But I’m not sure there’s much more to say. Other than here it is…
The Power of Three culminates in the villain of the piece being hastily unveiled as some spaceship’s onboard computer. To invert the Doctor’s current catchphrase of choice, that’s not new. Worse, the baddy, the Shakri, is portrayed by Steven Berkoff with a stilted speech pattern and the kind of overly expositional hand-gestures that were all the rage on the planet Tigella circa 1980. Not new either.
But these disappointments lie late in the day. At 33 minutes and 15 seconds into the episode, to be precise – the point where the Doctor steps onto the Shakri space station. Up until then, Chris Chibnall’s second script for this run-out of Doctor Who has played an absolute blinder. So much so, your DWM reviewer can forgive him the duff, under-explained denouement, and even the contrivance of a wormhole handily plopped into Rory’s place of work.
There’s just too much to like about the story. For one, we have the whole business with the Brigadier’s daughter, Kate. (Does that mean Downtime is now canon?) Jemma Redgrave is terrific in a finely written and delivered role. Just as Mark Williams’ Brian yet again refuses to press too hard on the ‘loveable’ peddle, she doesn’t overplay the eccentric or redoubtable edges. I’ve written before in DWM of my doubts about writing the Brig out of the show last year, but I’m glad Kate’s here to keep his end up. Memo, though, to Lethbridge-Stewart Jr: Dropping the first half of your double-barrelled surname when joining the elite, heavily-vetted company your old man used to work for really isn’t going to help waylay charges of nepotism. It would be like a ‘Sophie Bextor’ trying out for Blue Peter (elite, heavily-vetted… yes, the comparison holds).
But the best thing about The Power of Three is it carries its burden lightly. Tasked to both sum up the Eleventh Doctor’s relationship with the Ponds and foreshadow its imminent, tragic dissolution, it’s more a celebration than a wake – albeit one that seems to play out in the kind of Doctor Who universe our three leads have rarely visited. As the Doctor himself says, Amy and Rory’s domestic situation is now a “long way from Leadworth”. The rural setting presented a new orthodoxy for the show when we arrived there in 2010 for The Eleventh Hour. It was goodbye tower blocks, hello trees! But this story wrenches us away from that kind of Dunny-on-the-Wold idyll and back into the bustling environs of Aliens-Over-Chiswick. It’s almost as if our TARDIS team have turned up in Russell T Davies’ Doctor Who, and the cubes’ invasion plays out – much like the many that great man masterminded – across the world’s TV screens.
Where once we had Andrew Marr commentating on ETs in London, now we have Sophie Raworth. Meanwhile, Richard Dawkins is swapped for Brian Cox, and for pop cultural verisimilitude, here’s Lord Alan Sugar despatching some poor dope for failing to flog sufficient quantities of those shiny black boxes. Tough challenge that, considering they arrived en masse, free-of-charge. But then the former overlord of the Amstrad and Viglen empires isn’t known for being reasonable.
The further tweak Chibnall adds to all of this is to have the adventure creep across our screen in a satisfyingly subtle fashion. There’s no thunder-clap, no scene of mass panic. Instead we have the story of “the slow invasion”, as Amy says in voiceover – seemingly the show’s preferred narrative device right now. This is a gentle incursion that makes normal counterinsurgency measures look wildly OTT. The scheme is so laidback it takes place as a kind of backdrop to the domestic milieu Chez Pond.
So, here’s where the story really lies. Although there are shades of The Lodger – and naming Lord Sugar’s fire-ee as Craig is perhaps a nod to that – this is less about how the Time Lord copes with domestic life, and more about how his companions balance keeping the fridge stocked up while also arsing around with Zygons in 19th century London.
Hinting at what’s to come next week, there are numerous, lovely, small details that highlight not only the fact that Amy and Rory want to settle into proper married life together (Rory committing to a fulltime job) but also that these two are really growing up (the phone message saying Amy’s reading glasses are ready for collection). For them, there’s a yearning for the kind of things their time with the Doctor will never give them: constancy, stability, everything in a straight line. Indeed, some of the very best bits of the episode contrast the insanity of life on the TARDIS with life in a town house. But there are two exchanges in particular which really highlight the tension implicit in such a contrast. The first is when the Time Lord refers to Rory’s “little job” – that first word, loaded with disdain. The Doctor is unable to appreciate the differing senses of scale. What seems tiny to him is everything to Rory. And then there’s Amy’s observation that “the travelling has started to feel like running away.” That’s one of the best lines I’ve heard in Doctor Who. Although the Doctor counters it by saying he’s running to something, it still sums up what lies at the heart of the show – adventure, escape, no responsibility. Contrast that with my list a few sentences back, and this is why being a Doctor Who companion is inimical to real life.
Whereas A Town Called Mercy didn’t convince in its attempt to put the Doctor through a transformative experience before then reverting to the status quo, I believed in Amy and Rory’s similarly circular route. By this story’s conclusion, they’ve decided to keep on trucking in the TARDIS, despite the lure of adult life. It’s a joint refusal to grow-up. Instead, they opt to stretch out the gap year for a bit more yet. And, really, who, wouldn’t want to keep on InterRailing across the universe given the chance? Brian can always water the plants.