The Power of Three (Doctor Who)
|229 – "The Power of Three"|
|Doctor Who episode|
Official Poster from the BBC Website.
|Directed by||Douglas Mackinnon|
|Written by||Chris Chibnall|
|Produced by||Marcus Wilson|
|Incidental music composer||Murray Gold|
|Originally broadcast||22 September 2012|
"The Power of Three" is the fourth episode of the seventh series of the British science fiction television programme Doctor Who that aired on BBC One and BBC One HD on 22 September 2012. It was written by Chris Chibnall and directed by Douglas Mackinnon.
In the episode, alien time traveller the Doctor (Matt Smith) spends time on Earth with his travelling companions Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) and her husband Rory (Arthur Darvill) while he awaits activity from millions of small cubes that appeared overnight.
"The Power of Three" focused on Amy and Rory's point of view and the impact of the Doctor's influence on their lives, as they would be leaving in the next episode. The story was inspired by The Man Who Came to Dinner and the story of the MSC Napoli. The episode also saw the return of UNIT and introduced their new scientific advisor, Kate Stewart (Jemma Redgrave), daughter of Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart. The episode featured brief cameo appearances by Lord Sugar and professor Brian Cox. Despite being the penultimate episode in the first block of the series, "The Power of Three" was the last to be filmed, and was thus the last episode for Gillan and Darvill.
The episode was watched by 7.67 million viewers in the UK. Critical reception to the episode was generally positive, highlighting the emotion and humour, although many critics derided the solution to the plot.
Amy and Rory have tried to adjust to normal life without travelling with the Doctor. One day billions of small black cubes appear around the globe, but they appear to be inert and invulnerable. The Doctor arrives to help, having been alerted by news stories. UNIT storms the Williams' house soon after in response to the Doctor's arrival; the UNIT force is led by scientific adviser Kate Stewart, the daughter of the Doctor's friend and former UNIT commander, Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart. Kate explains that they have no idea of the purpose of the cubes and hope the Doctor can help. After several days of watching the cubes without anything out of the ordinary occurring, the Doctor decides there is no problem and puts Rory's father Brian in charge of watching the cubes as he returns and departs in the TARDIS.
Over the following year, Amy and Rory live out their lives, making commitments despite not knowing if they will always be around. The Doctor visits them at their wedding anniversary party and takes them on a trip for seven weeks, though returns them a few minutes after leaving. Brian notices their absence and, in private, asks the Doctor the fate of his previous companions. The Doctor admits that while most had left on their own or were left behind, some have died, but promises that will not happen to Amy or Rory. Humanity forgets about the cubes' arrival, and use them as paperweights and similar mundane functions. Unknown to anyone at the hospital where Rory works, a young girl with a cube controls a pair of identical orderlies with distorted faces to capture a few selected patients.
A year after their arrival, the cubes start to activate, scanning the world's information networks and acting in self-defence. The Doctor realises that the cubes are part of a "slow invasion". While Rory and Brian go to the hospital to help those injured by the cubes, the Doctor and Amy are summoned to the UNIT headquarters under the Tower of London where Kate shows them several cubes under investigation, every single one behaving in a different fashion. The cubes then simultaneously display the number 7 and slowly count down. Meanwhile, at the hospital, Brian is taken by the two orderlies to a lift, where they disappear. Rory soon follows and finds that the back of the lift is a portal to a spaceship in Earth's orbit.
The cubes all open when they reach zero, appearing empty, but soon reports of people dying from cardiac arrest appear from around the globe. The Doctor finds that one of his own hearts has stopped, and realises that the cubes sent out an electrical impulse that killed about one-third of the human population. Kate's team traces a communication from the cubes to seven different outposts across the world, including one at Rory's hospital, and the Doctor and Amy race there. Amy uses a defibrillator to restart the Doctor's heart. They find the girl, who the Doctor realises is an android, and disable her before locating the lift and the portal.
Aboard the ship, Amy and Rory rescue Brian while the Doctor encounters a hologram of a member of the Shakri, who, according to Gallifreyan legend, were self-appointed "pest controllers" in the universe. The Shakri states that he and six other ships tied to the other outposts are there to wipe out humanity before it spreads across the galaxy, and prepares to launch a second wave of cubes to kill even more before disappearing. The Doctor uses the ship's computer to reverse the shock the cubes gave to the original victims, restoring them, and the three escape the ship before the feedback from the cubes causes it to explode. As the world recovers, the Doctor prepares to leave when Brian insists that Amy and Rory go with him, stating the adventures they have with him are a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. He tells the Doctor to "just bring them back safe". The three say goodbye to Brian and depart in the TARDIS.
The Doctor tells Brian that a few of his previous companions have died; this is a reference to Sara Kingdom, Katarina, and Adric. At one point, the Doctor, Amy, and Rory relax and eat fish fingers and custard, a reference to "The Eleventh Hour". Amy and Rory's meal at the newly opened Savoy hotel is ruined by "a Zygon spaceship parked under the Savoy"; the Zygons previously featured in the Fourth Doctor serial Terror of the Zygons and would appear again in the 50th anniversary special The Day of the Doctor (2013). The Tower of London had previously served as a UNIT base in "The Christmas Invasion" and was mentioned as such in "The Sontaran Stratagem". The Doctor also mentions having a metallic dog that could hover; this refers to K-9, the robotic dog of the Fourth Doctor.
