Truth to tell, I wasn’t looking forward to Chris Chibnall’s second episode this season (entitled The Power of Three). After my objections to Dinosaurs on a Spaceship, I feared that Chibnall tended to see Doctor Who more as a Torchwood episode, and he didn’t get the subtleties of the Doctor’s character. I expected that the episode would be intense, but ultimately unfulfilling.
I needn’t have worried, frankly. Because while Chibnall has the weaknesses I’ve described, he does have a secret weapon. We saw it in the series of pre-season webisodes entitled Pond Life. In this series, Chibnall ably showed the impact the Doctor has on the lives of otherwise normal human beings. He highlights the inherent discord between the Doctor’s luminous lifestyle, and the banalities of home ownership. How realistic is it to expect someone with a mortgage to pay and a career to develop to drop everything whenever the Doctor says so? And how realistic is it to tell the Doctor ‘no’?
The “long invasion” of The Power of Three is almost embarrassingly undeveloped as to be an afterthought, but that’s not the point. Chibnall writes to his own strengths and to the series’ strengths, and the result is a surprisingly subtle and beautiful creation.
A full spoiler-y review takes place after the break.
Amy and Rory are home again. Ten years appears to have passed since Amy’s departure at the end of The Eleventh Hour. Rory has become a valued nurse at the local hospital, and Amy has dropped her modelling career and taken up travel writing
This may seem like a small detail, but it is still, strangely enough, something I like. Being a travel writer uses more of Amy’s skills than modelling, in my opinion, and I suspect it’s Amy own nod to the fact that her home situation is, frankly, not stable. It’s a move that, tellingly, Rory has not made, and thus a potential source of marital discord. However, Amy and Rory have come to an understanding. Rory knows that the Doctor can drop into their lives and sweep them away at any time, and he accepts this. On the other hand, Amy is accepting more commitments into her family life. She’s accepted an offer to be a bridesmaid. And Rory’s father is becoming a bigger part of her life.
And this is something that flummoxes the Doctor completely: how is it possible for Amy and Rory to stand still?
So, when a mysterious alien force drops small black cubes all around the world and takes a unique approach to invasion by not doing anything else for a really long time, the Doctor is at a distinct disadvantage. There may be situations where he has had to play the long game. After all, he galavanted across the galaxy for at least two hundred years while waiting for his assassination at Lake Silencio, but in all that time, he was doing things. Sitting around, waiting for something to happen, is not this Doctor’s style, and trying it almost drives him mad.
Chibnall has captured the dynamic between the Doctor, Amy and Rory in a nutshell and, in the span of an episode, highlighted why the relationship between the three of them simply isn’t stable. It’s not the angst-y tragedy of The Girl in the Fireplace, but it wins points for being distinctive. Not only is it impossible for the Doctor’s short-lived companions to have a really equal relationship with him, his lifestyle is too frenetic. The Doctor cannot make the same long-term commitments that are part-in-parcel with a normal human life. And while Rory’s dad offers his blessing to Amy and Rory’s further travels, you know it’s just not going to last.
That, for me, was worth the price of admission for this episode. There were other sweet moments. It’s always fun to see UNIT, but here Chibnall has given UNIT a bit of a twist — less military and more science based, what with a very Liz Shaw-like Kate assuming control of the local squadron. The revelation that she’s actually the Brigadier’s daughter is a nice tip of the hat to the fans that doesn’t overwhelm the story.
And the idea of a long invasion is pretty unique to Doctor Who, so Chibnall gets points for throwing the curve ball. The mysterious black cubes are nicely mysterious, as are the two strange orderlies and the creepy little girl, but it isn’t long before this progresses to the weakest part of the episode by far. I have to say that not a lot of thought appears to have gone into the actual nature of the threat once it’s revealed. The motivations are basic and have very little rhyme or reason to them, and the backstory of the aliens is so flimsy that one wonders if Chibnall threw together index cards with names and motivations, shuffled them and picked them out at random. The whole ending seems rushed, making me believe that once Chibnall had finished writing the story he wanted to focus on, the resolution of the invasion itself was an afterthought. That’s a shame. More could have been done here, possibly giving us links to the Silence, or hinting at mayhem to come.
However, the rest of the episode was enjoyable enough. In many ways, The Power of Three shares the characteristics of Dinosaurs on a Spaceship — the same high level of acting, the same high level of directing, the same understanding of human-Time Lord relationships. Where I objected more strongly to the Doctor’s uncharacteristic behaviour in Dinosaurs on a Spaceship, The Power of Three has a very underdeveloped alien race standing behind an otherwise intriguing invasion. That raises less objections in my head, but still makes me go “meh”.
Hopefully better things await us this Saturday as we have the final episode before the Christmas special.