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Unpopular Opinion? The Power of Three

Guest contributor Nick Greenwood thinks the 2012 adventure is unfairly criticised.

power-of-three-promo-pics-(23)

I quite like The Power or Three. Before you all bite my head off, let me start by saying that this episode isn’t perfect. The ending in particular sent a good portion of the fandom into uproar, partly due to the wastage of the Shakri as a villain but mostly because of the most blatant use of the Doctor’s sonic as a magic wand to date. Up until the ending, however, Chris Chibnall’s 2012 episode builds tension via the mystery behind the origins and purpose of the cubes whilst also granting the audience a rare insight into the normal lives of the Doctor’s companions.

I have seen The Power of Three pop up on many a “Worst Episodes of the Matt Smith Era” list, but does it really belong there? I would argue no, and here’s why…

Character Development

power-of-three-promo-pics-(8)For many years we’ve been used to seeing companions of the Doctor who travel with him for a very long time, with their backstories and home life only really being developed at the start of the Russell T. Davies era with Rose and her family. In the case of the Ponds (my favourite companions of the last few years), we saw what happened when the Doctor left. The garden scene, and indeed the other scenes of the pair trying to adapt to normal life just shows how fantastical life with the Doctor is. Those opportunities, the ability to survey the entirety of time and space and then nip back home … how could you readjust to normal life after that?

Chris Chibnall also writes several touching scenes, not least the conversation between the Doctor and Amy outside the Tower of London:

“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.”

When watching this episode, the audience were aware that the next time they tuned in to the show, it would be the watch the Ponds leave the TARDIS forever, giving this little speech by Smith even more relevance.

Similarly, Brian’s question as to the fate of other companions of the Doctor also foreshadowed the departure of the Ponds, with the Doctor’s reply of “Some left me. Some got left behind. And some, not many but, some died” sadly admitting that he couldn’t promise to keep Amy and Rory safe from harm. This little speech is made even sadder by the short P.S. storyboard release (also penned by Chibnall), revealing that Brian never got to say a proper goodbye to his son and daughter-in-law, making his worries about them leaving him forever due to their association with the Doctor even more profound.

Eleven and Home Life

power-of-three-promo-pics-(14)Much like The Lodger and Closing Time, the Power of Three gave the audience an insight into how the Doctor (and, more specifically, the more childish and alien Eleventh Doctor) reacted to normal life, linking back to his previous question in Vincent and the Doctor of “Is this how time normally passes? Really slowly. In the right order” and his statement in this episode of “I can’t live like this”.

His boredom, alleviated by his hour of fence painting and keepy-uppies, showed the audience just how fast paced life with the Doctor was, with the hyperactive Time Lord unable to sit still because of the hugely active lifestyle he leads.

The return of UNIT

power-of-three-promo-pics-(7)UNIT had made appearances in the revived series before, most notably in the Series 4 two-parter The Sontaran Strategem/The Poison Sky, where it appeared very centred around military operations with little focus on science. The return of the organisation was achieved to great effect in The Power of Three, introducing Kate Stewart to the wider TV audience and showing the UNIT base of operations in the Tower of London – these elements were later heavily used in The Day of the Doctor, with Kate Stewart’s assertion that she had returned UNIT to a mentality of “science leads” showing the transition from the RTD-era UNIT (led by military figures like Colonel Mace and General Sanchez) to the new UNIT.

And didn’t every Whovian’s face light up when the Brigadier was mentioned? By making his daughter a major recurring character, Chris Chibnall (and, by extension, Steven Moffat) have kept the memory of Nicholas Courtney’s beloved Brigadier alive just a few years after his death.

The Shakri

steven-berkoff-shakriThe Shakri was a severely underused villain, with Chibnall building up towards their big reveal only to show an “automated interface”, nothing more than a “propaganda poster” in the words of the Eleventh Doctor. Although this leaves the deep history of the Shakri open to be revisited in later episodes, I feel that a second part to the Power of Three would have allowed the audience to learn more about these “pest controllers of the universe” and the creatures of Gallifreyan fairy tales. They are a theoretically brilliant villain, particularly due to Steven Berkoff’s unsettling performance as the interface, although one that leaves so many questions and opportunities for exploration.

The bogey men of the Time Lords, something the Doctor feared as a child and who devote their lives to eliminating “pest” races throughout the universe … isn’t that just a brilliant concept?

Conclusion

In conclusion, The Power of Three is not the best episode of the New Who era but also doesn’t deserve to be labelled as one of the worst, with the resolution of the threat overshadowing an otherwise likeable episode. If anything, the episode is bona fide proof that it isn’t possible to cram every single story into 45 minutes – this blockbuster format worked for some of the episodes in Series 7, but in this case the story cried out for a second part in order to develop the Shakri and provide a proper resolution to the plot. If the story couldn’t stretch to a second part, even another fifteen minutes would have prevented this gem of an episode gaining a reputation as “The one with the sonic screwdriver cop-out”.

