Doctor Who and The Power of Three

The Power of Three

Written by Chris Chibnall
Story 7.04
Transmitted 22 September, 2012

“I’m running to you and Rory before you fade from me.”

Amy and Rory are struggling to come to grips with their unusual lifestyle. They are both a married suburban couple and a pair of time and space travelling champions who occasionally cross swords with nasties who threaten all of creation. Whereas the modern Doctor Who has repeatedly hammered home the message that the pedestrian lifestyle is unacceptable, the Ponds are realizing that it’s what they want. But just as they are about to make the big move to a real life, a new cataclysm arrives, ‘the slow invasion.’ The puzzling arrival of featureless black cubes across the planet has even the Doctor nonplussed and he reluctantly decides to move in with the Ponds for the duration until the answers present themselves.

If The Power of Three was actually about the Doctor living with Amy and Rory that would have been somewhat interesting, but even Chibnall could barely muster up enough interest to give us a quick montage. I’m not exactly interested in that (this was already covered in the series 5 story The Lodger to great effect. It’s barely even about what Amy and Rory are like without the Doctor because if seeing is believing Amy does sweet FA while Rory busts his skinny arse at the hospital.

The arrival of U.N.I.T. and its new leader Kate Stewart (complete with hand-held tri-corder/mobile phone) also fails to make much of an impact because its all so very boring. I do like Jemma Redgrave as the new head of U.N.I.T. but the decision to downplay her character left her little to actually do aside from be somewhat (but not too) plucky and clever.

The planet (well, England) has been invaded far too many times to count since 2005, so all that is left is for this story to put an interesting spin on it. The result is the pet rock invasion. That should be the actual title.

Aliens attack humanity using our gullibility and sheer stupidity by dropping scanning devices on our front lawns that we dutifully take in doors and keep as pets. When a year passes and people suddenly start dropping like stones it should have been viewed as a mercy killing rather than a disaster. People are so dumb that the press idly wonder if it’s some kind of viral marketing gimmick.

I was reminded of this time a few electronic devices appeared on a prominent bridge in Boston. It was immediately shut down and the bomb disposal squad was called in only to find that in this case it really was a marketing device (for Aqua Teen Hunger Force).

This has to be one of the all time most moronic stories I have ever watched, be it Doctor Who or Bullwinkle and Rocky. It makes absolutely no sense, serves no purpose and in the end frantically tries to serve up some kind of ‘message about the goodness of the human race’ at the viewer with nothing to back it up.

There were several moments that were so hackneyed and poor that I felt like I was stuck in a nightmare where Russell T Davies came back to the program and all hope was lost.

There were several moments that were so hackneyed and poor that I felt like I was stuck in a nightmare where Russell T Davies came back to the program and all hope was lost. Companion narration, blurred edits, celebrity cameos, pop culture references, madcap zany comedy, TV news anchors staring at me in a strobe of successive scenes of info-dumping and the inevitable ‘humanity is so great’ speech at the end. The only difference was that Davies would have made it a two parter and placed the cliff-hanger with the Doctor having a hear attack. The second part would have had the exact same plot points as this episode, just with extended scenes of the companion crying as the program tried to fake the viewer into thinking that the Doctor was dead.

That raises another problem that I have with Doctor Who (and Torchwood, for that matter), it lacks any understanding of the concept of death, its meaning and consequences. I mean, we see epidemics where people drop dead like droids in a Lucas film and it has just as little impact because the program has told us several times over that there are no consequences. If you doubt that, I refer you to the time the Doctor restarted the universe by recreating the Big Bang (something that Red Dwarf would use as a clever joke Doctor Who now relies upon as a plot device).

As another (far more well written) review stated, The Power of Three is hampered by the new series format. The short run time demands that a good 3/4 of the story is set up and the resolution is a magic wand flourish. Added to that the ‘blink and you miss them’ alien invaders and you’re left wondering what the point of all that was. The Doctor and the Ponds did not have an epiphany, the aliens harmed no one, U.N.I.T. was re-introduced and useless and the Doctor just hit the reset button on the magic box devices to save humanity. So… what was that for?

