Doctor Who #905: The Power of Three

"I'm not running away from things, I am running to them before they flare and fade forever."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Sep.22 2012.

IN THIS ONE... Almost a year goes by as the heroes wait for billions of black cubes to do something.

REVIEW: Chris Chibnall's second episode this series is much much better than his Dinosaurs on a Spaceship and may actually be my favorite story of Series 7's first half, even if it disappoints at the end there. The case of the mysterious cubes left all over Earth is one of the more interesting ideas the show's attempted. Months on end without movement, they just become part of everyone's routine, until they finally strike. And that's the theme here. We're shown Amy and Rory's routine, how they live their (supposedly) normal lives, how routine can be comforting and even fulfilling, and how it is disrupted by the Doctor (he's their active cube, if you will). And Doctor Who is part of OUR routine (certainly mine), and things we take for granted (like the Ponds, by this point) can be interrupted.

It's a quirky mystery and a comedy in the style of The Lodger and Closing Time, with neat little transitions as time moves on to keep things visually interesting. Being at home with the Ponds means we see more of Brian Williams, which I'm all for. The sedentary man who became a world traveler after his first encounter with the Doctor here plays the Wilf role, telling Rory and Amy that they should choose the Doctor's life over the routine everyday world. He wants them to be safe, of course, but he gives them permission to make the fantastic their routine. It's sweet. If Amy and Rory have taken on epic qualities among Doctor Who companions, it's that this episode makes it clear they were the longest-serving. Probably even if you take out the breaks. Amy thinks it's been 10 years since Leadworth, even if it hasn't been 10 years for Earth. (It's been 300 years for the Doctor). Their off-screen adventures probably outnumber their televised ones. And the Doctor's reasoning that he keeps running to them before they fade is rather beautiful.

Another character making a return to the show is Kate Stewart, the Brigadier's daughter and UNIT's scientific adviser. The revelation might come as a surprise to those who stick to the official canon, but for the more initiated among us, it's nothing of the sort. Kate first appeared in the New and Missing Adventures novels from the 90s, and Jemma Redgrave looks a lot like the actress who played her in the unofficial video, Downtime, also starring Nick Courtney as the Brig, Debbie Watling as Victoria and Lis Sladen as Sarah Jane! Nice casting, I thought they were the same person at first! I really like that UNIT in the future (whenever this takes place) is getting away from the military aspects it took on in the RTD era and "letting science lead" thanks to people like Kate.

So a lot to recommend, but unfortunately, the plot kind of unravels at the end. The cubes offer an interesting dilemma, and once they activate, the variety of tests they perform are equally intriguing, but if it's all to stop everyone's hearts, well... It took all those tests to figure out our Achilles' heel as a species was cardiac arrest? Did the Shakri really have hope the chicken dance could drive us mad enough to be the death of us? These guys are Gallifreyan boogeymen, out to screw with galactic history in preparation for an apocalypse, which makes them sound rather more powerful than they actually are. I mean, where were they before and where have they been since? The gateway to their ship being in Rory's hospital is one of the Chibnallian coincidences that strain credulity, and the climax is a quick sonicking that leads to an explosion and a miraculous undoing of the cubes' effects. Amy's narration throughout isn't particularly interesting either, and the way it plugs the title at the very end is - how can I put it? - lame. "The Slow Invasion" sounds a lot more evocative to me.

- A fun and unusual story structure/premise, only slightly let down by the rushed ending.


David Dorward said...

IMDB claims Kate played by Beverley Cressman in the Downtime video. The casting is still good though, Jemma Redgrave looks a lot like her (which I why I went to double check on IMDB when this was first broadcast).

Siskoid said...

You're absolutely right! I thought for sure, but should have double-checked!

All fixed in the text, thanks.

David Dorward said...

Just remembered something - the video came first. It didn't adapt the book, it is the other way around. Virgin clearly liked the video enough to turn it into a book for the Missing Adventures range.

The licensing around Doctor Who in the wilderness years was very good for the show. All sorts of elements were owned by their original writers, so didn't need BBC approval (just the approval of the original author) for reuse by fans.

It's a good thing too, as it enabled people to prove themselves and get licenses. A lot of the early Big Finish people were involved in fan productions before they got the license.

Siskoid said...

That makes sense, because it's an odd Doctorless book.

Andrew Gilbertson said...

Agreed- a good episode with a major letdown ending and the worst non-sequitir unearned ending (with Amy's narration) since Volcano's random anti-racism message.

However, Brian was a highlight, and my favorite bit was his insistence on pronouncing the letters U.N.I.T.


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