The Power of Three

Story No. 249 Three cubes, three friends
Production Code Series 7, Episode 4
Dates September 22, 2012

With Matt Smith, Karen Gillan, Arthur Darvill
Written by Chris Chibnall Directed by Douglas Mackinnon
Executive Producers: Steven Moffat, Caroline Skinner.

Synopsis: The earth is subject to a slow invasion by cubes. But the Doctor has friends on hand.


Nothing in the Box by Mike Morris 23/8/15

The Power of Three is an odd beast. Odd because all the things you think will be terribly wrong with it aren't really that much of a problem, but all the things that shouldn't be much of an issue tend to be disproportionately off-putting. Conversely, it's got some lovely incidental moments, but ideas that should be great end up rather uninspiring. One can't avoid bringing up the fact that it's got an offensively stupid conclusion - yeah, we'll come back to that - but somehow that's not the real problem.

What's doubly off-putting is that it's never quite clear what this story's meant to be. Series Seven prides itself on that "show me the movie poster" tactic, and the high concept here is - on the surface - a winner: "Rory and Amy's ordinary lives finally collide with the Doctor... and which life will they choose?" Yeah, I can see why you'd commission that, even if you'd probably put a bit of a discount on the script once you saw "Chris Chibnall" on the cover.

Except... that high concept, which they signpost in the pre-credits sequence, isn't what happens. The Doctor spends a funny few minutes with the Ponds, but he promptly gets bored and sods off to do exactly what he always does. So what we end up with is the start of a typical RTD-invasion-story which stalls for a year, a rerun of Pond Life, and a far-too-brief wrapping up of the plot at the end. Put like that it, sounds a mess, and I wouldn't be too surprised if some people utterly hated it. I didn't, but The Power of Three does... well excuse my lack of sophistication, but it just bugs the hell out of me.

That RTD element is difficult to deal with, for a start. Is this a by-the-numbers retread of all those "Earth's being invaded by aliens using insert-consumer-good-here" we got during the first four seasons, or is this a deliberate pastiche? On the one hand, Chibnall has form for blithely re-using elements wholesale - The Hungry Earth is more of a Letts-era greatest hits compilation than a story in its own right - but I'm inclined to think it's the latter, if only because the plot concludes so risibly that it's easier to believe it's being parodic. That, of course, brings it's own problems; if you're going to parody something you have to make damn sure you're smarter than the thing you're parodying, but the plot of The Power of Three isn't really any more engaging than That One With The Sontarans You Can't Really Remember.

Hang on. I don't hate this, so I'll be nice for a couple of paragraphs.

It's great to see Mark Williams again, and he's perfectly utilised. In fact, this is well-cast all round, and the leads' performances are so well-grooved that you could play a song off them at 33 revs per minute. After his aberration in A Town Called Mercy, Matt Smith is his surefooted self and has some laugh-out-loud funny moments; he can do this "disrupting normality" thing falling off a log, and he's well-supported by Gillen and Darvill trying to portray two people who've knowingly partitioned their lives to deal with the craziness.

And let's be clear: the story also contains the best scene of the season by some way. The Doctor and Amy's conversation on the Thames is lovely. Seamlessly-acted, sure, but beautifully scripted too; we actually gain an insight into the Doctor as a character, but not one that makes him seem less alien. Amy's important because she was there when he was born; understandable, but also giving a hint of what it's like to be someone born over and over again. Alien, but just like the rest of us, after all.

"Imprinted on my hearts." Just fantastic.

And something else to praise; this tale is sharper with its observation than any other story has been for some time. The cubes are blank toys, and adults want them just to have them. iPads get an overt namecheck for those of us who can't see the parallel and, if you're of a generation who took the back off a television or looked in fascination at a Haynes manual, a matt black cube is the perfect representation of an iPad or similar piece of technology; all glossy surface, a mute thing that won't let you in, a container of content that keeps all the wires hidden. It's not a shock that the cubes are quietly gathering data, either.

