Doctor Who: The Power of Three

Posted on September 23, 2012

With their penultimate episode, the Pond-Williamses got a little bit of a Valentine’s card from The Doctor. Ostensibly another alien invasion story, it was really just an excuse to situate The Doctor firmly in the world of Amy and Rory just so he could express how much they mean to him.

And we say “another” alien invasion story, but that’s not quite fair to Steven Moffat, whose reign on the show has been remarkably light on alien invasion stories. In fact, this episode felt in many ways like a Russell T Davies-era version of the show. Swap out Rory and Amy for Mickey and Rose, and Brian for Jackie, sit them all on a couch in a London living room watching multiple news reports, and you’ve got a half-dozen stories from seasons 1 and 2 of Nu-Who. It really stood out to us how closely it paralleled earlier scenes in earlier seasons.

In fact, we’re going to take that thought one step further: The rather emotionally open version of the Doctor; the one who sits down with Amy and explains exactly why he can’t let go of her and exactly why he does what he does, wasn’t quite recognizable as the 11th Doctor. The words he was saying – the very action of professing his love for his companions to his companions – is something we really haven’t seen since David Tennant occupied the role. Not that 11 has been emotionally cold; just that he was never as open or poetic about his feelings as the (at times too open) 10th Doctor. Let’s also not forget the obvious symbolism of The Doctor’s heart giving out on him.

And his explanation was rather beautifully written. After Amy accuses him of using his adventures to run away, he insists it’s the opposite: he is running toward the ever-expanding universe, trying to catch glimpses of every little thing before they all flare out and fade away (including the Ponds). It always felt to us like Moffat never quite agreed with the Davies take of a tortured, lonely god-figure and this is his way of addressing that head on. He’s not a lonely god; he’s a scientist, driven by an insatiable curiosity wrapped up in a thirst for adventure. Couple this with the re-appearance of UNIT (as well as the introduction of the daughter of Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart) and it all felt quite deliberate. As we said in a previous recap, 11 has, through most of his tenure, felt somewhat removed from his own history and past selves. Moffat really seems to be ramping up the references to the past more and more this season, and we suspect it has something to do with the upcoming 50th anniversary.

As for Amy and Rory, we kind of felt like they were spinning their wheels, narratively speaking. We’ve already been introduced to the idea that they have full lives away from the Doctor and that those lives are becoming more compelling to them. To have them state it outright in this episode felt a little repetitive. Still, it was interesting and charming to see them putter through the life they have now, a full ten years after the Doctor re-appeared in Amy’s life. Rory’s still a nurse (and apparently, a very good one) and Amy’s on her 4th or 5th career; this time, she’s a travel writer, which makes a certain amount of sense, although we wouldn’t credit Amy with being all that good a writer on the face of it. She’s a lot of things, but creatively articulate doesn’t strike us as one of them. They live in a lovely home, and appear to have a large and supportive group of friends – who they will ditch in the middle of their own anniversary party so they can run off and have seven weeks of adventures with the Doctor. This, to us, is the most interesting part of the story. The part of Doctor Who lore one almost never sees: What is life like for continuous time travelers? What does it mean to leave a party, go off for two months, and then arrive back at the moment you left? And what does it mean when someone in your life notices?

Unfortunately, the script never really answered the questions it posed. Brian seemed right on the verge of realizing what a dangerous game they’re playing and how they’re essentially removing themselves from normal human existence, but then he urges them to keep on going. Amy and Rory admit to each other that they really like their day-to-day life, but once they hear the wheeze of the TARDIS engines, they’re off and running – quite literally. It felt like a point was trying to assert itself but then got buried.

