Review: Doctor Who – 3×12 – The Sound of Drums

The Sound of Drums

I think it’s fair to say that season three of New Who has been the most old-school friendly. Right now, we’re in the middle of an old school six-parter with things looking bad for the Doctor as his old enemy the Master gets the upper hand.

Let’s party like it’s 1972!

Traditionally, parts three and four of a six-parter are times for

  1. lots of running around
  2. plot exposition
  3. companions and the Doctor being captured

Fanboy that he is, RTD stuck pretty firmly to these rules. Following a somewhat hurried flashback to the Doctor and co escaping from the future, we find out what the Master’s been up to for the past 100 trillion years/18 months: he’s been turning himself into Jeffrey Archer. Not what I would have done, but each to their own, I guess.

The Master has also been watching television. Modelling himself on Frank Gorshin’s Riddler in Batman, as well as Zippy from Rainbow, he now bestrides the world’s political stage like a colossus. Renaissance Time Lord that he is, he’s also knocked up a life-size replica of Captain Scarlet‘s Cloudbase. Nice.

It’s hard to know what to make of Simm as the Master. He makes it perfectly clear in Doctor Who Confidential that he’s not to blame: it’s that Russell T Davies that makes him mess around like a twat. Far more of a mentalist than the sociopathic Anthony Ainley, camptastic Roberts or aristocratic Delgado, Simm is clearly just doing an evil, slightly sexually aroused version of David Tennant’s performance as the Doctor. I’m sure it’ll work with kids and dramatically, it does neutralise the Doctor’s many talents, but I’m just not especially sure I like it.

I think that’s more a problem on my part: we’re all so used to seeing the Doctor march around like an idiot yet being taken semi-seriously by authority figures, it’s only when you see someone else do it that you realise how inured you are to the ground-rules of the show. Does it undermine the “realism” (I put the word in quotes advisedly) of the show to have the Prime Minister dancing to club anthems while aliens invade and generally acting like he thought he was supposed to be making a guest appearance on Wackaday? Maybe not. Plus the gas mask bit and the killing of Nichola McAuliffe were both kind of funny.

On the plus side, though, we do get a bit of background to the Master and why he is the way he is and where he’s been since the TV movie. For the old-school fan, this was a “lovingly handcrafted by artisans moment”, with our first full-on view of Gallifrey-proper (rather than that pikey quarry from Invasion of Time); Time Lords in proper Deadly Assassin-style regalia; Time Tots in proper War Games-style regalia; our first black Time Lord (if you don’t count Rassilon in the Big Finish audio adventures); the Doctor’s and the Master’s names and reasons for leaving Gallifrey spelt out for both old and new generations alike; an explanation of how the Master can regenerate again; a nice nod to the Master’s liking for kids’ TV that was first exposed in The Sea Devils; as well as some lovingly written word-paintings of the time war, which is undoubtedly better in our imaginations than would be if the Mill ever got its hands on it.

No Tissue Compression Eliminator though, although the laser screwdriver was a nice touch (echoes of Sean Bean as 006 in Goldeneye, anyone?).

I’m a touch worried, however, that it was all too continuity heavy for the regular viewer, not just to old Who but to previous new Who episodes, including ones way back from the days of Eccleston. The Time Lords may also have been recreated a touch too faithfully, given their somewhat silly outfits. All the same, nicely done, and I did like RTD’s playing with conventions by dropping hints at the start of the season that the Master might have been the Doctor’s brother, and then revealing he was just a friend and we’d all been watching too much television if we fell for something that obvious. I feel a little silly now.

Much as he’d like it to be, it’s not all about the Master though. We have the continuing enforced reboot of Torchwood, with Captain Jack’s crew now firmly under UK government control and apparently entirely different from the Torchwood 1 lot at Canary Wharf. Doesn’t match up with episode 1 of Torchwood (insert as much nerd-filla™ as you like to explain why) and if it really was to honour the Doctor, was it the pump-action shotgun action in Countrycide, the sacrificing of children to fairies in the fifth episode or the coating of cyberwomen in barbecue sauce so they get attacked by pterodactyls in the eponymous Cyberwoman that Jack felt was the most Doctor-ish action on his part? Clearly, 100 years is long enough for the memory to get a little foggy about exactly what someone is like.

All that Torchwood in Who makes me a little concerned that the poor little mites who love Captain Jack are going to be even more upset that they won’t be able to watch the second series. It’s one thing to have Torchwood as a semi-seperate spin-off; it’s quite another to have entire Doctor Who episodes unfathomable because you haven’t been able to watch the other show.

All in all, not quite the masterpiece Utopia left us hoping for. It was reasonably well written (I especially appreciated the correct usage of the word ‘decimate’) but still full of certain RTD-isms, such as the usual ridiculous plot devices and the idea that a P-reg Vauxhall Corsa could survive sustained fire from multiple automatic rifles. It had a great ending, with the Master finally allowed to take over the world and triumph over the Doctor. And I did like the continuing use of Douglas Adams’ “somebody else’s problem” field by the show.

