Sunday, May 26, 2013

"The Power of Three"

"It's like, how much more black could this be?
And the answer is, none."
Putting two episodes of New Who written by Chris Chibnall, damned for all eternity for being mean to Pip 'n' Jane Baker in the Eighties, in a single half-series is like one guy punching you while his big mate holds your arms behind your back, but it turns out that "Dinosaurs on a Spaceship" wasn't a complete gob of spittle in the eye and neither is this. Not a complete one, I stress to add. "The Power of Three" is still a badly-paced, mediocre episode of New Who the poignancy of which relies on both character and narrative development for Amy and Rory that Moffat unfortunately completely failed to develop in his mishandling of Series 6 and the previous episodes this series, and at the end of the day in a philosophical thought experiment where you could derail a train and kill a hundred innocents or watch "The Power of Three" you'd still be scratching your chin in the driver's compartment. I'd still rather watch "The Twin Dilemma" followed by "Time and the Rani". I'm exaggerating. It's just one of those episodes that leaves you thinking 'they spent the budget on this?' It just compounds that sinking feeling you get when you watch New Who that leaves you sure that the people making the show only give a toss in a very disingenuous way where they care as long as they don't have to, y'know, make a good story. The fact that so far the two most palatable episodes this series - not best, it's just easier to eat cold white bread than it is to eat gravel - are by Chinballs leaves me blinking in bemusement like Matt Smith's Eleventh Doctor in 'eccentric punchline' mode.
The Doctor Who garden at the Beeb: every show's got one.
So in whatever the equivalent of a hat trick is but over four occasions rather than three we start off with yet another damned voiceover, this time an extremely cornball one from Amy in an "are you ready for an exciting adventure boys and girls" tone about how when she and 'Roryyy' were with the Doctor everything was so mad and barmy and amazing and barmy and mad and how when they were at home cleaning the sink or whatever it sucked arse. What a surprise. Didn't this message get rammed home to us like a toilet plunger to the gob during the reign of Mr. Russell T "Rusty Trouser Discharge" Davies? About how, y'know, Rose needed to escape from her gormless mother and boyfriend and council estate because real life is boring? Well, that's pretty much what "The Power of Three" is - an RTD story with Moffat characters. We'll get to that. Rory tells Amy after this whole voiceover, already unnecessary, that, as he redundantly puts it "We have two lives", one at home and one with the Doctor. Gosh, really Rory? I hadn't figured that out from your wife's playschool monologue. Amy wraps up said soliloquy with how one time the Doctor was stuck with them during the "year of the slow invasion". Good grief. Just when you thought it was safe to go back around the couch you get shot in the unparticulars with some eye-bursting pseudo-poetry.
Brian knows what's inside. But Brian's not telling.
I really think that the Doctor should have 'hilariously' appeared in Amy and Rory's bedroom while they slept in an amusing 'no personal space' scenario but no, he's outside on the play equipment as Mr Weasley, returned from "Dinosaurs on a Spaceship", reveals that there are black cubes everywhere. Then the episode turns into an RTD story on crack: we see TV footage of real British newsreporters and Professor Brian Cox talking bollocks to give us a sense of verisimilitude which serves magnificently to date the episode and make it seem more artificial watching real world people interact with a totally imaginary universe to drastically weaken our ability to suspend disbelief. I really thought we'd lost this with the death of the Tenth Doctor. Also, why is it more useful for the Doctor to set up a lab to test the cubes in Amy and Rory's kitchen rather than inside the TARDIS? There's a nice bit of sparring between Rory and the Doctor about jobs and responsibilities, a rare example of the massively, massively underutilised potential of developing Rory's friendship with the Doctor - does he actually just tolerate him because of his wife and time machine? Then oh hooray, boring old black-suited modern-style UNIT shows up in a ridiculously tired action movie "hup hup hup" kick-the-door-down style entrance, catching Rory in his undies for a cheap gag. Incidentally, before the stormtroopers burst in Amy remarks to the Doctor that they've been travelling with him 'on and off' for ten years. Ten years? Bloody hell, that was not conveyed effectively at any point in this series or the last. I know the Doctor hooned around on his own for two hundred years at the end of last series but still, ten years? It is not conveyed meaningfully. Even if we assume that's ten years personally for Amy and Rory, and only a few years in 'real time' (as it were) there is no way that what we've seen has ever suggested or accounted for the two of them having years upon years worth of travel with the Doctor except in the most limited way.