However, good observation isn't the same as good satire. As well as representing something we recognise, the cubes need to make sense in the world of the story, and that's where it all falls down. You could ask why the hell it takes them a year to work out something pretty obvious, but the big question is why people gather them up at all. They don't do anything. I'm sure the programme makers would claim that's the point, but it really doesn't fly. If the cubes were to - say - light up colours when you stroked them, then it would make so much more sense that people would be seized with consumer hysteria. It would also sharpen up the satire, in this age of apps and Angry Birds - they're alien Tamagotchis, if you want to get all retro. As it is, the "slow invasion" hinges on people gathering up huge numbers of completely useless random objects, which then take a year to figure out something they should have realised after - generously - a day's observation. This whole element isn't bad, it just needed tightening up.

That sentiment - "it needed tightening up" is at the nub of where The Power of Three fails, because it's a sentiment you can apply to numerous elements. The pitfalls come from clumsiness, rather than laziness or lack of ambition. This story's just the most egregious offender in a problem that blights most of this season's output but... well look, there's no nice way to say it: many of the other stories of the season are a bit first-drafty, but The Power of Three isn't even that good - it's more like an initial treatment they made on the fly. There are good ideas and nice moments, but even as you're watching there are big whacking things that don't make sense.

Some of these you can get past. It's unfortunate that the story decides to focus on the Ponds' difficulty maintaining their careers as well as time-travelling - but an agency nurse and a freelance writer are two jobs in which you won't get anywhere without being metronomically reliable, so Rory and Amy should be permanently unemployed by now. However this series is for twelve year olds - or, failing that, a grown-up's inner twelve year-old - so I can forgive that glitch (in the same way I forgave James Corden's self-confessed phone-grunt suddenly getting invited to a planning meeting in The Lodger). Some other problems are - conversely - so massively ridiculous you just sort of have to look right past them. If the cubes are gathering the data, what's that girl (and those weird orderlies) even doing in the hospital? Why keep a bunch of wormholes open to your spaceship, when all they seem to do is make the spaceship vulnerable and compromise the whole plan? And just how much more derisively off-the-shelf could that villain be at the story's conclusion?

And yet it's the subtler problems that really hurt this story. Here's a small, but really clear example; there's a scene in which the Doctor's hearts stop, and have to be shocked back into life. This is a brilliantly prosaic idea, the sort of everyday heroism that happens countless times on earth every day by people like Rory, yet the story's structured so it's Amy who saves the Doctor's life. Think about that for a moment. This is an episode about the Ponds showing that their normal life is just as valid as their life with the Doctor. There's no better way to do that than having Rory save the Doctor's life by just doing his day job. This should be the focus of the whole story, really. In fact, it's just another set-piece and a gaping missed opportunity.

Speaking of missed opportunities, it almost hurts to say that Kate Lethbridge-Stewart is - in this script at least - a walking opportunity for "aaaw do you remember the Brigadier" moments, but her character outline might as well have been "stern but reasonable, some sort of scientist." That last bit is quite literally true, as we're never even told what kind of scientist she is. She's well-played, though, which does at least mean she'll do better in later stories.

Ultimately, all the above gives the impression that - somewhere along the line - they added just one element too many and forgot what they were trying to do. Even that title doesn't really mean anything. It's a shame, because you do get the feeling that there's a much clearer and more memorable tale buried in this somewhere; sadly, what you end up with is some undeniably sweet moments (and some very insightful ones) that don't quite knit together and in some cases contradict each other. Rory's dad concludes by saying "it's you they can't give up, Doctor" after the previous forty-five minutes showed us precisely the opposite, and that speaks volumes.

Still, for all my complaints, it's not a stinker - at least, not if you ignore that infuriating reset button at the end. It's bright and funny and skips along. I'd once have thought of Chris Chibnall as just about the most soulless writer to start a Doctor Who script, but his Series Seven scripts showed me I was wrong on this point; they both have moments that are really charming. What they both lack - this one in particular - is real craft, which is often the most neglected element of storytelling. Stories are like furniture, sometimes. The really good ones are beautifully crafted, all parts working together to make a solid whole that grip you and hold you; the bad ones don't hang together, they're misshapen and have a tendency to collapse after a couple of sittings. The Power of Three isn't bad, as such, it's just the first story of the season that feels utterly inconsequential - even though it's straining to be anything but.

