The Power of Three
Shades of oldWho, RTDWho, and nuNewWho!
I think, maybe, Steven Moffat and Chris Chibnall snuck in a part one, at least thematically, to the midseries finale goodbye to the Ponds…
See nuWho can’t just pick up and companion and drop them off all hidy hi and hody ho like they used to in oldWho; the companion(s) are now more than ever the audience surrogate, we meet them, their families, their home life, their personal lives and for the first time ever, we now have a married couple in the TARDIS, who are feeling forced to choose between the Doctor, and normality.
[quote]We have two lives.[/quote]
When the Ponds leave next week, in what I’m sure will be a heartbreaking exit, this episode very nicely underlines exactly how good the Doctor is with his companions by his side; why he is so much better because of them and why they are so much better because of him.
As for the episode itself, it’s a very good blend of some RTD nuWho series elements; there’s an interesting and funny look at the home lives of the Ponds, sorting trash, the fridge, getting ready for work, before Eleven comes along and picks them up. Except this time, Eleven has come to stay because whist the Ponds, in fact the whole world sleeps, strange small black cubes materialise overnight in every house, office and street (this is nicely shown via some talking heads on tv screens and news updates, complete with BBC television hosts, another RTD series element).
These mysterious cubes then do… nothing. And the next day, nothing. So Eleven is forced to sit down, to stay, and watch this ‘invading’ force for any sign of malice. For a man who is constantly on the run, this proves more than slightly frustrating as he wrestles with boredom and a lack of patience, and it even drives the Ponds a bit crazy with his antics. But it does drive home the point that the Doctor cannot do the slow life (shades of Vincent and the Doctor) and that Amy and Rory must soon choose either one of the other – they cannot do both the travelling and exist normally – their friends notice they disappear for months at a time…
There’s actually a very good moment early on in the episode when Rory says he has to go to work, and Eleven calls his job small, and Rory completely stands up for himself and what he does; it’s a telling moment of just how far this character has come from The Eleventh Hour, and just where his priorities are starting to fall.
This episode also features the return of UNIT, not seen in the series since Moffat took the reigns; they bust down doors, catch Rory with his pants down (sort of), and then we get introduced to Kate Stewart, guest star Jemma Redgrave, who acts as the Scientific Leader of the military organisation. The character immediately endears herself to viewers, and the Doctor, by first apologising with a weary sort of sigh over UNIT’s methods, but insisting that is dragging them kicking and screaming into being a better UNIT, one that the Doctor, and her father could be proud of – because oh yes, there’s no hiding it, Kate is the daughter of oldWho’s main stay UNIT character, Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, a fitting legacy character that we should hopefully see again![quote]Science leads, as an old friend once told him…[/quote]
There’s also another return in this episode, of the delightful Brian Williams, guest star Mark Williams, from earlier entry Dinosaurs on a Spaceship. Apparently back from his travels of the world, and more content with his home life, he portrays a brilliant curiosity with the arrival of the cubes, actually speeds ahead of Eleven with his own theories, and provides more of a vigil over the cubes than anyone else seems to. But he also provides a very sweet counterpoint to the wonder and excitement of Eleven’s arrivals and departures, concerned as always for his son and daughter-in-law by asking a very simple question of the man who runs…[quote]What happened to the others… who travelled with you?[/quote]
Eleven answers honestly, including the parts about the few who died, and assures Brian that it will not be them, never them… thematic foreshadowing at its best I do believe… but Eleven is not so unthinking as we might be led to believe as halfway through the episode, when it’s just Eleven and his Amelia Pond, he fully vocalises how he knows they want to stop. That he knows they will one day, perhaps sooner rather than later, have to say goodbye…
There’s also a well placed line where Amelia says that it feels like the travelling is running away which Eleven refutes absolutely; it’s not running away, it’s running to something because there’s also something waiting to been seen and he’s so emphatic you believe the truth in what he’s saying, whilst also acknowledging, as an audience, the fear that she might be right… It’s a beautifully quiet moment under the stars for the pair, and both Matt Smith and Karen Gillan say so much, with so little dialogue.
It’s then slightly unfortunate that between all the comedy with the Doctor living with the Ponds, the pathos of growing up and away from Eleven, that in the last 15 minutes or so the episode suddenly jumps back into the alien invasion plot. I have to say, as cubes go, the plan for the invasion was quite clever, but the resolution was too quick, too handy, and we never got a real explanation as to who the henchmen were, although you can make certain assumptions, and the idea behind the alien threat (the Shakri – represented by actor Steven Berkoff, who does better than the material represents, can we please see these guys and their Tally again?) is a solid addition to Timelord lore.
But I suppose, really, the invasion is just window dressing to what’s really going on here: the Ponds relationship to the Doctor, and choosing either real life, or Doctor life.
Actually the whole episode follows rather nicely on from previous entry, A Town Called Mercy, which as I highlighted in my review, felt more like the Ponds dropping in on Eleven’s life (we didn’t see him pick them up, they were just there and it was very much the Doctor’s story as he struggles with a man all too different, and yet all too similar to himself) and the Ponds/Amy’s effect on him… whereas this week was much more about the Doctor dropping in on them, how what he represents can be exciting and thrilling (love to know more about the Savoy and Zygons).
There’s some suggestions flying around that the running order was moved around a bit; A Town Called Mercy also gave us a line where Rory leaves his mobile phone charger in King Henry VIII’s ensuite, and yet we see them run into trouble with said King, in this episode. If they did slightly chop the running order up, I can only imagine it’s because it fits the theme developing here slightly better…
I wonder if this is what was given to writer Chris Chibnall as an instruction; it’s going to be the Ponds penultimate episode, show us their life with the Doctor popping in and out, we’ve talked about it, suggested it (this was all before Pond Life* was filmed I believe), but show us it, and tell us why it’s so hard to choose but why it’s so brilliant when you do choose him.
It’s quite sweet that its Brian Williams that gives them the impetus to travel with the Doctor once again; he can see that, despite everything, all the risks, it is the chance of a lifetime and they should grasp it with both hands.
Taking everything together, the RTD feel to the episode, the themes and threads that have been weaved, and what I’m sure is really a part one to next weeks midseries finale, I’m going to have to give this one 3 and a half Zygons impersonating hotel staff out of 5.
But my oh my, with such an upbeat, and in some ways triumphant ending (the Ponds and Eleven together! Dad’s approval! The Power… of Three!), and this is where the series must have been building to so far, the dropping in and out until finally they decide to take up the travelling again (!) the only place it can go is to tragedy…
We all know that New York awaits, and so do the Angels that Weep… Will the Ponds decision to travel with the Doctor finally be their undoing…? All I know is River Song is about and The Angels Take Manhatten…
*Pond Life is a series of short webisodes (and I mean, short) that you can find on YouTube or the official Doctor Who website – they show little snippets of the home life of the Ponds before the Doctor resurfaces properly in Asylum of the Daleks…