The Power of Three
Review by Paul Bowler
It should have been a day like any other on planet Earth, except the entire world has just woken up to find that millions of little black cubes have suddenly appeared everywhere. These strange cubes appear inert, and are apparently indestructible, but there seems to be no clue as to where they have come from or who created them. The Doctor, Amy, and Rory have to investigate this bizarre phenomenon, which has also caught the attention of UNIT, but it will take months to properly study the cubes so The Doctor has to take a break from his travels and move in with the Ponds…
The Power of Three is Chris Chibnall’s second story this season and is a very different beast from Dinosaurs on a Spaceship, primarily because it encompasses almost a year in the lives of Amy and Rory Pond as they struggle to share their home with the erratic Time Lord. Most of the story unfolds from Amy and Rory’s perspective, like a John Wyndham Sci-Fi page-turner, with Karen Gillian and Arthur Darvill turning in a superb performance as the married couple who are beginning to crave a life way from The Doctor and his non-stop adventuring.
Mark Williams also makes a welcome return as Rory’s dad, fresh from his travels around the world; Brian embraces this adventure with The Doctor and more than earns his honorary status as a companion in my book. Brian does everything he can to help the Doctor monitor the cubes, even making his own video log (Brian’s Log) to document events, but after The Doctor whisks Amy and Roy away for their Wedding Anniversary – a visit to the Savoy in 1890 that unfortunately goes awry with the discovery of a Zygon spaceship – Brian gets an unexpected confession from The Doctor when he presses the Time Lord about the fate of his pervious companions.
Meanwhile, it falls to the esteemed actor Steven Berkoff to chew up the scenery with his perfectly understated performance as the villainous Shakri, the alien menace behind the cubes. Shakiri isn’t introduced until the latter half of The Power of Three, but his presence reveals that his race was known, to the Time Lords – and it would seem that these legendary beings act like intergalactic pest control, wiping out whole civilizations to prevent “contamination” by those they deem unfit to evolve. The two Orderlies (David Beck & Daniel Beck), who carry out Shakri’s orders to harvest bodies from the Hospital where Rory works, are also eerily similar to Mr Oak and Mr Quill from Fury From The Deep (1968), particularly when Rory’s Dad finds himself cornered by the duo. Three are also a number of cameos by several famous faces: newsreaders covey the global scale of the invasion, they are joined by Professor Brian Coxx who theorizes about the cubes, and Lord Alan Sugar as the mysterious cubes begin to infiltrate every corner of society, encroaching on the populations everyday working lives.
If living with The Doctor wasn’t trouble enough for the Ponds, having UNIT turn their lives upside down doesn’t help much either (Particularly when they burst into the Ponds home while Rory is in a state of undress). The Power of Three features the welcome return of the United Nations Intelligence Task Force, and this episode also features Jemma Redgrave as UNIT’s new Head of Scientific Research – the charming Kate Stewart. Its great to see Matt Smith’s Doctor working with UNIT again, his first being The Sarah Jane Adventures episode: Death of the Doctor (2010), and this adventure is also reminiscent of some of the Pertwee stories from the 70’s (Where UNIT played a significant role in Dr Who), and Chibnall does a superb job of introducing Kate as Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart ’s daughter while The Doctor and UNIT struggle to contain the cubes uncanny invasion by stealth.
There are plenty of fun moments too as The Doctor does his best to fit in with the Ponds linear existence on Earth, but the Time Lord is like a chaotic explosion in their lives, and after spending nearly a year with The Doctor we begin to see Amy and Rory wishing for an easier way of life. The Doctor has been a part of virtually every aspect of Amy and Rory’s lives, there have always been three people in the Ponds marriage, and The Power of Three ironically pushes The Doctor back into Amy and Rory‘s lives in a way that makes their bond even stronger. Even fish fingers and custard makes a welcome return, although it is almost upstaged by the humble Yorkshire Pudding!
The Power of Three is a rare instance of The Doctor not actually knowing what is going on. We are used to him knowing just about everything about everything, so to hear him admit to that he has no idea what the cubes are is quite unsettling.
While his attempts to fit in with his companions lives offers plenty of comic relief, especially when he gets hooked on the Wii and mowing the lawn, this episode also offers Matt Smith some great material to work with. There is one scene in particular, when Amy confesses to The Doctor that she is beginning to think about leaving The Doctor for her life on Earth with Rory. Karen Gillan and Matt Smith have an amazing chemistry on screen, never more so than here when she turns to him for some heartfelt advice when it comes to choosing between her “real life” and her “Doctor life” and The Doctor surprises her by telling her how much she means to him. She was the first face he saw after his regeneration, because of this the Ponds are destined to be emblazoned on his hearts forever, and that is why their adventure in the TARDIS are all the more meaningful to him.
Jemma Redgrave also has some wonderful scenes with Matt Smith’s Doctor when he visits the UNIT base beneath The Tower of London, and the moment when the Time Lord realizes that Kate Stewart is the daughter of his dearly departed friend – Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart – we are treated to one of those rare moments in Dr Who where the past and present collide to give us something truly magical. Kate plays a pivotal role in helping The Doctor deal with the threat posed by the cubes, her links to the series past gives the inclusion of UNIT an added depth, and I sincerely hope Jemma Redgrave’s returns for more episodes.
The real shock comes after the cubes have finished their bizarre countdown to reveal themselves as instruments for the Shakri – and induce heart attacks in anyone near them when they finally activate; including The Doctor! In some ways these strange cubes were oddly reminiscent of the same devices the Time Lords used to send psychic messages when they are in urgent need of assistance; like those seen in The Doctor’s Wife (2011). It’s a bold move by Chris Chibnall to hint that the Shakri are in some way linked to the Time Lords, but no real explanation is given. The hologram running the spaceship seems to converse with The Doctor, almost as if he knows him, possibly pointing towards an even greater threat lurking on the fringes of the future for the last of the Time Lords.
This episode rockets along under Douglas Mackinnon crisp Direction, hitting the perfect balance between the superbly choreographed action as UNIT make their spectacular return, effortlessly encapsulating the global panic as the cubes begin to count down to activation. This story holds the added significance of featuring the last scenes that Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill actually filmed for Doctor Who, which also coincidentally happened to be filmed at St Cadocs Hospital in South Wales; the same location used for The 11th Doctor’s 2010 debut: The Eleventh Hour. The Power of Three is a terrific showcase for Amy and Rory, in this, their penultimate adventure, as well as ushering in a new era for UNIT with the introduction of the wonderful Kate Stewart.
The Power of Three almost feels like it has drifted in from the Russell T Davies era of Doctor Who, it’s a terrific episode, and breathlessly energetic as it plays out against the everyday backdrop of present day Earth. Although the invasion might be resolved a tad too quickly, there is still lots to enjoy here, not least the last chance to see The Doctor, Amy, and Rory before the encroaching darkness of the Ponds imminent departure breaks all our hearts.