All Absolutely Identical by Hugh Sturgess 10/8/18

The Power of Three is a conceivably quite interesting and unusual episode that is in practice unbelievably boring. Not one decision the episode's creators made is the interesting option. It's obviously the case that the menace is fairly lame, but this isn't about the alien "invasion" but rather the Ponds and how they interact with the Doctor. This would be fine (great!), if anything Chris Chibnall had to say about the situation was interesting either. As it is, it's an almost studied exercise in limiting one's own horizons. Whenever it is at risk of doing something new with the format or breaking the formula to provide something unusual, it always circles back to the familiar.

Given that this is Chibnall's most recent piece for the series, it is fair to consider this a statement of what the series could do on his watch. I'm sure I'm not the only one who, as a result of this episode and his others, is filled with dread at the prospect of a Chibnall-run Doctor Who. On one level it was inevitable; he was one of only three possible successors to Moffat. On another level it was a depressing surprise, given the lengths to which he has gone to display his talentlessness. Not a single episode he has written for the series is memorable; Torchwood was a grotesque failure, and frankly Broadchurch is like the broad church of the Australian Liberal Party, in that the longer it goes on the more obvious it is that it was never any good to begin with. I have nothing complimentary to say about Chibnall, which is something I cannot say about (Moffat's other potential successors) Mark Gatiss and Toby Whithouse, for all their many faults. I can imagine a good version of a Gatiss- or a Whithouse-run Doctor Who. I cannot imagine a good Chibnall Who, mainly because I can't think of a single distinctive quality to him as a writer.

The central "threat", the little black boxes, is of course undercooked, the Shakri being quickly introduced at the climax and just as quickly winking out of existence. Literally, in the case of Steven Berkoff, who gets switched off and thus lets the Doctor undo the boxes' work in the space of five seconds with no opposition. (What happened to the box-mouthed nurses? What is the point of the hospital operations at all?) While Brian's suggestions of what the boxes could be (eggs, bits of a bigger whole, etc.) are not particularly surprising, and they are implicitly mocked by the script, the actual explanation - that they are just meant to be interesting enough that people will take them in and let them zap them to death - is so banal that one almost feels cheated for having invested in the mystery in the first place. Without ignoring Moffat's own faults, he would have made the payoff to the boxes something more left-field, more immediately satisfying. Conversely, RTD would have downplayed the boxes and focussed on the characters - but Chibnall doesn't do that either.

The focus on the episode is meant to be on the Ponds. Arguably, it would have been better to adopt an anthological or episodic structure to the story, so the boxes aren't built up as a big mystery. The episode is doing an interesting thing with the hyper-accelerated pacing of Series 7, speeding up a normal Doctor Who story so it can focus on the things that are normally excluded or pushed to the margins. At least, that's the idea.

Because "the year the Doctor came to stay" is rather undermined as a premise by him leaving for most of it. (He leaves after four days and returns about eleven months later.) We get exactly one scene of him "staying" with the Ponds (playing Wii before the boxes come to life). Had the episode not crammed an unnecessary voiceover at the beginning and end, would anyone even see this as the Doctor "coming to stay"? Does it even matter that it takes place over a year?

This gets to the heart of the fundamental pointlessness of this episode. What exactly is its message? The title, as we learn in the tacked-on and stilted concluding narration, refers to the Doctor-Amy-Rory triad, and the final scene apparently indicates that Amy and Rory would rather give up their normal life than their life with the Doctor. We know this, because Brian tells us that. The rest of the episode shows Amy and Rory pondering ending their travels in the TARDIS (Rory agreeing to go full-time at the hospital, Amy agreeing to be a bridesmaid months in advance). The entire structure of the episode - the Ponds trying to organise their lives around the Doctor's presence - is designed to show us they have lives of their own. Amy's statement that they have spent ten years travelling with the Doctor is followed by the Doctor musing that Amy is now "all grown up". Yet this theme is instantly put back in the box with a single line that comes from nowhere. It hits the reset button even though this is their second-to-last episode and no reset is needed. I don't mind the Neil Gaiman doctrine of "tell, don't show" (that is, putting explicit statement of the themes and emotions of a story into the mouths of its characters), but Brian's line contradicts both what we are shown and what we are otherwise told.

