'Doctor Who' Watch
7.4: ‘The Power of Three’
By Kimberley Jones, 12:29AM, Sun. Sep. 23, 2012
It’s easy to lose track of time in the TARDIS, boomeranging through time and space. “The Power of Three” puts the brakes on to deal with the practicalities of disappearing for days, weeks, months on end.
For starters, food goes bad – the episode opens with the Ponds’ cleaning out moldy yogurt from the fridge – and a bad reputation for undependability makes enemies of friends and bosses. That Rory and Amy are feeling the pull of home has already been established this season, and in this episode they find themselves making long-term, earthbound plans.
Voiceover bookends the episode, with Amy narrating that this is the story of “the year of the slow invasion.” Invasion, you say? Don’t anybody get any ideas about scary robotic men, or snarly, fantastical creature type things, ‘cause Who has something else entirely cooked up – and a good sense of humor about it, too. Let’s let the Doctor make the introductions:
“‘Invasion of The Very Small Cubes’... That’s new.”
Yep, little black cubes. Millions of ‘em, popping up overnight seemingly out of nowhere and then just... sitting there. Perplexing. The Ponds’ house is swarmed by special ops, led by Kate Stewart, head of UNIT (Unified Intelligence Taskforce), just like her father before her – the now deceased Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart. (This is old school Who, although his name has been threaded throughout the rebooted series and Nicholas Courtney reprised the role on The Sarah Jane Adventures). Also like her father, Kate is of the opinion that “science leads” – meaning: shoot last, ask questions first. The Doctor and Kate agree to observe the cubes and see what happens next.
OK, the Doctor tries observing, but the cubes just don’t do a damn thing, and Time Lords bore easily.
He orders Rory’s dad, Brian, to do the observing for him, and then hits the road for some intergalactic mischief.
Time passes; the cubes continue to do absolutely nothing at all; the Ponds enjoy normal life. They celebrate their anniversary – Amy figures she and Rory have been together 10 years now, including time logged in the TARDIS. And on that subject: Though Amy Pond looks pretty much exactly the same as when we first met her, Karen Gillan has done exceptional and subtle work conveying Amy’s maturation from a larky, barky Gal Friday to a wife and (briefly) a mother whose known terrible torments. She’s still essence of Amy, but with deeper notes now.
So: The Doctor pops round for their anniversary party with a present – a night at the Savoy at its 1890 opening, which leads to a funny, fast-forward version of their usual adventures (a Zygon attack, a detour to Henry VIII’s bedchambers), and one night turns into seven weeks. Which is pretty much their problem with the Doctor – it’s never just one night.
Following the Doctor’s orders, Brian has observed diligently the cubes for a year, while the rest of humanity lost interest, using them as paperweights, table arrangements, the world’s boringest tchotchke. But when the cubes “wake up” after a year, it becomes clear that it’s the cubes doing the observing – running intel on the human race for an unseen operator.
Worldwide panic. Rory and his dad are called into the hospital, while Kate summons the Doctor and Amy to UNIT HQ. It’s located below the Tower of London, which makes for a helluva backdrop when the Doctor and Amy duck out for a breath of fresh air and a lovely back-and-forth between best friends.
The Doctor gets that the Ponds are pulling away from him, although he argues with Amy’s interpretation that their travel is “running away.” It’s running to, he argues – to limitless adventures, excitements, discoveries. A beautifully scripted (by Chris Chibnall) moment of quiet carved out of the episode’s enjoyably fast-clip mix of humor and suspense, the scene makes for a hell of a heart tug, especially when Amy asks why the Doctor keeps coming back for her, Amelia Pond, who was there when he regenerated into his current form: “You were the first – the first face this face saw.”
Back to the underground observatory, and the cubes start an inexplicable but ominous countdown from 7. When the cubes zero out, zap! – they emit electrical surges that stop the heart of any orbiting life form. A third of the planet’s population keels over in an instant. The Doctor was in close proximity to a cube, too, but lucky him, he has a spare heart. Not that it doesn’t hurt like hell, or, in the Doctor’s endearingly creaky parlance: “Crikey, Moses!”
Having identified a wormhole conveniently located at Rory’s hospital (pause for Amy to defibrillate the Doctor’s bum second heart – “Welcome back, lefty!”), they travel through a portal to a space ship hovering just outside earth, where Rory and his dad are among several incapacitated prisoners. They get zapped back to upright stance, and we get the reveal of whose behind those black boxes: the Shakri.
The Doctor’s surprised: He’d been taught about the Shakri as a young Time Lord, but thought it was all just a myth. (Newbie mea culpa: Having only watched the Who reboots, I can get pretty hopelessly lost with 50 years’ worth of storylines to catch up on, but I’m pretty sure these Shakri cats – egg-shaped heads, faces like cracked earth, real buzzkills – are a new addition.) The Shakri bill themselves as something like interplanetary pest control. Having observed homo sapiens and found them wanting, the Shakri mean to eliminate the “human plague” with mass cardiac arrest. The Doctor can’t engage with this particular Shakri – he’s just a hologram – but he can commandeer the ship and reprogram those pesky cubes to defibrillate the third of the planet that just dropped dead. Another zap!... and they’re back.
The episode ends where it began, in the kitchen, contemplating the question of whether to stay or to go. The Doctor puts on a brave face, trying to make peace with the idea of Rory and Amy giving up the traveling lifestyle, but it’s Brian who sets him straight: “It’s you they can’t give up.” The Doctor, Amy, and Rory: They’re the real cubed, Amy points out in voiceover – “the power of 3” – and so off the three go, adventuring into an unknown future....
....FILLED WITH WEEPING ANGELS ON THE RAMPAGE. Yup, Steven Moffat’s signature statue-terrorizers are back for “The Angels Take Manhattan,” the final episode of this first-half run of the seventh season. Check out the trailer below, which includes an uncharacteristic burst of bad language from the Doctor: He shouts “what the hell are you doing?!” seemingly at Rory and Amy, which was pretty much my reaction when I saw what they were doing.