Saturday, 3 November 2012

TV Review: Doctor Who 7.04 - The Power of Three

Atrocious puns aside, this is a truly powerful episode...

Being the penultimate adventure featuring two of Doctor Who's most beloved and loyal companions since the reboot of the show way back in 2005, it's fitting that The Power of Three is something of a swansong for a certain Amelia Pond and her never-staying-dead husband, Rory Williams. This particular ballad is sung beautifully, too, which is more than welcome from the point of view of a reviewer who has felt nothing but feelings of under-use for the two characters over the course of the series, bar the second episode. Coincidentally, The Power of Three is also penned by the writer of that particular inclusion, and while Amy came across as a brilliant feminine caricature of a certain Christopher Eccleston in Dinosaurs on a Spaceship, which also saw Rory from a new angle thanks to the introduction of his dad, Brian, writer Chris Chibnall absolutely excels in fiddling with the companionship's threads throughout his second contribution to the series. And what a contribution it is, as long as you can ignore some slightly beguiling errors on a few other fronts.

While Chris Chibnall's latest ultimately emphasises the relationship between Amy, Rory and The Doctor, it is mainly pushed along by a very interesting plot thread, involving one of the oddest Earth invasions that the last of the Time Lords has ever come across over the past near-fifty years. Quite literally overnight, countless identical small black cubes arrive seemingly out of nowhere, to the surprise and intrigue of the human race. And what is it that these perfectly formed, indestructible shapes do, you ask? Absolutely nothing, and they continue to do so for months throughout the episode. Following in the footsteps of 2010's The Lodger and its spiritual 2011 follow-up, Closing Time, this story sees The Doctor in wait, because that's all he can do. While it reflects the aforementioned stories of past series', this Chibnall-penned tale plays the waiting game pretty much perfectly, and it wholly engages the audience as well as the characters you see on screen, and most importantly it isn't boring thanks to the key aspect of the episode, the companionship. When the cubes eventually showed signs of activity in the story's final act (that's not a spoiler, by the way) I was on the edge of my seat waiting to see what exactly the cubes are for and who or what has been pulling the strings all this time. Heck, I almost spilled tea all over my crotch when this was supposedly about to be revealed. As for the pay-off to all this waiting... Well, allow me to hark back to that later.

Despite being driven by the intriguing concept that is the Cubes, the main pull of The Power of Three lies in the relationship between the two main companions and the Doctor, the former of which are set to leave in an episode's time...
In having The Doctor stay with his companions in a more social manner, Chibnall puts the Time Lord and co. into a situation that perfectly encapsulates the overall relationship that has been established over the past few years of Doctor Who. While the main threat and pull of this adventure is cubes, they spend the first few acts sitting in the background, giving space for some much-needed focus on the three main characters and their overall situation. Throughout these first acts, The Doctor takes Amy and Rory to the Savoy hotel upon its recent opening to celebrate their wedding anniversary (which goes well... Okay, maybe not), has a discussion with Rory's dad about the regretful fate of his past companions and generates a slightly morally frustrating (from the perspective of a gamer such as yours truly) but also hilarious image of himself having a game of Wii Sports tennis. Speaking of Brian Williams, Rory's lovable father introduced in Chibnall's previous series 7 story, the character is perhaps even more likeable in his latest, and sadly perhaps final appearance. Mark Williams once again portrays a slightly bumbling shell of Rory, full of piqued interest in The Doctor's escapades and past (as evidenced by his aforementioned interrogation) as well as an urge to help the guy out. When The Doc' commands Brian to watch the cubes, he does so... For three days. Not only this, but papa Williams also constructs his own video biography of his cube, entitled 'Brian's Log', hilariously and brilliantly showing-off the character's background-based devotion to the show's constant.

Never thought this guy would find his way onto my blog, that's for sure.
Continuing on with the synopsis of more-than-minor characters in The Power of Three, we reach the personae that is Kate Stewart. Initially established as the new leader of UNIT, the military force (sorry, Nicholas Angel, I meant 'service') that has been with Doctor Who since not too long after it started almost half a century ago, it is discovered about halfway through the episode that this new character is a little more familiar than many of us will have thought. Yes, this new face is the daughter of Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, a long-serving Who companion played by the late Nicholas Courtney, who sadly passed away early 2011. His pleasing semi-epitaph in last year's The Wedding of River Song clearly wasn't enough for the superb actor, Chibnall must have thought, so he brought just that bit more fan-service into his latest episode with the character of Kate Stewart. This character doesn't get a whole lot of screen time, it must be said, but at the same time we see enough of her to know that she does her father justice. The Brig effectively lives I completely know what you mean through Kate, an intelligent, devoted character who brings a bit more life to the episode, and will hopefully make more appearances in the coming years of Doctor Who.