The only saving grace (again) was the cast. Smith was just superb (aside from the cringe-worthy Saturday Night Fever dance after coming back to life) and both Gillan and Darvill held their ground with some execrable material. Returning guest star Mark Williams (of Red Dwarf and the criminally under-rated and unavailable Strangerers) was very nice if you ignore the fact that he is a stand-in for Bernard Cribbins. Why the program feels the need to dangle the possibility that something may actually happen after showing people die then come right back to life as if they’d just had a snooze I have no idea.

Next week: ‘The Angels Take Manhattan’

Overnight ratings from Doctor WhoTV:

1. Asylum of the Daleks – 6.4 million (overnight) 8.33 million (final figure)
2. Dinosaurs on a Spaceship – 5.5 million (overnight) 7.57 million (final figure)
3. A Town Called Mercy – 6.6 million (overnight) 8.42 million (final figure)
4. The Power of Three – 5.5 million (overnight) TBA (final figure)
5. The Angels Take Manhattan

6 thoughts on “Doctor Who and The Power of Three

  1. Wow Jameson, that was an excellent and brave takedown of the episode; the Bigger on the Inside post may or may not be better written but your damn the torpedoes review brilliantly summarized all the problems with this particular episode and much of the overall approach of modern Who.
    Now hold onto your hat but I enjoyed bits of this episode and feel it’s Chibnall’s best effort which isn’t to say it’s not mediocre but it at least has a few good ideas which makes it superior to his usual drivel. Yet those good ideas are, as you so fiercely write, thrown aside for the illogical same old, same old. The argument that this is a character piece rather overlooks the fact of the sheer clunkiness of the attempts at meaning. We are supposed to be moved by Amy’s maturing yet it’s so obviously *forced* and unconvincing on anything but a facile soap opera level that it doesn’t work. As for the Doctor being fixated on A and R because they were the first faces he saw – ugh! This serves to make this Doctor *literally* infantile, and what of all the time he spent away from them before his not-so-fateful meeting at Lake Silencio? Moffat’s desperation for the audience to buy into the bond between the Doctor and A & R means that he also requires them to be stupid or to remember only the things he wants them to remember and cry a river when Amy and Rory meet their fate. Is this good writing or artificially sentimental hogwash? Cont’d


  2. Cont’d
    This leads me to the point you so astutely and vociferously made, the lack of consequences and the immature squeamishness over death. We are obviously supposed to be concerned about what might happen to the Doctor, Amy, and Rory but the sort of en masse death that Power of Three featured lacks all weight because it isn’t really given any. There isn’t enough sense of the enormity of what is supposed to have happened and then at the end the Doctor waves his wand around and all’s well, the supposed greater maturity of modern Who is a fiction. It’s this tonal schizophrenia, the unwillingness to commit to drama and suspense or to really say that yes it’s sf that damages the stories. The absolute stupidity of the box plot and people’s reaction to them is a good example of this.
    The first third of the show sets up the mystery of the boxes then slips into a semi-rerun of The Lodger (which I thought was bollocks as well, sorry J), the second third picks up as the boxes start *doing* things, we meet Kate, and the cardiac stuff happens. It’s here that Smith gets a stupidly fantastic Doctorish moment when he’s fascinated by the box extruding a camera only to have to run away when it starts shooting at him, now that I liked. Unfortunately the last truncated third illustrates what a waste all the waiting around was (um, yes, I identify with the Doctor) as several interesting ideas are abruptly pissed away, it’s amazing that people bleat on about Doctor Who’s pace when it’s a poorly structured and plotted as this. The aliens and the mystery were far more interesting than the flat on-the-nose attempts at meaning but of course one isn’t supposed to think that. One wonders if Moffat wants the Doctor to seem moronic, if something bad *does* happen to Amy and Rory won’t that make the Doctor too irresponsible? That doesn’t seem like a good idea at all.
    I liked the Shakri and the concept behind them, I liked the effects, I found a few things amusing, but every criticism you made is correct. They seem afraid of telling a Cont’d


