Saturday, September 22, 2012

Doctor Who - The Power of Three - A Review

For me, Doctor Who has always been about ordinary people doing extraordinary things, and extraordinary things happening in ordinary places. But the dawn of Steven Moffat’s era seemed to largely herald an end to that vision of the show. If you look at the episodes from Series 5 onwards, you can just about count on one hand the ones that are set in modern day Earth. And I think that a lot of the poor characterisation that is synonymous with this era of the show is linked to the fact that its ties to the modern day have been next to non-existent in recent times. What I liked so much about The Power of Three, though, was that it brought the show back to the Extraordinary Things Happening In Ordinary Places mantra that worked so well for it in the past. For arguably the first time in the Moffat era, this modern, social media-driven world was presented well and accurately. And for the first time in the Moffat era we were given a decent insight into what the consequences of travelling with the Doctor really are (whereas it took Moffat three series to deal with this hugely significant issue, Russell T Davies had explored it by the end of the fourth episode of his first series). And, credit where it’s due, this episode really worked.

The highlight of the episode was, by country miles, the scene in which the Doctor and Amy sit by the Thames, watching the city by night. It sort of addressed a motif that has been touched upon before; just as Amy’s choice in Series 5 was between the ordinary (Rory) and the extraordinary (the Doctor), so was it again in this episode – should she and Rory choose the ordinary life, with friends and jobs and houses and anniversaries, or the extraordinary life with the Doctor? To an extent, it’s a decision that all companions have had to make. With Rose, there was never any question that she would choose life with the Doctor. The same goes for Donna. But the consequences of that decision were tragic for both characters – because of that decision, their on-screen stories had to end tragically, with them being involuntarily separated from the Doctor. Admittedly, Martha did stop travelling of her own accord, but that was more because being around a man who would never love her back was no good for her, and because of what travelling with him had done to her family. So what’s interesting about this story is that, for once, we’ve got two companions that are genuinely torn between two lives, and who are very close to choosing the other life. That’s not really a path that’s been explored in New Who before, but at the same time I think it’s a very real, and very human, response to their situation. Travelling through space and time is one thing, but at the end of the day, home is where the heart is. The fact that Amy is behaving in such a human manner is a giant leap for her character, an absolutely giant one - not least because the Amy of Series 5 would have chosen the extraordinary life in a heartbeat. What we’ve got here is evidence of an actual, proper character journey. And it’s so rewarding that it almost makes up for all the years where she was nothing more than an emotionless shell.

"You're thinking of stopping, aren't you?" The Doctor and Amy watch London by night.

The other highlight of that scene is the speech that the Doctor gives to Amy. We’ve heard him state before that the human life is “the one adventure [he] could never have.” We’ve seen him in episodes like The Lodger actually show us that he could never live a normal life. And whilst it’s not difficult to understand why he can’t live a life like that, we’ve never actually heard him stand up and articulate in his own words exactly why not.

“I’m not running away. But this is one corner of one country in 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 for ever. And it’s all right. Our lives won’t run the same. They can’t. One day – soon, maybe – you’ll stop. I’ve known for a while.”

As I said, we may have seen him be unable to cope with living life in the slow lane (and in the right order) and we may think we understand why, but hearing him explain why not to us is absolutely monumental. It allows us right into the Doctor’s head (just look at that second sentence – it’s so long and fast that it’s like his thoughts about this are almost too strong to be put into words), and that isn’t something that happens an awful lot on this show. Normally, everything we see is seen through the companion’s eyes, which is why the few times where we get to see things through the Doctor’s are so special.

Now, there’s no way I could end this review without mentioning Jemma Redgrave as Kate Stewart. I don’t venture onto Doctor Who sites as often as I used to, so I had no idea prior to the episode that there was so much speculation about who her character would be. And my Who senses are clearly waning, because even when she told the Doctor her name I still didn’t figure out who she was. Therefore the revelation that she was the Brigadier’s daughter was a real surprise for me, and an absolutely lovely one at that. One of the main reasons why her character worked (apart from Jemma Redgrave’s wonderful performance) was that she wasn’t written with the intention of being a female replica of the Brig. He was such a vital part of the show’s history that it would almost have been insulting to try and simply replace him with a character designed to be exactly like him. Instead, Kate is a strong, independent, likeable character in her own right (and take note, Moffat, that she didn’t have to be “feisty” like Sally/Amy/Clara/etc to be so); she’s not trying to be the Brigadier (hence why she dropped the ‘Lethbridge’ from her surname), but she is carrying on his good work. And overall I think that her character was one helluva tribute to both the character of the Brigadier and to Nicholas Courtney himself. I’m just really, really hoping we’ll be seeing a lot more of her in future – New Who’s UNIT needs a character like her.

Jemma Redgrave as Kate Stewart, a wonderful character and an even more wonderful tribute to the Brigadier.

So, overall, no major gripes with The Power of Three. It won’t ever be one of the great Doctor Who stories, but it was a really enjoyable, strong episode nevertheless and it followed on nicely from last week’s similarly enjoyable A Town Called Mercy. The Ponds’ grand finale is next week, and as long as the Weeping Angels are as good as they were in Blink (and not as poor as they were in The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone), it looks set to be a great episode. I mean, it’s set in New York and has got the fabulous River Song in it – what more could you want? Lovely jubbly.

(Also, just saying, this episode contained some of the best cameos in the show’s history. Professor Brian Cox, Lord Sugar and Sophie Raworth. Forget the Doctor, Amy and Rory – I think they’re the power of three that the title alludes to!)

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