Review: Doctor Who – 7×4 – The Power of Three

Chris Chibnall pretends to be Russell T Davies for a change

The Power of Three

In the UK: Saturdays, BBC1. Now available on iPlayer
In the US: Saturdays, BBC America

Ah, pathos, tears, romance, cameos by famous people, a domestic UK setting, characterisation, a big hand-wavey, 30-second sonic screwdriver way out of a massive alien invasion, menacing kids, families, an emoting, lonely Doctor, voiceovers, continuity references and more – isn’t it great that Russell T Davies came back to write an episode of Doctor Who for Steven Moffat, bringing with him all his writing trademarks?

What’s that Sootie? Rusty didn’t write The Power of Three? Then who did?


You’re shitting me, Sootie. Chris Chibnall wrote that? Well, colour me surprised.

Yes, the man responsible for Cyberwoman, Countrycide, Adrift, Exit Wounds, The Hungry Earth and Camelot, to name but a few, most of which have been banned by Geneva Conventions, has finally turned in his indisputable masterpiece – by the simple mechanism of instead of merely copying every B-movie he’s ever watched (with perhaps the exception of Super 8), pretending to be Russell T Davies.

Shame it didn’t have a proper ending and the plot was nonsense, but that’s what happens when you copy Rusty.

Here’s a trailer.

The Doctor and the Ponds puzzle over an unlikely invasion of Earth, as millions of sinister black cubes arrive overnight…

Was it any good?
Apart from an ending that can best be summarised as “he reversed the polarity of the neutron flow and stopped the alien invasion” and a plot that can equally well be summarised as “a three year old could come up with a better invasion plan than that”, this was easily Chris Chibnall’s best script for pretty much any TV show ever, including Life On Mars.

The basic plot – for it is indeed basic – is that some identical indestructible tiny cubes land on Earth. And nothing happens. The Doctor doesn’t know what they are. UNIT, now headed by Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart’s daughter Kate (as featured in Downtime and Daemos Rising, but played here by Jemma “daughter of Corin” Redgrave), doesn’t know either. So for about a year, rather than hang around, the bored Doctor buggers off in and out of the Ponds lives, the Ponds now having to decide for themselves whether to embrace their ‘real’ lives or to go galavanting off with the Doctor whenever he drops by.

The Doctor, largely at the instigation of Rory’s still marvellous dad, Brian – played by the equally marvellous Mark Williams – decides to spend some time with the Ponds, getting to know them in their lives. But then, the cubes all go a bit mental, start giving everyone heart attacks and the Doctor and co go upstairs to a spaceship where we discover a time-travelling Steven Berkoff is trying to stop human beings from colonising the galaxy in the future by killing them all now.

The Doctor points his sonic screwdriver, the cubes bring everyone back to life and the Doctor and co go home to the Ponds’ place. Rory’s dad gives the Ponds the A-OK to go MIA from their lives for a bit. Cue the final Ponds stories next week – there be River Song and Weeping Angels to look forward to, you lucky people.

Essentially, then, this was a story of two halves: a clever, funny, interesting, surprisingly emotional, continuity-touching character piece in the style of Love and Monsters; and a great big rush ending where it’s revealed that the aliens have possibly the stupidest plan to kill the human race yet, one that’s easily stoppable with a sonic screwdriver wave. Damn.

Because let’s face it, as plans go, this was stupid. You have an entire planet practically covered in cubes that are indestructible and can do virtually anything; you’ve had them analysing human beings for weaknesses for a year; and what do you do to wipe them out at the end of that? Deploy an incurable disease? Poison gas? Explode the cubes? Shoot everyone? Have them float around at high speed cracking people’s skulls? Maybe have them combine 2010-stylee, eat up big chunks of the Earth and then compress it so that the entire planet achieves nuclear fusion and ignites.

No, you have them give everyone electric shocks. Not shocks big enough to simply fry everyone of course. No, electric shocks that are enough to kill people for 20+ minutes and then when reversed, to bring everyone back to life without even the slightest hint of brain damage.

You couldn’t come up with a Rustier ending if you tried.

But those issues aside, we have characterisation and character development for the Ponds and the Doctor. We have some intense creepiness for a good 30 minutes or so. We have laughs (the Zygons in the Savoy), we have tears, we have UNIT and so many other lovely touches that I clean forgot that Chris Chibnall had written it. Even Murray Gold was on fine form and Alan Sugar and Brian Cox were both good cameos.

So as with 42, we can again conclude that Chris Chibnall is perfectly capable of writing an excellent half a script, perhaps even two-thirds… followed by complete rubbish. Still, that first half is getting better and better each time and the point at which the inevitable descent into bobbins occurs is getting closer and closer to the end. One wonders if Chibbers will ever turn in perfection or whether, as with Zeno’s Paradox of Achilles and the Tortoise, he’s always just going to get closer and closer and never actually reach the end. I’m hoping for a, I’m suspecting b, but let’s see what happens next series.

  • Yup. I pretty much agree with this. I loved it, but COULDN'T believe it when I sat and watched it again that it was by Chris Chibnall. Spouse who has no clue who writes what thought it was dire, mainly because of the huge plot holes. Why did the baddies need to take humans onto their ship? Why take the guy so much earlier? What happened to the humans on the ship? What was the point of the little girl? Oh er nothing, Chris Chibnall wrote it.� Husband doesn't go in for emoting much, so he was frustrated by lack of action and missed what was fabulous about this episode. I just LOVED the line about the Ponds being imprinted on the Doctor's heart, and the pain he feels at the thought of losing them. I also loved the Brig's daughter – though really Go and lead the world, says the doc and all she gets given to do is sound a bit tragic? Chris, she deserved better .

