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Wednesday, 30 of September of 2020

Doctor Who – “The Power of Three”

The thing about watching Doctor Who for any length of time is that you begin to be suspicious of everything.

It’s the same with any television show – since shows tend to follow a pattern in their storytelling, viewers pick up on the similarities from episode to episode and season to season and therefore expect certain things to happen (or not happen). At an even more subliminal level, it’s how musical cues and lighting affect how we feel about what we’re seeing. It’s the very basis of acting! We’re conditioned from birth to match facial expressions to corresponding emotions, thereby accurately depicting our own emotional states – and interpreting those of others.

We act and react according to what we’ve learned. And with television, because we have been conditioned by long-term exposure, we tend to expect certain outcomes (story resolutions) based on certain outputs (previous episodes).

So this gentle letting go Who is pulling for the Ponds feels like it’s leading to some sort of horrific end.

Either that, or it’s just shoddy storytelling. We won’t really be able to tell which until the end, but darn if this slow easing out of the lifestyle – and the mostly “tell a little, show nothing” way of delivery it to the audience – doesn’t feel like nothing more than the build-up for a punch right in the heartstrings.

The first three episodes had little to nothing to do with Amy and Rory. The first actually included some of their story, albeit in a very shoehorned-in way. The second was a stand-alone adventure tale. The third was all about the Doctor. In short, we aren’t getting much in the way of a structured farewell.

“The Power of Three” – aside from sounding like an episode of Charmed – contains two basic components of the Pond goodbye: seeing Amy and Rory voluntarily moving on with their lives and pure, concentrated Doctor time.

Coming into this season knowing that Amy and Rory were leaving, it’s nice to see that bit of their “normal” life, the ways in which they adapted to have both a life on Earth and a life with the Doctor, and how real life starts to win out. It’s amusing to see them be surprised at themselves for making commitments.

“Did Real Life just get started?”
“… I like it.”

The journalist and the nurse. Ten years of life with the Doctor, both full- and part-time (and we only get a fraction; I kind of feel cheated). It was also fun to see the Doctor’s pop-in, pop-outs from Amy and Rory’s side of things, the way he shows up and pulls them out instead of joining in. As Amy says, they’re a part of his life, but he never became a part of theirs. (Which, thinking back on other companions, is actually rather odd, considering how much a part of the “family” the Doctor became with everyone else. Hmm.) This episode is sort of a way of bringing the Doctor into the “Real Life” the Ponds have created for themselves as they slowly dial back their Doctor time (both in their transition into more Earth-based living and in the transition of the actors from the show).

And, for all its shlock and overtness, the ploy does give us some cute moments. The Doctor going stir-crazy and turning to chores and football and the Wii to pass the time – that’s classic Who shenanigans right there, and it’s delightful. Fish sticks and custard on the sofa while they watch TV – also a purposeful callback that is both cheesy and adorable. The Doctor whisking the Ponds away for an anniversary present trip that turns into a six week excursion was also a joy, though it did bring up the fact that we saw far too little of Amy and Rory in period get-up as they tromped with the Doctor through time and space. Bit of a waste there, actually.

I adore that Brian was back for the episode, and that he noticed that anniversary-party Amy and Rory mysteriously changed clothes… and what that means. I also appreciate that when Brian asks the Doctor what happened to his other companions, the Doctor tells him the truth (because, you know, tragedy is the running thread for companions).

Just as he tells Amy the truth about why he keeps coming back. And here’s the central message of the episode, you guys! The Ponds are like the Universe – the Doctor keeps coming back to see them before they fade out, before he’s unable to ever see them again. (And that, dear readers, is the point at which I cocked an eyebrow, set aside my cheesecake, and wrote this in my notes: DOOM. The world ends with a whimper and all that jazz.) This episode is entirely about Pond life and reliving the joy of Doctor time while establishing that the Ponds are pulling away, however slowly.

In fact, the focus is so much on the Doctor/the Ponds that the whole cube business feels kind of empty as a plot of its own. It feels like it exists for the sole purpose of giving the Doctor a reason to hang around on Earth for a while. The final point of the cube story arc – the spaceship in the sky and the extermination of humanity – falls firmly in the Who category of  “humans are evil/humans are the bestest” stories that the show so loves to tell, but it’s a weak climax in an otherwise bouncy and fun character sketch. The wrap-up feels like an afterthought, like the writers looked up from writing fun moments and montage sequences and a few emotional blips and thought, “Hell, we need to wrap up the cube thing. ‘Earth is bad-Earth is precious to me’ face-off? Sounds good!”

Overall, this wasn’t a bad episode. It felt a little slight in actually plot, but made up for it by delivering some classic, fun bits of Who nonsense. It’s merits – or demerits – can’t be fully appreciated until we get the final piece of the Pond puzzle and can thereby judge its effectiveness in telling that story.

Until then – hehehehe, the Doctor playing Wii!

 

Extras:

  • Oh, look! Nostalgia-inducing, goodbye-saying, not-at-all cliche voiceover and montage!
  • There was not nearly enough running in that “Life with the Doctor is like this…” montage.
  • I haven’t seen much of Old Who, and none at all of the The Brig, but having Kate Stewart be his daughter was a nice touch. I like that continuity of Who.
  • I love how the blocks pile up everywhere and everyone’s just like, meh, whatever. That’s so us.
  • “Is that all you can do? Hover? I had a metal dog that could do that.” K-9!
  • ONCE CUBE PLAYS THE CHICKEN DANCE. OMG.
  • “We’re in orbit, one dimension to the left.” <3
  • “… like a talking propaganda poster.” Oh, good! You’ve been keeping up with the U.S. political ads!
  • Um… did the Doctor leave all those people in the spaceship to just blow up? O_o
  • I love Twitter, but I also love the Doctor’s sheer disdain for it.
  • “… what ‘cubed’ actually means: the power of three.” OH, GAG ME.

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