Doctor Who: 704 “The Power of Three” Full Review
Reviewed by Adam James Cuthbert
One of the chief issues I’ve had with this series thus far is the situation of Amy and Rory. I’m admittedly somewhat conflicted about my feelings towards them. Arguably, they have overstayed their welcome. However, both Dinosaurs on a Spaceship and A Town Called Mercy comfortably justified their inclusion in different ways, Amy more so than Rory (whose presence has inadvertently suggested only one companion is actually required). The Power of Three could potentially have worked better as a ‘Doctor-lite’ story, building on the themes explored in Chibnall’s earlier Dinosaurs, principally how Amy has changed from her experiences with the Doctor, using her intelligence and aptitude to solve intricate mysteries (which would have been perfect for this episode), adopting ‘Doctorish’ mannerisms of her own. In contrast, Rory is the ‘ordinary’ settled husband, concerned with his career responsibilities, even bonding with his father. With the reintroduction of UNIT in this episode, led by the new Head of Scientific Research, Kate Stewart, the daughter of the Doctor’s old friend Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, the story could easily have evoked a Turn Left scenario, albeit more substantial, where the companions formed a working relationship with UNIT. The premise could have seen them defending the Earth against an alien invasion, after a fashion: how does the Earth, and the companions, deal with extra-terrestrial threats, and conflicts in their own lives, without the Doctor? This would have ‘modernised’ UNIT by establishing them as an efficient syndicate that has altered their ways in testament to the Doctor’s scientific practices, diversifying the exploration of the Doctor’s influence in his world. The Doctor himself could be kept to flashbacks, or even phone calls from the TARDIS, reminding the Williams he’s looking out for them, but keeping his distance. This subtly connects with Dinosaurs without hammering home how much he misses them, one of my criticisms about this episode, despite the lyrical dialogue that accompanies the scene. It would also sustain the consistency of maturity in their relationship, thereby connecting with The God Complex as well, when the Doctor and Amy finally saw each other through a more ‘real’ lens, strengthening this series, thematically, as a whole in its exploration of the Doctor’s darker side.
As it stands, The Power of Three has come only to reinforce my views on Chibnall as a writer: his stories potentially contain strokes of brilliance undermined by their execution; and it’s the execution where this episode is severely flawed. I’m beginning to doubt whether or not the ‘movie-of-the-week’ format is a good idea, as the pace of this episode felt disjointed. I do think subsequent stories will retrospectively have benefited from being two-part episodes that allow their themes and ideas to be thoroughly developed and digested by the audience; such was the case with The Power of Three.
Honestly, the story could equally, easily have worked as a 45-minute Pond Life, focusing on the wider picture of life after/outside the Doctor. Bringing UNIT into the picture would show initiative on the writer’s part to develop that broader spectrum of the Doctor’s influence, having Amy and Rory meet others who have been inspired by the Doctor’s morals: the Doctor discerned as a force of good in contrast to the self-deprecating soul in reality, leaving ample opportunity for tension when the Ponds are reunited with the Doctor for their last, tragic, journey together. I can even see a ‘romanticised’ air around the Doctor’s image appropriating effectively with the ‘Hollywood’ blockbuster-esque attitude towards storytelling this year. As it was, UNIT and Kate Stewart were rather wasted: a means to an end towards solving the central mystery.
Speaking of character development, I find myself growing apathetic towards the Doctor’s more childish traits being emphasised, which I’ve noticed occurs both in Dinosaurs and The Power of Three. There is a fine difference between eccentricities and childishness, and for me it jarred with the story’s atmosphere. In the scene where the Doctor first stays with the Williams, complaining about how slowly time passes, he comes off as a petulant child moaning to his parents (which reminds me, unfortunately, that this Doctor has in-laws, an utterly disagreeable decision). I had envisioned this series returning the Doctor to a tenebrous, brooding, alien wanderer, growing distant from humanity, rather than closing to them, painfully aware that if he continues to interfere in Amy and Rory’s life, ultimately disaster will unfold. While I’m satisfied with how his character has been developed in earlier stories this series, focusing on his darker side, here it’s completely overlooked, making his character development appear inconsistent. While The Power of Three examines his loneliness and attachment to Amy and Rory, it’s been handled better.
