The Power of Three

It is rare to get an icosahedron in a romcom, and octahedra almost never trouble a cop buddy movie. In fact when Euclidean geometry does manifest itself in the field of film it is almost inevitably within the science fiction, fantasy or horror genres, and it never augurs well.

Spheres, from the sphere in Sphere to the globe in 2008’s unwished for revamp of The Day The Earth Stood Still, can carry a degree of implacable menace. My own favourites though are the flying, drilling, bloodsucking balls of Don Coscarelli’s four Phantasm films. Seek the movies out now, if you haven’t already seen them. They are magnificent.

All of Coscarelli’s movies are magnificent, really.

In addition to Phantasms I-IV (Phantasm IV being pretty much entirely made out of spare bits from the first three) he directed Bubba Ho-Tep (2002). This is the film that stars Bruce Campbell as an aging Elvis living out his dotage in an old folks home. During the course of the narrative he is called on to face down an ancient Egyptian mummy. It is based on a story by Joe R. Lansdale, so you are in safe hands.

Coscarelli was also responsible for The Beastmaster (1982), a pale bud on the, by then thoroughly etiolated, post-Conan fantasy profusion. Marc Singer is likable enough in it though, and the movie does feature a sequence in which Charlie’s Angel Tanya Roberts frolics topless whilst ogled by ferrets.


Some people are a little ungenerous towards The Beastmaster but they tend to be people who have not seen Yor, The Hunter from the Future (and its little-known sequel Yor The Person Regretting You Watched This Film).

Anyway, the preternatural dread brought about by spheres is nothing compared to the terror occasioned by the cubes.

The obelisks in 2001 are cuboids rather than cubes, but their pleasing dimensional ratio of 1:4:9 (the first three square numbers) makes them interesting enough to discuss briefly.

Although they are ultimately demonstrated to be benign at a species level, prompting accelerated evolutionary change and paving, literally paving, the way to ascension they are, nonetheless, incredibly destructive at an individual level. They are big, black and scary and they make monkeys go hairy mental. People die because of them.

Regular cubes of the 1:1:1 variety are invariably horrifying. The cubic Lament Configuration in Clive Barker’s Hellraiser comes with a promise that it will “tear your soul apart”. The lethal, ludic prisons of the three Cube films fulfil none of their original philosophical promise, becoming instead inescapable sadistic death traps.

And then there’s the whole film career of Ice Cube, but that may be for another blog.

Within Doctor Who two of the five Platonic solids are completely neglected, unless I have missed something. We get a fine dodecahedron in the underestimated Meglos (1980); and William Hartnell makes as dignified a job as is possible of being squashed into an octahedron for The Three Doctors (1972-73). But of icosahedra and tetrahedra we hear nothing. The Pyramids of Mars come close, but square based pyramids are not tetrahedra, and you get nothing for half an octahedron in this game.

Of hexahedra, however, we have plenty. There is the Rubik’s cube twatted about with by Eleven in Night Terrors (2011); there is the Pandorica; there are the neat Time Lord distress beacon doo-dahs from The War Games (1969), which reappeared con brio in Neil Gaiman’s thrilling The Doctor’s Wife (2011).

And now we have the Cubes. Just that. Cubes. “All absolutely identical. Not a single molecule’s difference between them. No blemishes, imperfections, individualities…” A proliferation of them, resistant to the analytical powers of Professor Brian Cox, Doctor Who and Brian Williams combined.

The Power Of Three had an absolutely cracking set up: that of a slow, un-guessable invasion, a process so gradual that it involved the Doctor standing still for a while and experiencing life at the pace his companions usually live it.

I had some micro-quibbles which do not really signify much and which I will dispatch now so that they are out of the way:

Firstly I didn’t understand what the spooky little girl was up to. She is explained away as an “outlier droid” observing everything, but surely the cubes were already observing everything. Anyway she didn’t observe everything. She just sat, seemingly unnoticed, in the hospital for a year.

Secondly, I remain confused as to what the hexagon-head guys were doing and why they kidnapped the bloke with the Len Deighton novel. I am going to assume that they and the spooky droid girl were just some sort of portal guardians, but I could have done with another sentence or two just to clarify matters.

Thirdly and finally, the Shakri: Terrific idea for monsters. Things living “one dimension to the left” like Lovecraftian old gods, servants of The Tally, brutal dispensers of justice and legendary even to the Time Lords. A shame then that they were squandered almost immediately. The Doctor dispatched them pretty quickly and, to my simple mind, confusingly. Also they seemed to be exceeding their brief a bit by extinguishing humanity before humanity had even done anything.

Micro-quibbles, as I say. And that’s the end of any negativity from me because, for the fourth time running this season, we got a single episode story of exquisite lapidary beauty.

This, uniquely for the Matt Smith era, could have slotted easily into any of the first four seasons of New Who. The slow invasion brought to mind immediately the farty old Slitheen of yore; the blood control used by the Sycorax in the Christmas Invasion (2005); the apparitions in Army Of Ghosts (2006); the gloopy Adipose of  Partners In Crime (2008).

