constantly in motion.
This nicely contrasts with the Ponds dilemma. They have jobs and friends which require stability. Unlike the Doctor, who soon departs in the TARDIS until something exciting happens, they have responsibilities and commitments that require them to stay.
In this regard Rory’s dad Brian, once again played by Mark Williams, is the mirror opposite of the Doctor. He stays in one place, having got the travel bug from ‘Dinosaurs On A Spaceship’ out of his system, and is infinitely patient.
Brian had some great scenes during this story, once again showing the positive effect the Doctor can have on people. Mark Williams embodied the fatherly concern that Brian had both for his son and daughter-in-law and for the Doctor himself.
His heart to heart(s) with the Doctor (who admitted that his companions leave him, are left behind or die) typifies the best parts of this story. We see the characters as more than just caricatures but real people.
The highlight being the scene on the bank of the Thames where the Doctor explains his desire to run. This beautifully reveals that the Doctor is always rushing against time, trying to see as much as he can in a universe which is both expanding and fading away.
The Doctor isn’t in denial about the end of things. He is always painfully aware that he will loose everything but that is why he holds on to what he has while he can. I hope this sentiment is something we can hold on to when we inevitable have to say goodbye to the Ponds ourselves.
Another aspect I enjoyed in this episode wasn’t the presence of UNIT itself but the introduction of Kate Stewart, played with sensitive grace by Jemma Redgrave, who portrayed a level of admiration of the Doctor that didn’t reach the levels sycophantic worship displayed by other members of UNIT in ‘Planet of the Dead’.
The reorganising of UNIT into a more intelligent, efficient agency was welcome. Kate’s connection to a past character from Classic Doctor Who was a lovely touch and I hope that in future ‘modern day’ episodes she will return as our touchstone character.
The weakest part of ‘The Power of Three’ was the alien invasion itself, such as it was. The idea itself is a nice twist and I applaud Chris Chibnall for creating a scenario to explore the characters.
The problem is once again the new format of the show working against the plot. We only encounter the villain behind the plot to wipe out humanity within the last 10 minutes of the show and 5 minutes later the Doctor has solved the problem with a wave of his Sonic Screwdriver.
As a result we learn little about the Shakri, the aliens behind the plot. The Doctor’s claim that the Time Lords viewed them as a mythical menace was a narrative short cut to make them more frightening but we know so little about them or their motivation that it was difficult to care.
Indeed, the horror that they’d killed a third of the population was totally undercut by the ending where the Doctor magically resuscitated everyone. The idea that people are just machines that can be turned on and off, with little consideration for the fact that they appeared have spent an extended ‘dead’, only increased the sense of unreality in the episode.
I think there is a place for humour within Doctor Who, and Steven Moffat is particularly talented at this, but not when the joke harms the reality of the story. There were many occasions when these moments took me out of the story.
Brian Williams spending 4 days sitting the TARDIS, oblivious to passage of time, would be funny in a comedy show but doesn’t fit into the reality of the show (not only would he suffer fatigue, hunger and other bodily functions did Rory and Amy not remember he was in there?)
Even minor things like an episode of the Apprentice being based around the selling of the alien cubes annoyed me. I understand this is supposed to be an amusing cameo and show how everyday life has been affected by the alien presence, in the same vein as the Eastenders episode in ‘Army of Ghosts’, but it doesn’t make sense. How could people be expected to sell things which everyone has or can obtain for free?
This lack of logic riddles the plot. Why would the Doctor expose himself to a cube counting down to zero when he doesn’t know that it won’t kill him (and then it nearly does)? When people are being advised to get rid of the cubes why do they ignore the little girl plainly clutching one in the hospital? What was the nature and function of the two alien orderlies kidnapping people? If the cubes were gathering data on humans to kill them why was one playing ‘The Birdie Song’?
Individually these are all minor, largely inconsequential, points but together they harm the story. Which is a shame since there is so much to enjoy here, made worse by the glimpses of other stories I would like to see like Zygons at the Savoy in the 19th century.
Overall I do think that the good points out weight the bad. Unlike ‘Dinosaurs on a Spaceship’ I could watch this episode again. Indeed, I hope that the introduction of Kate Stewart is a positive legacy that will change the show for the better.