Power of Three turns Brian into a character many viewers can relate to, as he interrogates the good Doctor in one scene, fearful of the consequences of Amy and Rory's traveling.
With all this nostalgia, it's worth noting that The Power of Three is easily the most reminiscent of Russell T. Davies' style of storytelling since, well, the era in which he ran the show. Speedy and believable news stories, large crowd scenes, a large variety of locations and a few rather hilarious celebrity cameos all give the episode a much-needed sense of scale, one that fits the concept of the cubes and the Ponds' home life perfectly. Speaking of which, a key part of this episode and its exploration of the companionship is a thread that begins before the cubes are even introduced, emphasising its importance (not to mention that the true ending involves a beautiful scene focused not on the Cubes but instead - you guessed it - Amy and Rory). Slightly worn out by the effects of adventuring with the Doctor (never getting home at the right time and discovering rotten food, missing out on their jobs, etc), Amy and Rory discuss whether to give up traveling with the Time Lord who has remained a constant throughout their lives. The resolution of this thread is pretty beautiful, closing off the episode nicely.

Despite her lack of screen presence, Kate Stewart is undeniably a character I, and I'm sure many others, want to see more of in future episode of Who. Maybe she'll return in the second half of the series?
On the topic of resolutions, this is where we reach the negative chunk of Chibnall's latest, consisting solely of a number of flaws that might not have been the writer's fault from a certain perspective. Being a spoiler-free recommendation, I shan't spoil anything, but it must be said that the resolution of this episode's cubic threat is rather weak. There are things to like about the meaning behind the cubes, but at the same time I can't help hark back to my hatred of episode three, A Town called Mercy, when I watch the penultimate scenes of the episode; It all makes very little sense. On top of this, a few things are pointlessly left without explanation, and can only really described as banausic plot devices to help The Doctor and co. reach the next step in unraveling the mystery of the cubes. Bad move, Chibnall. It has to be said, though, the absolute worst flaw of The Power of Three is how the threat is dealt with. A wiggle of The Doctor's trusty Sonic Screwdriver quite literally fixes everything in a number of seconds, leaving myself and most definitely many others unsatisfied, at least with this part of the story.

The thing is, the imperfections detailed in the last paragraph might well be evident in the episode not to Chris Chibnall's fault. You see, there are a few occasions throughout this 40-minute escapade that things appear slightly botched in terms of a key point in the production: the editing. There's a good reason for this, however, as the filming of this episode had to take place a lot later than expected, which ended up delaying the series a little after promises that it would begin sometime in August by Matt Smith himself. The Power of Three might well be another case of too little run-time for too big a story, a suffering that has impacted various episodes in the past. A little too much is squeezed into the story's 40 minutes of final cuts, leading to the conclusion that the episode isn't the most stable balancing act.
"Geronimo..." A later scene involving The Doctor awaiting the supposed reveal of what exactly the cubes were for had me in stitches. Shame the outcome was a bit poor.
In the end, though, does this all matter? No, no it doesn't. Granted, the flaws that must be addressed, this being a review, affect the episode in a negative manner, but when it comes down to it, engaging in any form of media is all about about enjoyment. And, honestly, I enjoyed The Power of Three at least as much as my previous favourite episode of the series (naturally, Asylum of the Daleks). While the Cubes are only really a satisfying backdrop for a more deep story and come complete with imperfections from a conceptual standpoint (not a scratch on the cubes themselves, mind), the beautiful and engaging scenes involving The Doctor, Amy, Rory, Brian and even the Brig's daughter absolutely steal the show and then some. Granted, in this aspect casual viewers might not be quite as engaged, but at this point I doubt that I have to note that I do consider myself a fan of Doctor Who. Heck, I've gone on about how well handled and brilliant the main aspect of the plot of the episode is that I've not left much space to discuss the excellent, fitting new tracks from a certain Murray Gold as well as Douglas Mackinnon's swift, oddball direction. In short, The Power of Three is a fantastic, powerful episode... If you'll pardon the pun.

1 comment:

Raphael Reviews said...

Lovely jubbly. It was an awesome read and I agree with everything stated. \(^O^)/

- Raphael