"Do you mind if we use your loo?"
Anyway Kate Stewart of Downtime fame, weirdly enough, but played by Jemma Redgrave not of Downtime fame shows up leading UNIT talking about 'artron energy' because we'd gone far too long without some technobabble bollocks. I can't believe they revived a character invented for a licensed non-BBC Doctor Who spinoff to use in this episode. They can do that, but they won't bring back Paul McGann. What is wrong with the world. I kind of like that she recognises the Doctor by his eccentric wardrobe but it's all modulated by the lame 'look at us we're relevant' conversation where Kate describes the cube arrival bizarrely as if iPads had dropped out of the sky - iPads? And then goes on to name drop a bunch of social media sites in case the thickies in the audience are too stultified by their turkey twizzlers to realise the point the episode is trying to make: that social media apparently causes people to not take stuff very seriously, or something. Human curiosity. Socialisation. The internet. Other 2000s buzzwords, Chibnall chortling away as he strives to better "The Ultimate Foe".
"So in this scene do we just have a conversation, or...?"
In a hilariously unintentional evocation of the episode as a whole the cubes prove to do absolutely nothing and the Doctor shakes off his 'old man in a young man's body' persona to rant and rave about how bored he is and have a manic episode with a 'comedy montage' before deciding that the cubes can be buggered and he's going to piss off in the TARDIS and come back later when events have transpired. I must admit I like the idea of the the Doctor being able to just have other adventures in the meantime (he could also have jumped forward in time until something happens, although that's more Moffat's style) but after he gets told off by Rory for his flippant attitude towards their home lives it just seems to reinforce how poorly paced this episode is. So off he goes, we get a couple of scenes to show that Rory and Amy keep missing stuff at home - including a sly reference to a same-sex wedding (ooh err gay agenda etc) and we see them have a couple of nice chats. It kind of feels like they took all the character development they haven't really done yet this series, nor which anyone really bothered to do last series either, and tried to cram it all into one episode like an overstuffed stocking during the episode's cliché Slade-blaring Christmas scene that reveals there's a suss little girl (how unusual) with glowing eyes at the hospital. It just becomes depressing, the episode basically telling us 'yep, there are cubes everywhere while stuff happened'. It kind of feels a bit Torchwood actually, unsurprisingly considering the writer and depressingly considering that, well, Torchwood is what they play to torment the damned in Hell.
It's peanut butter jelly time.
So the Doctor blows in on whatever anniversary Amy and Rory are up to in their confused allegedly decade-long timeline and takes them to the olde tymes where in moments of offscreen hilarity they apparently fight the Zygons and encounter Henry VIII. I'm just sitting here wiping tears of mirth from my eyes as I imagine it! Good grief! Then just to rub in the fact that all the interesting stories happen when we're not allowed to watch they go back to the party seven weeks later, the Doctor is mildly remonstrated by Brian and then he asks to stay with Amy and Rory. I must admit that the bit where the Doctor tells Amy that he misses her is kind of funny, and I enjoy Brian's use of the phrase 'cream crackered'. We get some more inept verisimilitude with someone trying to sell the cubes on... the Apprentice or something? I don't know, I'm not a pleb. Amy and Rory share fish fingers and custard with the Doctor. Why is this story moving so slowly? The Doctor playing Wii tennis is kind of amusing - Matt Smith gets to be decent for most of this episode - and the cubes wake up and start pissing about. The Doctor makes an arbitrary reference to K-9 and suddenly things are getting serious. The cube gets a pulse from Amy, trolls Rory and tries to shoot the Doctor. What a surprise, they were evil and dangerous! One cube also scans the internet, and it's apparently necessary that random text and stock pictures of general 'stuff' flash on the screen while it's doing so. Rory and Brian go to the hospital to help people hurt by the cubes so we're back to standard Doctor and Amy, once again reinforcing how much more the Doctor and Rory's friendship needed to be developed.