The episode's title was originally reported as "Cubed", but was later announced as "The Power of Three". Chris Chibnall had previously written the Doctor Who episodes "42" (2007), "The Hungry Earth"/"Cold Blood" (2010), and the second episode of the seventh series, "Dinosaurs on a Spaceship". He was also a major contributor to the spinoff series Torchwood. "The Power of Three" is his second contribution to Doctor Who's seventh series, after "Dinosaurs on a Spaceship". Chibnall described "The Power of Three" as "a lovely big Earth invasion story" but different from the ones done before, as it focused on Amy and Rory's time with the Doctor and the impact of him on their lives. He stated it is told more from Amy and Rory's point of view than ever before, and is about celebrating them before they leave in the following episode. Chibnall's brief from showrunner Steven Moffat was to "live with the Doctor — The Man Who Came to Dinner, Doctor Who style." Chibnall was also inspired by the story of the MSC Napoli. Smith put disgust into the Doctor's remark concerning Twitter in the episode, reflecting his real-life decision to stay off the social network.
At Chibnall's request, "The Power of Three" sees the return of UNIT, which first appeared in The Invasion (1968) and became a regular feature during the Third Doctor (Jon Pertwee) era. The episode reveals that Kate Stewart is now running UNIT; she is the daughter of Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart and previously appeared in the Reeltime Pictures direct-to-video films Downtime and Dæmos Rising played by Beverley Cressman. Following the death of actor Nicholas Courtney in early 2011, the Doctor learned of the Brigadier's death in the sixth series finale "The Wedding of River Song". Matt Smith enjoyed working with Jemma Redgrave, describing her as "graceful, funny and charming and an absolute delight".
The read-through of "The Power of Three" took place at Roath Lock, Cardiff on 27 April 2012. It was filmed by itself in the series' third production block. Because of this schedule, it was the final episode Gillan and Darvill filmed as Amy and Rory. Their last scene filmed together was getting into the TARDIS with the Doctor after saying farwell to Brian; when the doors closed Gillan, Darvill, and Smith hugged and started crying. Some exterior scenes at Amy and Rory's house were re-shot in June and July 2012, with Darvill briefly returning for the June re-shoot. Producer Marcus Wilson stated that a "hundred" individual cube props were made, with "many more" added with computer-generated imagery (CGI). Amy and the Doctor's conversation outside the Tower of London could not be filmed at the genuine location due to the London Olympics, so it was shot on studio in Cardiff and the live action was combined with other footage to create the illusion. The episode also features cameos from physicist Brian Cox and Lord Sugar, both of whom were long-time fans of the program. Sugar's cameo was in fact filmed on the set of The Apprentice, with director Douglas Mackinnon standing in for the person who was fired.
Broadcast and reception
"The Power of Three" was first broadcast in the United Kingdom on BBC One and BBC One HD on 22 September 2012. Overnight ratings showed that it was watched by an audience of 5.49 million live. The final consolidated rating rose to 7.67 million viewers, making it the thirteenth most-watched programme of the week on British television, and the fifth highest rated on BBC One. The episode also received 1.3 million requests on BBC's online iPlayer, placing it fourth for the month on the site behind the first three episodes of the series. It also received an Appreciation Index of 87, considered "excellent".
"The Power of Three" received generally positive reviews. Dan Martin of The Guardian stated he "bloody loved" the episode, calling it "a nostalgic run through all the best bits of the Russell T Davies era". However, he noted that it "also had the weaknesses of some of [Davies'] adventures – the ending was so underdeveloped that even a magic button couldn't explain it – but 'The Power of Three' was, in every sense, completely gorgeous". Neela Debnath, writing for The Independent, praised the way the episode showed the companion's life outside the TARDIS and celebrated Amy and Rory, as well as the introduction of Kate Stewart and her connection with the Brigadier.
Radio Times reviewer Patrick Mulkern described it as "beautifully made television" and welcomed Kate as a "wonderful addition". However, he stated that he did not "entirely buy the Doctor's solution". Keith Phipps of The A.V. Club graded the episode as a B+. Despite noting the plot was "fairly standard" and "easily foiled", he wrote that the concept of the cubes and "slow invasion" was "a cleverly executed bit of business". IGN's Matt Risley rated "The Power of Three" a score of 8 out of 10, writing that the first three quarters were "simply brilliant" because of the emotion and humour. However, he criticised the "rushed resolution" and the lack of explanation for the aliens at the hospital. Digital Spy reviewer Morgan Jeffery gave the episode four out of five stars, describing it as "an emotional, fun and involving Doctor Who episode" despite the disappointing resolution.
Russell Lewin of SFX gave the episode three and a half out of five stars, naming it as Chibnall's best Doctor Who episode. While he noted that "the ending was potentially always going to be a let down...And it is", there was "much to enjoy beforehand" such as UNIT and the humour. The Daily Telegraph reviewer Gavin Fuller gave it a score of two and a half out of five stars, feeling that it was "treading water" as a lead-in to the following finale. He described the first twenty minutes as "overpadded" and "heavy on exposition but little else", and pointed out the unexplained action at Rory's hospital. However, he enjoyed Amy and the Doctor's conversation and the "countdown element and the mystery of the cubes", but found the explanation unoriginal and the conclusion too easy.
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