  3. Concluded
    – proper story in which concepts are properly explored rather than added as pendants, with humour that is integrated not larded on and actually witty (the Doctor calling a character “Glasses”, really? Would he have called an uh “chesty” woman “Tits”?!), and in which the Doctor and his companions act logically and learn. Pity.
    Still, a lot of people think this is how it has to be and aren’t bothered by the asinine characterisation, rampant pretension, and mysteries & plot that don’t *truly* go anywhere, so… 🙂
    Great work, Jameson. I hope Kate, the new UNIT, and Berkoff will return. But I more fervently hope that if Moffat and Co. come up with another cop out ending that someone takes that fricking Sonic Screwdriver and shoves it right up their collective a… You get the idea. Ahahaha.


    • Well… in “the Impossible Astronaut” he did introduce his companions as Legs, the nose, and Mrs Robinson… so maybe not “tits” but only about a shade away from being that bad.


  4. I had a very similar reaction… at the end of the episode I found myself thinking… IF I’d missed this episode, would I have known the difference? I honestly think the answer is no. IF my DVR hiccuped and I forgot about it… I would likely never know I missed this episode.

    The bodies in the street… Two things… One… Why weren’t most of those people dead? And further, IF the magic boxes could jumpstart their hearts after a good 10 minutes or more of not pumping blood… they wouldn’t just be getting up like it was ok! Two… why weren’t at least SOME of those bodies already picked up by medical people? Were they just going to let them lay there? OR maybe they all remembered Torchwood Miracle Day and figured everything would be sorted soon 😉

    And the original-trilogy-out-of-the-mask-Vader hologram… seriously, I’m not the only one who thought of that last scene from Jedi with Luke taking off Vader’s mask, right?

    I don’t get anything about that whole invasion/serial killing anyway… and it isn’t because (as Moffat would say) I’m not clever. It’s because there really wasn’t a point to it.

    I also reject the notion that Dr Who is hampered by the ~45 minute episode format. There are lots of US and UK shows that do quite well with having plots that make sense, characters that evolve and experience things, all in that period of time. I cringe at the thought of spreading these paper thin plots over even longer periods of time!

    And the Amy narration… once again I felt I was watching the Amy show, starring Amy and Rory, with special guest star “Vader” and also featuring “the Doctor”…

    Jameson nailed something else too… I feel like the actors are way underutilized… sometimes we get glimpses of what these actors could do if the scripts were there…in fact, I find myself imagining there is actually a much bigger story arc that goes across series 5-present in which all of the main characters have been captured and trapped in a virtual reality universe and have been unable to escape from the horrible plots each week.

    You know… I actually just watched the episode late tonight too… was in no rush… last week I didn’t watch until mid week I think. I’m in college football mode and DVRing Doctor Who and finding that I almost forget to want to watch it. As the Doctor would say… “That’s new.”


  5. Oh yes the narration! God, that’s hackneyed now. Hey, I *liked* Darth Egghead, warping around the room like that ;). I sort of agree about the 45 minute length, that length isn’t the problem, it’s how they fill it. These last few episodes in particular had a lot of boring filler. I felt that there was a lot of potential behind the concept of the Shakri (sp.?) and that it could form the basis of a great two-parter if they knew how to write one, unfortunately their plan here was uhm dumb. They don’t know how to best exploit interesting concept while their idea of epic is hamstrung by laziness, and a weakness for the big gesture over logic. And as for the ridiculously mechanical soap opera elements that the emotionally incontinent and critically challenged praise (responding to His Master’s Voice i.e. Moffat)… Oh Dear. Do they know nothing of real drama?
    Don’t mention Miracle Day, no one else has in Doctor Who ;), people moaned about inconsistency in UNIT era Who but millions of people are always dying and then not in Modern Who, are we to believe there’s a temporal reset everytime or just arrogant showrunners and bad writing?!
    Next Week: The Weeping Angels and… River Song? Again? Prepare to weep, at least that’s what Moffat’s insistent huckstering tells us we should do. Anyone care to defy that?! Sorry for my habitual extended posts, it’s an illness!


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