Doctor Who’s seventh season rolls along at a leisurely pace with “The Power Of Three”, Chris Chibnall’s second contribution to Series 7 after his earlier story, “Dinosaurs On A Spaceship“. “The Power Of Three” expands on a few ideas that the future showrunner seeded in his earlier episode: namely how the Doctor’s relationship with his two best friends, Amy and Rory, is still evolving, and how all three parties are still coming to terms with the difficult choices that they’ll have to make, sooner or later. “The Power Of Three” is definitely one of the more uneventful episodes of Series 7 compared to many of the stories that come before or after it – but at the same time, you could easily argue that this episode provides the emotional core of Series 7A, by tackling the real conflict that lies at the heart of this short mini-series.
“The Power Of Three” actually has a few things in common with Neil Cross’s “Hide” later this season, in that it’s a slow-burning episode that puts way more focus on the main leads’ characterization and their relationships with each other than any sort of rising action, or a grand alien threat that needs to be defeated. There are two main storylines in this installment: the A-plot, where the Doctor spends a lot of downtime with Amy and Rory on their home turf, and the B-plot, where the Doctor tries to solve the mystery of some extraterrestrial cubes – and like in “The Lazarus Experiment“, the A-plot is considerably more interesting than the B-plot. In retrospect, many of the most notable things about “The Power Of Three” are the storylines this episode sets up: it not only prepares the audience to say goodbye to Amy and Rory, whose departure story is right around the corner, but it also brings back UNIT for the first time since “Planet Of The Dead“, so the organization can have a large role to play in the rest of the Moffat era (including the 50th anniversary special, “The Day Of The Doctor“, that’s approaching rapidly).
In “The Power Of Three”, the Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith) is presented with a challenge: one that is nowhere near as difficult as many of the other things the time lord has had to do over the years, but one that is still pretty daunting to him nonetheless for personal reasons. The Doctor is grounded on Earth out of necessity, so he can keep an eye on a potential alien threat invading the planet. Since he needs a good roof over his head besides the TARDIS, he moves in with the Ponds for a while and is given a taste of their day-to-day lives. However, it isn’t long before he starts to go mad with boredom. After only four days of playing house with the Ponds, he gives up on his mission and checks out back to the TARDIS for a few offscreen adventures (his resolve is so weak).
But after a rather somber and serious chat with Rory’s father, Brian – where he’s reminded of how fleeting and short his relationships with his friends tend to be – he decides to make a second, more serious, effort and commit to sticking around for a while: something he almost never does. After all, the Doctor asks Amy and Rory to drop everything they’re doing and leave their old lives behind them every time they fly away with him to go have fun in the TARDIS. It’s only fair that he be willing to step outside of his comfort zone and spend some time with them in their element as well – especially since he can sense they’re nearing the end of their time together. For the most part, “The Power Of Three” is a pretty laidback episode and is filled with several scenes of the trio just hanging out together, swapping weird stories and bonding over their respective quirks.
Ever since we were reintroduced to the Doctor’s character with the show’s revival in 2005, he’s always been presented as an outsider looking in: a lone time lord who wanders from place to place, never sitting still for very long and never intending to settle down because of his own restlessness. Even in the classic series, a more innocent time for the franchise, the Doctor was never shown to be content with the way things were done on his own home planet. He’s always been an explorer, someone who seeks out adventure and discovery and makes very little effort to conform to whatever society he visits. The Ninth Doctor once claimed that he doesn’t do domestics, unlike his human friends who are supposed to settle down eventually, find love, lead fulfilling lives and pursue their dreams.
The Doctor always encounters the same old dilemma when it comes to his companions: they’re traveling down two completely different paths in life. It’s why he always parts ways with them eventually, if they aren’t separated by death: sooner or later, their priorities grow too distant and they start to outgrow him. The Doctor doesn’t want to be selfish, and he certainly doesn’t want to get in the way of Amy and Rory’s future, but he keeps flying back to them and keeps prolonging their goodbye because he can’t give them up, the same way they can’t give him up entirely – they all mean too much to each other. For the time being, they’re going to make the most of the time they have left together. Sooner or later, the Doc will have to let go of the Ponds (sooner than he thinks actually), and in his heart, he knows it’s going to hurt.
“The Power Of Three” is Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) and Rory Williams’ (Arthur Darvill) last spotlight episode before we say farewell to their characters forever in “The Angels Take Manhattan”, so this story takes a moment to step back and really appreciate how they’ve both grown and changed over two and a half seasons, how they make a really great team with the Doc, and how the Doc can always count on them to back him up. Early on, we’re given a nice example of Rory’s character growth when the Doctor makes a rather condescending and dismissive comment about Amy and Rory’s career choices. Series 5 Rory, who was a bit of a doormat, would have looked hurt about that remark and stewed passive-aggressively about it for a while, while Series 7 Rory immediately shuts that line of thought down and makes it clear he and Amy have other important things in their lives than just having fun with the Doctor, especially since Rory works in a hospital.
