We knew going into this episode of “Doctor Who” that we’d be watching the penultimate appearance of Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill as the Doctor’s companions Amy Pond and Rory Williams. And we knew the title — “The Power of Three” — promised something special. This would be a hour devoted to Amy, Rory and The Doctor coming together to solve a crisis, right?
Surely we’d see how each of them have an important role to play in a storyline that delivers on the title’s implicit promise: Three is better than one, or two. We’d nod our heads and think, “Yes, the Doctor is at his best with these companions.” Because they’re the companions we’re watching right now, we love them dearly, and we’re at the emotional high point of our relationship with them. We know they’re going to leave, but we don’t yet know how it will happen.
That was a heavy burden for “The Power of Three” to bear, and it turns out the episode was only partially interested in reminding us how well Amy, Rory and The Doctor work together as a team. There was a lot more business to attend to in this hour. Too much, really, for the episode to entirely succeed. But it was hardly a failure either. Especially when writer Chris Chibnall focused not on how Amy and Rory work with The Doctor, but on how they work without him.
As we near the end of the Pond era, we’ve been seeing more and more of the couple at home. The “Pond Life” minisodes that served as a bridge between seasons already established that they have an entire life away from The Doctor. And both Amy and Rory have demonstrated their increasing ambivalence over which path they prefer: traveling with The Doctor on adventures through space and time, or living a “regular” life with jobs, friends, family and the ability to finish a carton of milk before it sits spoiled in a fridge for two months while you’re off battling Daleks or robotic cowboy assassins.
Life with The Doctor is a non-stop thrill ride, but Amy and Rory aren’t Time Lords, they’re humans. And they’ve reached a point where it’s time to get off. Or have they? “The Power of Three” spent a lot of time convincing us that the Ponds are ready to end their journeys with The Doctor. But it turned out to be more of a temporary blip. Once they’d saved the world again — this time from a “slow invasion” by little black cubes sent to wipe up humanity by The Doctor’s childhood nightmare the Shakri — they were ready to jump back in the TARDIS for more timey-wimey fun.
It felt like there was enough story crammed into “The Power of Three” to support a two-parter. Chibnall needed more time to set-up Amy and Rory’s decision at the end, as well as the magical Sonic Screwdriver solution The Doctor improvised to reverse the damage done by the Shakri. (After delightfully spending most of the episode frustrated and confused over the little black cubes, and suffering from cardiac arrest on one of his hearts, he had no trouble outsmarting their attack.) These could have, and probably should’ve, been the kind of Big Moments “Doctor Who” is often so good at, but they were too rushed to achieve full impact.
It also would’ve been nice to spend a little more time with Rory’s dad. We only met Brian (Mark Williams) two episodes ago in “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship” (also written by Chibnall), but he’s been a great addition, fitting nicely into the strong legacy of Companion Relatives over the past few years begun by Camille Coduri as Jackie Tyler.
However, what may have been lacking in “The Power of Three” shouldn’t detract from what was there to appreciate. First and foremost, The Doctor’s intimate conversation with Amy was full of great dialogue, culminating in the episode’s sentimental peak: “You were the first face this face saw.” (If there’s not one final “fish fingers and custard” reference during the Ponds’ exit episode, Steven Moffat will have missed the easiest emotional button to push.)
Then there were the various ways “The Power of Three” dealt with the past, present and future of the franchise. We were immediately reminded of the past with a rapid fire “greatest hits” montage of Amy and Rory with The Doctor.
And it certainly felt like we were getting hints at the future in the introduction of two major characters: Kate Stewart (Jemma Redgrave), head of scientific research at UNIT and the aforementioned Shakri. Stewart had a direct connection to “Who” history, she’s the daughter of Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, a popular character from the show’s pre-21st Century era played by the late Nicholas Courtney. Although The Brigadier didn’t really factor into the current Davies/Moffat run, he’s now directly tied in through Kate. I suspect we’ll be seeing more of her to come, especially since Redgrave was excellent in the role. Similarly, if the Shakri don’t return to cause trouble in later installments, it would be surprise.
Meanwhile, Amy and Rory had a chance to really live in the present. As the “slow invasion” of the cubes took a year to develop, the Doctor spent large chunks of time with them waiting, irritated and impatient as any Time Lord would be. The experience wasn’t as bad for Amy and Rory. For the first time in a decade (we learned that’s how long Amy has been traveling with The Doctor), they were able to live their lives uninterrupted. It felt good.
But how can you say no to saving the universe? Amy and Rory thought they could leave life with The Doctor behind, but a decision like that can’t just come about over weddings and jobs and spoiled milk. The lure of the TARDIS is too powerful. Something major has to happen. We’ll see what that is next week.