It’s all about the value of companionship in this week’s Doctor Who, a lighter romp foreshadowing some dark days ahead.
Along with promising us a blockbuster season, the highly publicised departure of Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) has given a sense of inevitability to this seventh season. Nowhere has this been more evident than in this fourth episode, The Power of Three, where Pond’s past-tense narration almost spells out the finality of her recent appearances. Yet don’t mistake this for a downer of an episode, nor even a weighty one, for this is another good old-fashioned romp from the same creative mind as this season’s romptastic Dinosaurs on a Spaceship. In doing so, we get a rarity of an episode, one in which intimate character building is mixed with a plot that encompasses the entire world. Yet we can’t help but feel that it’s all a part of a bigger arc, and we’re being set up for heartbreak.
Amy and husband Rory (Arthur Darvill) begin to adjust to normal life in the absence of the Doctor (Matt Smith), but can’t help but get drawn away into his adventures in time and space. One day, billions of black cubes appear around the world, seemingly without any explanation or immediate threat. The Doctor arrives to check out the cubes, before the UNIT force led by Kate Stewart (Jemma Redgrave) – the daughter of Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, a prominent character in the Third Doctor’s (Jon Pertwee) era – descends on the flat. So begins the ‘Year of the Slow Invasion’, as the Doctor settles into domesticity with the Ponds and the cubes become a fact of daily life. Yet the Doctor continues to suspect that they may have another purpose, one that becomes shockingly evident when the cubes are eventually activated.
Chris Chibnall has given us another great caper, pleasingly using Rory’s dad Brian (Mark Williams) for the second time this season. We still would like to see him join the cast permanently, and will sign petitions if need be. For an episode that prides itself on the Doctor adjusting to the mundane, there are still several side-trips backwards and forwards through time and knowing winks to the audience. Long-term fans will love the continuity between the Pertwee era and this one, which is where this would have rightly sat in the original run, and the possibility of a long run of episodes set around the home counties might just be what the Doctor ordered. After all, who will protect the quarries around London if not the Time Lord? There’s also a teasing introduction of a new race called the Shakri (played here by veteran Steven Berkoff), the pest-controllers of the universe according to Gallifreyan legend, and it’s a sure bet they’ll be making a return before the year is out. Yet there is still a tinge of sadness here, with Amy’s departure a done deal at this point. A nice moment between the Doctor and Amy sitting in front of the Tower of London is a big red flag if ever there was one.
There’s a feeling of the familiar to it all, with a few rousing speeches about the wonders of humanity and the value of companionship for the Doctor. The ending also feels incredibly rushed, tacking on a little bit of narration about the “power of three”. Next week sees the return of The Angels, a dark omen for the gang but hopefully not a sign that this sparkling season is already repeating itself. Yet it will also be the big finale for the first half of the season, so brace yourself for even more rousing speeches to come. The Power of Three is a fun retro romp that is the calm before the tempest.