Still, it was a fun episode. We suspect the aliens involved will be part of a much larger story, but really, this was just a chance for the audience and the Doctor to spend a little more time with (and fall a little in love with – again) Rory and Amy before they get their no-doubt tearful sendoff. What’s interesting is that the Doctor feels the same way about them as we do – that their time is ending. But we know this because we follow the news of the show and know that Arthur Darville and Karen Gillan are being written out. Why, exactly, does the Doctor seem to know that things are ending soon? After all, didn’t his appearance this episode have the whiff of a man saying goodbye? Having one final fun time before it all goes bad? There’s been some conjecture online that the Doctor we’re seeing – who’s a hundred years older than the Doctor of last season – has already watched the Pond-Williamses meet their final fate and has gone back on their timeline just to spend more time with them. It’s a bit of a riff on the River Song storyline, which makes sense, seeing as how she’s their daughter. One thing’s for sure, after decades and decades of companions, Moffat found a way to make his companion rise to the top in terms of importance. The Doctor hasn’t ever really spent this much time in the life of one Companion (Amy calls it “ten years,” but it’s really 22), nor have any companions seen a Doctor age so much in their time with him (300 years). Like we said last week, it gives these relationships an intensity most Doctor-Companion relationships don’t have. “Your face was the first face this face ever saw” is a lovely – and quite Doctor-specific – sentiment.

And one final drop: Has anyone else noticed that the color of the time vortex keeps changing in the opening credits? Green for the last couple of weeks, and then bright pink last night? Discuss.



[Photo Credit: BBC America]

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  • gabbilevy

    I didn’t LOVE this episode, on the whole, but the scene with the Doctor and Amy–with him saying that he was essentially imprinted on Amy, like a baby bird to its mom, was sort of wonderful. I’m grasping at some bigger truth about Amy and motherhood–as early as her fake pregnancy in “Amy’s Choice” (episode 6 of the 11th doctor), River Song, her subsequent infertility, her role as the Doctor’s mother-in-law… I’m not sure what it all *means*, but it’s definitely a different role for a companion than any other.

    • stoprobbers

      Did you know that there was a scene – cut for time – in The Christmas Invasion where the 10th Doctor tells Rose that he “imprinted on [her], like a baby chick”? Which is why he’s not Northern accented anymore, and younger. I just think it’s a little funny – and not unpleasant – that we returned to that idea in this episode. Regenerations: a lot like chicks hatching, apparently. 

      • gabbilevy

        Or like phoenixes. 

        But, no! I didn’t know that. It’s a lovely bit of imagery.

      •  And in the season 1 episode where Rose sees herself as a baby, and young Mickey, she realizes why Mickey is still so into Rose, because Mickey imprinted on her then like a baby chicken.   It’s a cute metaphor and one that gets a lot of use I guess!

      • Topaz

        Ick, I’m glad they cut that. That’s the issue with Russell T – everything has to be explained in the most literal and explicit possible terms. We don’t need to know why the Doctor looks different. He just does. Also – Oedipus much?

        I agree with Tom and Lorenzo on this – so many elements of Moffat’s Who has been one big riposte to the Russell T years. The fact that the Doctor has fired a gun, the fact that he’s not a tortured soul (and in fact is much more complicated than that), his wilful bafflement at human love and romance. He’s even said outright that he doesn’t see regenerations of the Doctor as a kind of death but, as they’re called, like a regeneration, thereby cancelling out the entire final Russell T Davies season in which the Doctor repeatedly says it really is like dying. 

        Take that, Welshy!

        •  I don’t mind that there are contradictions about what regeneration is and isn’t. I feel like its a good reminder that the Doctor might just be an unreliable narrator (the Doctor LIES), that every regeneration is different, and that the doctor might have ambivalent feelings about the process, and how much he wants people to know about it.

          Why yes, I am very good at rationalizing canon inconsistencies away, I have been watching the series for quite some time. 🙂

          • Topaz

            The unreliable narrator theory is a good one, very consistent with the character. It also makes “canon” more about the characters than a list of facts, which is always a good thing when we’re watching drama, not reading a wiki.

    • Corsetmaker

      What came into my head with all the power of three stuff was the triple goddess/hecate/three witches which is usually split into maiden, mother and crone. Amy/Amelia has been maiden, mother and crone (in the girl who waited). Not sure how that could tie into anything though.

    • Family does seem to be right at the heart of Amy’s storyline- right from her first episode, actually, when young Amelia has lost her parents.  She has been accruing family like a human katamari since then.

  • Michelle Cunningham

    Not only has the color of the vortex changed but the font has included clues about the episode… Very cool

    • watchmeboogie

       Interesting! Can you please elaborate?

