The Power Of Three

In Review: Doctor Who The Power of Three

TX: 22 September 2012. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01n2tmc

Infinity begins with the third person.
Michel Maffesoli, Le Temps des tribus

In the round, I like Chris Chibnall’s stuff. His work suggests a lively and imaginative writer.
42, his debut Doctor Who story, is excellent in my opinion, Countrycide feels like Robert Holmes on Ketamine, and his work on Torchwood series two, redolent of Joss Whedon, had a lot going for it. The Silurian two parter wasn’t outstanding, but production was maybe more of a let down than the script (I’m of the camp which believes too-humanoid-Silurians a misstep, but I agree using ‘Homo Reptilian’ simply because Malcom Hulke and the New Adventures used it isn’t clever, is fannish, annoys non-fan scientists/linguists who watch and misleads about both science and language). Snakes on a Plane Cubed was pretty good on the whole, although the engine room’s lack of CSO wibblyness did not convince.

The Power of Three, I found an amazing journey; a proper grown-up human drama (for the most part), yet so dense and rich with allusions and references – maybe a little too fan-pleasing to give fandom any immediate sense of critical distance. For example: RTD-era tropes, but also The Prisoner, Zygons, a Keff McCulloch reference, Image of the Fendahl, not only the Brigadier but her daughter from a little seen fan-spin off of the 1990s, and raising the question of Moffat’s Twitter distraction and whether he timed it to coincide with the Doctors disdain for same, are just the references and in-jokes I can recall off the top of my head. Add to that confirmation of the rumour that these episodes don’t occur in the order we see them, raising the possibility the Dr already knows what final fate will befall Rory and Amy next week, you’d think there’s far too much for even a fan to take in, alienating the not-we. The in-jokes, references and allusions however came so thick and fast, yet were so skilfully woven sometimes in the same breath, it was a delight. It was post-modern, but smart and felt like reconstruction as much as deconstruction. The episode for me demonstrated the show is moving on and that people are properly thinking about the format and how it could be stretched and adapted, and sometimes the allusions worked with that progressive sense of the new. For instance, the superb innovation of including whole ‘missing adventures’ within an episode is brilliant – the kind of thing literary Doctor Who might have done many times over the past 20 years, but no one’s found a way to do that on television Dr Who before. Until last night.

That’s gotta be a good sign. Add excellent direction and some of the best performances and FX work of the Moffat era and you have an amazing journey, a great mystery, formal innovation, style, substance. Hearts.

Rory’s arc was amazing in this and Arthur Darvill rose to possibly his best performance. Amazing. His discovery of the portal, and entrance onto the ship especially impressed. Its actually better than Hollywood now. The weave of ‘real’ and ‘doctor’ life faciliates that play I think, and Rory’s arc carried that as well as the Amy’s; I liked how Rory heading off to work, to look after those attacked by the alien cubes, bridged the ‘real life’ and ‘Doctor life’ arenas the script opposed.

So too Karen Gillan; her performance was the best yet given such strong scenes with the Doctor, but it’s in the little things – her slight hesitation before entering the lift such a perfect note – that she shined out here. This team  is really coming together now, after so long spent exploring potential.

But yeah, the resolution of the mystery, in which we discover the cubes are sent to control humanity in the same way you control rats – a cull – lost something there. I can totally buy aliens wanting to wipe out humanity simply as a pest. That’s a good hook for a sf story and great hook for a Doctor Who story. I can understand aliens taking that perspective: many humans hold that perspective. It resonates with something deep, existential, an abstract issue about humanity that nonetheless has relevance for how we live. It’s both horrific and logical, simple and deep. That’s what we want. What you don’t want to do, I think, is attach that to some obscure Gallifreyan mumbo-jumbo that not even a fan can relate to, because it doesn’t relate to anything even we’ve heard of before. I think what went wrong was not the nature of the threat, but it’s style, focusing on a camp mysticism rather than a mechanical process. I mean, it’s all gone a bit Star Trek, but bad Star Trek. Arsenal of Freedom was better than this. The only thing I liked about the ending was the way they cleverly pre-empted Stephen Berkoff’s TRULY EPIC FAIL (one of the greatest worst performances in Dr Who of all time, not up to to Joseph Furst standards but pissing on Richard Briers) by writing his character as a ‘propaganda hologram’ and therefore supposed to be ham and corn to the power of three. berkoffI don’t know what he thought he was doing with the part, bad beyond reason and a delight to savour.

But I think at this point the audience needs a credible starightforward exposition  and cares more about the nature and motivation of the threat as it pertains to humanity (and by extension to life in general), and less about the Doctor’s reactions. Humanity-as-pest is a live issue, but it’s abstract. No need to make it more abstract by bringing Gallifrey into it. Maybe it worked for a fan audience, but I am skeptical as to it’s effect on non-fans, and non-sf fans, (ie, the not-we and the mundane, who I love and cherish) amongst the audience.

I do need to see it again, but just felt the tone of that one scene was way too camp, inflated, and overly complex for the very real, stark, bleak and arguably very relevant theme it conveyed. I thought it a shame – this story was heading for Hugo Award winning material, and with a simple, elegant resolution of the mystery based on the same idea it would have been a very serious contender. Believe me, when/if humanity does colonise space, and proves it’s true mettle, pestilence or peacemakers, it ain’t gonna be no fairy tale.

Not your grandmother’s fairy tale anyway.

I didn’t mind the ‘everybody lives’ reset so much. It annoyed me, but I didn’t mind it, it’s a nit pick, a niggle, especially since everyone did not live. Reading between the lines (the ghost of Robert Holmes again) I would say only a minority of the Cubes’ tally were revived. I wish that had been made more clear. The revival of the victims seemed a little old, the kind of pat happy ending the series the series is in danger of overusing now. In particular the CCTV scenes of people casually getting to their feet hours after suffering heart attacks failed to endear, a dreadful lapse in (2nd unit?) direction.

Thank god for the sweet coda.

So, a seven out of ten I think. It would have been 6 but the formal innovations are a really good sign, and I think Chibnall had an off day with the ending. Give it time. It’s his Spearhead from Space, let’s say.

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4 thoughts on “The Power Of Three”

  1. I have to disagree, I thought the story was awful, a trhow back to the Mccoy clowning about era. Very silly, very boring, will not watch again.

    1. Hmm, would that be early, middle or late McCoy era clowning?

      Clowning of course has a long tradition in both Doctor Who and outside it. Troughton and Pertwee both indulged in clowning as the Doctor. In The Power of Three, the ‘clowning’ evident in the scene in which the bored Doctor stays as active as possible comes across as silly. I was thinking when watching that how I’d prefer a Doctor who is capable of stillness, but as the story continued it became clear his motive was not alleviating boredom but covering up his feelings. I was impressed with Matt Smith during the heart-attack scene, I thought he succeeded in making it both funny and scary. The only point I felt was over the top was the whole ‘hello lefty! back in the game’ – it was a triumphant moment of skilled overacting, but the lines may have been more effective with more wounded restraint.

      But good clowning contains and enhances high drama.

  2. i love doctor who but im SO GLAD that amy pond is going it seemed like every single episode was about her one way or another!!!!
    AND ON SATURDAY I WILL BE SO HAPPY WHEN SHE LEAVES FOREVER!!! WHOOP WHOOP WHOOP XXX ❤

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