Unpopular Opinion? The Power of Three
Guest contributor Nick Greenwood thinks the 2012 adventure is unfairly criticised.
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…
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
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
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 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?
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.