If you look beyond the infamous ending towards the rest of the story, however, Chris Chibnall’s latest addition to the Doctor Who mythos is a triumph in character development, showing the audience what life without the Doctor is really like whilst also laying the groundwork for the return of a revamped UNIT under Kate Stewart.

Step back in time...

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117 comments
Noybusiness
Noybusiness

Huh? I've only seen this episode on lists of favorites.

DawnTime
DawnTime

I rather like this episode too. so funny the doctor doing household stuff, painting the fence etc. cold blood is my least favourite M S stories.

conallmc2013
conallmc2013

if your going to do a slow invasion it should be across several episodes- by drawing suspense across 1 and creating a resolution just doesn't work its anti-climatic and feels very rushed. That being said I did like aspects of the episode similar to the lodger were we saw the doctor act more human and also provides insight into the pond's lives. Does it deserve an episode though?No, maybe as a mini-episode in which is not made to be taken seriously but enjoyed for its morsel of interest and glimpse of the shakri. The ending was dismal, why would the shakri plan a year long invasion that could be thwarted so easily- it seems like a massive waste of time. I know its only a small insight into their potential but why would the shakri reveal themselves to humanity in a slightly threatening way. Moreover why wouldn't they use their element of surprise as opposed to toying with the people- their objective is to wipe out pest species so why don't they do so more effectively it doesn't add up. Its like capturing james bond, telling him your entire plan and then trying to kill him in a elaborate ineffective way.  The preceding episode to the end of a character i always meet with as much respect as it's finale. Like fear her and possibly boom town I didn't feel as a great last adventure send off.

A Friend of the Ood
A Friend of the Ood

I love it until the end. I also think the concept of the Shakri is better than the execution. I love the concept, and with the return of Gallifrey it could add some history and mythology, but the character was annoying. With a redesign, I'd like to see more of the Shakri.

The Mind Probe
The Mind Probe

Nice article - it was a good episode, and as you've said, the ending shouldn't spoil an otherwise good episode. I don't actually think it needed any more time though, just an alternative "cleverer" solution than waving a sonic around.

The Finn
The Finn

I agree, possibly the only bit I didn't like was the ending.

PaulMann
PaulMann

A second part would have been brilliant, I've always felt that the cubes should have been a mini arc - something there in the background while the doctor and co dealt with whatever other dangers the Earth was in.

MeglosProductions
MeglosProductions

Chibnall is a criminally underrated writer. I'd say pretty much all of his stories have been absolute gems. That said I think The Power Of Three is probably his weakest episode, but that's more down to the ending. Overall, it was still a good episode.



The problem is that sadly, fans only remember the ending. If the ending sucks, they will be left with the impression that the EPISODE sucks, even if everything that came before it was golden

See also: Closing Time

sontaran17
sontaran17

You make some great points - Particularly about Character Development. TPOT is one of the best new who stories of all time in my opinion -- 10/10 and 13th/108

NineTenElevenTwelve
NineTenElevenTwelve

I enjoyed this episode too. The ending resolution was horribly rushed and the villain was terribly underused but the rest of the episode was a great, character-driven story about the Doctor, the Ponds, and Kate Stewart. It's definitely not one of New Who's better episodes but I agree that it definitely doesn't deserve to be labeled as one of the worst. If people can just turn their attention away from the Deus ex Sonic ending, they might be able to enjoy the good aspects of the episode a bit more.

rilsonjoas10
rilsonjoas10

I just love the episode! Amy and Eleven at the river is so cute! 


PrisonerZeroIsACybermen
PrisonerZeroIsACybermen

I recently have been rewatching season 7 now that its on Netflix and Amazon and I must say, The Power of Three and Dinosaurs on a Spaceship are way to harshly judged.

Polyphase
Polyphase

Nicely written article and your conclusion is spot on

I agree, The sonic is used far to much. The classic Doctors used it far less as he is supposed to use his intellect to defeat the villains :)

TheNightmareChild sees into your soul!
TheNightmareChild sees into your soul!

It's funny this article should go up today.  Because I actually rewatched The Power of Three this morning and came to more or less the same conclusion.  It really isn't on the whole that bad of an episode, but the ending definitely left a bad taste in my mouth and, unfortunately, does still drag the episode down a bit in my eyes.  But for what it's worth, I have found on rewatch that I can appreciate everything leading up to the ending a lot more than I remember doing the first time I watched it. 

DaftDalek
DaftDalek

There are episodes I don't particularly like,too, but I believe no article speaking in favour of an episode should be named "Unpopular Opinion" even with a question mark. Now, sorry, but I've got to continue the celebrations for Greece's qualification to the next stage of the World Cup!