      • H R

        Check out the font of DOCTOR WHO when it shows up in the credits.

        The Dalek episode, the font had metallic circles like the Daleks. During the Western, the font was woodgrain. This episode’s had cubes/diamonds.

        Each episode apparently will have a different font for DOCTOR WHO.

      • CT14

        The “Doctor Who” logo before it turns into the DW Tardis logo was made up of little black cubes this week.

      • watchmeboogie

        Thank you both for filling me in! I hadn’t noticed that.

    • Alanna Wisteria

      Yup! I’ve had fun watching out for the font changes. As for the other recurring bits this season… we got Christmas and eggs again this week. (Seems like I’m forgetting another one.)  On the other hand, nobody onscreen had forgotten The Doctor — in fact, Kate Stewart was all about bringing him back into the fold. 

      FWIW, someone elsewhere pointed out that we got proof of the wonky timeline: last week, Eleven needled Rory about leaving his phone charger in Henry VIII’s ensuite, which is where they were this week. Hmm.

      • Eclectic Mayhem

        I’d have to go back and check but wasn’t the frock Amy was wearing at the anniversary party the same one that she was wearing during last week’s Western episode?

        • Pterodactyl111

          To be honest, that would make a lot of sense. The last place they went on their little seven-week jaunt was Mercy, and at the end when Amy & Rory say they want to go back home they return to the Anniversary party.

          • So last week’s episode actually happened during the last five minutes of this week’s episode?  I’m going to have to rewatch them in reverse order now.

      • ScarlettHarlot

        Oooh I missed the eggs this week – where were they?

    • stoprobbers

      Every episode’s “Doctor Who” title has been designed to reflect what the episode is about. Asylum of the Daleks had Dalekanium balls, Dinosaurs on a Spaceship was made out of dinosaur hide, I don’t remember what last week’s was, and this week was the cubes. I’m actually not that impressed with this gimmick, but it’s pretty harmless. 

    • Are they taking a note from Game of Thrones where the opening title map changes each week to show locations that will be featured in that particular episode?

  • CurbGirl

    Did not notice the change in the vortex…hmmm. Did break into calypso with the ‘tally-man’ .  Love your Dr posts. Thanks gentlemen!

  • Jasmaree

    Couple problems with this episode:

    1. The doctor left several people on that spaceship to die without a second thought.
    2. The aliens had no reason to kidnap people in the first place, and those nurses that took Rory’s dad seem to have only been there to reveal the aliens to Rory.
    3. Everyone’s heart stopped on earth for several minutes and there are no repercussions. They get up like nothing happened afterward.
    4. The doctor points a sonic screwdriver at a screen for a few seconds, and suddenly the threat is annihilated.

    You see my problem with this episode? I don’t mind a character driven story with less emphasis on the alien of the week, but in this particular episode, the plot suffered because of this emphasis. Instead of leaving me pondering the Doctor’s relationship with Rory & Amy, it left me genuinely confused by things that happened in the last 10 minutes. And I felt kind of cheated by the ending. Sure, the alien invasion wasn’t the focus on the show, but I expected all the tension and confusion about the cubes to be building up to something.

    • KathKo

      Well, as I saw it, the people were weeled out by Rory and Amy (and the Doctor told them to stay out).
      For the other points, I kind of agrre with you : the wrapping was kind of hasty.
      Maybe those people were kidnapped for scientist purpose. You can only have so much out of a little box.

      • Jasmaree

        We only see Amy and Rory take Rory’s dad. Afterward, they refuse to leave the ship without the Doctor.

        • No, they evacuate the ship and then come back for the Doctor as the last one still aboard. They weren’t supposed to come back at all, and he’s delightfully surprised to see them because they cleared the ship and got back so fast.

          • Jasmaree

            I find that unlikely, since we only see them remove Rory’s dad, there were several people in the room and only a couple minutes between the time they left and came back, they would have had to pass the doctor and go behind the hologram to get all of them (there was one guy you can clearly see through it), and there was only one gurney so the bodies would have to be lifted on top of it. They’d also have to do this completely noiselessly. When they come back, the Doctor says “Oy! I thought I told you two to leave.” so it’s unlikely that he’s surprised because they worked so fast. There are some pretty severe leaps in logic you’d have to make to assume they saved everyone.