But the direction left a lot to be desired, with Doctor Who Confidential managing to make the ‘urban shootout’ 1,000 times more exciting than the show itself did. Martha finally grew a backbone, to little effect other than her shouting a lot. We got to see more of her family, unfortunately, although they’re getting more appealing as their worst tendencies get ignored.

Still, next week is the final episode with the promise of all sorts of fun (and maybe too much Martha), so we’ve that to look forward to, as well as the first outing for the full-season Carusometer. Can’t wait.

The Murray Gold Watch

This week, Murray Gold was mostly drowning out the dialogue and removing all sense of drama by deriving music from… The Onedin Line and Dick Barton.

  • Did the tapping entice you, or did your fingers remain resolutely still during the entire viewing? I think I’ve been Saxoned already; mine kept tapping without me even realising.
    Can’t *wait* until next week.

  • You should probably turn off your mobile phone then. My fingers were unmoved by the Saxon rhythm section, although my brain was wondering to itself if the fact it was the Doctor Who theme was indicative of something important.

  • Poly

    I don’t think the story and the performances need to be realistic, they need to be truthful within the Doctor Who universe and for me they are. If we are inured to the ground-rules of the show, doesn’t it mean that the producers do something right, that the Doctor Who universe feels truthful and organic? I have sat through a lot of realistic dramas I couldn’t buy into but I totally believe in the complete bonkers Doctor Who universe. And one of the most interesting aspects of that universe is the performances: Tennant and Simm don’t counterbalance the absurdity of the storylines with realistic performances: they get to be weirder than weird, madder than mad and bigger than life, but with such conviction and specificity and attention to detail that I fall for it completely. It’s brilliant stuff.
    I was absurdly chuffed with the Doctor’s teasing that we are watching too much tv. I wouldn’t have enjoyed that joke as much if you hadn’t explained the backstory. And it’s so delightfully meta when the Doctor dismisses something as absurd and fictional when his (fictional) world is, at its best, complete bonkers.
    Also the end, for the first time, left me unsettled about the Doctor’s (not to mention the earth’s) future. The Doctor had been outsmarted throughout the episode and his predicament in the end is truly grim. I usually avoid the next time trailer but this time I made a point of watching, in the hope that some clue will ease the tension (it didn’t).

  • I’m confused about two things:
    – Missed the bit where it’s explained how the Master regenerates. Please help.
    – What do you mean six-parter? Does that mean that the Christmas Special is going to continue the story and then it’ll be resolved in episode 1 of the next series? How do you know? Or is this an old school joke that I’m missing?

  • Poly

    I think Rob means that this episode has the same function as episodes 3 and 4 of the old six-part Doctor Who stories. Next week they ‘ll wrap this story. They better, I am not sitting on a cliffhanger for six months. As for the other question, I can’t help.

  • Poly’s right. Old school episodes (bar a brief aberration during Colin Baker’s time) were 25 minutes each. So two old-school episodes are about the same run-time as a new Who episode. This is effectively a three-part new Who story so is equivalent to a six-part old Who.
    As for the Master being able to regenerate again, he said the Time Lord’s “resurrected him”, which is probably a reference to the Five Doctors when the Time Lords offered him a whole new regeneration cycle if he helped them find the Doctor. The implication is they gave him a new cycle/Time Lord body if he helped them in the Time War.

  • Ah well that’s handy for the future. Because if the Time Lords can give each other new regeneration cycles, and the Doctor is a Time Lord, he’ll figure out how to give himself a new regeneration cycle if they need to keep him going for longer.
    Do you think you would have liked Simm’s Master better if he had a beard?

  • It WAS National Beard Week last week: the least they could have done was to temporaily given Simm some awful, moustache twirling facial fluff…
    😉
    Seriously though, I couldn’t keep away Rob from here. I pretty much agree with a lot of what you say, though I probably edge towards a more Poly-rosey view of the episode.
    Must restrain too much response though so I can do my 3 ep finale review after next week. And yes, it DOES feel like an old 6-parter.

  • Rob Buckley

    The general implication from Keeper of Traken and The Deadly Assassin is that an absolutely colossal amount of energy is needed (enough to power several planets) to restart the regeneration cycle. And in Trial of a Timelord, the Valeyard is revealed to be a future (somewhere between 12th and 13th/final incarnation) version of the Doctor, willing to re-engineer time and steal his earlier self’s regenerations in order to extend his own lifecycle.
    So it’s very, very hard but possible. Although there’ll probably be a magic crystal or something the Doctor can borrow from Cho Je.

  • Or maybe using the Chameleon Arch reset his regeneration cycle. Or something.

  • Mark H Wilkinson

    From the BBC FAQ:

    How many regenerations does the Doctor have?
    Now that his people are gone, who knows?

    Of course, the words of some website minion aren’t binding on the production office, should we ever get beyond a 12th regeneration.

  • Iko

    The best part about The Sound of Drums was watching the Master/Lucy dynamic and how similar it mirrors the Doctor/companion relationship. Yes, there are some differences (Master/Lucy is clearly non-platonic), but I felt the similarities outnumber the differences.

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