    10 yo thought it wasn't exciting enough for Dr Who, but then she decided their softening us up for next week…

    Feel sure that Amy and Rory are going to get trapped somewhere by the angels. Perhaps not even together… And Stevie boy's written it. Woohoo!

    PS Chris Chibnall ISN'T in consideration to be a showrunner after Stevie goes is he? I am worrying about the number of episodes he has written this season. Albeit that they are his best yet…

  • Chibbers is one of the few viable names at the moment. It's either him or Gatiss, really, but my betting is that Stevie would be far more willing to hand the reins to his Sherlock co-showrunner.

  • snworf

    It doesn't even seem like Dr. Who anymore 🙁

    I wish they'd do away with the current threesome arrangement, get him a proper companion and take off exploring through time.

    I used to not watch episode trailers or read plot summaries so I could not spoil anything — after this last disappointing episode I won't view another episode without first watching the trailer and reading what it's about…

  • Mark Carroll

    I'm not particular about number-of-companions but, yes, now you mention it, I do feel like we're missing at “exploring” aspect. I had hoped that the Doctor not being some intergalactic celebrity any more (now he's forgotten or thought dead or whatever) might let him slip around in all sorts of interesting places again without enormous events necessarily following him or a companion because they're of such enormous significance themselves. I don't know if this could be a story format thing, where now we really don't have time to properly develop more-alien places; that is, there's barely any “exploration time” if we also have to fit in the fixing time and people's tiresome relationships and whatnot.

  • Mark Carroll

    Interesting, it really does seem to be nearly just me who really didn't much like it. I guess that part of what used to appeal to me about Doctor Who when I was little was that there was some amount of plausibility to it; though sometimes laughably failing, it at least tried to make sense and to draw the viewer into the reality it presented, rather than simply entertaining. I couldn't buy into this plot at all, though; especially, these strange-mouthed people and girl without hair relaxer and body snatching for no obvious reason at what just happens to be Rory's hospital and this invader/alien guy who somehow used to scare time lords despite seeming like a mediocre incidental character none of which came together to make any sense whatsoever, and I'm not quite sure I have a word for what the Doctor was doing during his stay with the Ponds but it didn't exactly enhance the credibility of any other part of the show and I wasn't much blown away by any wisdom that comes from being so clever, old, and experienced. (And, wow, cubes that can so resist advanced analysis for so long, that's a rare and powerful weapon indeed, anyone producing those should have much easier ways to deal with the pesky humans.) Even ignoring how the resolution was achieved, I was rather surprised by how everybody seemed to be reacting to such cardiac trauma as if they had just awoken rested from a nice sleep.

    The UNIT nod to the importance of science seemed a bit odd too, though; while the Doctor seems to have been as scientifically competent as usual lately, he just doesn't seem to have been all that interested in it these days.

    I suppose it doesn't helped that the strange-mouths and child reminded me of “The Empty Child” and the one after it which, for me, were leagues above this episode. (I'm not sure that could have worked as well as just one episode though.)

    My wife, on the other hand, wasn't quite sure how a normal life on Earth could possibly even compete with exploring the universe, so I'm not sure any of the human angst stuff much drew her in.

    I think I'm finding Amy less irritating this season though.

  • bob

    I didn't like this episode either. It made no sense right from the beginning. Hell, it makes no sense that Amy and Rory were ever thinking about not travelling with the Doctor. Rory seems happy to follow Amy but at no point have I felt that Amy wanted to do anything more than follow the Doctor. Except for the purpose of the opening episode, she also seemed to really want Rory to leave her and be a father with someone else. That was quickly forgotten, eh? Anyway, totally agreed with Mark.

    Bad bad episode.

  • Electric Dragon

    Does Whithouse deserve consideration? (Assuming either Being Human ends after the next series or someone else takes it over).

    Also let's throw in some names from outside the current DW clique. Other names that I might consider were I anything to do it: Howard “Misfits” Overman, Jack “The Fades” Thorne. I wanted to put a woman there as well but shockingly I can't think of any. In fact the only woman to have written for the show since the revival is Helen Raynor, with the Daleks in Manhattan and Sontaran Strategem two parters. The only way is up.

  • @google-6108c5611fbc5b86af5df565c4b4b048:disqus I'd prefer Toby Whithouse to Chris Chibnall any day of the week…� I have missed out entirely on Misfits, I know, I know, but I loved The Fades and was distraught that it finished. Oh, and on that line of thinking how about Daniel Kaluuya as the first black doctor. He's AWESOME. bit young at the moment though…

    Rob many apologies, i seem to have blanked out half my comment by mistake. Not quite sure how I did that!

  • Lisa Rullsenberg

    I enjoyed it but it made NO SENSE to such an extent as the episode as it went on that I was just trying to focus on watching and not shouting questions.� I loved Kate Stewart and wished that she'd been given more to do.� I really liked JR's performance.� Nicely done.
    But can I mostly say Rob – great review! “You couldn't come up with a Rustier ending if you tried” Tee hee.� And I liked this as well:
    “…we can again conclude that Chris Chibnall is perfectly capable of writing
    an excellent half a script, perhaps even two-thirds� followed by
    complete rubbish. Still, that first half is getting better and better
    each time and the point at which the inevitable descent into bobbins
    occurs is getting closer and closer to the end. “
    I'd definitely vote for The Fades writer and for DK as a future Doctor.� It was a series that genuinely had me addicted and I was gutted it only got one season (two would have been perfect).

  • I did not realize it till you said it, but yes this is a very Rusty-esque episode. I loved it, of course, precisely for that reason. But I fear that bad stuff is about to happen to the Ponds (Williamses).