THE WHO REVIEW: Series 7, Episode 4 – “The Power of Three”

Little black cubes all over the globe, a slow invasion, and the beginning of the end for the Ponds.

After last week’s episode, “A Town called Mercy,” I was completely blown away and could think of nothing but praise for such an intelligent, well put together story with an explosive ending. By contrast, “The Power of Three” actually left me feeling a little cheated in comparison. Although I adored the exquisite little touches, such as the emotion between the Ponds, Rory’s Dad Brian, the Doctor, and the unexpected appearances by stars such as Professor Brian Cox and Lord Alan Sugar, for me it just wasn’t enough to cover the scandalously simple conclusion to the tale. Even the boxes with their various eccentricities did little for me other than inspire a feeling that their origins and purpose on the planet were going to be something of a disappointment. To my horror, I was right. However, I was also blissfully unaware that the solution would also be so mind meltingly pointless. Don’t get me wrong, despite the crushing disappointment of the cube conclusion, other aspects of the episode were there to provide some sort of salve to my discontent, making it altogether a fairly uneven episode but probably one that was required to bid farewell to the well-loved Ponds.

“The Power of Three” started in July with the Ponds comparing their Doctor lives with that of normality, and this was actually a break from convention with the Doctor being the focus of episodes and his companions following behind. It was an interesting point to explore, too, with the Ponds effectively aging faster than their friends and family as they travel through time. Perhaps it is the right moment for them to stop the interplanetary expeditions and return to their home lives, but they still can’t resist the Doctor’s charm.

As before, the Doctor Who logo this week reflected the nature of the episode, being as it was covered in stacked black boxes, and this sort of thing is a nice little polished touch that I hope they continue.

The Ponds were then awoken by Brian explaining that there were a series of small, perfectly formed black boxes surrounding the neighbourhood, and places all over the world, but don’t worry – the Doctor was on the case! Unfortunately, even the Time Lord didn’t know why they appeared or what their purpose was, so he decided to stay with the Ponds to monitor the boxes. Odd to think that such a frightening reaction could be incurred by something as simple as tiny black boxes the size of Rubik’s Cubes, but this was actually a fairly clever trick sometimes used by horror writers – it is hard to make an everyday item sinister, but the little cubes were terrifying in the absence of an explanation. In days where we are afraid of anything out of the ordinary for fear it could be an attack, this episode is perfectly pitched to induce an uneasy sense of dread.

The BBC news reports were certainly not a new addition to Doctor Who, being utilised heavily in the Russell T. Davies-penned series of the noughties, but they were still enough to bring a smile to my face as they always lend the show some sense of realism that would be difficult to achieve any other way. The small clip with Brian Cox discussing the cubes actually made me laugh-out-loud as it was so perfect, and his comment, “You’ll have to ask a better man than me” gave the impression that he was friends with the Doctor. This is something that I would really like to see explored further.

The reintroduction of UNIT to the show may have had quite a few Who fans hugging themselves with glee but this was nothing compared to the excitement at the new addition to the team, Kate Stewart. Head of UNIT’s Science division, she was also revealed to be the daughter of the famous Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart who, as all good Doctor Who fans know, was a great friend to the Doctor and one of the founders of UNIT. Kate’s character was warm and Jemma Redgrave portrayed her nicely as someone of great intelligence, but with something of disdain for the rigidity of the military. Rory brought some much-needed humour to UNIT’s intrusion on their lives with the line, “There are soldiers all over my house… and I’m in my pants!”

Despite the best efforts of the Doctor and UNIT, still no one knew the origin, purpose or even how the cubes came to Earth, so the Doctor suggested monitoring the cubes but found that being patient wasn’t exactly his thing. As the Doctor sets off on one of his many adventures, the Ponds get on with life committing to events and their jobs, whilst Brian continued monitoring the cubes and reporting to UNIT. Months pass with the only event of any note being a small girl at Rory’s hospital appearing oddly blue in hue, and not in a friendly Avatar sort of way. A patient was carted away by strange hexagon-mouthed medics that are never really explained, but other than that, it’s life as normal. It is still a little hard for me to believe that everyone would have just picked them up and taken them home when they didn’t know what they were, and everyone was denying they had created them – had no one heard the story of the Trojan Horse?

The Doctor returned after nine months, just in time for Amy and Rory’s anniversary, and took them on a romantic adventure that doesn’t end particularly well. Despite them being away for seven weeks, they didn’t miss the party they had left. On their return, there is an unusually low-key moment that was actually very important: Brian asks the Doctor what had happened to past companions, and the Doctor replied that some had left him and that some had died. While this is true, it is fair to say that some companions may have died of old-age or of natural causes, or in Rose Tyler’s case, declared dead but alive and well in a parallel universe. Yet it was made to seem that the Doctor was dangerous, and indeed he is, but he could have clarified further.

After this emotional conversation, the Doctor asked if he could stay with Amy and Rory as he missed them, and this was played so beautifully between Matt Smith and Karen Gillan, pretending they were both embarrassed by the admission of the lonely Doctor whilst not realising that the end is already galloping towards them. The Doctor seemed to settle into normal life reasonably well, watching The Apprentice as the Ponds feast upon fish fingers and custard, and after a year of inactivity from the cubes, suddenly all hell broke loose as the cubes sprang to life.

