Live-blogging Doctor Who Season Seven: "The Power of Three"
Posted 23 September 2012 in Doctor Who by Catriona
I actually really like Chris Chibnall. I like his work on Life on Mars and Law and Order UK. I was devoted to Torchwood despite the fact that it broke my heart every single week and completely destroyed me when it came to “Children of Earth”. I was so delighted to add Camelot to our Serious Database of Australian Literature when I found his co-writer was Australian. I’m looking forward to Broadchurch (same Australian co-writer, actually). And I’ve enjoyed his previous Doctor Who stories: “The Hungry Earth”/“Cold Blood” were perhaps a little politically naive, but “42” was a cracker.
But I haven’t been thrilled with his two stories so far this season of Doctor Who. So I’m just putting that out there as a disclaimer. I really like Chris Chibnall. I do.
Amy and Rory are adjusting to life without the Doctor, until mysterious black boxes just appear out of nowhere overnight: millions and millions of mysterious black boxes. Of course, the Doctor turns up shortly afterwards—because mystery!—and then we’re introduced to UNIT scientific adviser Kate Stewart, whom we don’t know yet is Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart’s daughter, but we do know that she’s Jemma Redgrave, she’s completely gorgeous, and she has one of my favourite lines in the episode, in “The dogs do love a run.”
Of course, that comes after another favourite line:
RORY: There are soldiers all over my house, and I’m in my pants.
AMY: My whole life I’ve dreamed of saying that, and I miss it by being someone else.
After a brief chat about how the cubes seem to be static, the Doctor decides he’s getting cabin fever, and legs it, leaving Brian (Rory’s lovely father) in charge of watching the cubes, which Brian does with a fervour that warms my cold academic heart.
Over the next year, Amy and Rory live a normal life that freaks them both out a little (Rory takes a full-time position and Amy becomes a bridesmaid), barring a seven-week span adventuring with the Doctor in the middle of their wedding anniversary, during which Amy manages to get married to Henry VIII, which confuses me because is this the adventure on which Rory left his phone charger in Henry’s en suite? Does that mean that “A Town Called Mercy” also takes place in this time period? But it can’t, because Amy would have mentioned their party. Not important right now, I suppose.
But then the cubes begin to activate, helped by a creepy child (there’s always a creepy child. Why is there always a creepy child? Children aren’t that creepy. Sticky, yes. But not creepy) and some orderlies with cubey mouths that are never adequately explained, and the party splits, even though they must know that you never split the party, unless you want to end up being glued to the floor and run over with a giant boulder, and don’t think I’m not still bitter about that.
What was I saying?
Amy and the Doctor head to the Tower of London, to the UNIT base, and Rory heads (with Brian for no adequately explained reason) to the hospital. Here, Brian is kidnapped by the cubey orderlies, and Rory follows him through a portal (conveniently located in an elevator, so hey! Two modes of transportation for the price of one!) and into a spaceship.
Meanwhile, near the Tower of London, the Doctor and Amy have this lovely conversation:
DOCTOR: I’m not running away. But this is one corner of one country on one continent on one planet that’s a corner of a galaxy that’s a corner of a universe that is forever growing and shrinking and creating and destroying and never remaining the same for a single millisecond, and there is so much, so much, to see, Amy. Because it goes so fast. I’m not running away from things, I am running to them. Before they flare and fade forever. And it’s alright. Our lives won’t run the same. They can’t. One day, soon, maybe, you’ll stop. I’ve known for a while.
AMY: Then why do you keep coming back for us?
DOCTOR: Because you were the first. The first face this face saw. And you’re seared onto my hearts, Amelia Pond. You always will be. I’m running to you and Rory before you fade from me.
The “hearts” bit is significant, by the way, because that’s how the Doctor survives when the cubes decide to give a third of the world’s population a heart attack. For some reason, this only affects one of the Doctor’s hearts, though that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me, and then the Doctor manages to work out that the object controlling the cubes is accessible via Rory’s hospital. So … well, the rest of the episode might be best left for “What didn’t work for me”, I think.
What worked for me this episode
Actually, despite the long-winded complaining I’m about to get into below, quite a bit worked for me this episode. I liked the revelation that ten years has passed since—well, I’m not sure since when, actually. Since the ending of “The Eleventh Doctor”? Since the re-starting of everything at the end of “The Pandorica Opens”/“The Big Bang”? But it doesn’t matter. I do like the idea that this is a very long-term relationship he’s had with the Ponds, which gives depth to the idea that there might be a slow pulling away of Rory and Amy, and also to the idea that the Doctor has been on his own too long. I liked the creepy little cubes. I liked the adventurous interludes and the fact that the Doctor is as obsessed with the Wii as most of us have been at some point.
