Whether you enjoy Doctor Who for the humor or the drama, or both, and whether you share my interest in religious themes in the show or not, there was a lot to love about tonight's episode, “The Power of Three.” There were no fewer plot holes than in the holiest of previous episodes. But if you watch Doctor Who regularly, you will be able to see past such concerns and simply enjoy the show, and perhaps even be inspired. Spoilers ahead.
The episode begins and ends with narration from Amy. At the beginning, Amy reflects on the two lives that she and Rory have, and the fact that they might need to choose between “real life” and life with the Doctor. The Doctor's pace is fast, never slowing down – except for this once, when the Doctor came to stay, during the “year of the slow invasion.” At the end, Amy reflects on a lesson learned – the real meaning of “cubed,” which is the power of three.
The poignance of these discussions, and the Doctor's discussions with Brian about their safety and what had happened to previous companions, is accentuated by the fact that it has already been reported that this will be the last season with “the Ponds” as the Doctor's companions. We cannot help speculating about the next episode, with the weeping angels. Will Amy and Rory get sent back in time? If so, might they have a happy outcome, and find their daughter Melody and have the chance to raise her? Or will something completely different happen?
The major themes that run through the episode, if at times they risk cheesiness, still seemed to me to be powerful. The Doctor's frantic pace and lack of patience are explored, to humorous effect (and the ability of the Wii to help one pass – or rather, waste – time, is incorporated). When Amy suggests that the Doctor is always running away, he insists that that isn't really what he is doing. He is running to things, before they fade. The universe is full of beautiful and ephemeral things, and people, and while there is something to be said for sitting still and paying close attention to them – as Brian does diligently with the cubes in this episode – a case can also be made for packing as much into our limited time as we can.
The episode witnesses the return of UNIT, now more scientifically-oriented than military. It is run by Kate Stewart, whom the Doctor soon realizes is the daughter of an old friend. She dropped the “Lethbridge” to avoid being shown favors. But as she found her way to a position of leadership, she drew much on her father's experience and wisdom, including much that he learned from his old friend.
If there is an emphatically slow pace to the first 2/3 of the episode, it makes the resolution seem all the more rushed. The force behind the cubes turns out to be the Shakri, whom the Doctor had always thought to be a legend designed to scare Gallifreyan children. They serve the “Tally” – i.e. the reckoning or final judgment. Having seen humanity's harmful impact when it spreads through the universe, they have come to erase them before that “contagion” spreads. The notion of a final judgment is one with deep religious roots and overtones, and however much one may wish to resist simplistic typologies, the Doctor here certainly does take on the role of sympathetic celestial intercessor and savior vis a vis humanity's would-be celestial judge.
The Doctor says that the Shakri should indeed do a reckoning of humanity's achievements against its shortcomings. The Doctor would bet on humanity's worth any day. Whether his case would have persuaded we are not told, and so one might be tempted to say that it isn't clear whether humanity's salvation from this final judgment is due to “grace” or “works.”
The highlighting of the number “7″ also seemed aimed at resonating with Biblical overtones – at least, I suspect that they came to mind before the Wonders of the World for many viewers.
On the whole, I found this episode to have everything I hope for in a Doctor Who episode: humor, heart-stopping drama (pun intended), an inspiring word to humankind, and interesting religious overtones and themes to talk, write, and blog about.
What did you like most about it, and why?