So, after facing millions of Daleks, tangling with Jurassic Park in space, and a murderous cyborg in the American West, where exactly do you go next? Yes, contemporary Earth for a good old-fashioned invasion story, which is exactly what ‘The Power Of Three’ is, or, to quote the narrating Amy Pond, ‘the year of the slow invasion’.
One of the most immediately striking aspects of this episode is its homage to the previous style of Doctor Who, by which we mean the resurrected and not the classic series. We have; an inexplicable non-invasion in which strange, apparently non-threatening, black cubes have appeared all over the world, the involvement of UNIT (headed in this instance by Kate Stewart, daughter of Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, in a nice nod to the classic series), our companions accompanied by a bemused parent, and a whole range of comedy guest-appearances from any number of BBC News reporters and others including Professor Brian Cox and Sir Alan Sugar. Yes, it’s actually all very Russell T. Davies, not that this is a particulary bad thing.
Indeed, there is much to recommend this episode, not least the return of Brian Williams (Mark Williams) as Rory’s over-enthusiastic, but somewhat bumbling, father, who provides a number of good comic turns throughout the episode without verging on becoming annoying; the scene in the TARDIS where Brian outlines all the potential options regarding the contents of the mysterious black cubes, completely stealing the Doctor’s thunder, for example. Similarly, fellow guest-star Jemma Redgrave gives a solid performance as the enigmatic Kate Stewart, who initially keeps her true identity from the Doctor but whose references to her father and the influence of the Doctor on her own life through him provides a touching moment for fans of the classic series.
A central theme of the episode is Amy and Rory’s struggle over their own future. As Amy reflects, both of them have been a part of the Doctor’s life for so long without him actually becoming a part of their lives, and spending time with them in an ‘ordinary’ capacity. We discover through the course of the episode that Amy and Rory have now been travelling with the Doctor on an on-and-off basis for ten years; sometimes the Doctor manages to return them to their timestream at virtually the same point from which he has plucked them, but other times they are away from their lives, friends and family for months at a time. Here, it is the Doctor’s turn to spend time with them whilst he waits for the cubes to reveal their intentions.
Tension develops from this because the Doctor is struggling too, in this case with the realisation that his companions’ lives have started to outgrow him. Rory has a chance of a permanent job at the local hospital, Amy is working as a travel writer, and both of them are actually enjoying leading normal lives in addition to the odd ‘spin’ with the Doctor in the TARDIS; but they are acutely aware that the time will soon come when they have to make a choice. This culminates in a touching scene where the Doctor and Amy ponder the situation whilst sat on the bank of the Thames, and the Doctor reveals his difficulty in letting go of his companions, Amy in particular, as they have been the first, and so far only, companions of his eleventh incarnation. It may sound like a bit of a ‘long goodbye’ but it’s well written, and a refreshing take on the departure of the Doctor’s travelling companions.
This means that the plot in ‘The Power Of Three’ often becomes subsumed by the ‘Amy and Rory’ sub-plot, particularly in the first half of the episode, but this provides for a number of comic interludes; to alleviate his boredom whilst waiting for the mysterious cubes to actually ‘do something’, the frustrated Doctor ends up driving the Ponds mad with domestic chores before eventually settling on playing Wii tennis whilst he waits for something to happen. Yes, really. In other scenes, the Doctor whips Amy and Rory off for a anniversary treat at a nineteenth century Paris hotel, which turns out to have a Zygon spaceship underneath it that they have to deal with, before getting them back for their anniversary party via a quick entanglement with Henry VIII. The technical term for this is, probably, ‘bonkers’, but you get the impression of Stephen Moffat and writer Chris Chibnall having a bit of fun with the Doctor and the Ponds with a few quirky encounters before their departure, and why not?
It is in the second half of the episode where the mysterious black cubes finally ‘do something’ and when they do indeed make their move it makes for a dramatic change in the tempo and pace of the episode. Rather than making the episode feel disjointed, this is actually very effective; the cubes, and their horrific effect on the people they encounter, are actually incredibly creepy with their myserious count-down. As people begin to die around the world, Rory and Brian rush to Rory’s hospital to help out with the crisis, encountering two mysterious twin surgeons who are kidnapping the patients and transporting them to a spaceship via a hidden wormhole. Aside from a sudden leap into proper sci-fi (quite literally, via the portal to the wormhole), the scenes in the hospital are straight out of a horror film in terms of atmosphere and staging and help to reinforce the feeling of fear and uncertainty, itself heightened by the fact that the Doctor himself has no idea exactly what is going on.
However, aside from the well-executed comic moments and the engaging back story concerning Amy and Rory, there are some weaknesses to ‘The Power of Three’ in terms of plot. First amongst these is the actual reason why the cubes remain dormant for the best part of a year, which is put down to the need to lull humanity into a false sense of security and making people victims of their own curiosity by taking the mysterious boxes into their homes. This is all well and good, but when the cubes actually become active and display such advanced technology, you are left wondering why they needed to wait for so long; surely they could have scanned and infiltrated Earth technology immediately upon their arrival, and assuming that they were somehow ‘beamed’ to Earth, why were they not beamed directly into houses?
Something else which is not immediately made clear (at least, not to us at So So Gay) was exactly why the myserious twin surgeons were kidnapping people in the first place? UNIT’s inclusion did not work as well as in previous episodes as the organisation soon becomes secondary to Kate Stewart’s character; furthermore, its evolution into a team of computer geeks supported by some soldier muscle could have benefitted from more development, short of explaining it away on the influence of Kate’s own scientific background. The least satisfying part of the episode is probably the actual rebuttal of the invasion and saving of the lives already claimed, which stretches the credulity through the ease at which it is achieved.
Thus, whilst it would be unfair to describe ‘The Power Of Three’ as a ‘filler’ episode before the climax of part one of the series, and the departure of the Ponds next week, it cannot be escaped that the best moments of the episode were the sections that dealt with laying the ground for exactly that. The premise of the ‘year of the slow invasion’ provides some good comedy touches, not to mention some tense atmosphere and a good old invasion-style romp, just as long as you aren’t too picky about the plot towards the end. Roll on Weeping Angels and River Song next week…