Each cube appeared to have its own special feature and while Rory had to go to work, taking his Dad with him, Amy and the Doctor were summoned to UNIT’s secret base beneath the Tower of London (perhaps not-so-secret now, I suppose). Every cube all over the world woke up and did their own thing – changing moods, shooting lasers, and one even played the “Birdie Song” on an incessantly annoying loop. Amidst the confusion of the cubes, the Doctor and Amy had a heart-to-heart about the future of the travelling chums with some interesting points raised about the nature of their companionship.

Realising that the cubes have scanned everything, and were possibly working out a way to attack Earth, the Doctor was faced with a countdown that didn’t appear to come to any particular conclusion, but led to the boxes opening and revealing nothing inside. All over the world there were deadly consequences after a massive electricity surge from the cubes induced heart attacks for all those nearby. Even one of the Doctor’s hearts stopped, with Amy having to use a discarded defibrillator to revive it. Meanwhile, Rory and Brian were being held on a mysterious spaceship; Brian was kidnapped and Rory found a doorway leading to a wormhole where his Dad was being held.

Given that there was a mere ten minutes left of the show, it was difficult to see how the situation was going to be cleared up without being disappointing, and sadly this appeared to be the case. The Doctor quickly found the little girl who was monitoring the hospital, and using his trusty Sonic Screwdriver, he deactivated her easily with no fuss and no fight – just pure Sonic Screwdriver action.  If that felt like a slight anti-climax, it was nothing compared to what was to come.

Venturing into the rapidly discovered wormhole, the Doctor and Amy proceeded to wake up Rory and Brian from their drugged slumber, and the latter is wheeled out of the spacecraft on a hospital bed staring perplexed at the creature that is confronting the Doctor – the Shakri.

The Shakri explained their purpose: pest controllers of the universe, and the Doctor believed they were a construct to make the young of Gallifrey behave. The Shakri served the Tally and were looking to destroy the human race before they ventured into space to cause more destruction, but the Doctor defended his beloved humans, fighting for the protection of Earth as always. He fiddled with his Screwdriver and turned the power of the Shakri against them, delivering a mass defibrillation to restart the hearts of those who perished and destroying the Shakri ship.

Now, I’m no expert on the human heart or indeed the human body, but I believe that after several minutes of heart stoppage certain areas of the brain are starved of oxygen causing brain damage, and surely it had been more than a minute or two while the Doctor drove to the hospital, boarded the ship, talked to the Shakri, and then unleashed his plan? It seems like such an important plot-point that I felt it was definitely worth mentioning. I could be wrong, but I have watched enough episodes of House and Holby City to say that the plan to defibrillate everyone after so long may not have actually worked.

Yep, that was it – ship destroyed, everybody lives, nobody explains the hexagon-faced people, no explanation for why Rory and Brian were kidnapped, and the Doctor was late for dinner. I can’t help but feel a little let down by this ending. Sonic Screwdriver to the console and all solved – pressing the magic button couldn’t have been any more disappointing unless they had added that it was all just a dream at the end. I don’t think I am harsh in my assessment as I was enjoying the episode so much until the entirely pointless ending. Perhaps it wasn’t pointless – perhaps the Shakri are due to make an appearance in the future? All I can say is that for the sake of Doctor Who‘s integrity, I sincerely hope so and that the Shakri have a strong word with their I.T. department to create something a little sturdier than this plan.

Steven Berkoff was impressive as the craggy-faced Shakri, despite the fact that the character’s disappearance was quickly explained as him being a hologram so no foe was to be dispensed with this time. The make-up was incredibly well-done, and perhaps he will return with some of his brethren? The door is always open in Doctor Who.

After a massive anti-climax, the show tried to regain our affection with a tender moment between Kate (who I hope returns) and the Doctor before Brian realised that the Ponds should take every opportunity afforded to them, and spend as much time as they can with the Doctor for as long as they can. Scant consolation seeing as their last appearance is next week, but it was an emotional end to a patchy episode – realising that the power of three, Rory, Amy and the Doctor, are better as a group.

In conclusion, there were some great elements in this episode, and the happy times of the Russell T. Davies era were played-out as an affectionate tribute to the man who made it all possible, but “The Power of Three” was let down immensely by a dreadful conclusion to what appeared to be the sub-plot. The scenario involving Henry VIII was played out from “A Town called Mercy” and so there was some continuity, but again, there was little of a story arc other than the departure of the Ponds and perhaps this is how it should be? I certainly wish that Brian could stick around after Mark Williams’s fantastic performances in two episodes penned by the same writer, Chris Chibnall, and perhaps he could return as Wilf did in David Tennant final episodes.

As episodes go, it wasn’t high on my list of favourites but it did bring some emotion back into the show rather than the throwaway adventures that my husband seems to favour, and I actually preferred that approach. No doubt next week should be a tear-jerker, and as the Angels have Manhattan we are left to ponder the fate of the feisty companions. Hopefully “The Angels Take Manhattan” won’t be as unimpressive as this episode and provides a suitable end to the story of the Ponds, whom I’ll miss. Let’s see what next week’s instalment has in store for the future of Doctor Who.

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