KristiStoneman
KristiStoneman

It wasn't one of the worst episodes.  It may not be one of my favorites, but I quite like "The Power of Three".

Deus_Ex_Machina
Deus_Ex_Machina

Well, it wasn't the worst series 7a episode, I'll give you that. That honour goes to that travesty of an episode "The Angels Take Manhatten". To be fair, I don't think "The Power of Three" was a bad episode, but it wasn't a good episode either. It was a pretty average and forgettable episode in my eyes.

TardisBoy
TardisBoy

Chibnall is actually who I hope takes over from Moffat, if and when Moffat decides to leave. He nails character and dialogue and has the ability to create such wonderfully entertaining plots that aren't too difficult to follow, and yet can also challenge the audience as well. I just know, from his work on Doctor Who and Broadchurch, that he'd be amazing. Please..oh please, oh please...



Sir James Bond
Sir James Bond

Apologies if anyone has already suggested this.....in the past.....or maybe the future.....which would mean that I might be the first to suggest it after all.....oh I don't know.....anyway, the slow invasion scenario could make for an interesting - well vaguely interesting - season long arc. (yes, when I become show-runner the show will become known for its vaguely interesting season long arcs.....and elaborate dance routines). 

The cubey conquering type thing (or something in the same ball park) could begin in Episode one (provisionally titled 'The Eyebrows of Wendor') with events really ramping up near episode end, before the Doc - for some contrived reason - is somehow sidetracked, for about.....oh.....11 episodes or so. And when he returns (in the season finale 'Wendor's Vendors.....of Doom'), he'll find that things have got a heck of a lot worse. 

Or.....maybe seemingly minor details in Ep 1 later bloom into something far more malevolent in Ep 13. Like a new plant life or flower, that everybody loves, later turns out to be the Krynoids, (or the Krynoids brother.....the Veryannoids) 

Anyway.....I don't mind 'The Power of Three'. It's fairly inoffensive, if a little lob sided. While undoubtedly entertaining (and rather touching) it never quite manages to equally balance 'intriguing character study' with 'exciting alien runaround' (a problem that similarly befell 'The Lodger'). As distinct and separate elements they're replete with potential, but when combined together one flavour unfortunately overpowers the other.....just a bit. Which is a shame. Ah well. 

The Shakri are great though.....just dripping with disengaged, matter of fact, menace, and I loved the way the mole on Steven Berkoff's real life forehead was mirrored in his prosthetic alter ego. Cheeky Neil Gorton.

TardisBoy
TardisBoy

*Stands up and applauds*


Thank you for writing this article, I agree with every single word you write here; wholeheartedly. To me this was one of the best episodes in Series 7, for all the reasons you state here. It's a fascinating and touching exploration into Amy and Rory's life with and without the Doctor and contained some of the most beautifully understated scenes in New Who e.g. that gorgeous river scene. Chibnall nailed this episode with his writing, it was pitch perfect, and his dialouge was exceptional as well "I'm not running away from things. I'm running to them before they flare and fade forever." Furthermore I loved the idea of the slow invasion, and the cubes were just ingenious and were utilised perfectly. And yes, the Shakri were underdeveloped, and the ending was quite rushed, but do you know what? I don't care. I honestly don't. Because of what came before it was one of the finest pieces of television drama I've seen. 9/10

allons_ywibblywobbly
allons_ywibblywobbly

I LOVE this episode! I don't care the ending is rushed and doesn't really make sense, but I love the idea of the episode. The point of the episode was to see the characters and their development, no the villain of the week. Chibnall is brilliant when it comes to writing characters. Just like RTD. He knows how to touch the heart of the viewer.



Galax
Galax

I'm tired of all those criticisms on the bockbuster format. Come ON, Chibnall did know he only has 45 minutes before writing the script. The Hollywoodian format in Series 7A may have been a mistake, everyone is allowed to his opinion, but rushed endings have nothing to do with that, but with writers' abilities.

Bar this I totally agree with this article :) Really, if not perfect, The Power of Three is still a good and solid story with a GREAT concept. 

But don't see much hate for this episode ? Mostly indifference, but it's not a marmite episode and I see many fans claiming this is an underrated story. And the french fandom is really kind with it anyway, the writing and the characters are really praised.


Friend of the Ood
Friend of the Ood

Basically the classic example of a bad ending leaving a sour taste in the mouth. So brilliant, and yet people forget about all of the brilliance.

mgm1229
mgm1229

Well said. It's always fun to watch the Doctor negotiate the "real world." Meeting Brian Williams gave Rory some last minute backstory, and us one of the great lines in recent memory- "Someone's got to water the plants." Heartbreaking in retrospect.

