Somebody needs to remind Chris Chibnall that he’s supposed to write the Doctor Who episodes people don’t really like. He’s written two of the last four stories and I’ve really enjoyed them both. What is that about? With both of his Series 7A episodes, “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship” and “The Power of Three,” he’s given us possibly the strongest outings for Amy and Rory we’ve seen since, probably, “The Girl Who Waited” or “The God Complex.” A while is what I’m saying. With “The Power of Three,” Chibnall’s explored what it’s like to be a companion who doesn’t necessarily want to give up their regular life and the effect that has on both them and the Doctor. He also seems dead set on referencing the Pertwee era as much as possible, which is perfectly fine with me.
The Ponds have two lives: Doctor Life, and Regular Life. They aren’t ready to give either up entirely, and in fact they’re slowly leaning toward just living quiet, day-to-day, normal life. One day, the cubes showed up. These cubes are small, black, and seemingly inert. Amy’s voiceover tells us it’s the year of the slow invasion. The Doctor, as you probably noticed, hates slow. UNIT arrives, led by scientist Kate Stewart (Jemma Redgrave), and they’ve got nothing to go on either. The Doctor tells everyone to pay close attention to the cubes, and no one heeds this instruction more than Rory’s father, Brian Williams (played again by Mark Williams). For about a year, nothing happens with them. Rory and Amy make commitments that require them to be in one place for an extended period of time. The Doctor arrives to take them on a seven-week vacation on their anniversary party, and Brian is concerned. Eventually, the cubes begin to do things and the nature of the plan is revealed. But what does this mean for the Doctor and his two conflicted companions?
There’s a whole lot to like about this episode, not least of which are the performances of the three leads. As I said during “Dinosaurs,” it’s terrific to see them working as a team so well, which makes perfect sense if, as Amy says, they’ve been traveling with the Doctor on and off for the better part of a decade. Part of what I love about the Eleventh Doctor is that his life isn’t linear, the way the Ninth and Tenth Doctor’s were. Each new series only added one year to the Doctor’s age, but here, with the way Smith’s Doctor pops in and out as he likes, we know that he has countless adventures on his own, with the Ponds, or with other people entirely, that we won’t get to see. I loved the scene where the Doctor and Amy sit on the wall and discuss the nature of their traveling. You get the real sense of how deeply they care for each other; they are absolutely best friends. We’ve always known Amy’s feelings toward the Doctor, given how long her life has been intertwined with him, but the Doctor finally reciprocates; hers is the first face this face saw. A great line and a great sentiment. Amy has been the longest-running consecutive companion of the new series, and Rory’s not far behind.
Mark Williams again brings something very interesting to the role of Rory’s dad. He’s certainly not dumb; the way he quickly rattles off possible (though wrong) explanations for what the cubes might be doing proves that he can think critically, but the sort of adorably simple things he does means that he looks at the world a little differently. From sitting in the TARDIS for four straight days just because the Doctor said to, to making daily video diaries (“Brian’s Log”) about the nothing happening with the cube, to the strange and hilarious moment when Rory finds him in the hospital, apparently contemplating an IV bag, Brian is a weird and fun character and I’m glad he’s been introduced this series, even if it’s at the end of Amy and Rory’s time. Also worth noting that Brian is the one who insists his son and daughter-in-law go off with the Doctor again. If the next episode is as sad as Steven Moffat has promised, then it’s this moment, when he essentially gives them permission to go along, that will prove to be the most tragic.
It’s very easy to say that this episode harkens back to the kinds of stories from Russell T. Davies’ tenure, having it set on Earth and featuring not only companions’ friends and family but also a worldwide invasion and news snippets. I think, though, this has more to do with Chibnall’s inherent love of the early 70s. Chris Chibnall and I share a love for the Third Doctor’s era. He wrote the Silurian two-parter in Series 5, which was essentially an amalgam of several elements from Pertwee’s first two seasons. With this story, we see a return to modern day (or possibly slightly in the future), and we see the Doctor working again with UNIT, the military investigation branch Pertwee worked with almost his five seasons. We learn that Kate Stewart is the daughter of the late Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart. It’s stuff like this that I really find fascinating, especially in light of the fast-approaching 50th Anniversary. The show has always been about legacy, and this episode highlights that exceedingly well, alhough the fact that UNIT still remembers the Doctor when even the Daleks do not is a bit strange. Perhaps it’ll be explained. It doesn’t need to be, though.
The plot itself was a bit secondary, but that, I think, is the point. The threat takes a whole year to manifest, something the Doctor is neither accustomed to nor prepared to deal with. There’s enough there to keep us interested, and it’s pretty satisfactorily handled. I don’t really understand why the evil twin nurses have geometric faces, but there we have it. The “villain,” though only a hologram of the other-dimensional Shakri, gained a lot of points by being played by writer/director/actor, and former Bond villain, Steven Berkoff. I love the star supporting cast this series, especially because they’re all cast perfectly.
Though limited, The Mill’s CG work with the blocks and especially the Shakri ship is gorgeous. It really helped bring everything together nicely. The directing duties fell to Douglas Mackinnon, whose only other Who credit is directing the Series 4 Sontaran two-parter, which was also set almost entirely on Earth. His direction here is a lot better than in the earlier episodes and, once again, Michael Pickwoad’s production design adds heaps of atmosphere and believability to anything he touches.
A couple of things I didn’t like: 1) The narration, especially at the end. It was very hokey and obvious; and, 2) The scene where Amy has to defibrillate the Doctor’s second heart. I liked the idea behind it, but it was very convenient that there was a crash cart mere feet from where they are (which is also mere feet from where the “little girl” was). Chibnall is all about convenience. In the same scene, I think Smith goes a little too over-the-top with his joyous “Welcome back, Lefty,” jig. There’s a level of silliness I’ve grown to expect and appreciate with Smitty’s performance, but if ever it goes too far, there’s a steep drop-off.
That’s really it, though. Overall, I absolutely loved this. So far, even given my dislike of the way the story unfolded in last week’s “A Town Called Mercy,” I think this series is the most consistent in quality that we’ve had in quite a while. Even Series 5, which is still my favorite of the new series, had a couple stinkers early on, but Series 7A so far has a 3.5 out of 4. I hope next week’s mid-series finale, “The Angels Take Manhattan,” can keep it up. From the looks of the trailer, we’re in for some scary-ass, sad-ass, exciting-ass television. Cannot wait.