          • The only leap I have to take is that Rory wouldn’t leave anyone behind he could save. We didn’t have to see it to know that the heroes were being heroic.

          • People not noticing how much time had passed happened a few times in this episode.  Rory’s dad didn’t realize he’d been in the TARDIS for four days.  The Doctor thought Rory and Amy made exceptionally quick work of moving the “patients” off the ship.

            And in the middle of the anniversary party, they hopped off to enjoy seven weeks of time travel, including last week’s episode.

            Something exceptionally timey-wimey is going on.

    • Anathema_Device

      I was confused as to why the liens took the humans on the ship. I didn’t quite get the point of the little girl, either. But honestly, stuff flies by me so much in these episodes that I usually roll with it. I often miss dialog. I need to watch this with closed captioning on!

      • Jasmaree

        Yeah, I didn’t quite get the little girl either. I thought she’d be controlling everything while being powered up by the aliens (much like in Fear Her). Not sure if that’s what was going on or not. I also thought the fact that time was moving so quickly (Rory’s dad in the tardis for 4 days without noticing, boxes on earth for a full year feels like 10 minutes) was gonna be part of the plot too, but it wasn’t.

      • MilaXX

        I’ll agree the bit about the Shakri was a bit rushed. It felt like it could have been a 2 parter. They did mention hospitals being over run as the people killed came back to life. I agree it was a good not great e

        •  I totally agree. Wish they’d slow down and let the characters develop a bit.

  • KathKo

    First, I think Brian quite exactly found out how dangerous the Doctor is for his son and daughter in law. But he also found out that there’s nothing he can do to prevent them from tailing the Doctor. I found the point being quite nicely asserted : the Ponds can’t help themselves. they’re all grown up, with carrers and life and friends… But the Doctor is the Doctor and they can’t erase him from their lives.
    As for the opening credits, well; kids did YOU notice that they were precisely tuned to every episode themes ? Hence the color story.

    Anyway a like-not-love episode. Very funny, more childish in a sense than the previous ones, in my opinion, but nice anyway. I guess we will see more of Ms Lethbridge-Steward in the future. I agree with the whole “preparing for 50th aniversary”. She surely will be in that one. Unit was also more pre-Davies era, scientist winning over the army, yeah !

  • Anathema_Device

    I liked this episode. I was very happy to have one set on present-day Earth, for the very reasons you mention. I thought the Doctor has been saying goodbye because he knows they want to return to normal life and that it isn’t fair of him to keep enticing them to run off. you know, “If you love someone, let them go” and all that.

    I have felt all the Doctors have been excitable and peripatetic, but Smith’s Doctor is so much more childlike about it. At least once every episode I saw aloud, ” He’s such a child!” Maybe it is because he is so new to his body?

    They had better not kill Mr. Weasley, or there will be hell to pay!!! I’ve resigned myself that the Amy & Rory departure could be very sad.

    • Pterodactyl111

      He’s not new to that body anymore – he’s been in it for around 300 years, give or take. 

  • I love your summary of the Doctor as a scientist rather than a lonely god. I never thought about it, but that is exactly the difference between the 11th Doctor and previous NuWho incarnations!

  • Some lovely things in the episode, but UNIT is back and Kate Stewart is played by Gemma Redgrave! (Is it mandatory that all Regraves act? What if one of them wanted to be an accountant? Would they be cast out for besmirching the family honor?)

    • Eclectic Mayhem

      I saw Jemma Redgrave play Irina opposite her aunts (as Masha and Olga) in Chekhov’s Three Sisters sometime back in the last century. Jemma sounds much more like Vanessa now than she used to – it was uncanny listening to her and lovely to have that link with the Brigadier.  I’d really hoped that Nicholas Courtney would be able to come back to the show but – alas and alack – it was not to be.

      I want everyone back for the 50th anniversary.  EVERYONE!  I want Sean Pertwee to play the Third Doctor, I want one of Patrick Troughton’s boys (David or Michael – I’m not fussy) to play the Second Doctor and every single, surviving companion back in the harness.

