TV Recap: Doctor Who - The Power of Three

By Edwin Davies

September 24, 2012

Edwin feels the same way, guys.

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There are two kinds of Doctor Who episodes. Actually, that's so reductive as to be a lie: there are as many kinds of episodes of Doctor Who as there are species in the universe that The Doctor has saved and/or doomed. However, when it comes to the typical construction of the show, there are two broad types: episodes that are carefully built around a core concept (think of "The Girl In The Fireplace" or "Blink" for great examples of this), and ones in which a couple of cool ideas are thrown out there whilst the plot merely acts as a way of connecting the disparate elements together. Both approaches produce good and bad episodes - heck, last week's "A Town Called Mercy" was one of the best the show has done in a while and was a prime example of the latter - but, in general, the former are consistently better because science fiction as a genre benefits from attention to detail, and ensuring that all the elements of the plot fit together in a way that fundamentally works.

"The Power of Three", then, is a bad episode of Doctor Who, and arguably the worst of Steven Moffat's tenure as showrunner, not because it's a largely plotless mess in which a handful of neat ideas are strung together with a threadbare story, but because it doesn't have anything going for it to balance out those aspects. "A Town Called Mercy" used its setting to explore some interesting ideas about the nature of guilt and forgiveness; "Asylum of The Daleks" had plenty of funny lines and interplay between the characters; and even "Dinosaurs on a Spaceship" (which, like "The Power of Three", was written by Chris Chibnall) had a childish giddiness to it that distracted somewhat from the fact it didn't really make much sense. "The Power of Three" fails not merely to have a good story at its heart, but it also doesn't manage to realise the simple pleasures that make Doctor Who such a fun show to watch and pick apart.


As far as that story goes, it is at least built around a novel idea, albeit one that winds up amounting to very little: an invasion that doesn't seem to be an invasion at all. Millions upon millions of little black cubes appear one day, in locations across the world, and no one can figure out what they are, not even Professor Brian Cox! (People often talk about the way in which the show has started to court the American market more in recent years, something which perhaps not coincidentally has occurred at the same time that it has begun to build a sizable audience on BBC America, but this episode was surprisingly heavy on figures from British popular culture whose presence might mystify the American audience.) There's only one man (Time Lord, whatever) for the job, and The Doctor gets right down to the nitty-gritty. However, despite his best efforts, he also fails to figure out what the cubes are for or do, but senses that there must be something going on, and he hangs around to figure out what that something is.

It turns out that the cubes are a monitoring device for an alien race who want to assess mankind's weaknesses in order to conquer them, and to do this they introduce the cubes, then have them remain largely inactive until such a point that people forget about them and they become part of the fabric of everyday life. (People even start to use them as paperweights.) This takes them the better part of a year, which is why Amy describes it as "The Slow Invasion," and so forces The Doctor to do something he hasn't done before: spend some time as part of Amy and Rory's life on Earth.

Continued:       1       2



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