The latest episode of Doctor Who has put me in an interesting place as a Doctor Who fan. As the, to put it politely, mixed fan reaction of the first three episodes of this series emerged, I felt slightly distant from the community at large. Unlike most of what I read, I did not hate Asylum of the Daleks (although admittedly I did not love it) and I felt more positive about Dinosaurs on a Spaceship and A Town Called Mercy. Many of the main problems I felt with the last series, most prominently pacing, have not annoyed me as much this run and so I sat down to The Power of Three with more positivity than most.
And I really did not like it.
To start off, can we drop the annoying voice-overs already? It’s a way of saying things which should not need to be said out loud, not only because the episode we’re about to watch should tell us but because it’s the premise of the bloody show! This isn’t like a prologue to a play, this is Eleven Doctors in and the companion/Doctor relationship does not need to be laid bare in four sentences before the music starts. It made the whole thing seem very American and cheesy, two things I think we can all agree we do not want Doctor Who to become. I also think that a weak opening and a weak ending is a massive structural issue for an episode and so is not so easily dismissed as a problem with style.
And, as we’re on the subject of saying things out loud in an awkward and unnecessary way, I do not remember the last time I heard dialogue as clunky as ‘Rory, we need you, you’re a life saver but you’re never here’ or ‘We have two lives, we need to choose’. Really? I’m sure Rory is a good nurse, but so much better than his co-workers that his absences from a hospital, where staff are not exactly expendable, are just a little issue and not a sackable offense? And if you’re setting up an episode about two characters with two conflicting lives, do they need to have a conversation out loud about the issues we’re about to see come to life? It seems like a lack of faith in the ideas (or at least the execution of them) to constantly read them out at the side like an English teacher interrupting to give you context.
But it’s not just in conversations that I felt like I was being hit over the head with the ‘IT’S DIFFICULT TO BE A COMPANION’ theme. I was not moved particularly by the scene with Amy and The Doctor because I felt it unnecessarily contrived. Unlike the subtle moments of finding that the milk has gone off, it all felt a bit obvious. Of course The Doctor knows they’re going to leave, he knows that every time, so why ask them outright when they’re going to stop? And Amy seemed to be conflating her own dubious motives for travelling in the TARDIS, as in running away from her wedding day, with The Doctor’s. It shows a surprising lack of knowledge about the Time Lord himself. But then this I put less down to the episode and more to the fact that I am officially sick of the Ponds. Maybe, in the end, I am just confused as to why The Doctor is so keen to hang onto them when I’m so keen to see them go.
The plot itself, that it the plot of the cubes, did not fair much better. To start with the obvious: the plot holes you could drive a Parliament of Daleks through. There is an alien invasion so meticulously planned as to send millions of black cubes to Earth and have them research humanity over a year but they can still be thwarted by twenty seconds with the sonic screwdriver. They start taking random patients from the hospital to their craft, I assumed for experiments (although that was never cleared up), except there is only an interface on board. The boxes stop people’s hearts which can be magically restarted the same way even after, to be kind, tens of minutes have passed with no real adverse effects. A THIRD OF THE POPULATION die and everyone talks about it like we’ve lost the keys to the world’s least interesting library: annoying but really, who will ask after it? And on a hugely busy day at the hospital (because A THIRD OF THE POPULATION HAVE DROPPED DEAD OR ARE DYING) nurses just bring their dads to work to help out and are distracted by them instead of doing their jobs.
But maybe what annoys me the most is comparisons to Army of Ghosts because it is probably one of my favourite Doctor Who episodes of all time. I can see the obvious thematic similarities: people taking things into their homes which seem benign but turn out not to be. But that, for me, is where the comparison ends. Because Army of Ghosts was about aliens praying on the greatest human weakness: love. It gave people hope that things they had lost were safe and could be returned, it prayed on the most vulnerable and the most admirable of human desires and so was able to bypass the worst, it had the potential to affect everyone with the same devastating force. And my main problem was the black cubes had none of that. They fall from the sky and, despite the fact that they are scary looking black cubes, everyone takes them into their homes? No one is afraid of them? Because, I tell you, humans have a propensity to be afraid of things they don’t understand. For all The Doctor’s speechifying about the merits of a hopeful humanity, he has probably seen more than most how we can be the opposite and so why was there none of that? It is not enough for The Doctor at the end to say ‘They’re attractive’ and explain why everyone took them in. For a start, they weren’t, being so obviously menacing even on just an aesthetic level. It is not like iPads falling from the sky because iPads have a utility. Overall, the whole thing felt tacked on and had none of the depth of Army of Ghosts.
That is not to say it had no merit: Brian is excellent and his development as essentially the anti-Doctor was engaging and charming while remaining realistically human (notice how all his first ideas about the boxes were bad, but everyone else was happy to use them as paperweights). And Kate Stewart is possibly the best female character of Moffat’s run; she’s funny without the sass (which is starting to grate), she’s smart, she has reinvigorated UNIT in an interesting way, she’s got emotionally history with The Doctor. Basically, bring her back! But these did not outweigh my concerns.
Despite the alarming number of rhetorical questions I have used in this piece, I am not trying to persuade you I am right and that this episode is bad, but to ask this question: is this just the result of fandom? Am I just reacting because I feel like my view is a lone cry into the void that is Tumblr gifs and forum responses and posts on this very site? Maybe the problem is that it was an average episode that I have taken against because no one else seems to share my doubts. Maybe if it had seemed that everyone loved Asylum of the Daleks I would have written Alex Day’s post.
So I genuinely want to hear what you thought – am I exaggerating? Was it as bad as I described? Or is the whole thing just a reaction to being outside of the fandom consensus?