Galactic Yo Yo
Galactic Yo Yo

I wrote a whole, long write-up about this episode when we were rating them a while back, but the fact of the matter is that this 3/4ths of a great episode ruined by a crappy ending. Pretty much all the character stuff is great (the little chat with Amy and the Doctor is one of my favorite moments between them ever). The problem is that the ending of the episode is pretty much completely unrelated thematically to anything else that happens before it. The episode is about the relationship between the Doctor and his companions, and how it changes when he's a companion in their lives. However the ending doesn't involve that relationship at all. He doesn't save the day because of something he learned from living with the Ponds for a year or anything like that. It just sort of happens. And thus the episode becomes a bunch of great moments that don't build to anything.

That said, I still enjoy this one a lot. I still think that it has more life to it than most of series 7A (which felt like so much going through the motions).

Planet of the Deaf
Planet of the Deaf

Good article. I've always found this episode very rewatchable, as after the first watch, you know what happens so the unsatisfactory ending is less of an issue, and I can instead just enjoy all the good bits, of which there are many. 

This was the true farewell episode for the Doctor and Ponds, as the episode had time for so many good moments between then (TATM was as much about the Doctor River relationship, and had Rory separate for much of the time). Indeed I would have much preferred an episode that directly led on from this to be the finale rather than TATM which was rather self contained for such an important 45 minute episode.


JolomontheCube
JolomontheCube

I don't think the power of three is bad. It has a good premise plus the reasons you listed above (though I think the shakri were weak villains and who were the Tally?). It just has a bad ending, that's all

MrRazza, Taking Supplementary Identifying Courses
MrRazza, Taking Supplementary Identifying Courses

I rather like the Power of Three, to be honest. It works brilliantly until the rushed conclusion, and that's what leaves most (including myself) with a rather disappointed reaction, only to be accentuated by the Doctor Who Opinion Bandwagon Effect



supermoff
supermoff

Plus, "Soldiers all over my house, and I'm in my pants!" is a line which takes this episode into solid territory right from the start! :P



no_tweeter
no_tweeter

@MeglosProductions He's really not, he's an awful writer. Power of Three is easily his best work, and it's still only average.

TheNightmareChild sees into your soul!
TheNightmareChild sees into your soul!

Oh yeah, and if you all would indulge me just one last little petty jab at the ending of this episode: Amy's ending line about "the power of three" made me want to vomit up sh*t.  It was so corny!

supermoff
supermoff

@TardisBoy Chibnall would be great. Him or Whithouse. I hope at least one of these writers is behind Episode 9 or 10 of Series 8. 

TardisBoy
TardisBoy

*dialogue ... *flips table over*

Planet of the Deaf
Planet of the Deaf

@Galax Most New Who episodes are single and separate 45 minute stories, so it's not as if S7 was THAT different in format. At most there would have been 2 two parters in S7 if it followed the S1-6 format. 

Besides I've seen Classic stories (4 to 6 25 minute episodes) where the ending was rushed and not entirely satisfactory...

Planet of the Deaf
Planet of the Deaf

@Galactic Yo Yo Maybe it would have been better if they had been NO baddie, and that there was an innocent explanation to the boxes, that was genuinely cracked by the 3 of them?

TardisBoy
TardisBoy

Agreed! Though I'm worried Chibnall may have been too busy writing the second series of Broadchurch to write an episode for Series 8. Hopefully, if he hasn't written one, they can get him to return for an episode in Series 9!


Sir James Bond
Sir James Bond

@supermoff @Sir James Bond Oh you say that now, but soon it'll all be.....

"Oh its too soapy, Dalek heavy, Earth based, timey-wimey, sexist, sizeist, fan servicey, corridorist.....

Galax
Galax

@Notsosmartguy  @Galax I like it, too. To me it's just the moment where the natural diversity of Doctor Who meets... money. And I agree with Moffat's words on two-parters, too. But like I said I can understand why some don't like it. The marketing aspect can be an issue.

Planet of the Deaf
Planet of the Deaf

@Notsosmartguy  @Galax I thought it was more of a marketing ploy than anything else! Vincent and the Doctor and The Girl in the Fireplace to name 2 episodes, were bothy Blockbusters of the week.

Galactic Yo Yo
Galactic Yo Yo

@Planet of the Deaf @Galactic Yo Yo Yeah, something like that. And maybe something that the Doctor could have only done because he'd stayed in one place for a year. Hell, maybe the Doctor shouldn't have solved it at all. Maybe the Ponds should have been the one to solve it to simultaneously show their growth as characters and illustrate how well they operate on their home turf.

supermoff
supermoff

@Sir James Bond @supermoff I'm sure you'll win over all the critics with a good old ABBA dance number at the end of the series finale. Who could possibly complain at that?