Doctor Who reviews: The Power of Three
|REVIEWS - DOCTOR WHO|
The Doctor faces his most terrifying enemy of all: Real life...
After giving us all the Daleks ever, dinosaurs on a spaceship, and a cyborg gunslinger, Doctor Who’s seventh season slows down a bit for the highly symbolic ‘The Power of Three’.
It’s both amusing and suspenseful on a straightforward level, but works primarily on a metaphorical and thematic level, and so that’s what this review will focus on.
The Doctor’s life (i.e. the show) is usually brilliantly hectic, but here, thrown (or pulled) into Amy and Rory’s life, The Doctor is torn between the fantastical and the mundane. When exploring the wonders and mysteries of the universe, The Doctor is in his element; but when faced with the slow, boring linear passage of time, he can’t cope. (This is in stark contrast to most people, who would freak out at the former but are perfectly capable of dealing with the latter; bringing to mind a line from Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead: “We’re actors! We’re the opposite of people!”)
After waiting four days for the cubes to do something – anything – Amy and Rory tell The Doctor to be patient, at which he exclaims, “Patience is for wimps!” In this respect, The Doctor is somewhat similar to Sherlock Holmes, who needs constant intellectual stimulation or he goes crazy.
The tension between the fantastical and the mundane is one common to writers and other creative types. One moment they’re creating something new and unusual and exciting/fascinating; the next they’re washing the dishes.
It’s something explored very effectively by heroic stories such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Spider-Man, and Chuck, with the main characters becoming iconic heroes because of their inspiring struggle to fight evil and save the day, in the context of the relatable, mundane problems that always seem to get in the way.
However, while the former aspect may be more obviously appealing, in fact both have something going for them. While the fantastical may be/feel more exciting, life-affirming, and just downright awesome, the mundane offers familiarity, routine, and comfort. One is the universe; the other is home.
This is particularly shown by the final scene, where The Doctor, Amy, Rory, and Brian (Rory’s father) share a meal together. There’s a real sense of connection there, of home, of family; which is perfectly underscored (or illuminated) with lighting perfectly echoing that of the dinner table scenes in Firefly, a show which perfectly evokes those things (especially in the dinner table scenes themselves). But then The Doctor, always restless, gets up to leave while he’s still eating. Amy and Rory then join him. The scene, like an actual firefly, flickers and then it’s gone.
There's an exchange which goes something like:
The Doctor: “It’s okay; I know you have ordinary, fabulous lives, and you don’t want to leave them…”
Rory’s dad: “But they do. They want to have adventures. Go and save as many worlds as you can.”
So, while they leave behind the nice, cosy domestic world (tended by Brian), the dynamic between the three of them is still, at least for now, intact.
As the three of them enter the TARDIS, Amy’s voiceover tells us: “We understand the word ‘cubed’ in a way the Shakri never did. It means the power of three.”
On a theological level, this could (potentially) be a reflection of Trinitarian parallels. God is love, and the three persons of the Trinity love each other perfectly, modelling love and community throughout all of creation.
For instance, the dynamic of three characters (especially three friends) is one which resonates in stories. Think of some of the great fictional friendships of recent years: Buffy, Willow, and Xander; Harry, Ron, and Hermione; and of course The Doctor, Amy, and Rory. Of course, these are all human(-ish), imperfect relationships, and so the analogy is not perfect; these human relationships all have their own tensions and imperfections. (But in general, the power of three is a great dynamic.)
Some further observations:
There’s a very strong indication that The Doctor invented Yorkshire puddings! As if we didn’t know he was a genius already, this is essentially conclusive proof. “It’s a pudding, but savoury. Sound familiar?” The Doctor, Amy, and Rory are dipping fish fingers into custard in that scene (in a nice throwback), which is the obvious parallel, but the line could also work on a metaphorical/meta-textual level. Not only is The Doctor’s life full of contrasts, which is the way he likes it, but also in this episode he’s forced to confront the contrast between pudding (adventures!) and savoury (the unremarkable, linear nature of everyday life).
The question is, does he like this contrast?
On the surface, it drives him crazy, yet he’s pulled back by his connection to his friends Amy and Rory. On some deep level, The Doctor always needs his companions (who often become his friends, as shown very effectively with Amy and Rory). As Amy reminded The Doctor in the previous episode, ‘A Town Called Mercy’, “You’ve been travelling alone too long.” It’s by spending time with humans that The Doctor holds on to his humanity; traits like mercy, for instance.
The Doctor tells the Shakri something like: “They took them into their homes and their lives, because they thought there would be something good inside. That’s why humanity shouldn’t be destroyed—because of hope!”
“The slow invasion”, as it’s fittingly called, works by getting humanity to underestimate the cubes and take them for granted; but they’re potentially deadly. Human beings often manifest this trait, of underestimating bad things (whether moral or pragmatic) and unthinkingly incorporating them into their lives.
Hope, which The Doctor so cherishes, can be a great thing, but if it’s misplaced, it can be devastating.
Amy accuses The Doctor of running away, and he protests: “I’m not running *away* from things. I’m running *to* them.”
When the countdown reaches zero, the box opens, to reveal that…the box is empty. Does The Doctor feel like that? Is he essentially an existentialist, desperately running around trying to find meaning in his life, because he can’t find it inside himself? When the Master stared into the Vortex, the nothingness he saw drove him crazy, making him into a nihilist. On the other hand, The Doctor was inspired by the vast possibilities out there in the universe, which he now runs after, trying to explore as many as possible. On the surface of it, The Doctor’s reaction seems like a very good thing, but now the possibility has been raised that perhaps not quite so simple. Is he, ultimately, running to things, or running away from something? Is he running away from himself? This would help to explain why the Answer to the Question is such a big deal.
The Shakri spokesman (or, as The Doctor calls him, “a walking propaganda poster”), played by Steven Berkoff, speaks with relish about the destruction of humanity. While it’s a good performance, the character almost seems like a straw man argument; a caricature of an argument that perhaps The Doctor (and the writers) and the audience could take a little more seriously. Are humanity really good (overall)?
The Doctor says: “…Over all of human history, add up their achievements and weigh them against their mistakes, and I will always defend humanity against the Tally.” Maybe The Doctor doesn’t have the right/authority to judge, but he also, equally, doesn’t have the right/authority to pardon. But what about the Tally? We don’t know much about them, so it’s difficult at this stage to evaluate what specific function they serve. Perhaps they’re simply a bunch of crazy fanatics. (Do they have anything to do with the Silence?)
The cubes manifested “A burst of activity for 47 minutes and then they all suddenly switched off again…” Since 47 minutes is approximately the duration of an average NuWho episode, this could well be a meta-textual reference to the show, especially considering the diversity of forms of activity, which display “no recognisable pattern” (though careful viewing sheds light on story and character arcs subtly threaded through the apparently randomness of The Doctor’s adventures).
There should be a song called “The Power of Three” about this episode, set to the tune of Huey Lewis’ “The Power of Love”, from another time-travel classic, Back to the Future. (I don’t care if it existed before that; it’s from Back to the Future.)
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