The Power of Three: A Review

I think that this may have been the best episode of the four that we’ve seen in Series Seven, so far. On the surface it was a simple tale: there were no headline acts here: no dinosaurs or cowboys, no Daleks or Angels, but what it did have was a soul and, both figuratively and literally, it went for the heart. Of course, it wouldn’t be Doctor Who without an alien threat of some description [Well, it wouldn’t be Doctor Who since the purely historical tales of yesteryear] but the simplicity of that ‘invasion’ part of the plot seemed to be designed so as not to detract or distract from the core material. That core material being the drawing together of the ongoing narrative that has been developing since the Doctor bought Amy and Rory a house at the end of “The God Complex”, providing us with more insight about the impact of these double lives that the Ponds are living and setting us up nicely for their departure when the Angels take Manhattan this Saturday.

In a “Town Called Mercy” we had a little voice-over narration bookending the episode as the descendent of the little girl in the town spoke of what had happened, and here again we get a similar device used as Amy tells of the year of the slow invasion when the Doctor came to stay. Theme spotters will have also noted the fourth consecutive appearances of flickering lights and mentions of Christmas. Although there may have been a slighter longer standing callback in play. Perhaps it was the contemporary, Earth-bound setting; or the style of direction; or the revisit to the Tower of London not seen since 2005’s “Christmas Invasion”; or even the use of news channels, cameo appearances and images from around the world, but “The Power of Three” seemed for all the world to be a bit of a throwback to the Russell T Davies era. And not in a bad way. It was an effective hook to which the audience could relate.  This was a good old fashioned alien invasion story that probably would have sat perfectly nicely in any era of Doctor Who.

The black cubes, while also being an obvious avenue for creating the dullest piece of merchandise you could possibly imagine, successfully established themselves as being suitably mysterious. Where did they come from? What were they doing? What was going to happen to them? These were all questions that happily kept both the characters and the viewers pre-occupied, while at the same time, the fact that they didn’t do anything at all for quite a long time allowed for the dialogue to take centre stage, and Chris Chibnall delivered some of his best work on the show to date. There was even opportunity for further ‘adventures-within-adventures’ and the trio popped back to thwart an off-screen Zygon infiltration of a posh London hotel and to, presumably, rescue Rory’s phone charger from Henry VIII. The writers of future fan fiction will forever be thankful for all the huge gaps in the chronology presented by the ten intervening years that were referenced.

One of the highlights of this show, since its 2005 return has been the quality of the guest cast on display and recent top form continued here with the first of the Redgrave dynasty to put in an appearance in Who with Jemma turning up as none other than Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart’s daughter, Kate. She was pretty magnifient in her own understated way and has gone straight to the top of many a fan’s “Must Return” List. Also, a second outing for the instantly loveable Mark Williams playing Rory’s dad, and once again stealing the show: the look on his face as he was being wheeled away from the just-revealed Shakri on the spaceship was priceless. Speaking of whom, the criminally underused Steven Berkoff, replete with a wonderful prosthetic, made all too brief an appearance.

Unfortunately, Mr Berkoff found himself at the centre of the episode’s weak point. Once the black cubes revealed their danger by inducing cardiac arrest in the nearest victim, it was inevitable that an incredibly rapid solution to the danger was necessary if these lives were to be saved. Many would argue that the story didn’t pull this off in a believable way… the Doctor’s left heart goes in to arrest, they identify the problem, head from the Tower of London to Rory’s hospital, neutralise the droid on guard, find the worm-hole to the spaceship at the back of a good’s lift, rescue Rory and Brian, get all the exposition about the why’s and wherefore’s of the nefarious plan off the evil Shakri who turns out to be a hologram, re-programme the cubes, save the day and escape the conveniently exploding spaceship in the nick of time. On the one hand it felt as though the resuscitation took way too long to have realistically been effective, serving to trivialise the heart attacks suffered by so many of the population. On the other, the speed at which these final events unfolded felt like it was jamming way to much in to too short a period of time at the end of what had been up until then, a well paced episode. It was a difficult balance that didn’t quite come off.

However, it was a small price to pay because, as I said, the alien invasion was not the core element of the story. Amy and Rory living their real life (as opposed to their ‘Doctor Life’) and coming the point when they have to choose between the two was the crux of “The Power of Three”. Rory and Brian’s separation from The Doctor and Amy allowed us to be treated to one of the great Doctor/Companion scenes that I can recall* as the two of them sat on the wall overlooking the Thames and talked about life, the universe and everything. The Doctor’s words as he sat there, looking and sounding every one of his 1,200 years old: “I am not running away from things, I am running towards them. Before they flare and fade, forever…. You were the first. The first face this face saw. And you are seared on to my hearts, Amelia Pond. I am running to you and Rory before you fade from me.” Beautiful words, beautifully delivered by Matt Smith. If that kind of scene doesn’t strike at the very heart of the matter then you might just be watching the wrong programme. [* The possible exception being Wilfred and David Tennant’s Doctor in the cafe during the episode “The End Of Time”, talking about dying, which remains impossible to watch without getting a lump in the throat].

Here’s a funny thing. Once you know where this episode ends, when you’ve seen the Doctor and Amy talking by the river, and you’ve discovered that the Shakri work for The Tally who are the pest controller of the galaxy, and once you know what the cubes are doing and you’ve seen Brian encourage Rory and Amy to go off on more adventures with the Doctor. Once you’ve seen all that and decide to watch it a second time, all the little problems with possible rushed endings and all-too-brief cameos and the lack of any headline baddies seem to dissipate away and what you’ve got left is a kind of perfect episode of Doctor Who: a puzzle to solve, an emotional core and this mysterious stranger who loves humanity but can never be a part of it.

Rate the episode? 18 out of 20 for me.

And the Golden Anniversary Countdown = 437 days to go.

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