We should contemplate the possibility that it's Brian who gets Amy and Rory marooned in '50s/'60s New York. They are actively considering leaving the TARDIS for good, the Doctor explicitly gives them an out, and it's Brian, the man who had the whole 2008-vintage "what happened to the other people you travelled with?" line this episode, who virtually pushes them back into the TARDIS. It's a choice that comes from nowhere, based on nothing Brian has seen in the episode. A direct result of this is that Brian never sees his son and daughter-in-law again. Whoops.

There's something funny about an episode that asks us to imagine the Ponds juggling their real life and Doctor life, since their real lives are obviously so incapable of supporting such a conceit. The Moffat era has been almost entirely uninterested in the domestic lives of the companions, despite introducing the innovation of the part-time companion who lives a life outside of the TARDIS. Clara goes from being a full-time nanny living with the Maitlands to being a schoolteacher living in a housing estate between The Name of the Doctor and The Day of the Doctor, and abruptly changes home for Last Christmas before returning to her flat. At least Rory has consistently been a nurse since The Eleventh Hour, but, apart from that, their lives have been just as mutable. Amy informs us that she writes "travel articles for magazines", which is about as vague and obviously made-up as you can imagine. When does she find the time to travel for these articles? We spend a year with the Ponds, and there's no sign she leaves London. Does she just make them up? What happened to the modelling job she had literally three weeks earlier? Or the perfume she marketed in Closing Time?

In a weird, metatextual way, this justifies the otherwise out-of-nowhere ending. We accept that the Ponds' personal lives are thin and entirely contingent on what the show wants them to be doing at any one moment, so of course they decide to go with the Doctor at the end. His is the actual "real life", the only life the show invests its time in keeping consistent. Nothing can justify the wretched narration, though, particularly the almost amateurish closing ("So that was the time when the Doctor...") that sounds like Karen Gillan reading the phonebook.

Speaking of stilted, bored performances, Vanessa Redgrave's debut as Kate Lethbridge-Stewart is decidedly uninspiring. Redgrave is never the best performer, opting for a sort of unamused indifference, but here she is appalling. Not a single line she delivers sounds naturalistic, but nor does it sound crafted. It's as though this is the first time she's read her lines and so feels her way through each sentence as she goes. Her performance in the "your dad never did" scene is almost shockingly bad. She has improved greatly in her three subsequent performances, where she adopts restrained nonchalance that may, conceivably, be the product of some careful and insightful thought about adapting the Brigadier's studied unflappability for the modern age. In The Power of Three, however, it's hard to escape the conclusion that this is the work of a performer who simply isn't bothering. Given that she and Brian are the only two actual supporting characters in the episode, this is something of a problem.

It's unfair to judge this entire era on the basis of Chibnall's script, but it is difficult to come out of this experience not convinced at the obsolescence of the Ponds. The series has been doing the same thing for too long and needs a shock, which it duly gets with the arrival of Clara and the departure of Smith. Nevertheless, what does The Power of Three say about Chibnall? Again, perhaps it's unfair to judge a man by a script he probably wrote in a very short time, but let's be unfair, shall we? The most obvious thing is that it's very Davies-esque. It's an alien invasion story set in modern Britain, which is something Davies did regularly but Moffat has more or less shunned (at the risk of being proved instantly wrong, are The Eleventh Hour and Death in Heaven not the only examples of entirely contemporary stories actually penned by Moffat?). It's RTD's formula right down to the brief TV montage of real-life people (including Brian Cox in the Derren Brown/Richard Dawkins role of celebrity expert) commenting on the crisis.

