The Power of Three ★★★★

Jemma Redgrave heads Unit when strange black cubes infest the Earth. Plus writer Chris Chibnall talks to RT

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Story 229

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Series 7 – Episode 4

“So that was the year of the slow invasion, when the Earth got cubed, and the Doctor came to stay” – Amy

Storyline
The whole world is surprised when millions of little black cubes appear out of nowhere. They’re inert, impenetrable and indestructible. But what are they? Where are they from? Who created them? This is what the Doctor and his friends must find out. Their surveillance of the cubes takes almost a year so the restless Time Lord has to move in with the Ponds. He hooks up with Kate Stewart, the head of scientific research at Unit. The cubes eventually activate and begin electrocuting humans, and the Doctor finds himself aboard the spaceship of the Shakri, the alien in control.

First UK transmission
Saturday 22 September 2012

Production
April to July 2012. At Villa Napoli restaurant, Penarth; Church Road, Penarth; Caerphilly Castle; St Nicholas, near Cardiff; Bute Esplanade, Cardiff Bay; St Cadoc’s Hospital, Caerleon; Neath Abbey; Upper Boat Studios; BBC Roath Lock Studios; The Apprentice studio; King Street, Hammersmith.

Cast
The Doctor – Matt Smith
Amy Pond – Karen Gillan
Rory Williams – Arthur Darvill
Brian Williams – Mark Williams
Kate Stewart – Jemma Redgrave
Shakri – Steven Berkoff
Ranjit – Selva Rasalingam
Laura – Alice O’Connell
Arnold Underwood – Peter Cartwright
Orderlies – David Beck, Daniel Beck
Unit researcher – David Hartley

As themselves: Brian Cox, Alan Sugar, Nick Hewer, Karren Brady, Emily Maitlis, Sophie Raworth, Matthew Amroliwala

Crew
Writer – Chris Chibnall
Director – Douglas Mackinnon
Producer – Marcus Wilson
Music – Murray Gold
Designer – Michael Pickwoad
Executive producers – Steven Moffat, Caroline Skinner

RT review by Patrick Mulkern
“It’s Doctor Who from Amy and Rory’s point of view,” writer Chris Chibnall told me in 2012, priming RT readers for his second episode of the season (following the riotous Dinosaurs on a Spaceship). “It’s really what life is like to travel with the Doctor if you’re Amy and Rory.” Our conversation took place a few months before Chibnall’s success with ITV’s Broadchurch and long before it was imagined he’d take over as showrunner after Steven Moffat.

He structured The Power of Three differently from most episodes. Unfolding over almost a year, it reads like a John Wyndham sci-fi page-turner, constantly keeping you guessing as the Earth deals with an invasion by stealth. Those small black cubes that appear out of nowhere and seem innocuous. A simple, fun little object. A memento I’d love to have had from the set.

The mystery/crisis calls for amusing cameos by some famous TV faces including Lord Sugar. And there are splendid star turns, too. Mark Williams is back as Rory’s dad, Brian, and really earns his companion/assistant badge. Steven Berkoff – surely always destined to be a Doctor Who villain – appears all too briefly and is subdued but weirdly effective. Much of his material was cut in the final edit, which renders the resolution abrupt and confusing. The standout performance is from Jemma Redgrave – sheer class as Kate, the sympathetic new leader of Unit.

Yes, the Unified Intelligence Taskforce returns once more. This semi-top-secret, military/scientific outfit has featured in the Doctor’s life since the 1960s, and Chris admits that The Power of Three was “a really great chance to use Unit. There’s a strange invasion going on, so Unit is the best thing to deal with that. As a writer you’re eternally grateful to everyone back in 1968 who came up with that idea because it’s a brilliant storytelling mechanism. Unit is embedded into the family history of the show. And it’s nice because Matt’s Doctor hasn’t had a Unit episode until now.”

And then he whispered to me: “Promise you won’t use this in advance…? Kate Stewart is the Brigadier’s daughter.” Her surname wouldn’t be published before transmission, but you didn’t need to be the most clued-up fan to twig that she was related to Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart (former Unit CO and friend to many previous Doctors).

“I thought it would be a nice way to honour the Brigadier and [the actor] Nicholas Courtney’s contribution to the show by anchoring Unit to his family,” said Chris. “It was a way to keep that family line going, after we’d heard last year on screen that the Brigadier had died [in The Wedding of River Song].” (Courtney died in 2011.)

Chris believes that one of the most enjoyable aspects of Doctor Who is its sense of continuity, which even younger viewers pick up on. “My kids who are nine and six absolutely understand who the Brig was and why he’s important. They’ve seen him in The Sarah Jane Adventures and some classic Doctor Whos.”

I’m still annoyed that the Brig – one of my favourite characters – wasn’t brought back to 21st-century Who while Nick Courtney was well and able and very keen. His inclusion in The Sarah Jane Adventures was welcome but a last-minute decision after several other previous cast regulars proved unavailable. But let’s not moan. Kate is a wonderful addition and, curiously, isn’t a brand-new invention of mainstream Who. The character was established in a 1995 fan-produced drama, Downtime, which did star Courtney.

What’s even more wonderful is that the scientific arm of Unit is now superior to the military side. Kate is head of scientific research. “Unit’s been adapting,” she tells the Doctor. “I’ve been dragging them along, kicking and screaming.” And Kate was inspired by her dad: “He guided me to the end. Science leads, he always told me. Said he learnt that from an old friend.” Aww! Jon Pertwee’s Doctor would be so chuffed.

The core value – the cube root, if you will – of The Power of Three is the perfect triangle of the Doctor, Amy and Rory. We’re nearing the end of their time together and it’s a chance to savour the chemistry between these three talented young actors.

Overlooking the feeble denouement (where the Doctor reverses coronary failure around the world), I’d say the strongest scene is the heart to heart between the Doctor and Amy beside the Thames. The Time Lord tries to explain his frenetic lifestyle: “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.”

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When she asks, “Why do you keep coming back for us?”, he replies, “Because you were the first. The first face this face saw. And you’re seared onto my hearts, Amelia Pond. You always will be. I’m running to you, and Rory, before you fade from me.” So touching.