Episode 7.04 Writer: Chris Chibnall Director: Douglas Mackinnon
THE ONE WHERE Millions of small cubes mysteriously appear on Earth. The Doctor has his patience tested when they don’t actually appear to do anything for months on end…
VERDICT Chris Chibnall’s fourth story for Doctor Who is his best. This is a story that displays a pleasing lightness of touch and assuredly entertains – although it’s not perfect.
“The Power Of Three” feels like many previous Who stories, while largely retaining its own identity. In some ways it resembles a Russell T Davies yarn, with its invasion Earth plot, use of national and international news reports, and celebrity cameos, here courtesy of Brian Cox (very good!) and Alan Sugar.
But there are also echoes of recent suburban tales “The Lodger” and “Closing Time”, while Amy’s opening and closing narration echoes Rose’s from “Doomsday”, the little girl brings “Fear Her” to mind, and the spaceship/hospital vibe is – shudder – reminiscent of “The Curse Of The Black Spot”).
Unusually telling the story more from the perspective of the Doctor’s companions, Chibnall’s vaguely John Wyndham-esque script is all about setting up the mystery of what these cubes are and what they want. There’s so much suspense (well, in part), and so many questions regarding the cubes, that the ending was potentially always going to be a let down. And it is. A bit of sonic screwdriver waving and you’re done: it’s resolutions like this that almost make you think John Nathan Turner was right in getting rid of the thing. “The Power Of Three” is like the set-up for a post-apocalyptic second part that never happens; no “Utopia” here.
Still, there’s much to enjoy beforehand. There’s the welcome return of UNIT, commanded by Lethbridge-Stewart’s daughter Kate (Lisa Faulkner lookalike Jemma Redgrave), and it’s nice to have a UNIT chapess who for once isn’t full of attitude and chippiness, but is just a calm, mature, dedicated officer.
There are at least four laugh-out-loud moments, including the Doctor’s frantic attempts to pass time, the cube that plays “The Birdie Song”, and some very witty dialogue, such as the Doctor’s, “Bit of a shock. Zygon ship under the Savoy. All of the staff impostors…” and, “If Fred Perry could see me now… he’d probably ask for his shorts back.” These contrast with the emotional passages, perhaps the most stirring of which is Brian asking the Doctor what happened to the other companions who’ve travelled with him.
If the climax had packed more punch, and other incidents were played up for more suspense and drama, this could have been a better story still. But with the more doomy “Angels Take Manhattan” coming next week, it’s easy to understand why such a frothy tale was necessary.
BEHIND THE SOFA The bit the kids might be re-enacting in the school corridors next week? Surely when Brian is menaced in the hospital by the pair of medical orderlies. But wasn’t this a missed chance? The “cube people” (for want of a better moniker) – who are a sort of mix of “The Empty Child”’s gasmask people and the pensioner Eknodines in “Amy’s Choice” – are rather underused. Have not the makers missed a great opportunity to terrify kids going into hospitals for minor operations? (Mmm, maybe that’s why they weren’t – cowards!)
ALL HAIL THE EMPEROR If Shakri, as played by mad ol’ Steven Berkoff, doesn’t remind you of the Star Wars films’ Emperor then maybe you haven’t seen them. In an episode lacking any proper monsters, it’s nice to see him, nice – even if he is a bit more Star Trek-y/Wars-y than Who-y.
TAKE THAT, HATERS “Twitter!” the Doctor says with a slightly curled lip. Perhaps [ex-twitterer] Steven Moffat added that line?
RANDOM THOUGHT “The journalist and the nurse…” Pretty similar to the Sarah Jane Smith/Harry Sullivan dynamic, don’t you think?
TOP TUNES Besides Slade’s “Merry Xmas Everybody” making its fourth appearance in Who (following “The Christmas Invasion”, “The Runaway Bride” and “Turn Left”), we also get a burst of Mint Royale’s splendid ditty “Don’t Falter”.
NICE TOUCH “June” spelt out in meat on the barbecue. Cute.
BEST LINE Kate Stewart: “And with dress sense like that, you must be the Doctor.”