`The Power of Three` is a nostalgic trip back five years.
Watching `The Power of Three` it is as if the clock has been turned back four or five years to the heyday of Russell T Davies’ Earth invasions. There’s faux news coverage, scenes of something alien in familiar locations, celebrity cameos, UNIT and the impact of what is happening being shown from a domestic point of view. In this case though the house belongs to Amy and Rory and we experience the unusual scenario of the Doctor tagging along with them instead of the other way round. Perhaps the fact that he moved in last season and the one before with Craig makes it seem a little less unusual, but the episode turns the Doctor into more of a fish out of water than ever.
It is odd is it not, that though he is comfortable landing on any other planet or in any other time, the Doctor is at his least secure when he has to stay awhile in an ordinary contemporary situation. As he bought the Ponds the house, he is probably entitled to squat anyway! Chris Chibnall has to work hard to make this episode more than a tribute to an era of the show which is still relatively recent and perhaps for this reason it takes a while to grow. The nature of the invasion is also a bookish conceit- on TV the idea of boxes that sit around for a year not doing anything is more difficult to animate successfully. As a result this episode takes much longer to flare and sometimes seems as if it is killing time until the big moment.
Thankfully we have a more mature Amy and Rory to tone down what would otherwise be too excitable a scenario. As Matt Smith capers around the living room like a hyperactive teen, the Ponds play the parents. This gradual evolution of the two has been achieved with subtle distinctions by both Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill. Many may not have even noticed it is happening but we don’t need references to reading glasses to show us because it’s there in their dialogue, their movement, their behaviour. It may be the writers’ and actors’ most accomplished work this year but we hardly see it.
Guesting Jemma Redgrave is the new UNIT boss in a neat change of pace for the previously military organisation. While her father was always ready to reach for guns and missiles, Kate Stewart prefers science to lead the way. I’m not entirely sure her Dad would approve- after all was it not the counterpoint between Lethbridge -Stewart’s use of force and the Doctor’s of science that defined the place UNIT had in the show? Now, after the previous Doctor mocked all the saluting, it is this one who instigates it. Jemma Redgrave gives a performance that suggests this could be a strong recurring character though.
There is plenty of knockabout humour and a delightful scene between the Doctor and Amy in which the sense of approaching change is the subtext to every line. Mark Williams’ Brian remains a treat and here is given a critical moment with his son and step daughter. Of course foreshadowing like these two scenes is a television gimmick- in real life things just happen and Doctor Who can sometimes veer too closely to Downton Abbey style plotting where characters seem to have a sense of what is going to happen to them an episode before it does.
When the menace finally materialises it is just in time to pull us into some sort of climax. You might argue that Chibnall leaves it too late to unveil his antagonists meaning there is an incomplete rush to sort it out using what amounts to the modern equivalent of reversing the polarity. Also, it does seem a pity to employ someone of the theatrical power of Steven Berkoff for what amounts to an extended cameo. The Shakri do seem a Star Trek sort of villain, though top marks for the beautiful colour palette their spaceship sits in.
If `The Power of Three` makes less initial impact that it’s livelier predecessors that should not take away the rich character work between the leads and the fun the production has with the unusual invasion. In the long run it may well be this episode rather than the previous three that we come back to for less frantic and more nuanced viewing.