Monday, September 24, 2012

The Power of Three

One of the greatest elements of Steven Moffat's era as showrunner has been how deeply the show has delved into the nature of the Doctor/companion relationship.  In The Eleventh Hour, Moffat carefully set it up as a charming fairy tale, then has spent the last two and a half seasons undermining it - and exploring it - by colliding the childlike charm with the maturity of the adults involved.  By The Big Bang, it had essentially resolved as a fairy tale, but Season Six brought it back with a vengeance, building to the Doctor breaking Amy's childlike faith in him in The God Complex.

Which has formed a fascinating story in the last several episodes, as Amy and Rory struggle to get used to Real Life but never quite can because a madman keeps falling out of the sky and taking them on adventures.  And that conflict is the heart of The Power of Three, as the two finally realize they have to decide which life they truly want.

And thankfully, this conflict is played out with both tremendous humor and well-played emotion.  I tend to be wary of Chris Chibnall scripts, given how disastrous they sometimes turn out, but he hasn't been hired so often because he's an untalented hack.  He seems to be an eternal wellspring of great ideas who can also do great character work when he's correctly focused.  Here, he balances character and story nicely and does both very well.

Rory's dad felt like a great character tacked-on after the fact in Dinosaurs on a Spaceship, but here, Chibnall sets him up his calm, meticulous nature in contrast to the Doctor's mercurial and somewhat childish nature.  The Doctor goes utterly mad waiting patiently for the cubes to open in a matter of hours, while Rory's dad is perfectly content to observe them for over a year.  It's a funny subplot that makes good use of him.  He also gets a cutting dramatic moment where he asks the Doctor what happened to his previous companions.

Chibnall also finally solves the problem that the New Who UNIT stories have struggled with - the lack of the Brigadier.  The best thing about the old UNIT stories was Nicholas Courtney's fantastic presence, and New Who has never come up with a satisfying replacement.  None of the commanders since have been memorable enough to even return.  Jemma Redgrave's Kate Stewart is exactly what these stories have needed - an engaging actor playing a nicely-written character.  It's left to be seen what's done with her in a story where she's particularly important, but it's still a good introduction.

While Amy and Rory don't have a lot to do plot-wise, they're given a wealth of both humorous and emotional material to work with, and Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill are as wonderful as ever.  It's difficult to think of them ever leaving the show, and their departure is going to be deeply painful.  Amy and Rory have become my favorite New Who companions far and away and among my five favorites all around.  This is a good showcase for just how much fun they are.

Seriously, you two, don't ever leave.

The plot is (rightly) in the background, but it's a clever story that builds suspense superbly.  The actual explanation of who dropped the cubes is interesting enough to warrant a lot more screen time than it gets, but maybe the Shakri will show up again.

Matt Smith's Doctor is magnificent.  Smith is as deft as ever at both whimsy and drama, and his conversations with Amy are genuinely moving.

The actual resolution, while adequate, is disappointing - the Doctor basically walks in, listens to a recording, and then flips his Sonic on for twenty seconds and solves the plot.  It's a bit of a let-down.  But the scene following it, as Rory's dad pushes the companions to join the Doctor, is a terrific and satisfying conclusion, even with the somewhat clumsy final narration.

All in all, Power of Three is an absolute delight, 45 minutes of pure mirth and deep heart in a suspenseful structure.  And it's yet another fascinating exploration of what, exactly, it really means to be one of the Doctor's companions.


* * * 1/2


  • There is actually a pretty significant flaw with the episode I alluded to earlier, but since it's a flaw that just leaves it "really good" instead of "one of the best ever", I'm leaving it down here.

    That problem is the same thing universally present in Chibnall scripts - a certain sloppiness of not actually thinking all the details through.  Chi
    bnall is a terrific ideas guy, but he seems to just write all those ideas down without taking the time to get them working properly.  Power of Three gets away with it, but it does hold it back from greatness.

    Although the episode's heart is the conflict in Amy and Rory and its resolution is their decision that their passion lies with adventuring with the Doctor and not normal life, they don't actually do anything to solve the plot.  In fact, the Doctor basically solves the plot without the help of Amy, Rory, Rory's Dad, or UNIT.  He waits until everything gets bad, then whips out his Sonic and solves every problem with that on his own. 

    Rory's dad gets that wonderful plot about his intense observation of the cubes, but everyone notices them go wonky at the same time.  It's a funny joke, but it takes away one of the only two things he does in the plot.  The other thing he does is get captured, which could have lead somewhere, since Rory followed the aliens.  However, Rory ended up just as captured.

    ... which was the only thing he actually contributed to solving the plot, except that it did nothing.  If he had left some kind of trail or clue that he had gone to the elevator, he would have lead the Doctor and Amy to rescue him, but the Doctor just found it with the Sonic.  And Amy was just the Doctor's charming sidekick, getting the plot explained to her and having plenty of fun scenes, but not doing anything in the story.

    Mostly, it comes down to just how simple the plot has to be to fit as the B-story in a 45-minute episode.  There's not much room for the companions to be clever or do anything if the emotional stuff is going to get enough time to work.  And since Moffat's approach is always emotion over logic or continuity, the emotions have to stick.  So it's good that the emotion is left to the A-story.  But the resolution would be much more powerful if the emotional threads had been tied to the plot threads, and both had actually climaxed together.  From a plot perspective, there was no need for anyone other than the Doctor, and him not until the last five minutes.

    This is actually a gigantic structural flaw.  Again, the emotion of both the companion's story and the suspense of the plot are strong enough that it mostly gets away with it.  But when Amy talks about the "power of three" in the final voiceover, it's not actually clear from the story itself what she's talking about - the story was about the power of the Doctor's pocket Deus ex Machina.

  • I'm not sure whether I prefer David Tennant's version of losing one of his hearts or Matt Smith's,  though I'm leaning toward Tennant.  But I definitely prefer Smith's version of getting his second heart working again.
  • Given Chibnall's love of not-so-subtle symbolism (not that there's anything wrong with that), I'm surprised he used cubes instead of three-sided pyramids.  It's a bit less awkward than the way he tries to shoehorn "cubed" into that last monologue.
  • The Doctor, Amy, and Rory sitting around eating fish fingers and custard is just the greatest thing ever.  That is all.

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