This week's episode marked a return to form that I hadn't seen in a while—the unlikely enemy. I simply adore it when really random things are repurposed as mysterious menaces on Doctor Who, and I especially love it when those enemies are global. However, the "A" story was hardly the point of the episode.
We opened on the Ponds doing some of the less-than-glamorous chores that result from time travel, like dumping out very expired milk and lamenting their lack of detergent. It'd been ten years (for them, not the world), and the Ponds were beginning to realize that they can't keep traveling with the Doctor forever. It's not sustainable.
I feel like there are definite parallels between time travel and drug addiction in Doctor Who—like a drug, time travel is fun, it feels naughty, it opens your mind to new and bizarre things, but it wears on your body and your psyche. Regular life doesn't seem to hold a candle to drug-/time travel-enhanced life, and certainly can't fit into your regular schedule, so you end up neglecting regular life while you chase the dragon. After a while, even if you're still getting something out of your addiction, you're just exhausted by the whole thing. (Note: Drugs are bad.) You cannot invite getting high/the Doctor to your quiet night at home!
But there was one time, Amy informed us, where the Ponds did just that. One morning, small black boxes just showed up all over the world, randomly scattered everywhere, doing nothing. Everyone started freaking out about them, but they just sat there. The Doctor appeared, of course, bristling with curiosity.
The authorities were called in, in the form of our old friends UNIT (now the UNified Intelligence Taskforce, since the real-life UN decided it didn't love the fictional association), and no matter what they did, they could not figure out what was going on with the cubes. The world went from being freaked out to feeling comfortable very quickly, as the cubes became a common presence in people's homes and in social media.
There was a nice scene with the Doctor, who was sticking around to observe, losing his mind with boredom after four days (more parallels to addiction!) and then deciding to leave. He belittled Rory's protests that he couldn't leave his "little job," causing Rory to put him in his place. "What you do isn't all there is!" Rory shouted, and the Doctor was taken aback. The Ponds were setting down roots, which made it hard to live a double life.
Other than an isolated incident with two cube-related, hose-mouthed humanoids kidnapping a guy, months and months went by and the cubes were just there, assimilated into people's lives. After the Doctor took the Ponds on an anniversary trip that ended up lasting seven weeks, Rory's dad Brian started asking questions—questions about what had happened to his other companions.
"Some left me, some got left behind, and some—not many, but some—died. But not them, Brian. Never them."
It seems to me that the only way for the Doctor to really ensure the Ponds' safety is if he already knows their fate, an idea that I'm being convinced of more and more each episode.
The Doctor moved in and, like the cubes, was integrated into the Ponds' lives a bit. One year and one day after they arrived, the cubes woke up. The Doctor finally confronted Amy about her wanting to stop traveling with him. She couldn't continue leading both lives forever, she said, and the traveling was starting to feel like running away.
The Doctor responded by saying the most Doctor-like thing he's ever said, which is that the reason he travels is so that he may see everything. He knows that everything is fleeting—he knows better than anyone—and he just wants to see things before they flare and fade forever. This includes the Ponds.
Meanwhile the cubes had started a countdown, and when they opened, millions of humans dropped dead from heart attacks. The creatures behind the attacks were the Shakri, who the Doctor thought were just the Keyser Soze of Gallifrey—a spook story. The Shakri wanted to rid the universe of humanity before it started expanding in service of the Tali; essentially, they wanted Judgment Day. The Tali would be met, he said...
And here's where the episode took a downturn for me.
A beautiful series of conversations had been set up between Amy and the Doctor that'd I'd like to call their "pre-break-up"; there was also a weird invasion that ended up being deadly, and a very interesting reason for it to occur. But everything managed to resolve itself in about three minutes. The Doctor saved humankind with a mass defibrillation, gained an appreciation of the Ponds' everyday lives, and once things were all tidied up, was ready to drop them off at home... until Rory's dad intervened.
It's not the time travel they'll have trouble giving up, Brian said, it's the Doctor. He encouraged the Ponds to go travel; "life will still be here when you get back." And like that, the Ponds seemed to decide that they don't have to choose. They were a team again—"The Power of Three"—which made it seem to me that instead of a bittersweet but understandable goodbye, we are gearing up for something traumatic and heartbreaking.
This was my favorite episode of the season up until the end, which seemed a bit rushed and tacked-on, almost as a reassurance to us that the Ponds will not go quietly into the night. Overall, I still enjoyed it quite a bit, but for as well as this show handles complex relationships, it's amazing to me how simply the conflicts in this episode were resolved.
We'll find out next week how things with the Ponds wrap up, but you know, there are only a few ways to kick addiction: removing the substance from your life, years and years of meetings and therapy, or death. I wonder which path the Ponds will follow?
– Amy writes about travel for magazines? Now lookie here, there's a career for her that isn't Kiss-gram or modeling! Good for you, Amy!
– I loved the mention that the cubes, within three hours, had a thousand separate Twitter accounts. More proof that when the apocalypse occurs, we'll all be Instagramming it.
– As long as Matt Smith is the Doctor, there will always be a scene in which he does amazing things with a soccer ball.
– That The Apprentice clip using the cubes? Hilarious. The cubes in general were brilliant, because there is always something slightly menacing about a blank slate where it's not supposed to be.
– Nice call-out to both Yorkshire Pudding and Smith's first appearance as the Doctor, as the threesome ate fish fingers and custard.
– Very nice reference to Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart of UNIT, when we learned that Kate Stewart is his daughter. The Brigadier was a friend to several incarnations of the Doctor, so of course his daughter would carry the torch.
– "You were the first—the first face this face saw. You are seared onto my hearts."
– I love that Rory's dad Brian has taken on the necessary, wide-eyed and excited attitude about time travel that we expect of our companions. Sure, the Ponds are up for adventure and say things like "I'm gonna miss this!" but it's Brian who has a real sense of wonder about all of space and time. It's a new twist, and I like it.