As time passes, Amy and Rory start to put some serious thought into their futures: how their careers are advancing, how they’re making long-term plans, how they’ve kept their other friends at arm’s length to protect their time-traveling secret. After two and a half seasons, Amy Pond’s imaginary friend has been a part of their lives for ten years – basically their entire adults lives – to say nothing of that early encounter he had with Amy when she was a little girl. The Ponds have been juggling two lives, trying to have the best of both worlds as they simultaneously plant their roots in London and run off to go have fun with the Doctor, but they can’t keep up the balance anymore now that they’re all getting older, and they’re starting to go their separate ways. But they also can’t give up the Doctor, their wise, wacky spaceman friend who turns up sometimes to show them the universe.
The fact that Amy is even considering saying goodbye to the Doc is a significant sign that her character arc is coming full circle, since we were first introduced to her as someone who was unsatisfied with her life and wanted to escape into a world of fantasy and adventure, so she could do something worthwhile and make something of herself before she settled down. Now that she’s matured and found happiness with Rory, she can appreciate all the great things that a regular life on Earth has to offer too.
The highlight of this episode is easily the riverside chat the Doctor and Amy have about why he travels and why he will continue to do so, long after the Ponds are gone. Matt Smith does a great job of selling the earnestness and sincerity in the Doctor’s words, and the years of friendship between these two characters is palpable the whole time (Matt and Karen’s excellent onscreen chemistry can undoubtedly be attributed to the fact that they’ve been co-stars on this show together for three years at this point). Both of them bare their souls about who they are as people and admit they can feel in their guts that their time together is coming to an end, so they plan on enjoying the time they’ve got left. After a lot of thought, Amy and Rory finally come to a decision by the episode’s end and decide to commit to traveling full-time with the Doctor again, putting an end to the limbo they’ve all been stuck in since the end of Series 6. This is presented as a mostly positive outcome at the time, but there’s an ominous undercurrent of doubt to it, and it’s downright tragic in light of what transpires in the next episode – because suffice to say, the Ponds chose wrong.
“The Power Of Three” marks the second appearance of Rory’s father, Brian Williams (Mark Williams). After all the crazy shenanigans he took part in in “Dinosaurs On A Spaceship”, Brian is officially in the know about Amy and Rory’s time-traveling secret, so he tries to offer them both advice whenever he can. He’s happy to assist the Doctor with his investigation into the aliens cubes, and he tries to stay diligent about the task at hand to an almost obsessive level. After “Dinosaurs On A Spaceship”, the Williams men seem to have grown a bit closer: Rory enjoys a good amount of snark at Brian’s expense, but neither one of these two men will hesitate to step in when one of them is put at risk.
While Brian enjoys spending time with the Doc and doing his part to save the world, he also shows concern about his son and his daughter-in-law at times, like any good parent would, no matter how old their adult offspring has gotten. The Doctor makes Brian a promise he can’t keep, that he’ll always bring the Ponds home safe and sound so long as they’re with him, so Brian gives them both his blessing about their travels with the Doctor, insisting they make the most of their lives with the spacemen – setting the poor man up for some heartbreak in just one episode’s time. We’ll never see Brian again after this episode. He was supposed to have a cameo in “The Angels Take Manhattan“, giving his character some closure, but his actor was unavailable for filming at the time, so we’re just left to assume that after the Angels took Amy and Rory, Brian never knew what became of them and was always left waiting for them to return – the dad who waited. Thankfully, an epilogue short “P.S.” was produced that confirmed this wasn’t the case, taking away at least some of the sting of the next episode.
“The Power Of Three” features the debut of Kate Stewart, Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart’s daughter, who has stepped up to become the head of UNIT, and in that position, she’ll go on to be a major recurring character for the rest of the Moffat era. Kate is a fun, charismatic character, if a bit underused at times: she’s tried her best to reform UNIT’s practices and make the organization less trigger-happy. The Doctor is an old family friend, so she respects him highly. The two of them get along well enough in this episode, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be some conflict between them down their line, as their methods towards solving an alien threat start to clash more.
The B-plot of this episode is devoted entirely to the idea of a ‘slow invasion’, where millions of alien cubes appear on Earth overnight and then proceed to do absolutely nothing for a year afterwards, until the native humans start to let their guards down around them. From there, they scan the human race and determine the best possible way to kill them all, since the cubes are a form of pest control sent by aliens who want to exterminate humanity. The true villains of this episode, the Shakri, are both underwritten and underwhelming. The threat they pose isn’t revealed until the last act, we’re never given much info about who they are or where they came from, and unfortunately, most of the climax had to be hastily re-shot and re-written because of behind the scenes drama, which leaves the last ten minutes of this episode feeling rushed and messy. Apparently, the head Shakri’s actor, Steven Berkoff, was quite the diva and purposely sabotaged his scenes, which explains a lot about why his wooden performance is so terrible, and why the Doctor solves everything in the climax with just a few waves of his sonic screwdriver.