      • MilaXX

        When they introduced the Brigadier’s daughter, I got a little misty.  Perhaps it is the upcoming 50th, but it feels like we are getting more of an attempt to marry old & new Who. To me the doctor is both lonely and an adventurer, and he has always had an undercurrent of darkness.

  • Eclectic Mayhem

    As I was watching Doctor Who last night I found myself thinking “I can’t wait to see what TLo has to say about this episode”.  

    As you know – I’m a Brit, I grew up with Doctor Who, it’s part of my DNA and I love all of it with every fibre of my being but now – because of you chaps – I enjoy it MORE!  So thank you from the bottom of my Whovian Bitter Kitten heart.

    I found much of this episode to be very funny (one cube plays The Chicken Dance? Lovely) but I was in tears after the Doctor’s scene with Amy.  That was some of the most beautiful writing I’ve ever seen from this show.  Whovian poetry.

    I’m dreading next week.

  • watchmeboogie

    There have also been references to Christmas in each episode, though I can’t readily recall if there was a mention last night?

    • Pterodactyl111

      A lot of it took place during Christmas, I think. Trees and lights in the background and stuff. 

    • Didn’t he say something about “I got what I wanted”?  In the past couple episodes, there’s been mention of his Christmas list that seems to fit together with this.

  • stoprobbers

    re: the doctor, emotions, and the “excited scientist” recharacterization:

    I think it’s important to remember that the New Who reboot starts at the point at which the Doctor is at his most lonely and desperate. He’s just destroyed his own people in a massive war, finds himself to be the last of his species, without any companions or companionship, and in a place of such deep self-loathing that he doesn’t WANT or think he deserves companionship. Rose hooks him pretty quick — and how can she not, she’s clever and spunky and insatiably curious — but the first thing he really tells her (after ‘run for your life’) is “Forget me.” So the “lonely god” trope that dominates Davies’ time is intentional and integral to the story of the Doctor viewed as a whole: He IS lonely. He is the last. And he occasionally isn’t the last anymore, but that really only happens so that he can be more irrevocably alone than he ever has been before afterwards. And so he can go crazy, that was fun watching David Tennant have crazy!eyes.

    Your take on Moffat’s departure from that trope is kind of ironic, since Moffat gave us The Girl In The Fireplace (aka: That One Episode In Which Everyone Acts Out Of Character And It Doesn’t Even Further Character Development And Then No One Mentions It Ever Again), which spends most of it’s time, when the Doctor’s not making out with a woman he just met, shouting things like “MY LONELY ANGEL” and “SUCH A LONELY CHILDHOOD” and “SO ALONE SO ALOOOOOONE!” Yes, this was done under the direction of RTD as showrunner, but probably the biggest contributor to The Doctor Is A Lonely God trope is Moffat himself. And that was part of the Doctor’s store in season 5, too, until Moffat decided he was into “Geeky Universe Scientist” more.

    Which is also ironic, as that’s a trope that Davies used ALL THE TIME. When the Doctor regenerated into David Tennant, one of the first proper conversations he has with Rose is about seeing the universe again through his new eyes. The entire genesis of Donna Noble’s companionship is to do with getting to see what’s out there, to see the universe and all its wonders. Even Poor Martha Jones Who Got Totally Shafted By Everyone gets the same treatment. Even lonely and broken, the Doctor’s insatiable thirst for the universe and all its wonders is at the fore of his character.

    The difference is in the way Moffat and Davies treat the emotional weight of the Doctor’s life. To be perfectly frank, Moffat’s terrible at it. His emotional confessions never ring true — he is a man obsessed with his own cleverness and excels when he’s showing off (though he’s been getting worse at that; I will never forgive him for The Wedding of River Song, that episode is bullshit and I want that hour of my life back). When he does emotions they register, largely, as lip service to fans who are frustrated that the show has lost its emotional depth. It’s a credit to Christopher Eccleston that he took the scene at the end of The Doctor Dances and turned it into a real, emotional, character moment. It’s what makes him a great actor. Compare it to Silence In The Library/Forest of the Dead and you can see how hard David and Alex have to work to imbue the abrupt end of River Song — who we’ve never met and don’t care a lick about — with proper emotional weight. It’s certainly not in the script.

