Doctor Who: “The Power Of Three”
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Doctor Who: “The Power Of Three”

Pay attention to the verb tense Amy uses for the voiceover at the beginning of “The Power Of Three.” I think it matters. “Life with the Doctor, was like this,” she says as the episode cuts to a montage of high adventure. “Real life was like this,” as it cuts to some more mundane business (including the inspection of some yogurt that prompts Amy to let out a truly girlish scream). Though the “slow invasion” of Earth by some mysterious cubes is the main action this week, the business of whether or not Amy and Rory will be able to continue traveling with The Doctor—and what might become of them if they do—is never far from the fore. For the Amy providing voiceover this week, it’s a done deal, even if it’s not yet clear which path the Ponds have taken.

There’s always been a sense, with the Ponds and other companions, that real life and “Doctor life” sometimes butt up against one another for The Doctor’s companions, and this episode spends a lot of time exploring the contrast between the two. The Ponds’ friends can never understand what it means to travel with The Doctor and The Doctor will never really grasp the appeal of everyday, adventure-free existence. Worse still, life with The Doctor impedes the Ponds’ ability to maintain friendships and everyday lives and The Doctor is completely unsuited to a life more ordinary. (That’s to say nothing of practical concerns like the Ponds aging at a rate more advanced than those around them thanks to all their time away, a possibility I’d never really considered before.) As with all companions, something’s gotta give.

But, as the Ponds agree, not today. First there’s the matter of all those cubes to deal with. What are they? Where do they come from? Neither the Doctor nor a parade of British TV personalities can figure it out. (Sidenote: Who are these people? I guess Lord Sugar is Britain’s Donald Trump. If so, I hope he’s less obnoxious. Does he run around trying to prove the Prime Minister wasn’t born in the U.K.?) The answer is clever enough. That the cubes would do something doesn’t come as a shock, but it was particularly clever to have them all do something different and all at once as a means of assessing humanity and determining its weak spots.

It all leads to a fairly standard—and easily foiled—takeover attempt, and another speech from The Doctor in praise of humanity. But the boilerplate-ish elements don’t make the episode any less satisfying. As an adventure, this is another fine, well-crafted episode written by Chris Chibnall, who just popped up a few weeks ago as the writer of “Dinosaurs On A Spaceship.” The “slow invasion” is a clever, and cleverly executed bit of business. At first fascinated by the cubes, the general populace then sort of forgets about them. They’re mysterious until they become boring (though they’re useful as paperweights and objects on which to hang Post-it notes). It’s a weirdly plausible way for aliens to get through our defenses, really.

The episode also does some big-picture work, too, introducing the new head of UNIT who, it’s revealed, has a connection to the old head of UNIT, the Doctor’s old ally Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart. (Though unseen in the revived series, he’d been mentioned and he popped up in an episode of The Sarah Jane Adventures. He was played by Nicholas Courtney, who died last year.) I suspect we’ll be seeing more of Kate Lethbridge-Stewart in episodes to come, and I like the no-nonsense gravity Jemma Redgrave (of the famous Redgraves) brings to the part.

The draw here, though, is the character business. There’s no real suspense about the Ponds. Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill are on their way out and soon there will be no more Ponds. (At least not on a week-to-week basis; characters have a habit of coming back on this show.) This might be the last moment the show takes to contemplate that friendship between The Doctor and his married charges, a relationship that’s, by Amy and Rory’s estimation, 10 years old at this point. Much has changed since then. Amy and The Doctor’s relationship began as uncomfortably flirtatious then evolved into a true partnership of near-equals. (As we’ve seen all season, Amy’s learned a lot from her Time Lord friend.) His relationship with Rory began in suspicion and jealousy until trust and respect crept in. Now they’re like kin—and even more now that Rory’s dad has been thrown in the mix. The episode has a lot of fun treating them like one big, happy TV family, too, once The Doctor gets used to a slower pace of life. Rory wipes down surfaces, while The Doctor plays Wii and, in a callback to the first time we met Amy and this incarnation of The Doctor, they all enjoy fish fingers and custard. (Still sounds foul to me, but I did find a recipe for it, sort of, if you’re interested.) It’s a reminder, in case anyone had forgotten, that these characters enjoy spending time together and that is a large part of why it’s a pleasure to spend time with them.

All that’s coming to an end soon enough. But not today.

Stray observations:

  • Funny: “What do you think we do when we’re not with you?” “I imagine mostly kissing.” Funnier still: The look on Rory’s face that suggests The Doctor’s not that far off.
  • “I write travel articles for magazines.” As a career path for a singing telegram deliverer-turned-model it makes a certain amount of sense.
  • I’m sure the prominent placement of a Len Deighton novel is an in-joke of some kind, but it eludes me.
  • Next week: Yeesh! It’s the last episode until the Christmas special. And the last with the Ponds. Break out the handkerchiefs. But it also has Weeping Angels, so it’s sure to be terrifying. And Alex Kingston as River Song, which means important, big-picture stuff is likely to happen even beyond the Ponds’ departure.
  • How is everyone liking this season so far? I’ve been a fan. Not a weak episode yet, the stories have all been distinctive and witty, and the characters have all gotten their due.
  • If the Doctor needed something to do in London, why not drop in on his old friend Craig?

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