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Doctor Who: The Power of Three (Review)

The Power of Three is Chris Chibnell’s best Doctor Who script to date. While a little heavy-handed in the way it deals with the relationship between the Doctor and Amy and Rory, it’s still a nice change of pace. It’s a thoughtful episode exploring the Doctor’s relationship with time. (And that shared by his companions.) While the alien invasion seems a little tacked on, to the point where it only seems to serve the final pun, The Power of Three is still a solid penultimate outing for this trio of adventurers.

Thinking outside the box…

I have a soft spot for this new status quo that Steven Moffat has established. I like the idea of the Doctor continually popping in on his companions as they try desperately to establish normal lives. It seems like solid character development, especially given how fond the show has been of calling him on his indifference to his former best friends. (In School Reunion, for example, Sarah Jane points out that he effectively dumped her in a field in the middle of nowhere.) It’s nice to see the Doctor trying to remain a part of the lives of those around him.

Moffat defined the relationship between Amy and the Doctor as the relationship between a young girl and her imaginary friend. It’s actually a very effective way of examining the show’s central dynamic, and Moffat has actually followed through on that – I have a bit of a soft spot for the dynamic duo of Amy and the Doctor, if only because it feels like a true life-long companionship. He remarks that she’s now “all grown-up”, with some sense of pride, as if seeing the impact he’s had on her.

Boxed in…

At the same time, Moffat’s Doctor Who hasn’t been afraid to explore the logical consequences of that train of thought. Like an imaginary friend, there’s an ideal time for the Doctor. Carrying him into adulthood is nice, and it means that you avoid losing your sense of innocence, but you can’t keep running off into that fantasy. Amy discovers that her frequent trips away made her unreliable to her friends, and prevented her from taking part in the standard parts of adult friendships. Rory discovered that his time away was blocking his career advancement.

Both of those are important parts of growing up, and Rory is right to call the Doctor out when he suggests that the pair blow off work and responsibility to come travelling with him. Growing up doesn’t mean abandoning your sense of adventure or your desire to see the world, it just requires a bit of balance, and it means that you can’t treat fantasy as something you retreat to as a means of hiding from the real world. “The travelling is starting to feel like running away,” Amy confesses to the Doctor, and the Doctor argues that it shouldn’t be.

It’s hip to be square…

Fantasy isn’t something that people should use to escape their normal lives, it should be something magical and fantastical that draws them in of its own accord. “I’m not running away from things,” the Doctor assures Amy. “I’m running to them.” It’s interesting that in this episode – the one most heavily focused on Rory and Amy – that we actually get a bit more focus on how he sees them. All though he is a time traveller, the Doctor concedes that time is finite. “I’m running to you – and Rory – before you fade from me,” he confesses, which is a rather grim thought. The way he skips through time, it will only be so long before he finds them gone. He’s cherishing them while he can.

(The inclusion of Stewart seems like a nice touch. It illustrates that the Doctor’s influence doesn’t necessarily whither and fade with the life he touches. “Science always leads,” she quotes her father, and the Doctor seems to smile at the idea that he has inspired an entire family. The Doctor has a very literal form of immortality, literally regenerating from iteration to iteration. However, he seems quite proud that Lethbridge-Stewart has his own version of immortality, and also that he clearly had a massive influence on this person he never met before. When the Doctor seems to worry about Amy and Rory “fading away”, it seems like exactly the thing he’d need to hear.)

Those guys need a box in the mouth…

That said, I’m not entirely convinced that I need another “special” relationship with a companion. When Amy asks why he’s around, he suggests that – as the first face he saw – she is “seared on to [his] hearts.” I don’t believe that’s ever happened before – and it actually feels like it cheapens his visits. It implies that the Doctor’s not popping in because he has actually learned something from the untimely passing of Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, or even that he just likes Amy and Rory as people.

It feels like an attempt to make Amy seem important, in the same way we were repeatedly told about how Rose was important. I always prefer when the show actually makes the companion special, rather than repeatedly trying to assure the audience. Matt Smith and Karen Gillen work well enough together that they make a great pair. The Doctor and Amy play off each other well enough that you can see why he likes having her around. That feels like it should be enough.

Just lounging around…

Speaking of Rose, in many ways The Power of Three felt like a bit of a conscious throwback to the Russell T. Davies era. I know that Moffat has used celebrities before, but the way they were incorporated into media here recalls the cameos in the Davies-era penultimate episodes. The invasion of the cubes actually feels quite a bit like a Davies-era plot, and this feels like one of the relatively few times that Moffat has allowed the show to radically intersect with “the real world”, staging a massive paranormal event that impacts the whole present-day planet.

There’s even a top-secret base hidden inside a classic London landmark, which was something of a hallmark of the Davies era. These elements of Chibnell’s script seem like rather affectionate and overt references to Moffat’s predecessor, and it almost seems as if Matt Smith and Karen Gillen have wandered into a David Tennant and Billy Piper script. It’s not a bad thing, it just feels a little weird, and it does given the episode a markedly different flavour to those around it.

He can’t quite square it…

I’m a big fan of episodes that see the Doctor interacting with normal life – episodes like The Lodger and Closing Time, for example. So it’s great to see The Power of Three exploring how the Doctor relates to Amy and Rory’s relatively normal lives. “Four days and I am still in your lounge,” he protests as the group watch the cubes. “I can’t live like this. Don’t make me. I need to be busy.” It’s a nice illustration of how the Doctor can look at the happiness that Amy and Rory share, but still not covet it. It’s not possible for him to attain it. It’s just not his nature.

There are other nice touches in Chibnell’s script. I like the idea that the cubes are vaguely like Doctor Whoepisodes. We’re told that they’re active for forty-seven minutes, and that each does something almost completely random. Some are small slices of life, others are epic adventures. They might all have the same outward appearance, but each has their own identity and could be anything. It’s something I do truly love about the show, and Chibnell seems to acknowledge that with the crazy unique identities and forty-odd minute lifespan of the otherwise uniform cubes.

Constant companion…

I also like the exploration of time as relative. There’s something magical about the idea that the Doctor and Amy and Rory could disappear for seven months in the middle of an anniversary barbecue, only to return in time for drinks that evening. Amy speculates that they’re about ten years older, between the time they’ve spent at home and with the Doctor. I think it’s a nice and clever way of using the time travel plot device, and doing something a bit different from what the show has done before. It plays to the “timey wimey” strengths of the Moffat era.

That said, the alien invasion does feel a bit superfluous. I can’t help but feel like – between the Time Lord myths and the casting of Steven Berkoff – the show is seeding something that will pay off down the line. If not, it feels like a bit of a waste of an interesting back story and a great guest star for a fairly generic alien invasion story. The Shakri seem like they could be used for something much more than a convenient villain at the end of a grounded adventure, and they make for an interesting foil to the Doctor. (They are from “all of time… and none.” They “travel alone… and together.”)

The (time and) space between us…

The Power of Three is a nice little episode, even if some of the interaction between the Doctor and Amy feels a tiny bit heavy-handed. It’ll also feel like a bit of a waste if the Shakri don’t pop up again, as it seems like a lot of exposition and world-building were crammed into the last ten minutes of the episode. Still, it’s nice to see the relatively unique dynamic between the Doctor and Amy and Rory get a bit of development, and I’m glad that the show didn’t just jump directly into a new companion joining the Doctor for every adventure.

I’ll miss Amy and Rory when we say goodbye next week.

You might be interested in our other reviews of this season’s episodes of Doctor Who:

 

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