* * * * *
The winning streak couldn't last. We've opened the series with a straight run of three good episodes, which is surprising and pleasing, but here the cheer runs out and we break our shins on a plain old duffer of an episode. It's not that The Power of Three is abhorrent, it's just bland and forgettable. Many a Who fan will tell you that being bland and forgettable is the worst thing DW can do, and while I strongly disagree with that, clearly this episode isn't going to get high marks.
I've seen a lot of critics and commentators say that this episode is really all about the Ponds and their imminent departure, that the issue of their relationship with the Doctor and the conflict between "Doctor life" and "real life" is the main attraction here. Well, great, that's about three minutes of dialogue accounted for. I suspect the real reason people have focused on the Pond Question is just that there's bugger all else to work with here. The idea of an adventure that requires the Doctor to spend a year living the quiet life on Earth is a good one, and sure, it's a natural springboard for a consideration of the place of the Doctor and the Ponds in each others' lives now that the Ponds have a settled home life. Whereas what we get is a few minutes of that playing second fiddle to the sprawling non-story of the cubes. The Pond Question needed either to be the story (or be reflected more clearly in the story), or to have a better story supporting it.
I mean, the episode starts off well enough, building up mystery around what the cubes are and where they've come from, then after rather too much dragging around we find out the villain is Steven Berkoff with a nasty skin condition, and he's planning to kill off humanity because he's a bit of a git, and dull dull dull-diddly-dullsville. It's beyond perfunctory. Ohhhh, I don't know... sinister character actor in a black cape and some make-up, will that do? Why's he doing villainous things? Eh, just is.
Chris Chibnall's taken a very simple approach to both his episodes this series, and that paid off with Dinosaurs on a Spaceship for a variety of reasons: it suited the pulp adventure flavour of the story; the mystery of dinosaurs being on a spaceship, and its explanation, wasn't a significant part of the plot, which was in itself robust enough to carry 45 minutes of TV; the characters' motivations, though simplistic, were sufficiently clear and plausible to support the story. It fails to pay off with The Power of Three for similar reasons: it doesn't suit a mystery-heavy, character-focused story; the mystery is the central pillar of the plot, and a crappy payoff undermines that; the Shakri's motivation is hackneyed but also sufficiently unclear by the end of the episode as to leave the whole shebang floating in the fog.
There's some other stuff drifting around in here, none of which adds up to very much. The girl with the blue-glowing face and the two cube-mouthed hospital orderlies seem to have been thrown in just to meet the weirdness quota for the week - I don't recall there being any explanation of them, and they just seem to vanish from the story once they've had their close-up. The scenes between the Doctor and Kate Lethbridge-Stewart, and their "absent friends" nod to the late Brigadier, could be considered a foreshadowing of the Ponds' departure, but her inclusion in the story also looks a bit too much like a sop to the kind of continuity-obsessed fans who would want the Brigadier's daughter to take over as UNIT's figurehead. Nice to see Mark Williams making another appearance as Rory's dad, although most of his time seems to be taken up with commenting on the fact that nothing's happening. And sure enough, it is.
So this might be a 4, might be a 5. It's tempting to give it a (Power of) 3 out of 10, but it's not that bad. It's just lacking any kind of flavour or character. And on that note, we prepare to say goodbye to Amy Pond.