This review contains spoilers. Our spoiler-free review is here.
7.4 The Power Of Three
“Don’t knock my log. I’m doing what the Doctor asked”
It feels like it’s been a long time since we had an episode like this. A big global threat, cameos from BBC newsreaders, a bearded face from a popular reality TV programme*? Had the Tardis taken us back, we wondered, to the Russell T Davies years?
Well, yes and no. It captured the feel of slightly older Doctor Who, along with the continual build up to events that are very much concerning the current era of the show. Plus, it added in a bit of Time Lord stuff too. Not bad for 42-ish minutes.
Predominantly, there were two strands at work in The Power Of Three, a very, very enjoyable episode of the show, that benefitted from a lighter, breezier feel. On the one hand, there were the cubes. Lots and lots of apparently boring, ordinary cubes. On the other, there was the foreboding of matters to come where Rory and Amy are concerned. So let’s deal with them in turn. cubes first.
Chris Chibnall has come in for sometimes heavy criticism for his Doctor Who work in the past, but he struck gold with the story idea here: a slow invasion, that’s not explained until very late on in the episode. It feels like another proper science fiction idea, too: mysterious cubes suddenly appearring all over planet Earth, and rather than their point become apparently clear, there’s a real patience and skill to the build up. As such, people accept them as the norm, and it’s only when they’ve fully done so, that the cubes strike.
One thing here benefitted the invasion element of The Power Of Three was its chronological timeline. The episode took place over the course of around a year, but this part of the narrative was strictly in order, and that aided the build up considerably. Part of the fun with Doctor Who is sometimes the zipping backwards and forwards in time in a single episode (and we got a bit of that with the Rory and Amy elemets), but that’d do more harm than good here. Instead, there was a tight focus on an intriguing story.
The scale of said invasion came across really well, too. There was a real sense that this is a global threat. Plus, while simple mechanics such as the slow countdown might not be radical, they’re very effective. And again, there’s the whole human acceptance of the cubes, and letting them interperse with everyday life (at one point, they’re used for a bit of putting practice). “People are just taking them for granted”, Amy sagely warned.
Chris Chibnall also threw in some treats and references for long time Doctor Who fans. Jemma Redgrave led the very welcome return of UNIT to the show, and it was a lovely touch that it turns out she’s a Lethbridge-Stewart. Then there was the broader tie-in to the Time Lords. It’s a pity that Steven Berkoff’s ultimate villain was thrown away in the speed of wrapping everything up, but you can’t fault the ambition. He had the appearance of the Emperor in Star Wars, and The Shakri was an interesting extension to Gallifrey backstory (“pest controllers of the universe). A pity it turned into another humans are bad/not they’re not debate in the race to the credits. We’ll come to the ending again shortly.
Before that, there was the other side of the episode: Rory and Amy, and a glimpse into their everyday lives. Given that the pair are soon to depart the series, this was a chance to see what they do when the Doctor isn’t about. It turns out, after having the Doctor in their lives for ten years, that the idea of a more domestic existence has appeals, with both friends and workmates keen to see more of them. We’ve known for a long time that Rory is a nurse, for instance, but here, we see him nursing. Interestingly, we see the consequence that he and Amy’s Tardis-hopping lifestyle has on the people around them. We’ve had the families of companions taken into account before, but to spend some time deepening their broaders lives was an appreciated touch.
Most hauntingly, of course, we got Brian Williams’ realisation of what may be ahead. Mark Williams was the highlight of Dinosaurs On A Spaceship for us, a very funny presence and a joy to watch. Here, he shouldered – in between some more excellent comedy work – that sense of forboding. His “just bring them back safe” at the end of the episode felt laced with impending doom. We suspect that there won’t be too many opportunities in the future to bring Mark Williams back to Doctor Who, but it’d be a treat to see him return. In two episodes, he’s had a real impact.
Then we come to Matt Smith. He’s just brilliant here, in an episode that asks lots of different things of him. The exploration of the Doctor’s boredom threshold, for starters, demonstrated his already well-established comedy skills (both physically, and in his delivery of a line. His clear displeasure at the thought of Twitter was wonderful). The bored Doctor meant fun for us, but it wasn’t long before Matt Smith’s real range was called upon again. Loneliness, laughs, a literal heart stopping moment, and sadness in one episode? It shouldn’t be underestimated how hard that it is to put across. You may or may not like the eleventh Doctor (we like him a lot), but there’s no doubting the quality of the actor who plays him.
There was a problem with the episode, though, for all the qualities of it. With two main parts to it, The Power Of Three had an awful lot to enjoy but, almost inevitably, it hit a problem come the end of the episode. Put simply: The Power Of Three crammed too much in, at the expense of its denouement. In days of old, it felt like it would have been a two part episode. While we’re not sure it warranted that, another ten minutes wouldn’t have hurt here, not least because the slow invasion storyline was wrapped up ridiculously quickly. There was a sense of Independence Day to it: the build up was patient, excellent and well executed. The pay off was hasty, and far less interesting. It was particularly disappointing here, because The Shakri was interesting. Maybe we’ll see Steven Berkoff again in the role come the second half of series seven.
Still, that aside, The Power Of Three was enormous fun. We’re all prepped now, though, for the mid-series finale next week. This is when we’re told Amy and Rory are leaving. This is when the Weeping Angels return. Heck, come the end of The Power Of Three, the Doctor, Amy and Rory are apparently closer than they’ve ever been. And that’s a sure sign that things are about to go pear shaped.
For now, though, The Power Of Three might – might – just be the highlight of series 7 to date. It’s the first episode to give Asylum Of The Daleks a run for its money, at the very least.
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* Does the presence of Alan Sugar finally get us off the hook for years of Apprentice reviews, we wonder…