Doctor Who: The Power of Three

Doctor Who: The Power of Three September 22, 2012

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?


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  • Ashton Garrett

    Awesome episode. It’s fun. It’s kinda sad at the end though. Amy and Rory will be leaving. I’m watching the replay of the Power of Three episode online here >>

  • Evan Hershman

    I loved it, although I agree that the frantic pace of the last fifteen minutes or so was noticeable compared to the wind-up in the beginning.

    I really love the theme that has played such a big part in the last few seasons of examining the effect the Doctor has on his companions, and questioning whether his influence is ultimately for the better. Amy, after all, pretty much had her entire childhood traumatized by the Doctor failing to come back after he met her as a child (“twelve years, and four psychiatrists!”), and Amy and Rory do seem to put their lives on hold a lot, and make things more difficult for themselves, because of the Doctor. I liked the fact that in this episode they are shown pondering the idea, and even the attraction, of “normal” lives apart from the Doctor… and that this is a difficult concept for the Doctor himself to understand.

  • I, too, love the whimsy, pace, and exploratory joy of Doctor Who, and can easily overlook plot holes. I love the thematic premise behind the power of three – but I felt that the theme (the Doctor needing friends) was’t really pursued in this episode.

    I wish I could tell Steven Moffat to keep his eye out for missed opportunities in the storylines that are becoming more frequent.

    For example, three missed opportunities in this episode:

    Mark Williams is wonderful as Brian. Great care was taken to introduce Brian’s methodical and observant nature. He watches a cube tenaciously, spending an entire year creating a video log. But there is no pay off for this! He should have been the one to notice the first critical change in the cubes that leads to defeating them. Instead, his vigil is forgotten as everyone sees cube changes at the same time. Brian and Rory also discover the Shakri Ship – and should have been the ones to lead the Doctor there – instead the Doctor tracks the ship down on his own without their help.

    Jemma Redgrave is another excellent addition as the new face of UNIT, but, again, as much as her scientific (rather than military) approach is appreciated by the Doctor, how does she actually help? Beyond providing a computer network and a isolation room for the Doctor to do his work?

    When the Doctor goes into the isolation room with a cube as the countdown is winding down, it is played up as a big sacrifice. And he does get a heart attack for his trouble. But where is the pay-off for his sacrifice? His heart-attack should have been the clue that led him to figuring out the cube electrical frequencies (or whatever). Instead, he takes his clue from the computer reports of heart attacks around the world – so he might as well have never gone into the isolation room to begin with.

    Just thoughts – I’m still a devoted Doctor Who fan!

    • One more thought, Jemma Redgrave has a great line about humanity – something along the lines of “All we have help us now is each other,” suggesting that humans can get each other out of this fix in some wonderful way. But instead the Doctor does it all by fiddling with the cube computer network.

      • That’s a fair point, I think, although that doesn’t really separate it from all the other Doctor Who episodes that reach their resolution by the Doctor doing something clever. There were lots of classic Doctor Who episodes that were the same, although in the era of the first two Doctors in particular, there was at least a sense that the Doctor could not have done it alone. But that is at least largely true now too – in “A Town Called Mercy” in particular in the current season.

        • True, and I love it when companions make a real difference in ways that even the Doctor can’t control or predict. This just seemed like the episode in which we should have seen it more effectively – the Power of Three, after all.

  • I prefer the old school Dr. Who where the idea was important and personal dramas were secondary. I’d also like a bit more science please and a lot less magical hand waving.