Ah, ah, ah… SPOILERS: Episode Summary
At the episode start, Amy and Rory are summarising their two very different lives and deciding that they have to choose. This leads into “the time The Doctor came to stay”. Following the credits, Rory’s dad turns up to show the pair the weirdest phenomena – small black, flawless cubes everywhere. All over the planet these bizarre cubes are appearing and the newsclips show a selection of talking heads, including celebrity Astronomer Brian Cox.
The Doctor does indeed come to stay and promptly knocks up a lab in their kitchen, expressing surprise that the pair have proper jobs. After no time at all, a group of armed people smash through the door. A woman follows them through, introduces herself as “Kate Stewart” – significant later by the way – and scans The Doctor, correctly identifying him. They are part of UNIT – this is significant in light of that other piece of information – and are investigating the cubes.
More news clips suggest it might be a viral campaign for some sort of new product.
Next Amy and Rory are shown exploring their normal life – no doubt setting up for their eventual departure. Brian (Rory’s father) has been keeping a log of the cube in his house to measure (in)activity. Meanwhile it is Christmas and Rory is at the hospital and one of the cubes has activated… a young girl’s eyes turn a bizarre shade of blue and a man in a cubicle is attacked by two male nurses.
The following summer, UNIT has decided that the cubes are safe. They’ve been here a long time and no known incidents have pointed to them being malevolent. The Doctor whisks the pair away to the Savoy in the 1920s as an anniversary present but the trip goes pear shaped when a Zygon ship is discovered beneath the building. In the 16th century, Amy unwittingly agrees to marry Henry VIII. Finally, The Doctor returns them home and Brian takes The Doctor to one side to have a word…
Brian: What happened to the other people who travel with you?
The Doctor: Some left me. Some got left behind. And some… not many but… some died. Not them, not them Brian. Never them.
The Doctor later asks Amy to stay with them to keep an eye on the cubes, stating that he misses them. In the last few episodes, he has left them at home to go travelling on his own only to pick them up at the start of the next episode.
Another humorous aside with S’ralan Sugar firing a team member on The Apprentice for not being able to sell any cubes. Seriously S’ralan, how can they sell something that is abundant on the streets for anybody to pick up? The Doctor, Amy and Rory are watching TV and eating nibbles – all part of the normal life.
Cut back to Brian and the cubes are becoming active. It has spun on the table. Amy’s has also activated, it stabs her with tiny pins when she tries to pick it up. Rory’s opens for all of half a second yet the side that opens is always facing away from him. The Doctor’s cube hovers around him, a bit like the training sphere from Star Wars while The Doctor reminisces playing against Fred Perry. It soon opens and tries to shoot him.
Kate STEWART (remember the name) soon takes the trio underneath The Tower of London where UNIT have a secret base. She gives them a quick rundown that they all the cubes have activated and each one is acting differently. Thankfully they have the most evil one evil locked in a chamber. It plays in its own dastardly way The Birdie Song on a loop.
Then the revelation. Kate STEWART is the daughter of the old Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart. Hurrah! We’re in safe hands. A lovely homage too to Nicholas Courtney who died in 2011. Following this poignant interlude, it seems that the cubes have shut down again. There is another interlude where Amy and The Doctor discuss the future; The Doctor asks Amy if they are thinking of giving up travelling with him for good.
Amy: The travelling is starting to feel like running away
The Doctor: That’s not what it is
Amy: Oh come on. Look at you, four days in a lounge and you go crazy.
The Doctor: I’m not running away. But this is one corner, of one country, in one continent on one planet that’s a corner of a galaxy that’s a corner of a universe that’s forever growing and shrinking and creating and destroying and never remaining the same for a single millisecond. And there is so much, so much to see Amy. Because it goes so fast. I’m not running away from things; I’m running to them before they flare and fade forever. And it’s alright Amy. Our lives won’t run the same. They can’t. One day… soon maybe… you’ll stop. I’ve known for a while.
Amy: Then why do you keep coming back for us?
The Doctor: Because you were the first… the first face that this face saw and you’re seared onto my hearts. Amelia Pond. You always will be. I’m running to you and Rory before you… fade from me.
Personally, I think that is one of the most beautiful passages ever written for Doctor Who. Kudos to whomever penned that one.
Somehow, The Doctor then figures out that the cubes activated purely to scan and learn everything they could about Earth and its defensive capabilities, its computer networks etc. Now they are counting down from 7. Armed with this information, the authorities advise the public to dispose of their cubes.
Brian is taken by the “infected” male nurses; Rory follows and finds himself on a ship in space.
The Doctor watches one box count down to zero. The box opens and is revealed to be empty. This seems to be the case all over the planet. They are empty yet people seem to be keeling over and dying around the boxes. They are using electrical charges to give people heart attacks. Who needs cholesterol?!
The Doctor: Arrrrrgh. How do you people manage with only one heart? It is pitiful!
Soon after, The Doctor and Amy also find the wormhole to the ship and step through. The ship which controls the cubes is occupied by a Shakri – a creature known to Gallifreyan mythology. The Doctor believed them a myth to frighten small children but this one seems quite real. His mission is to halt the spread of the “plague” of humanity as dictated by the rules of “Tally”, eliminating races it considers to be pests or plagues. After a little exposition, The Doctor uses the cube network to restart the hearts of those who were harmed. In the reversal, the ship blows up and our trio dive back through the wormhole.
A rushed ending means that Amy and Rory decide to put away their boring lives for the time being and go travelling with The Doctor and their date with destiny next week…
I see a bigger picture slowly growing here thinly veiled as another stand-alone episode. Sorry, I just can’t help it any more. The Doctor is becoming increasingly haunted by the impending departure of the Pond family. Even if he doesn’t yet realise that their date with destiny next week will see them leave for good, he knows that sooner or later they will crave the stability of a normal life. Is The Doctor getting a little needy halfway through his 11th incarnation? This one seems to have elevated Amy way up in his affections, arguably more so than incarnation Ten’s adolescent puppy love for Rose Tyler.
Last week it was The Doctor’s frustration at the lack of justice in the universe, this week it is his restlessness yet the craving he has for stability – a drifter who wants to be pinned down yet could never get bored with his drifting.
This cannot be a singular appearance by The Shakri (if indeed they do look like that – this was, after all, a hologram with AI) otherwise it would be a complete waste of a concept in an episode with an ending that wraps too quickly with too much exposition and blink-and-you-miss-it and unsatisfactory conclusion. When I saw this on Saturday I thought “oh, is this it?” rewatching it tonight I have had the same reaction.
Why are the Shakri judging humanity “before they can spread”? Aren’t there sparefaring races at this point that have done far more damage in the universe?
Who appointed then the galaxy’s jury and executioner, and why?
Why judge humanity now?
Lots to think about.