Monday, 24 September 2012
Chris Chibnall, all is forgiven.
After the more than disappointing Dinosaurs on a Spaceship, I wasn't overly optimistic about Chibnall's second Doctor Who episode of the series, The Power of Three. But I do love it when an episode exceeds my expectations...
The Power of Three fits into a Who genre we've not seen since the Russell T Davies era, the invasion of contemporary Earth episode. This trope had become tiresome by the time the Tenth Doctor regenerated, but as Earth had since gone quite some years without being invaded, now felt like a good time for another look at that story. Indeed, it felt very much like a Davies script, with its look into the companions' domestic lives, its celebrity cameos (Brian Cox, but not the one who played the Ood Elder), and the Eleventh Doctor's first interaction with UNIT (Sarah Jane Adventures aside). On the other hand, it wasn't just an RTD-esque invasion story - it had two interesting twists on this genre. The first was the nature of the invasion - the Earth was invaded by small black cubes, which did nothing. The second was the point we're at in Amy and Rory's story.
The small black cubes appeared all across the Earth one night and, as I said, did nothing. That was the alien invasion. And it wasn't entirely as rubbish as it sounds. The Doctor's investigation into this phenomenon led him to the attention of UNIT, now led by Kate Stewart (Jemma Redgrave), daughter of old friend Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart. While she wasn't a remarkable or deeply explored character, in the small role she had to play in this episode, Kate was more endearing than a lot of RTD's UNIT officers (if we never see Lee Evans' scientific advisor again, it will be too soon), had a good chemistry with Matt Smith's Doctor, and had a sensible reason to be in the story, which is more than can be said for some other Chris Chibnall supporting characters. Meanwhile, the human race were collecting these cubes and bringing them into their homes, their offices, and their tea rooms. Of course, this was all part of the plan. When the cubes inevitably started attacking the human race and Steven Berkoff's craggy-faced villain was revealed, it was up to the three heroes to save the day. Which they did surprisingly quickly. The villain was easily defeated, lacking in depth, and, to be honest, arbitrary. But the episode wasn't really about him...
Where The Power of Three shone was as an exploration of the relationship between the eponymous three - Amy, Rory and the Doctor (the title also refers to maths). From the start, the episode highlighted the contrast between Amy and Rory's two lives - life with the Doctor, and 'real' life at home. Amy and Rory, clearly growing tired of an action packed life and wanting to settle down, have continuously been reminding themselves that they need to choose one or the other - but not yet. Their story is unlike that of any other companion from the RTD era, as by this point we're really seeing a large chunk of their life, rather than the Doctor travelling with them for a year and then moving on to the next. The slowness of the cubes' invasion was really just a plot excuse to look at Amy and Rory's life over a longer period of time and explore how their adventures with the Doctor are affecting their social and professional lives. This worked really well, drawing up a good deal of both drama and humour. Rory is offered a full time job and Amy is to be a bridesmaid, but will they be able to keep these commitments or will the Doctor whisk them away? It also allowed a second appearance from Rory's dad Brian, the funniest and least pointless of Dinosaurs on a Spaceship's supporting characters.
Making this more powerful was the knowledge that The Power of Three is Amy and Rory's penultimate story, with Moffat's hype suggesting a heartbreaking exit for them next week, and there was a suiting sense of foreboding and sadness throughout. The scene with the Doctor and Amy outside the Tower of London was particularly touching, almost as much as the Amy/Rory/teleporter scene in series opener Asylum of the Daleks - "You were the first. The first face this face saw. And you are sealed onto my hearts, Amelia Pond. Always will be. I'm running to you. And Rory. Before you fade from me." With Matt Smith and Karen Gillan giving assured, emotional performances, this was a scene to make the hardest of viewers pretend they've looked into the eyes of a Weeping Angel and have one growing in their eye.
The episode ended with the Doctor running off, but Amy and Rory deciding to go with him for further adventures. "Bring them back safely" said Brian, upsettingly. Poor Brian. I am unconvinced, however, by how quickly Amy and Rory make the decision to run off in that scene, after leaning towards settling down in real life for most of the episode. Perhaps a better ending woud have been them telling the Doctor of their decision not to travel with him any more, but him convincing them to come on one last trip, making it even more tragic that this would become the one on which some tragic Angel-based tragedy occurs. I reserve full judgement on this point until next week, when the Ponds' story has ended.
The major flaw of The Power of Three is the empty and generic nature of the invasion plot, but I can let that slip a little, because the focus of the episode is the relationship of the central characters, which, along with the comedic aspects, kept me thoroughly entertained throughout. Let's not talk abut Dinosaurs, Chris Chibnall has written his best Doctor Who yet.
Though he's still nowhere near the standards of Steven Moffat at his best. I'm going to be spending the next week preparing myself emotionally for The Angels Take Manhattan.
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