It's RTD's formula but without an ear for dialogue or a grasp of character. Beyond the justly admired "flare and fade forever" scene, Chibnall does not at any point provide us with an insight into the characters that we do not already possess; he does not provide illuminating sketches or sharp portraits. It's neither subtle nor bold. Instead, it's rather bland, a faded watercolour impression of a much more stridently coloured original.

It's mimicry, in other words. Chibnall is competently but unoriginally executing the formula of an RTD script. When the plot doesn't make sense or Brian asks his "what happened to the other people who travel with you?" question, it can be put down to Chibnall repeating the tropes and cliches of Davies and to a lesser extent Moffat, without seeing them as worthwhile ideas in themselves. They're in the script because that's what Doctor Who does these days. This plays almost like a Big Finish story, one of the post-2005 issues that tries with varying degrees of success to ape the more character-driven, domestic tone of the New Series. That comparison is actually a good one, since Chibnall is a lifelong fan who once appeared on TV in the 1980s to bemoan the quality of then-current Doctor Who. His episodes play like quite competent but mostly unoriginal fanfic. It would certainly be good fanfic, but that's still below the level we should expect from the BBC's flagship show.

Based on The Power of Three, and Chibnall's other work for TV, it is hard to escape the conclusion that there just isn't very much he has to say. That a writer in 2012 is still performing the tricks the series got tired of in 2009 and that that same writer is poised to take control of the entire series in 2018-2019 is nothing short of dire. Chibnall thought he could do a better job than Eric Saward and John Nathan-Turner in the 1980s. Is he going to be the dog that caught the car, grabbing the job of a lifetime only to find out he doesn't know what to do with it?

The Power of Three Companions: Amy Pond, Rory Williams Villains: The Shakri Writer: Chris Chibnall I'm running to you, and Rory, before you fade from me by Evan Weston 24/12/19

The Power of Three, Chris Chibnall's second contribution to Series 7 after Dinosaurs on a Spaceship, is ostensibly "the time the Doctor came to stay". The excellent trailer led us to believe that the Doctor would be spending a significant amount of time in Amy and Rory's world, which sounded like a great setup for some Closing Time-esque comedy and character development. But the Doctor doesn't really stay at all. There's almost no domestic interaction or any interaction for a sustained period of time. Instead, we have an episode that's bouncing around a zillion different concepts without settling on any of them, eventually devolving into a total mess that leaves the viewer baffled by the finish.

Things start promisingly enough. The story spans a full year (or more, it's never quite clear) of the Ponds' lives, and it does this in an inspired and quick fashion, zipping through the months while giving us a realistic depiction of what happened to the couple post-Doctor. But naturally the Doc keeps getting in the way, as do billions of small black cubes that seemingly come from nowhere overnight. The cubes are intriguing, and the Doctor does get a fun montage of running about the house, but these events still feel like set up for a story waiting to launch itself to the next level. By the time the plot really begins, we're halfway through the episode's running time.

If any of Series 7's stories require two parts, this is it. 90 minutes would have solved so many of the problems present in The Power of Three. Chibnall has so many ideas present - he wants to delve right into the Doctor's relationship with Amy and Rory, tell a domestic comedy, give us an idea of what life is like for the Ponds and wrap this all within a fairly complex sci-fi yarn about billions of black cubes that foretell an invasion at the hands of a powerful alien race. Oh, also, there's UNIT with the Brigadier's daughter and Brian happens to be there, just plopped into the episode because he needs to be (though the character is Chibnall's baby). A two-parter might have been able to juggle this, especially considering The Power of Three's first half feels like the first quarter of a two-parter, but we've only got 45 minutes to get through everything.

This forces the second half of the story, though really just the final 15 minutes, into complete and utter disaster. Once the cubes activate and start to terrorize the British public, the script breaks into an all-out sprint and doesn't let up until the end credits, at which point you're sitting on your couch, winded and confused. We deal with the Shakri in about five minutes, there are suddenly portals where someone should have noticed them before, and nothing about the orderlies or that little girl is explained beyond some throwaway technobabble. Even worse, the whole plot is dissolved because the Doctor simply feels like coming up with a solution, which is essentially "reverse what the Shakri did," if I heard the technobabble correctly. It's astonishingly bad storytelling, and it stinks of Moffat and the producers hacking at the script due to time constraints. Series 7's format, while bold, occasionally hurts it, and this is a neon-blinking case study of why Doctor Who needs the occasional 90-minute episode.

