Doctor Who: Looking Back At THE POWER OF THREE - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Doctor Who: Looking Back At THE POWER OF THREE

Tony gatecrashes with the Ponds.
The Power of Three is one of those stories which many Doctor Who fans look back at with a degree of bafflement. They do that because it was written by Chris Chibnall, who later took over the showrunner’s chair.

Chibnall’s record of providing stories for New Who before he took over the show was… interesting, but patchy.

In 42, he delivered a story that had some good tension, a bit of a borrowed Star Trek idea (sentient sun, parts of itself captured, goes on the rampage trying to punish its persecutors), and a lot of pub quiz questions while getting through interminable doors.

In The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood, he was trusted to bring back the Silurians to Doctor Who, and delivered a two-parter with plenty of Pertwee vibes, if very little of the heart of Malcolm Hulke, and, if there were fewer doors, there was quite a lot of moderately tedious waiting about while things tried to happen in a decent order.

And in Dinosaurs On A Spaceship, he gave the Doctor the most annoying gang… probably, ever… put some dinosaurs, as advertised, on a spaceship, introduced David Bradley to Doctor Who and gave us a somewhat brutal side to the Eleventh Doctor.

All his stories had been… competent, but none of them were likely to be remembered as stone cold classics. And that’s why people look back on his stories in bafflement.

Before he took over from Russell T Davies, Steven Moffatt had a) delivered one of the creepiest stories of the Eccleston era, b) invented Captain Jack Harkness, c) delivered the quite bonkers Girl In The Fireplace, d) invented River Song, and e) created the Weeping Angels, while really proving the potential power of the Doctor-Lite episode. There was little doubt that, if he could be persuaded to do it, he was a shoe-in for the next showrunner.

No-one, looking at the collection of Chibnall-written episodes, would necessarily have gone “Oh, absolutely a shoe-in for when Moffatt leaves.” Again, for the most part, his episodes weren’t bad, as such, but they didn’t necessarily scream “Showrunner material.”

Then he wrote The Power Of Three.
Now, let’s not beat around the bush, The Power Of Three doesn’t work, either. It is at best three-quarters of a Doctor Who story.

But the thing is, it is three-quarters of a very GOOD Doctor Who story.

Follow me closely here.

Firstly, it sets up its premise in the pre-credit sequence. Amy and Rory have been travelling with the Doctor for a while (it’s actually mentioned later in the story that it’s been ten years since Leadworth for them), but the pull of the real lives they have is starting to tell on them. The Doctor is an inveterate traveller, never stopping, never standing still. This, Amy’s voiceover tells us, is the story of the exception to that rule – the story of the year the Doctor came to stay.

Right there, you have the bones of a story in itself.

Then there are the cubes. Small, black, perfectly identical cubes that appear in their millions on Earth overnight, and which, apparently, do… nothing.

Partially, that’s a Chibnall-trope: things that do nothing. Partially, you could argue they’re an idea borrowed from Terry Pratchett’s Reaper Man novel (which involves the sudden appearance of snowglobes everywhere). People marvel at them, take them home, and then for the most part forget about them.

The investigation of the cubes does frustratingly nothing for a good percentage of the time – again, classic Chibnall, and ultimately, something you question in the writing – but in the meantime, there’s a reasonable amount of highly pleasurable filler. The Eleventh Doctor confined to barracks and how he burns off his energy is a good piece of mid-episode comedy. The introduction of a whole new UNIT, with Kate Stewart at the head – that’s mind-blowing, and signals a shift for both the organisation and the future of the show. Interestingly, people tend to forget it was a Chibnall episode that created that legacy.
When the cubes suddenly, after months of inactivity, get up and running, there is what remains an engaging mystery – what are they all about, why are they doing the things they’re doing?

What’s less successful is that there’s absolutely no logic in them doing the things they do, given what they’re eventually revealed to be – a kind of slug pellet for the putting down of humans by heart-attack. Why do any of the other things, like firing laser bolts at the Doctor or taking Amy’s blood and pulse? And what kind of haphazard slug pellets are they, in any case? The simple instruction “No, really, don’t look inside them” would have stopped the plans of the Shakri dead in their tracks.

Also, while we’re at it, the two hospital porters with the weird faces? Great visual, good, creepy presence, absolutely nothing by way of sense. Why are they kidnapping certain humans on hospital trolleys? It’s a thing never explained. We’ll gloss bluntly over the unlikelihood that they just HAPPEN to have a portal to their cloaked ship in the hospital where Rory works – just give us the explanation for what they’re up to!

And the Shakri reveal and explanation is absolutely rushed, unsatisfying and leaves a lot to be desired in the Doctor’s sonic-waving, a kind of not-as-clever “reverse the polarity of the neutron flow” moment that undoes in seconds a plan that’s apparently been in the making for at least most of a year.
In essence, The Power Of Three has many of the flaws familiar from the episodes that went out in the first two series when Chris Chibnall took the helm – an over-padded middle in which nothing much happens, an underwhelming villain that was insufficiently gripping (Tim Shaw, the Tooth Fairy, anyone?), and an infuriatingly rushed and unsatisfying ending that undoes much of the good work that precedes it.

But while these are failings that really hamper The Power Of Three, especially when choosing Eleventh Doctor episodes to relive for pleasure, there are some gorgeous character moments sprinkled throughout the story.

The realisation from both Amy and Rory that they actually like their lives as they are, with human friends, and plans, and jobs and suchlike is sweet and heartwarming – the realisation that they’re OK just being together, without the Doctor, is a good one, especially given their eventual fate in the next episode, The Angels Take Manhattan.

Brian, Rory’s dad, played by the script-helper that is Mark Williams, is shown as a source of both wisdom and warmth (as, to be fair, he was in the previous Chibnall script, Dinosaurs On A Spaceship). Someone you can trust, whether it be to observe some alien cubes or, as he says, to water your plants while you go travelling.
Kate Stewart’s introductory story sees her admittedly mostly baffled, despite being in control of what is essentially the Who-world version of the Men in Black. But there’s some good sentimental character work between her and the Doctor, in a complete softening of the relationship between the Doctor and the leader of UNIT that goes on to pay dividends in future stories.

And there’s also some great character stuff between the Doctor and Amy, with his explanation that he’s not running away from things, but running to them before they fade, and that, as the first face this face saw, she will always be seared onto his hearts.

So in terms of character, there’s plenty to watch – as remains the case in Doctor Who with Chris Chibnall at the helm. And there’s plenty for Matt Smith to do, too – bored Doctor, analytical Doctor, sombre Doctor when talking to Amy about their future, and to Brian about the realistic consequences of travel through time and space with him. Possibly the most fun is seeing Matt Smith’s Doctor with only one working heart, where his waspish side comes out and gives what is a highly stressful scene some laughter too.

The result of all these character moments is a story that you can… MOSTLY… enjoy, but which collapses into froth and nonsense towards the end. It leaves you with a nagging sense of the story it COULD have been – and if it had fulfilled that promise with less padding in the mid-section and a more satisfying ending, it would stand as a highlight of Series 7. As it is, the Power of Three remains three-quarters of a great story, in need of one more edit for coherence and completeness.

Tony lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who, Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the 70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By day, he runs an editing house, largely as an excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book. With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at

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