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There’s no getting around the fact that this bunch of Doctor Who episodes is all one big buildup to the exit of Amy and Rory. We know we’re spiraling toward tragedy, and something in the behavior of these characters says that somehow they know it too. That makes it all the more refreshing that we get an episode like “The Power of Three,” a story with a focus on the Ponds’ home life, and how the Doctor, if only briefly, fits into the more boring side of their existence.

The episode begins with a meditation by Amy (Karen Gillan) and Rory (Arthur Darvill) on just what their relationship status is with The Doctor (Matt Smith). Time doesn’t work the same way with The Doctor that it does at home, and things are beginning to fray. As they describe it, they’ve got two lives: their workaday lives where Rory is a nurse and Amy is a travel writer, and “Doctor life.” They come to the conclusion that they have to choose, but the adventures aren’t over yet.

When millions of small black cubes begin appearing around the world, The Doctor drops in on the Ponds and decides he should stay a while and figure out the mystery. But it’s not that easy, and he quickly reverts to his old come and go ways. When the cubes begin doing more than just sitting around, The Doctor returns to save the day, but will he be able to stop the “slow invasion,” and what will this adventure mean for Amy and Rory’s future as his fellow travelers?

The plot of this episode seems almost secondary. What we’re really interested in here, what we’re really watching for, is how what happens here will inform how Amy and Rory leave us. Nothing extreme is explored. In fact, much of it is the same stuff we’ve realized about the trio already, but what “The Power of Three” does do very successfully is bring it into sharper focus.

Last season Amy and Rory were put through the ringer, and The Doctor’s guilt over it rang out, so he tried to give them something calmer, a less demanding life with him and a more balanced life at home. Last season we were all wondering if the fate of the Ponds was proof that The Doctor would always hurt the ones he loves. It seems the answer is probably yes, but now The Doctor’s the one who seems to be hurting. He’s failing to adjust to this new relationship. He’s failing to let Amy and Rory go, if only for a while. Even when he does manage it, he comes right back and invites them on a new adventure. This is a Doctor who knows that traveling with him is dangerous for any human, but he loves them too much. It’s not that he wants to be Amy and Rory’s perpetual rescuer, or their perpetual travel guide or father figure or even surrogate son (because he is rather childlike). It’s just that, as Elton John once said, it’s lonely out in space, and this Doctor, more than any other so far, seems to feel that sort of thing rather acutely. He flits through the universe, meeting everyone but getting to know no one, but he has Amy and Rory, and he’s intent on preserving that at any cost, even if that cost is driving the three of them apart. It’s already happened once. He knows that. But can he keep it from happening again?

At the end of “The Power of Three” – which, plot-wise, is an episode with a cool concept that never really paid off for me – we’re left with a thorough re-immersion in this odd threesome that we’ve lived with for three years now. We see the strange co-dependencies that continue to add layers. We see the practicalities being canceled out by the flood of emotions every time they reunite. We see the inherent tragedy of how this must end. And we wait for next week, when it will.

Next Week: The Angels Take Manhattan

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