The element that gets hit hardest by The Power of Three's running time is the villain. The black cubes are intriguing but sit useless for two-thirds of the story, to the point where we nearly forget about them with all the Doctor-Ponds drama going on. Once they start going nuts, there's really no element of surprise - it's fairly easy to figure out what they're doing and why they're on Earth. The only mystery pertains to what's controlling them, and the Shakri are terribly uninteresting bad guys. To be honest, I'm not even sure what they wanted beyond cackling and a vague sense of pride, but we never even get to meet more than the computer hologram. The Doctor defeats them far too easily, as mentioned, and the "cardiac arrest because hearts" thing is utterly stupid.

Other things in The Power of Three are a bit better. The performances are lovely, starting with Matt Smith's Doctor, who gets an absolutely adorable scene with Amy atop the UNIT building about halfway through that really shows you how good this could have been. Smith is a bit too goofy at times in this one, but moments like those reflect how much more mature his character is in the seventh series. Karen Gillan is on top form as well when she's on screen, though she takes a back seat in the second half and her monologue voiceover is pretty annoying. Arthur Darvill gets even less to do, though he's excellent as usual, and he and Mark Williams - used far less on the second go - still have excellent chemistry. The real guest standout is Jemma Redgrave as the Brigadier's daughter Kate, who comes off as an extremely competent and well-rounded character who could really be interesting with a bit more development.

The Power of Three also manages to be very funny when it's not floundering through a poorly executed alien invasion story. The Doctor's anniversary present going wrong is absolutely hysterical (Zygon ship underneath the Savoy!), his attempts to live with the Ponds are great fun, and Matt Smith in a bowtie playing Wii Tennis is a sight I thought I'd never see, but it got a laugh. The humor also brings us to Chibnall's character moments, which involve Amy and Rory having to choose between real life and "Doctor life". This never gets fully fleshed out, unfortunately, but what's there is very interesting, and the Ponds' choice to go with the Doctor sets up their death in The Angels Take Manhattan quite nicely. You can debate whether or not the message of "going with the Doctor for too long will get you killed" is appropriate, but it's definitely interesting.

I could definitely use more intelligent thought like that and less running around a multi-dimensional hospital with news anchors delivering exposition left and right, but that's what The Power of Three eventually becomes. There's too much good in it for it to be a complete failure, but the good parts are snuffed out in favor of an alien-invasion story that never really gets going and deflates completely by the end. There's a lot of effort from Chibnall and the cast to save this story, but we have the first real stinker of Series 7 on hand here. Shame it had to come right as the Ponds prepared to say goodbye.


The Weakness of Chibnall by Jason A. Miller 20/12/22

OK, OK, I freely admit it, the title of this review is a cheap shot. As far as Chibnall episodes go, this Series 7 tale has some strong emotional beats and an intriguing plot device -- unlike, say, anything that he later wrote as show-runner during Series 11. This is firmly adequate Moffat-era episode, not good enough to make any Top Twenty lists and not bad enough to be a guilty pleasure, but it's perfectly acceptable on rewatch. But, how much better could it have been?

It's hard to tell, of course, how much of this episode was Chibnall, and how much was Moffat. Rory's dad Brian is almost a third companion in this episode, a very different character than Wilf from the Russell T. Davies era, but serving as an interesting moral compass for the Doctor, and with an unexpectedly sweet sentimental beat at the end, as he fully approves of Rory and Amy taking one last journey with the Doctor. That doesn't seem very Chibnall to me. Seems like a Moffat character slotted into an under-running episode.