It is textbook Russell T. Davies-style storytelling, and all the more welcome for that.

To draw a line under the RTD influences and highlight them with squiggly lines from different coloured highlighter pens we also got tons of family involvement. We got wall after wall of news – I searched in vain for Trinity Wells but could not see her, alas. And, mirabile dictu, we got UNIT.

Proper, proper UNIT with Trap One and Trap Three and all that.

Just as I was fangasming at the whole thing we then discovered that Kate Stewart (coy, demure, understated Jemma Redgrave) was the Brigadier’s daughter, and my head fell off.

We have missed the Brig, those of us who grew up with him, but we surely have to applaud this final postscript to his character. He was quite blimpish when I became aware of him in the early seventies. He sanctioned the Silurian massacre. He couldn’t tell the anti-matter universe from Cromer. He had a bit on the side called Doris. But over time I became aware of how important a part of the family he was.

Battlefield (1989) is slightly too glossy and glib, too heavy on the Keff McCulloch Art Of Noise-wannabe music, for me to thoroughly love. But it did feature The Brigadier, and how great it was too see him back in action after the doomy solemnities of Mawdryn Undead (1983).

The Brig’s next, and final, return in the children’s spin-off The Sarah Jane Adventures (Enemy Of The Bane, 2008) was a beautiful thing to behold. That his daughter Kate has not only survived him but has brought science to the forefront of the UNIT directives is an ingenious twist.

I gather that Kate Stewart as a character pre-exists The Power Of Three in some of the Reeltime fan videos, but you will need to find some Special Weapons Nerds to tell you about that, because I know nowt of them at all.

A final RTD leitmotif appears when Brian, in a compelling moment of gravitas, presses the Doctor for details of what happens to those who go travelling with him. This is something touched on very movingly in The Death Of The Doctor, a two-episode story of The Sarah Jane Adventures written by Russell T. Davies himself. It’s an amazingly ambitious bit of writing (especially given that it was in the context of a show for young children) in which it is suggested that the parting of the ways of the Doctor and his companions is not always as final as it seems.

The characters of Rory and Amy have grown significantly in the last four episodes. They are now explicitly ten years on from their first encounter (as adults) with the Doctor.

They have two lives, as they point out at the beginning of the episode: Their time with the Doctor and the more quotidian time by themselves when they fulfil their roles of journalist and nurse. (And if the female journalist/male nurse paradigm isn’t set up specifically to evoke memories of Sarah Jane and Harry then I’d be amazed.)

We have always accepted this fact of their existence, but this is the first time we have really seen it played out. The first time that we have watched the Doctor attempt to live at a human pace. And what a bathetic spectacle it is.

It is played as comedy, but there is something quite wrenching about seeing the Doctor so patently unable to live life at our level. It reminded me of a line in (er, I think) an Alan Moore issue of Swamp Thing when it is pointed out that the life of superhero the Flash must be like a gallery of still images.

There’s something of a shock about that realisation that a character does not actually see the universe the way you think he does.

I enjoyed very much the Doctor’s explanation of how he has to rush to things before they gutter out so completely and so quickly. And I enjoyed how much we got to see things through someone else’s eyes. There is an element of the 2010 episode The Lodger in this, but it reminded me more of Love & Monsters (2006) which, again, is narrated by a character whom the Doctor only meets fleetingly, but whose life is completely changed by the encounter.

Love & Monsters attracts some flak because of Peter Kay’s pantomime villainy as The Abzorbaloff, but putting that clodhopping casting decision to one side I think it is a really sweet story. I also applaud the experimental nature of it.

Back in The Power Of Three we see that Brian’s transformation from prosaic Dad to diligent, considerate parent is now complete. We only have one more Pond episode to go, so it looks as though the mystery of Rory’s Mum will never be solved, but I can live with that. Brian’s arc has been wholly satisfying and I love the way he hasn’t quite relinquished his daddliness. His plodding video log and his insistence on pronouncing UNIT as You En Eye Tee made me lol out loud.

And, on the subject of funny dialogue: “mass-defibrillation” indeed. Ha! Give Arthur Darvill a prize for getting that one out.

This is continuing to be a brilliant epoch of Doctor Who. There is evolutionary change in the character that I never expected to see. Matt Smith’s initial portrayal seemed, I thought, almost autistically “other”. Bouncing around like Tigger in The Eleventh Hour. Denouncing all of humankind in The Beast Below. Whereas now, arguably because of the ten year influence of Rory and Amy and probably Craig, he is capable of a degree of domesticity. Not only that, but he is back to defending humanity from colossal threats, not merely because of exigencies of plot, but because of character motivation. The Doctor has now seen enough to know that the good in us far outweighs the bad.

We have come a long way.

You can find the podcast commentary I did with Lawrence Sutcliffe on iTunes here:

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