The highlight of the episode was definitely Mark Williams as Rory’s father, Brian. It was refreshing to see such a well-written character shine through: humble, droll, clever and loyal in measure. Mark Williams ensured that the dialogue he shares with Matt Smith, in the scene where Brian enquires into the Doctor’s past relationship with companions, was poignant and meaningful, as well as bringing a level of maturity to the Doctor’s character. The denouement where Brian decides Amy and Rory should leave with the Doctor did elicit an emotional response from me, and should certainly garner respect from the Doctor if Brian reappears in future. I strongly believe it would be inappropriate if Brian weren’t informed of Amy and Rory’s fate, in the possible event of their deaths.
The story aimed to evoke nostalgia for the Russell T Davies’ ‘real world’ alien invasion, utilising a montage of live news reports as well as celebrity cameos (well, two) to emulate the epic, dramatic scale associated with invasion stories of the past. Whereas Davies’ stories developed the plot over two/three episodes, escalating the tension throughout, to the climatic ‘reveal’, appropriately delivered on a cliff-hanger, Chibnall’s story attempts to condense that formula into a single 45-minute episode. It only serves to stress that The Power of Three should have been a two-parter, with the mysterious black cubes that appear across the planet finishing their countdown at the end of the first episode.
The story also suffered from a number of plot holes that disrupted my potential enjoyment of the episode. What was the purpose of the peculiar-looking nurses; why were they abducting patients from the hospital? Were they serving the Shakri? If so, why were the Shakri capturing humans, especially if they consider humanity a “plague” to be eradicated? Were they taking samples from humans? But that makes even less sense as the plot establishes that the cubes perform their own assessment on how best to destroy humanity. (While it confused me at first, I can see where the different responses from individual cubes are coming from, determining the best means to kill humans; which surely comes down to either firing at humans with the weapon inside, or taking humans’ pulses to perhaps attack each person individually, silencing their heartbeat on a personal scale? One throwaway line would have clarified this.) I’m also confused about the droid disguised as a young girl. I understand she’s monitoring the situation (and I’m assuming there’s more of them in the different stations situated around the world) but how come she hasn’t drawn attention to herself, being in the hospital all the time? Is she programmed to act like a sick, mute child? The plot doesn’t explain.
The Shakri masterplan was actually fairly clever, and I liked how detailed Chibnall could be at times (Brian listing through possible explanations for the cubes; Kate mentioning how thorough UNIT has been at evaluating the cubes’ nature): the seven stations of the Shakri corresponding to the seven continents of the world for efficient widespread distribution of the cubes. Sadly, the resolution was disappointing and shamefully weak: the Doctor uses the sonic screwdriver to reverse the cubes’ function and blow up the Shakri ship. Even if you overlook everyone miraculously being restored to life after their hearts have stopped beating, for a good period of time it seems, surely they would have suffered oxygen starvation to the brain in that time? The cubes themselves were novel, at least, and explained why the Shakri didn’t attack humanity personally (being isolated in another dimension, unable to interfere directly, from what I could discern). It’s also out-of-character for any one of the main characters not to question the presence of abducted humans on the Shakri ship or stop to think that they died when the ship exploded (raising the question if they were even alive).
Overall Verdict: 4/10
In conclusion, The Power of Three was heavily flawed in various aspects of its storytelling techniques. This is partly attributed to my present criticisms of Moffat’s direction for the show this year. The story desperately needed to be a two-parter to fully explore the depths of the main characters’ ongoing relationship, establishing the creative balance between insight into the Williams’ post-Doctor life, the Doctor’s wider influence, and the alien threat itself.