"Oh look! A corpse!"
UNIT has a secret base in the Tower of London, because apparently any mysterious organisation can't just have offices somewhere inconspicuous like the Brig did back in the Pertwee days, it has to be hidden inside a landmark like it's Danger Mouse or something, and Kate reveals that the cubes are going nuts all over the world, including "every African nation", maintaining that weird insistence in so much Western media of never naming African countries individually. What's with that? The cubes are all doing different things, which is somewhat intriguing, but seems kind of half-arsed, like the team is thinking that the morons will swallow anything as long as it's pushed down their throat by Karen Gillan pulling sexy pouty smiles while Matt Smith waves his arms around and gabbles like a spruiker outside the discount sci-fi warehouse. Alien threat? Black cubes will do, budget's a bit tight. It's revealed with all the surprise of the dawn that Kate is the Brig's daughter, and she gets some terrible dialogue about how he taught her and so on. Nothing much is happening again so the Doctor and Amy swan off to have a nice chat by the river. It's an interesting conversation with the Doctor justifying his lifestyle and so on but I can't stress enough that this whole dilemma needed far more buildup than it received, especially since everything this series has contradicted and trashed the surprising and effectively understated message at the conclusion of "The God Complex", to my immense and lasting disappointment.
"Don't open it. There might be a good script inside."
This leads the Doctor to realise that the cubes have scanned everything on Earth to prepare for some kind of alien invasion, as if that wasn't obvious, and his realisation, which he seems to have partially realised the whole time, makes him and UNIT look bloody stupid for letting the cubes get everywhere and the scheme seems to completely rely on everyone being uncharacteristically lazy and incompetent. So Brian gets abducted by the cube-mouth space nurses at the hospital, disappearing into a lift in front of a pursuing Rory in traditional RTD-style 'infiltrating a credible organisation' bollocks, but he follows them and somehow immediately realises that he can stick his hand through the wall, following them through a portal to some huge 'holy shit' CGI spaceship orbiting the Earth like the most expensive Christmas LEGO of them all. Brian's being added to a bunch of catatonics on slabs. This is never explained at any point in the episode. What do they need these people for? Down below, the cubes all count down to zero, using normal 'hindu-Arabic' numerals for some reason, and then they cause everyone to have a heart attack somehow. Well, a lot of people, including the Doctor. Through the magic of looking at glowing lights on a computer screen and talking about 'energy readings' or the nearest technobabble equivalent the Doctor figures out that the cubes are arriving through wormholes fixed on seven stations around the globe. How convenient that one of them just happens to not only be in London but inside the very hospital where Rory works! Rory tries to save Brian in the evil ship bridge which looks like something out of Stargate (I imagine, having not actually seen more than a handful of episodes) and the Doctor and chums arrive at the hospital, telling Kate to 'tell the world' about the cubes, presumably in case anyone hasn't noticed the way they make you fall over and die. The creepy little kid who's been standing around completely unnoticed in the hospital gets discovered as a robot, what a surprise, but the Doctor's running on one heart and feeling a bit peaky. Lucky there are chest paddles right there so Amy can restart his heart and he gets to go into a disco pose announcing "Welcome back leftie!", possibly one of the most embarrassingly cringe-worthy pieces of dialogue Matt Smith has ever been forced to utter in the show. Compare it to the comedy of the 'Who da man?' bit in "The Eleventh Hour" and you can see how they fell back on basic prat comedy rather than the subversion of it as this show lost all ambition following its brief 2010 shot in the arm. The whole 'Doctor having a heart attack' bit is a complete waste of time and serves no purpose to the narrative other than being reminscent of those occasional RTD episodes where Tennant would get poisoned or irradiated or something and run around hither and thither like he had diarrhoea and couldn't find the door to the gents.
"I'm afraid this battle station will be fully operational
by the time your friends arrive!"
