If you didn’t find yourself humming the tune (and theme song to Weeds) “Little Boxes,” after watching this week’s episode of Doctor Who, you’re made of much stronger (or are at least less pop culturally obsessed) stuff than I. Too bad that isn’t the worst thing that can be said about “The Power of Three,” which was a mighty letdown after the last three installments, and only one week before the big Pond finale.
"It’s Doctor Who from Amy and Rory's point of view. We're in the last days of the Ponds as everybody keeps saying, and it was really a chance to see where they've got to in their lives since “The Eleventh Hour,” and to see what it’s like to be them. And I think what’s interesting is that the companion/Doctor relationship in this series is very different to any we’ve seen before because really, they're part-time travellers. They’re living at home, and the Doctor pops in and goes, "Shall we go somewhere?", and they're off. That's very new, because they're not permanently with him, and I wanted to see what that would mean. I think it's very different to pretty much any other episode of Doctor Who ever, which is both wonderful and terrifying." - Chris Chibnall, writer of “The Power of Three”
Let’s start by addressing the “it’s different than any other episode” claim, which is simply not true. “The Power of Three” is all but a carbon copy of the Gareth Roberts penned episodes, guest starring James Corden, of the last two seasons, except that instead of the Doctor hanging out with Craig, or Craig and his baby, he’s hanging out with Amy and Rory. That formula was novel the first time in the form of “The Lodger,” but had the serious stench of “been there, done that” surrounding it once “Closing Time” came around, and by now it just smacks of desperation, and the need to make an episode which will save the season some money. That last part is perfectly understandable, but couldn’t something better than this have been devised?
A problem with “Three,” and the Craig episodes before it, is that Doctor Who is all about crouching behind the couch in fear, not sitting on it, bored out of your skull. This is a series with a pretty flexible format, but these lounging-about-the-flat episodes are exactly the sort of places it shouldn’t go – and certainly not three times over in as many seasons.
It got the whole “seeing it from the Ponds’ point of view” sort of right, and yet so many of those moments left me feeling as though these sorts of scenes should’ve dotted the landscape of the series for a while now, rather than saving them all up and showing them at once. Really, did Chibnall do much here that he hadn’t already accomplished in about eight minutes via the web series “Pond Life” just a few weeks ago?
Here we are, one episode away from the end of Amy and Rory’s travels with the Doctor, and this episode, which seemed as though it might be something of a character game-changer, did nothing particularly noteworthy for the Ponds. What we’ve been seeing for the past couple episodes is some good A plot, with some fairly lackluster characterization of the Doctor’s companions, and “Three” really hit that home, because if there was one episode that should’ve nailed their characters and delivered something well and truly special, it needed to be this one.
Unlike Rose Tyler or Sarah Jane Smith, it doesn’t seem as though their travels with the Doctor have made the Ponds better people. Indeed, quite the opposite, they seem self-involved folks, who don’t care about trying to make the world a better place. How utterly ordinary, for a series that’s supposed to a celebration of the extraordinary and amazing.
So, most of that didn’t work too well, but the slow invasion itself was even worse. Goodness, what an ill-thought out affair that turned out to be. It simply made no sense, on any level. It was impossible to believe that the government wouldn’t have rounded up all of the boxes (or at least as many as possible) within days of their arrival, and the realization that nobody knows what they are, where they came from, and what they might be capable of, and most importantly, that they’re indestructible. Even the Doctor says, late in the game, that he should’ve had them all rounded up at the start.
But they didn’t and weren’t, and on top of that, the whole world just accepted these boring magic boxes containing the unknown into their homes and lives? Exactly how much contempt does this series have for humanity at this point? Of course, in the end, the boxes were potentially lethal, and mankind could’ve been wiped out if not for the Doctor waving the sonic screwdriver across a screen, at which point insult was well and truly added to injury. Last week we had some magic sonic screwdriver as well, but at least it wasn’t wholly pivotal to the resolution. (Speaking of the screwdriver, apparently the one thing it can’t be used for is a Wii control.)
Last week I mentioned how many drafts Toby Whithouse must have gone through before arriving at his finished script. By contrast, “The Power of Three” felt like a first draft at best; perhaps even just a smattering of ideas jotted down, to be thought through later on. And the invocation of the title of the episode at the close was well and truly the direst moment of the season thus far. How the actors filmed that with a straight face is beyond me.
So, what did work? Only two things really leap to mind. Kate Stewart (Jemma Redgrave) was a lovely, classy addition to the cast as the Brigadier’s daughter, as well as the newly reformed UNIT, with an emphasis on science. Surely we’ll be seeing more of her and her troops further down the road, in a much better script. The scene between the Doctor and Amy outside the Tower of London was perfect. That is the sort of thing that the entire episode should’ve been comprised of. It was so mind-bogglingly lovely in comparison to pretty much everything else, one wonders if Chibnall even wrote it.
Heck, even Brian Williams, who was such a wonderful addition to the cast two episodes ago, here was reduced to be being little more than comic relief, in an episode that was already extremely heavy on the comedy, though the conversation he had with the Doctor about the fates of previous companions was rather touching, and appeared as if it was going to be paid off, if not for the terrible aforementioned ending.
Odds and Ends
- Across the pond, great hay was made about the Alan Sugar cameo on a fake mock-up of the U.K. Apprentice, but since we don’t know him over here, it’s something that didn’t translate too well for Americans (nor did it make any sense that this show would revolve around the selling of these stupid cubes). Surely it was far more exciting to see Professor Brian Cox?
- “Twitter!?!,” uttered by the Doctor in disgust, was a great line, that will someday be terribly dated.
- The Doctor has been in the lives of Amy and Rory for about 10 years, and Amy is now a travel writer. So, there are those things.
- “What you do, isn’t all there is,” was a poignant line from Rory to the Doctor. More of this, less of everything else.
- Wouldn’t four days feel like a few seconds to a 1200-year old Time Lord?
- The return of fish fingers and custard had to happen sooner or later.
- It felt as though the entire finale, and the plan of the generic aliens, was built around the gag of one of the Doctor’s hearts stopping.
- Speaking of generic aliens, did the series actually waste the considerable talents of Steven Berkoff under all that makeup? (Though wasn’t he a dead ringer for Anakin Skywalker, beneath the mask, from the end of Jedi?) Please bring him back someday, playing a real part.
- Clever Zygon reference. Apparently producer Caroline Skinner mentioned their possible return in an interview. Was this it? Or was this just setup for more Zygon action later on? (Likely the former.)
- Slade’s “Merry Xmas Everybody” made yet another appearance after having been used several times throughout the Davies era.
- A sinister little girl?! Are you shitting me?! That’s emblematic of everything that was wrong with this episode. It’s as though the least amount of thought was put into everything. Next week had better be phenomenal.