Doctor Who Series 7 Episode 4 review: The Power of Three

Posted: 29 September 2012 in entertainment, television
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Doctor Who - The Power of Three wallpaperWith a storyline of an invasion of contemporary Earth centred on London, a relative of a lead character, celebrity cameos from Brian Cox and Lord Sugar, and the return of UNIT (together with the organisation’s secret base under the Tower of London), The Power of Three feels like a homage to the Russell T Davies era. There is even a slew of underdeveloped ideas and a rushed nonsensical denouncement that cries out for the story to have been developed into a two parter.

Every time we flew away with the Doctor we just become part of his life. But he never stood still long enough to become part of ours. Except once. The Year of the Slow Invasion. The time the Doctor came to stay.

This Steven Moffat era episode eclipses the similar ones of his predecessor by injecting far more believable character moments and emotion into the human characters as the Ponds experience a crossover in their Earthbound and Doctor-orientated lives.

Set in 2020 and encompassing Amy and Rory’s 10th wedding anniversary on 26 June of that year, The Power of Three saw the Doctor coming to live with the Ponds whilst trying to solve the mystery of the “invasion of the very small cubes”. Although the Doctor attempting to pass as human had already been done in The Lodger, there was huge potential for Human and Gallifreyan culture clashes as the Last of the Time Lords attempted to adjust to everyday domestic existence with the Ponds as they tried (and likely failed) to explain his alien behaviour to their “normal” friends. Unfortunately the potential for humour and confusion was not seized upon and weak comedy scenes of the Doctor attempting to eschew his boredom occurred instead.

The idea of the cube mystery being played out across a year is an interesting conceit and one that could have easily been played out across several episodes. It even had potential as a series arc with the Doctor nipping back and forth through time and space attempting to solve the conundrum – popping back to Earth in 2020 every so often to check in. Previously established in the series has been the fact that the Doctor can’t just pop ahead in time so as to see the outcome of a problem and then travel back to prevent it happening. Once he arrives somewhere or somewhen he becomes a part of events. In Day of the Daleks the Third Doctor begins to explain the Blinovitch Limitation Effect in relation to being unable to change events, but he is cut off before the writer has to go too far down the path of exposition…

Because you were the first. The first face this face saw. And you were sealed onto my hearts. Amelia Pond. You always will be. I’m running to you and Rory before you fade from me.

After his tenth regeneration the first person that the Doctor saw was little Amelia Pond and she has been entwined in his existence ever since. Even though three centuries have passed in the Time Lord’s personal timeline he keeps returning to Amy and Rory time and time again before they sever their connections to him and move on. The Ponds are unable to give up the Doctor either. As Brian sagely observes it is not so much the adventures across time and space that his daughter-in-law and son cannot relinquish it is their best friend that they do not want to be parted from.

Some left me. Some got left behind. And some…not many, but…some died. Not them, not them, Brian. Never them.

Mark Williams’ appearances as Brian Williams has been one of the highlights of Series 7a. In The Power of Three he exuberantly throws himself into the mystery of the cubes, bringing up excellent theories as to the purpose of the objects, and diligently recording 361 days of Brian’s Log (even though Rory tells him not to call his visual diary by that name). Let’s hope that Brian returns in 2013 and beyond, even though the Ponds will have departed forever. His discussion with the Doctor about the fate of previous travelling companions leaves an ominous air hanging over proceedings with the approach of The Angels Take Manhattan. The ultimate fate of Amy and Rory may leave ramifications that the Doctor has to explain to Brian and others…

I’ve got officers trained in beheading…Also, ravens of death!

The undoubted highlight of The Power of Three and a moment that sent a frisson of delight through the spines of fandom was the revelation that the new commander and Head of Scientific Research of UNIT’s British branch was the daughter of the legendary Brigadier Sir Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart (as played by the much-missed Nicholas Courtney). Armed with an absolute faith in the Doctor and a determination to protect and serve humanity, Kate Stewart (the Lethbridge having been dropped so as to avoid accusations of favouritism) is every inch her father’s daughter. In his blood and thunder days of his active service with the Second, Third and Fourth Doctors the Brigadier favoured a militaristic approach to resolving problems but towards the end of his life he developed a disdain for the way the new UNIT operated. Learning from an old friend he embraced a philosophy of “science leads” and imparted that viewpoint to Kate.

Kate Lethbridge-Stewart first appeared in fan spin-off films Downtime (1995) and Daemos Rising (2004) played by Beverly Cressman, who bears a strong resemblance to Jemma Redgrave who interpreted the role in The Power of Three. The appearance of Kate marks the first time a fan-created character has crossed over into the series proper rather than vice-versa and it is to be hoped that she returns soon. Jemma Redgrave is absolutely perfect as Kate, forming a strong connection with Matt Smith and clearly channeling the humanity and resilience that the late Nicholas Courtney invested into the Brigadier. Kate returning for the 50th anniversary would be a perfect way to honour Courtney and the unequalled contribution he made to the series.

The Shakri exist through all of time and none.

Operating from an unknown location on behalf of an unidentified force known as the Tally and once considered a legend from the Dark Times of Gallifrey, the Shakri possessed the potential to evolve into a fascinating new enemy for the Doctor with their determination to expunge all races they considered a dangerous contagion. Unfortunately their entry in the universe of Doctor Who was fumbled. Whilst the notion of using the cubes to scan and identify weaknesses in humanity after lulling them into complacency was a sterling idea by writer Chris Chibnall the application was badly handled. Especially with the presence of the child android and the two scary nurses at the hospital not being explained and the criminal under usage of Steven Berkoff, one of the most powerful and unpredictable actors in the land. Berkoff is normally able to register on earthquake monitors with the power of his performances yet here he almost blends into the background. Hiring an actor of such calibre requires a much more epic character to inhabit. Berkoff would make an incredible older Master for Matt Smith to confront.

Ultimately The Power of Three was one of the less successful stories of the Matt Smith era and only memorable for character moments for the regulars, the introduction of Kate Stewart and setting up the Ponds up for a happiness that is bound to be shattered in their final battle against the Weeping Angels.

So that was the Year of the Slow Invasion when the Earth got cubed and the Doctor came to stay. It was also when we realised something the Shakri never understood. What cubed actually means. The power of three.


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