You might have noticed that I haven’t mentioned my friends Carl and Sandy in a while. They’re the ones that I got into Doctor Who and who had recently finished the Tenth Doctor’s episodes and had watched the first three episodes of the Eleventh Doctor’s run. Well, Sandy got sick and recuperated. Then got sick again, and recuperated. Then got really sick, as in really sick, as in spent-three-days-lying-in-bed-staring-at-the-ceiling sick. Then she got better. Then she got sick again. I’m not kidding. After a month of bopping in and out of doctor’s offices and hospitals, during which she had no interest in watching any TV other than having Frasier on as background noise, she’s finally better. And now that she’s interested in getting back to watching Doctor Who, Carl is starting to whine that he misses the Tenth Doctor and doesn’t want to watch a new Doctor. Geez. So, they’re still stuck at “The Time of Angels.” I’ve tried to tempt Carl by reminding him that he’ll never know any more about River Song, but he hasn’t bitten yet.
Meanwhile, my husband and I have gotten back to our task of rewatching the Eleventh Doctor’s run, and over this weekend, we watched the three episodes ending with “The Power of Three.” The first was “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship,” which has to be a wonderful episode, given its name, right? I mean, really, dinosaurs on a spaceship! What could be cooler? I remember liking this episode the first time, and the second time didn’t disappoint. It’s not a fantastic episode, but it’s a fun romp, a great filler episode, and we get to meet Brian Williams, Rory’s awesome dad. David Bradley is wonderful as the unlikable, amoral Solomon.
Next up was “A Town Called Mercy.” Now, this episode, I didn’t like it when I first saw it, and I will be the first to admit that I really don’t like Westerns and that did prejudice me against the episode. This time, it was a passable episode. In general, I find most Doctor Who episodes improve on second watching, as you know what the plot is and can pay attention to the details, and this one followed that trend. The conflicts between the characters, the hunter, the hunted, and the protector, changed over the episode and kept it very interesting.
I did have three quibbles with it, though. First, Amy tells the Doctor, when he tried to deliver Kahler Jex to the Gunslinger, that he shouldn’t travel alone. It bugged me that this was the entire point of the Tenth Doctor’s story – his last two episodes dealt directly with what happens when he does so and what he has to do to redeem himself from that failure – and the Doctor still hasn’t learned that lesson? This was just a rehash of an old point: it was handled so much better in “The Waters of Mars,” and it was something that didn’t need to be brought up again. Second, Kahler Jex allows the entire town to put itself in harm’s way and act as decoys while he escapes, only to get to his ship and suicide. It was supposed to be his redemption, but it just didn’t sit well with me. The third point, I’ll discuss below.
And then we come to “The Power of Three.” I remember this one as being one of the few Series 7 episodes that I really liked, and, well, it completely disappointed me on rewatch. The first 75% of the episode was wonderful, building up the puzzle of the cubes and showing what happens over the year that the Doctor tries to figure them out. The cubes finally activate and send 1/3 of the planet into cardiac arrest. And then the Doctor, Rory, and Amy get to Shakri ship and the episode just falls apart. The Doctor tries to talk to the Shakri, but it simply repeats itself and disappears, and the Doctor sonicks the computer to make the cubes defibrillate the ailing humans, and everybody lives. What’s wrong with this? First, it takes the Doctor at least fifteen minutes to get to the Shakri ship (remember, he was at the Tower of London when it started and one of his hearts failed, so he had to stumble all the way to Rory’s hospital) – that’s a long time for 2+ billion people to survive constant cardiac arrest. Second, the final showdown between the Doctor and the Shakri consisted of the Doctor trying to wax poetic on the beauty of humanity (and it didn’t work well; the Tenth Doctor did a better job quoting The Lion King) while the Shakri pretty much kept repeating itself. There was no dialogue. Yes, the Shakri were supposed to be unfeeling and unreasonable, but put together as a whole, the exchange just didn’t work.
Third, the ending was too tidy. The implication was that all 2+ billion people lived. Doctor Who has never gone for the dark side of alien invasions, where masses of people die, but this was too unbelievable. On the other hand, there were about seven people unconscious on the Shakri ship and Rory and Amy didn’t have time to wake all of them up and get them out before it blew up, but no one cares about them. Fourth, after watching her in “The Day of the Doctor,” Kate Stewart was disappointing. She’s simply there to provide a lab for the Doctor to examine the cubes with and give him an easy way to tell the world to dispose of them. Other than her initial entrance, she spends the episode doing nothing. I’m hoping that she will become a force in the Twelfth Doctor’s run.
Fifth, this goes back to the third point for “A Town Called Mercy”: the deus ex machina that is the sonic screwdriver. In ATCM, the Doctor has ten seconds to deactivate the spaceship’s auto-destruct, so he fires the sonic at it and it works. In TPoT, the Doctor has some number of seconds to reprogram the cubes to defibrillate the humans, so he fires the sonic at the control panel and it works. It reminds me the reason why the Fifth Doctor’s screwdriver was destroyed and was not replaced until the modern series: John Nathan-Turner felt that the sonic screwdriver was a crutch that made writers lazy. Instead of having the Doctor solve a problem, he could just point the screwdriver at it and win. These two scenes are classic examples of the sonic screwdriver being a crutch, and it’s a huge disappointment. In many other similar situations, the Doctor has defused devices using his vast knowledge or even simply guessed at a solution and won; while this might still be considered a deus ex machina (since there’s no real problem-solving used in the solution), it still adds tension to the show while allowing the Doctor act heroically. Simply sonicking a device adds nothing, and in the case of “The Power of Three,” dropped the plot into a dark pit.
Yes, “The Power of Three” disappointed me this much.
So, unfortunately at this point in Series 7, I have to say that this series is still at the level of average to below average. Tonight is “The Angels Take Manhattan,” and then hopefully Clara’s episodes will be better than I remember them.