“The Power Of Three” is directed by Douglas McKinnon, the same guy who handled “The Sontaran Stratagem” two-parter all the way back in Series 4, and his direction for this episode is decent and workmanlike – it gets the job done, even if there are very few standout sequences to be found in this slice-of-life story compared to the last couple of episodes. McKinnon seems to have the largest amount of fun getting creative with all the rapidfire montage sequences in this episode: whether they’re showing time passing for everyone on Earth, Amy and Rory’s failed attempts at the maintaining the ‘normal’ aspects of their lives, or the wacky shenanigans that the Ponds get up to with the Doctor offscreen on a regular basis.
“The Power Of Three” is very clearly a low-budget episode that arrives at just the right time in Series 7, sandwiched in-between “A Town Called Mercy” and “The Angels Take Manhattan”, two stories that are chock-full of expensive location shooting. Murray Gold’s score in this episode is a lot more relaxed and understated than usual, and is mainly comprised of a lot of electronic beats created on a synthesizer in tracks like “Cubes“, “While We Waited” and “Brian’s Log“. The most notable composition of the hour is the fully orchestral “Together Or Not At All: The Song of Amy And Rory“, Murray Gold’s bittersweet send-off music for the Ponds: it simmers away in the background during the Doctor and Amy’s riverside chat about their friendship, and as such, it manages to not only give their quiet, intimate scene some extra weight but also foreshadows what’s to come for Amelia in another episode’s time. During the final act, Murray also brings back a few nostalgic tracks connected to the Ponds from Series 5 like “Can I Come With You?” and “A Lonely Decision“, which is certainly a bittersweet decision, since this episode is one of the last times that those themes will make an appearance.
“The Power Of Three” is a fluffy, character-driven episode of Doctor Who that doesn’t do a whole lot to stand out compared to several other stories in Series 7, but it does have a lot of sentimental value to it as one last hurrah for the endearing power trio of the Eleventh Doctor, Amy and Rory, before the gang goes their separate ways in “The Angels Take Manhattan”.
* “Every time we flew away with the Doctor, we’d just become part of his life. But he never stood still long enough to become part of ours. Except once. The year of the slow invasion. The time the Doctor came to stay“.
* “There are soldiers all over my house, and I’m in my pants!” “My whole life I’ve wanted to say that, and I miss it by being somebody else”.
* “Within three hours, the cubes had a thousand separate Twitter accounts” “Twitter?” The Doctor’s vendetta against Twitter will never get old.
* “Four days. Nothing! Nothing! Not a single change in any cube anywhere in the world. Four days, and I am still in your lounge!”
* “You said we had to be patient-” “Yes, you! You, not me! I hate being patient. Patience is for wimps!”
* “That’s better. Nothing like a bit of activity to pass the time. How long was I gone?” “Er, about an hour” “…I can’t do it” So weak.
* “Bit of a shock, Zygon ship under the Savoy, half the staff impostors. Still, it’s all fixed now, eh?”
* “What happened to the other people who travel with you?” “Some left me. Some got left behind. And some, not many but, some died. Not them. Not them, Brian. Never them”.
* “I sent you out to sell as many cubes as you could in twenty-four hours. And look at you, you’ve made a right hash of it, haven’t you? Well, Craig, you’re fired!” Since we never actually see what Craig looks like, I’m just gonna assume he’s talking to Craig from “The Lodger” and “Closing Time“.
* “Oh, yes! Second set, Doctor! Ha ha! Oh, if Fred Perry could see me now, eh? He’d probably ask for his shorts back”.
* “Is that all you can do, hover? I had a little metal dog that could do that”.
* “The Power Of Three” has a pretty harsh example of unintentional foreshadowing. Kate jokes that she has ravens of death working for her, which is a funny quip until the end of Series 9, when we discover that ravens of death are thing that actually exist in this show’s universe, and one of them decides to pay Ms. Clara Oswald a visit.
* One of the cubes is designed to play the chicken dance on an endless loop: they really are evil.
* “I’m not running away. This is the corner of one country in one continent on one planet that’s a corner of a galaxy that’s a corner of a universe that is forever growing and shrinking and creating and destroying and never remaining the same for a single millisecond. And there is so much, so much to see, Amy. Because it goes so fast. I’m not running away from things, I am running to them before they flare and fade forever”.
* “You were the first, the first face this face saw. And you’re seared onto my hearts, Amelia Pond. You always will be. I’m running to you, and Rory, before you fade from me” Aww..
* “Through the looking glass, Amelia!”
* “Wow, that’s some seriously weird bedtime story” “You can talk. Wolf in your grandmother’s nightdress?”
* “So that was the year of the slow invasion, when the Earth got cubed, and the Doctor came to stay. It was also when we realized something the Shakri never understood. What cubed actually means. The power of three!”
* The final scene of this episode hits a bit differently once you learn “The Power Of Three” was the last episode Matt Smith, Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill filmed together in Series 7’s production schedule. It gives off the same energy as the final scene of “The Satan Pit“, the last episode David Tennant and Billie Piper filmed together in Series 2.