And I really liked Jemma Redgrave, who was fabulous.
Of course, saying a Redgrave acts well is a bit like saying, “Breathing: that’s useful.” But she was lovely. She wasn’t even in all that much of the episode, but she built this delightful, under-stated, calm, intelligent character who actually reminded me quite a bit of Liz Shaw before I twigged that she was a Lethbridge-Stewart. And then I spent the rest of the episode revelling in how much she looked like an amalgam of Nicholas Courtney and Doris as we saw her in “Battlefield.” I assume her mother was Doris. That was a pretty long-term relationship, if we consider it started pre-“Planet of the Spiders”.
But that’s not important right now.
Generally speaking, though, I liked this one. It had depth and complexity, it felt rich and full without feeling slow and ponderous, and I was thoroughly enjoying myself. Until …
What didn’t work for me in this episode
This episode was really best summed up, for me, by Richard (whom you might remember as a commenter) over on Twitter, when he described it as having “Lovely, lovely moments, completely disconnected from the bizarre, mythic threat and its technoresolution.”
I’m not going to talk about the technoresolution because … well, you know Clarke’s Law? “Sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”? Well, my level of scientific understanding is such that, for me, a refrigerator is indistinguishable from magic. So I tend to glaze over a bit at the science, whether it’s actual science or technobabble.
This actually makes me an ideal viewer of mainstream television science-fiction, but that’s an argument for another day.
By the bizarre mythic threat? That’s something I can talk about. This is not the first time something like this has happened, and I doubt it will be the last. And I have no doubt it will continue to annoy me. Because the problem here isn’t that the threat is mythic. The threat in “The Pandorica Opens” was mythic, too—but that worked. It worked because we heard the Doctor talk about the blood-drenched creature who dropped from the sky and turned your world upside down, and we thought, “That sounds like you.” And River said that she hates good wizards in fairy tales because they always turn out to be the Doctor, and we agreed. And then we realised that the Doctor actually was the mythic threat here, and it all turned on its head and was marvellous.
But here … we’ve never heard of the Shakri. They’re creatures from the Doctor’s mythos: we’ve never heard of them before and we’ll never hear of them again. So where’s the threat for us? Where? Add in the fact that they’re holograms anyway, and they felt a little … toothless.
And I still think all that even though I’ve only just realised that that was Steven Berkoff. He’s Steven Berkoff, but it’s still not a good threat.
However, that all pales into comparison beside the actual ending.
The ending. I was so terribly disappointed by the ending. I’d been really enjoying things up to that point: the episode felt rich and full and detailed without (for me) dragging at all … and then we had the ending.
So what bothered me about the ending? Let me count the ways.
1. Apparently, no time passed at all between the people having the heart attacks and the Doctor bringing them back to life. So, the cubes activated, the Doctor is in the Tower of London, then they need to dash off to Rory’s hospital (and I’m not familiar enough with London—or indeed even slightly familiar with London—to know where abouts that was located, but it certainly wasn’t located in the grounds of the Tower of London), then get the Doctor’s other heart started, then find the wormhole, then have a long talk about Gallifreyan myths and legends, then blow up a space ship—and all the people who died of heart attacks are still just lying in the streets.
Still just lying there.
I could almost understand that, but there’s not one single bystander with them? Not one single emergency services personnel member? They’re all just lying in the same way as they were when they died at what must have been (at a conservative estimate) at least half an hour to an hour earlier?
2. That brings me to my second point. These people were dead. DEAD. They didn’t just fall asleep. They were dead, for at least a reasonable space of time. How can the Doctor just restart their hearts? Their bodies had begun to decay, albeit only slightly. More importantly, their brains had been starved of oxygen. So do we now have one-third of the world’s population with serious brain damage, no doubt needing round-the-clock medical care for the rest of their lives?
Well, that would certainly divert the funds that we might otherwise use to colonise the universe.
3. Finally, did they really just leave all those other kidnapped patients in the spaceship to be blown up? They rescued Rory’s father and then just left all the others to die? Now, that doesn’t sound like Rory at all, even if we accept that it sounds like the others. Rory’s always been marked by his compassion and by his dedication to his profession: why would he leave all those other people to be killed?
Oh, ending. You really spoilt what was was an otherwise terribly enjoyable episode for me.