There’s a screenwriting term called ‘plants and payoffs’. This is where you place an object or some other detail earlier in a script which will later be significant. An obvious example is the explosive chewing gum which is given to Ethan Hunt early in Mission Impossible, and which he later uses when he’s clinging to the side of the helicopter as it speeds through the Channel Tunnel. At the end of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Robin uses a dagger that Maid Marian gave him to kill the Sheriff of Nottingham – a dagger which was in turn given to her by the Sheriff earlier in the film. Used successfully and with minimal signposting, a plant can be immensely satisfying. When it’s clunky, you want to throw things at the screen. Those of you who’ve seen The Dark Knight Rises will know what I’m talking about.
If ‘The Power of Three’ was relatively light on the THINGS THAT WILL TURN OUT TO BE IMPORTANT front, it did have more than its fair share of symbolism and pay-off resolutions. And my goodness there were a lot of numbers.
Let’s start with Amy and Rory.
Note the time on the clock. It’s 10:47. This is QUITE OBVIOUSLY the year that Amy will get zapped back to in ‘The Angels Take Manhatten’, where she’ll no doubt be burned at the stake as a witch. (I had hoped that its 24-hour equivalent, 2247, will turn out to have some sort of significance in the Whoniverse, but sadly this appears not to be the case.)
Next – as Gareth points out, the LONG-AWAITED AND HIGHLY SIGNIFICANT RETURN of Brian’s balls.
We told you they’d be back. And how many cubes are there in this scene? That’s right: three. And what’s the episode title? Bingo.
“Note in the golf balls picture,” adds Gareth, “that there are three cubes and four balls. And what’s 3 to the power of 4? That’s right, 81. The number of people in Mercy. Coincidence? I think not.
“Also, note that this was episode 4 and had four balls. And ‘Dinosaurs’ was episode 2 and had two balls. That’s a bit suspicious too, really.”
I’m on a roll with these numbers now. Remember that little scene in the hospital? You know, the one where the old man is kidnapped by the weird cube aliens and then taken away on the spaceship for no obvious reason?
How many dials on the wall next to his head?
How many penguins (I think they’re penguins, it’s difficult to tell) on the front of that Christmas card?
Oh, and have a look here –
Look to the upper left of the alien’s head, just to where the wall meets the curtain. That pattern looks like a number six, doesn’t it? And six is divisible by – well, I don’t need to go on. Not to mention the fact that there were three people in this scene. THIS CANNOT BE A COINCIDENCE. THREE IS A VERY, VERY IMPORTANT NUMBER AFTER ALL. God bless Chibnall and Moffat and their ability to layer a scene…