The Doctor and Amy figure out very easily that the portal's in the lift and go to the LEGO ship where they get attacked by a Star Trek: Voyager style alien, a wrinkly-headed bald man in a black robe who looks like Emperor Palpatine's grandfather. He reveals himself to be one of the 'Shakri', creatures of Gallifreyan legend, and talks a lot of random crap about the need to "halt the human plague" before humanity can colonise space - for reasons or motivations which go unexplained, because the Shakri apparently must serve the Tally before 'Closure' - what? Anyway apparently the cubes were the best way because they were so appealing to humans hoping to find something good inside. I know I definitely can't resist the thought of just finding mislaid valuables inside plain black boxes like a kinder egg. The Shakri guy disappears because he was just a hologram and the Doctor waves the sonic screwdriver at the screen to leave all the Shakri ships and second wave of killer cubes in "dark space", whatever that is, and gets the cubes to restart everyone's hearts. This is probably the most egregious moment in the plot: there's no way those people could have been dead for anything less than about half an hour, long enough for serious brain damage to set in if not other irreversible mortifications, yet they all spring up fine and dandy. The Shakri makes absolutely no attempt to stop them, and the cube-face nurses have just disappeared without any explanation, so he's perfectly at liberty to counteract their plan with the magic of the sonic screwdriver completely unimpeded with no resistance or complaint. The LEGO ship blows up due to a huge backwash of energy which occurs for no particular reason beyond the demand to have a big explosion, the other catatonic patients being abandoned to their fate with no rescue and no explanation, our trio return to Earth through the portal just in time and everyone dusts themselves off from their massive coronaries, a snippet of news dialogue about taxed emergency hospitals being the episode's sole grudging concession, otherwise completely unrevealed, of the certainty of more serious harm to the population. It helps me understand why RTD loved this sort of thing so much: it's the perfect 'tell don't show' mechanism. If newsreaders do it it's like real life, innit? The Doctor gives the Brig's daughter the old 'psyche' move for some reason and it's off home for dinner with Brian, whom I'm not sure really needed to be in this episode. As they decide that TARDIS travel is the kind of life not every average punter has the opportunity to pursue and they decide to stick with the Doctor, Amy announces the value of the "power of three". We're meant to see the Doctor, Amy and Rory as some kind of super duper team as opposed to something which was never developed properly. Badda-bing, badda-boom, end of episode.
"The next one's by Steven..."
So that's "The Power of Three": a series and a half worth of character development crammed with the heel of the hand into an episode already so stuffed with drawn-out plot that it starts leaking from every embarrassing orifice imaginable, a lot of unresolved plot elements which exist purely for the sake of atmosphere, a mystery which is revealed to be nothing more than an utterly, utterly routine "kill 'em all" alien conspiracy with no motivation and a crisis which is literally resolved by waving the sonic screwdriver at a screen for five seconds. On one hand I would say that the episode needed much less or even no plot to better accommodate the episode's character studies, but that would mean conceding that it was this episode's place to do a job Moffat completely failed to do in Series 6 and now by never giving Amy and Rory believable character arcs or development after the events of "The Big Bang". Moffat went on before Series 7 began about how each one was going to be a 'blockbuster' story, but at the end of the day they're working with a format that's episodic, not sequelised, and forgetting that a typical Hollywood 'blockbuster' occurs in the space of 90 to 120 minutes, not 42. There just isn't enough time, and it shows. The stuff about Amy and Rory needing to choose is interesting, but it's overwrought and spelled-out in its explanation before being bulldozed by a frantic, chaotic plot and the endless, relentless bombast of Murray Gold's Brass Band of Doom. There's a reason it's taken me so long to review these episodes: because they're bloody awful. Not offensive, just massively, massively missed opportunities which leave me feeling frustrated and depressed, not enthused, like the televisual equivalent of going to a fancy restaurant reopened after being out of business for fourteen years and now instead of French cuisine they're just nipping out the back of the kitchen and buying everything from the McDonald's across the street. These episodes make "Time-Flight" look like "Genesis of the Daleks". They make "Paradise Towers" look like "The Curse of Peladon". It's mind-numbing. In other hands this could have substituted as a delayed fulfilment of the conclusion of Amy and Rory's story in "The God Complex" but no, there's one sucker-punch left.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.