Review: Doctor Who Series 7 Episode 4 – The Power of Three

Directed by Douglas Mackinnon

Written by Chris Chibnall

Starring Matt Smith, Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill

The Doctor has always been travelling through time and space, whisking his companions every which way…but sometimes things are going on in the present that are much more pressing. Tonight’s episode shows us one of these times.

The Power of Three is the fourth episode in this current series of Doctor Who, and it’s the penultimate episode that the Ponds (Karen Gillian and Arthur Darvill) will appear in, so it makes sense that this is a very Pond-centric episode. Amy (Gillan) and Rory (Darvill) have been dragged back and forth constantly between their home lives and their lives with the Doctor (Matt Smith), but something brings the two together.

Mysterious black cubes bring them together to be exact. In their present, the world suddenly becomes covered in the cubes, prompting curiosity from the human race and more importantly, the Doctor. What follows is a tale of a slow invasion of the cubes, covering the span of almost a year, before eventually the cubes show that there is much more behind their sudden appearance.

This episode is written by returning writer Chris Chibnall, who wrote the other series 7 episode Dinosaurs on a Spaceship. What also returns is another fun story told with some gleeful comic relief as well as another appearance from Rory’s dad Brian (Mark Williams).

While the story hits some nice serious and emotional beats in regards to the Ponds and their relationship with the Doctor, there are several instances of nice little references and bits that lighten up the tone throughout, including a quick romp or two through history and the Doctor revealing more of the creations in human history he had a part in.

There is also a very good tie-in with Who lore with the return of UNIT, which appears to have taken a slight change in dynamic as the taskforce attempts to deal with the “slow invasion” with a little help from the Doctor.

Overall, Chibnall’s writing is top notch, and it’s certainly one of the stronger episodes so far. It is with great relief to report that Amy and Rory were used much more in this episode (as they should) and were used with great effect, showing the story of the Ponds and their lives when the Doctor isn’t around for once. And for when he is around this time, he takes more of a companion role, at least initially, while he tries to work out the mystery behind the cubes.

It’s nice to see the Doctor slightly out of his depth and at the edge of his patience, a trait he has showcased before, this time being well utilised for comic effect and to facilitate giving us more time with the Ponds before he comes back in full swing.

Much like the title, the main three are the power in this episode; the Doctor and the Ponds are done so well both together and apart this time around. With this being the second to last episode for the Ponds, next week has been built up so well in this episode, setting up a no-doubt powerful farewell to the Doctor’s companions when we next catch up with them.

Smith, Gillan and Darvill all shine in this episode and are all successfully utilised, something that is a relief in regards to the last few episodes. It had always been a question as to whether the Ponds really needed to be around recently, but this episode shows us more in the light of they should be, which adds another layer to the potential reaction to them leaving after their next appearance.

The Doctor has his great moments per episode as usual, showcasing his childishness coupled with his passion to defend mankind until his last breath, the episode being tone-perfect in regards to when and where the comedy and the task at hand should be addressed. Smith does well to play the clown (and a bit of football, another of Smith’s talents) as well as a Doctor that has had many companions but only two Ponds, who he will continue to take on adventures and saving the human race he admires so much as long as he possibly can.

In light of singing the praises of the protagonists, it would be a point to note that the antagonists of the episode – namely the cubes and their motives – don’t receive that much of a confrontation and resolution by episode’s end. However it would seem that despite their sheer scale and prominence, the real story to watch is that of the Doctor and his companions. This makes for a much more interesting story, celebrating the Doctor’s time with the Ponds and the inevitable moment when they can’t travel together ever again.

To tie it all together, The Power of Three is a very strong Doctor Who episode, at least for this series. Despite the idea of a slow invasion of mysterious cubes that are snatched up by the human race out of curiosity before discarded out of eventual acceptance, it doesn’t feel as much of a high-concept episode as the others have been so far. But that’s not the point this time around. This is an episode that wisely chooses to stick with the Doctor and his companions, showing the world they have without the Doctor and playing on how the Doctor wishes he could always have these adventures, but sometimes he has to accept that he has to say goodbye sometimes and move on.

Something that will be looked at a lot more in the next episode hopefully, where the Doctor will take the Ponds to New York and face off a dangerous enemy that threatens the power of three… 

The Power of Three premiered on BBC One on Saturday 22nd September 2012. It is available on BBC iPlayer, and Doctor Who will return next Saturday 29th September 2012 with The Angels Take Manhattan.

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