I was wrong. I thought the scrag-end of the Amy Pond arc, this minute epilogue to the two-year saga, couldn’t do justice to her story. To my surprise this episode, which proved there was still room for a Pond tale, also bore all the hallmarks of a Russell T. Davies parallel Earth story.
In the 1970s, UNIT stories were always a couple of years in the future as were pretty much all of the RTD “present” day Earth stories. At the time of airing this provides some justification for the fact that we never saw a spaceship crash into Big Ben, or watched on TV the invasion of the Sycorax or read about The Battle of Canary Wharf. But it’s always bothered me that UNIT stories tell us Doctor Who is not set in “our” Universe, but one with an alternate Britain which has a £5 coin and late twentieth century king. Or, at least, it used to until one story – a story that was so brilliant it made me realise epic potential of this story-telling device – was aired, and so perhaps this story is easier to enjoy than some of those early RTD episodes.
Echoes of RTD
This story does all the things those RTD stories did – indeed as people take the cubes into their houses, it almost precisely mirrors Army of Ghosts – it even echoed those news reports with prominent landmarks that always included the Eiffel Tower, Big Ben and the Taj Mahal (not to mention reality TV). But for some inexplicable reason, I was totally seduced by the charm of this story. It’s wonderful. Amy & Rory are wonderful. Brian “don’t knock my log” Williams is wonderful, Rory and Brian are wonderful together. Matt Smith is excellent. Apparently identical, entirely unique cubes are wonderful. Invasion by cubes is utterly, utterly brilliant. The final cheesy line about exponents is perhaps the only flaw I can find.
The story, anyway, is a back-drop to Amy and Rory’s two lives finally coming together. I’d hardly even noticed how sinister and scary it was getting until I found myself spooked by the cube-mouthed orderlies and the worm-hole in the lift, and creepy creepy Steven Berkoff.
This episode also manages to transform the militaristic, human-rights abusing, gun-toting UNIT of recent years back into a cuddly, scientific, er, gun-toting outfit a little more like the UNIT led by the Brigadier. But, most touchingly of all, further tribute is paid to the Brigadier in the form of the wonderful Kate Stewart portrayed by Jemma Redgrave. True, I initially thought of The Times’ cookery writer. But it’s wonderful to see the influence of the Brigadier in this character. The phone call in The Wedding of River Song was a lovely, lovely tribute, albeit one in which Courtney/Lethbridge-Stewart’s absence was felt. But why should his story end there? The Doctor is surely not the only one such a man would have influenced, and in his daughter we see his real legacy. I hope that Jemma Redgrave returns.
This is the story Pond Life was leading into. It has the same month-by-month calendar effect; it’s the story of life with the ponds. And when the Doctor crashes into their bedroom, prior to their encounter with Dinosaurs (but after the encounter for him) the invasion which he describes is presumably the invasion of the cubes. In other words, for the Doctor, episode 2 of Pond Life takes place during The Power of Three.
For the Fans
This was first and foremost about the ongoing Amy and Rory story, with the episode plot far away in the background. (The plot was fine, although if I had one criticism of the episode, and it is only the one, it was that the threat was ultimately averted by waving the sonic screwdriver around – the tension having built up nicely all the way through it suddenly dissipated when the Shakri vanished.) But that meant it was a story for the long term fans – perhaps the very long term fans, given the pay-off for those who have been following the story of the Brigadier (first appearance 44 years ago) and that’s without the references to K9, Zygons and Gallifreyan physiology. I’m not sure that the casual viewer would have made so much sense of it.
But there was so much that was lovely about it: the Brigadier’s daughter, Amy and the Doctor’s conversation on the wall, Brian (generally) that I feared all the happiness would make my head asplode. Well, perhaps not happiness; there is melancholy in that the Brigadier is dead, Amy and Rory have to make a choice.
For the first time, since those rather clumsy attempts in School Reunion, we have a successful exploration of the parting between Doctor and companions. The Doctor’s vulnerability “Can I stay here… I miss you.” The Doctor’s impatience. The Doctor’s fear of the tyranny of linear time. The whole speech outside The Tower…
There is so much to see because it goes so fast. I’m not running away from things, I’m running to them because they flare and fade so fast… You were the first face this face ever saw. I’m running to you.
An unusually, delightfully upbeat and massively entertaining story. When The Tally is made, I’d back The Power of Three every time.
I wonder what’ll happen next week?