    And so the Doctor has abandoned his depth of feeling — something that used to drive him (see: the entire speech about it in The Age Of Steel, when he’s talking to Cyber!Lumic) and his actions — in favor of just being a geek with a Deus Ex Machina screwdriver. The change, for me, has been deeply unsatisfying. Without that depth of emotion and caring — that empathy and sympathy and its attendant fury — the Doctor and his adventures become hollow. No amount of cleverness can make up for that.

    Frankly, I’m starting to look forward to the end of Moffat’s reign as showrunner. The show needs fresh blood and fresh ideas. And for Neil Gaiman’s next episode. And for the new companion; the way she’s described I doubt my hopes will be fulfilled, but I hope her newness brings a bit of heart back into the show. We’ll see. 

    • formerlyAnon

       I am nowhere near as versed in the show as many here, but I certainly and in spades agree that Rory’s Dad is somebody I’d have liked to see a lot more of.

    •  I really disagree about The Wedding of River Song.  I loved it.  And I’ve really enjoyed Moffat’s time as showrunner and I don’t see a lack of emotional resonance at all.  The bond between Rory and Amy and between the Doctor and Amy — these are people who love deeply.  A Good Man Goes to War was essentially all about the Doctor calling in every favor he was owed, risking the lives of anyone who could help, and willing to wipe out everyone who stood in his way just to save Amy.  The relationships and feelings of theses characters have saved their lives on more than one occasion.  Hell, Craig managed to defeat alien threats twice just through the depth of his emotions.

  • AtticWife

    The vortex keeps changing color AND the main title gets a different texture each week as well. It was all Dalek-y in the first ep. and this week it had a cube texture.

  • Andi Stern

    Rory’s dad and Wilf should get together.
    I was wondering what kept the electrical pulse from starting the hearts of *anyone* who was dead, not just the ones who died from the original pulse.  Zombies in London!

  •  I have my own pet storyline for their ending — I’d like to see him bring home Melody.  Think about it: even after finding out the River was their daughter he told Amy and Rory that he would find her and bring her home.  And it would be altering the timeline, but so what?  The Doctor can alter timelines if he wants as long as he doesn’t alter fixed points.  Even then, there’s wiggle room; in Waters of Mars he interfered with the fixed point but the woman still died so it was fine.  Apparently they can be altered as long as they aren’t stopped.  And it gives the Ponds a happy ending while giving the Doctor some serious emotional turmoil — not only does he lose Amy and Rory, but he also probably loses River.

    • Nice, but never gonna happen.

      This episode laid out a clear choice for the Ponds.  There are two ways to leave the Doctor: the voluntary way, and the tragic way.  This week, the Ponds looked at the former, considered it, and didn’t take it.  Therefore they will exit through tragedy, because This Is The Law.  Rory’s dad and the Doctor both know it.

  • Andrew Edwards

    The vortex colours, as well as the texture of the Doctor Who logo, has changed each week for Series 7.

  • Qitkat

    So many great observations from my peeps 😉 there’s just something so unique about being a Bitter Kitten Whovian.

    Anyway, what all these comments make me realize is that I have got to get an HD TV! I am missing a lot on my 1988 old set that becomes slightly fuzzier every week.

  • Marton Gergely

    I wish someone else was as excited as me about seeing Brian Cox’s cameo discussing the cubes in the news segment! He’s like physics’ rockstar…

  • Liz

    It seems like these last four episodes have been shown to us in the reverse order that the Doctor, Amy, and Rory went through them.  In A Town Called Mercy, the Doctor chided Rory for leaving his phone charger in Henry III’s room, and in Dinosaurs on a Spaceship, Amy told Neffie with complete confidence that Yes, She is a Queen.  Both events happened in The Power of Three.  I assume the Doctor is going back in time and grabbing them for more adventures because he knows they will be lost to him after next week’s encounter with the Angels.  

    (As always, all my thoughts on Doctor Who are “Working Theories”)

  • I feel like, thus far, the writers are trying to jam in series-long character arcs into single episodes…and it’s not working very well.
    I miss the pathos of the previous series…hope there will be a purpose to the current writing.