XXXIII(7).4: The Power of Three
A very enjoyable episode, despite some nagging problems. Chief among these were the time taken to revive the people whose hearts had been stopped by the Shakri; and the origins of the Orderlies, with no noses and cubes in their mouths, though the audience were tantalised by the prospect of a transformation, as Brian fell asleep with his mouth open and the cube twitched…
The plot was powered by Who Do You Think You Are?, exploring the genealogy of modern Doctor Who. The Shakri, an ill-defined threat from Gallifreyan legend, are the stuff of a thousand 1980s fan fiction pieces. Jemma Redgrave strides on as if she owns the series (and we must see her again, surely) and her character Kate turns out to be Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart’s daughter. Not only that, but Kate’s appearance in two straight-to-video pro-fan productions in the 1990s links latterday BBC Doctor Who to the workshopping of licensed and unlicensed spinoffery in the wilderness years. UNIT’s base at the Tower of London was seen for the first time since ‘The Christmas Invasion’, seven years ago now, and the domesticity of Pond life seen here was a reminder that the inheritance present-day Doctor Who derives from the days of the Tyler, Jones and Mott-Noble clans is not junk DNA. I missed the fish fingers and custard, but everyone else seems to have drawn attention to it, and I didn’t recognise Amelia’s drinking glass from ‘The Eleventh Hour’ either. The Doctor, in that powerful exchange by the Thames (an impressive composition of stock footage and studio, producer Marcus Wilson has pointed out) admitted how much of himself, as he is now, depends on Amelia Pond having been the first person he saw in his present form.
Doctor Who is aimed at a teleliterate audience who are expected to have some foreknowledge, and much of this episode’s authority comes from its place in this segment of the season. The pressures of age and society encourage Amy and Rory to slow down and accept their fading from the Doctor’s life, but at the end it is Brian who urges them to carry on, echoing Jackie Tyler in his hope that they will return safely, just before the next time trailer threatens permanent displacement in time and the fracturing for ever of the power of three.
At last, though, I feel I’ve seen something written from Chris Chibnall’s heart as well as his head, not simply a workmanlike but sometimes crude development of a brief, but something where his skills and the subject matter worked together well and where he could draw on and apply his fan knowledge. It’s probably the closest to a love-letter to the series we will see from him. This episode was still not as accomplished as ‘Asylum of the Daleks’ or ‘A Town Called Mercy’, but it was at least confident in its identity and combined striking imagery with thoughtful dialogue which may well gain more force after the next episode.