This is also the episode that brings in Kate Stewart as head of UNIT, and we learn early on that she's the Brigadier's daughter (for those of us who hadn't watched Downtime first so knew her name already, and, if you haven't watched Downtime yet, I envy you your innocence, and please stay that way). That seems like another Moffat device. After RTD relegated Nick Courtney to The Sarah Jane Adventures, Moffat went out of his way to reference the Brigadier in Doctor Who Prime whenever he could, giving him a death scene (offscreen) in A Good Man Goes to War, and giving him a schmaltzy resurrection in Death in Heaven. Jemma Redgrave is not my favorite recurring actress in Doctor Who, and it's typical Moffat goofiness that her technical expert is only ever referred to as "Glasses" (which gave me negative flashbacks to Handles in The Time of the Doctor). I guess they hadn't conceived of Osgood yet. So the UNIT/Kate Stewart parts of the episode didn't quite work for me.

The "slow invasion" is a terrific idea. The points above about the cubes not being interesting enough on their own for humans to hoard is intellectually valid, but I like the RTD era-inspired montage of the cubes showing up all over British pop culture, including the specially filmed clip from the UK version of The Apprentice (four years later, this reference would receive a dreadful appendix, when the host of the US Apprentice usurped the power of the Source and became the Keeper of Traken, if you catch my meaning). The cubes infecting hospital personnel, who then develop cubes protruding from their mouths, is the most Moffat-y of visuals, going all the way back to The Empty Child. And when the Shakri finally appear with a human avatar, it's the great Steven Berkoff showing up (all too briefly) as their face and voice. Having a Bond villain play your bad guy is always a good idea -- and even better if your Bond villain is from that Bond movie that had Gary Russell in it.

The Amy and Rory stuff is all just wonderful. We learn that they've now spent ten subjective years with the Doctor and that they're having trouble balancing their flourishing Earth careers and social lives with travel aboard the TARDIS. There's a funny interlude with the Zygon Invasion of the Savoy Hotel in the year 1890 (that sounds like another Moffat insert, as does the reference to K-9) and Brian being the only one to realize that they've spent seven weeks with the Doctor in the middle of an afternoon backyard barbecue. The passage of time in this episode -- it takes place over a full year -- is also quite visually striking, thanks to Douglas Mackinnon.

But there are two fatal flaws, for me, that reduce this episode to the vast mediocre middle of Doctor Who. One is Moffat's fault -- this story would have been the perfect way to write out Amy and Rory; their, like, fifth discreet exit from the show. Have them go off with the Doctor in the TARDIS for one last adventure again, and then pick up the next episode with the Doctor alone (closing the door behind them in the TARDIS in the opening scene, and then going off to meet Clara). Give them a triumphant finale, let that Doctor and Amy moment at the Tower of London (with that gorgeous rear shot of Amy leaning on the Doctor as they gaze out across the Thames) stand as their final proper scene together. Actually, Wikipedia says this was the last episode that Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill filmed, so, in my head canon, this really is their exit.

Instead, the tortured illogic and forced emotional beats of The Angels Take Manhattan came next, and completely upended and spoiled all the gains that Amy and Rory learned to make on Earth during the year in which The Power of Three is set. That leaves a sour taste, doesn't it?

And the other fatal flaw is Matt Smith. Before tonight, the last time I watched this episode was on the night it premiered, seven years ago, and my most lasting memory from that night was hating Matt Smith's overacting in the vacuuming-and-painting montage, and in the heart attack scene. I respect Matt Smith as an actor; I like his physicality in the role, his acrobatic moves and football skills, and I like most of his line readings. But his over-the-top shoutings in this episode were just too much, too frantic, too silly. If I had to rank all the Doctors in order, Smith for me is in the bottom tier. Good grades for his work, but a low rank because almost everyone else was better.

In sum, The Power of Three has much to recommend it, but those selling points may be due more to Moffat than Chibnall, and it has some pretty serious flaws. Flaws are OK, Doctor Who stories are allowed to have flaws. I can appreciate Warriors of the Deep in spite of the Myrka, I can love The Ambassadors of Death even though it's twenty-seven episodes too long in the middle, and I can love The Krotons in spite of... well, the Krotons, But Power of Three could have been an all-time great episode, and it's not, and that hurts a little bit.