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Sunday, 5 March 2017 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
John Simm as The Master in The Sound of Drums (Credit: BBC)

Series Three - Episode 12 - "The Sound Of Drums".

STARRING:

David Tennant , Freema Agyeman , John Barrowman, 
WITH John Simm and Alexandra Moen 

ALSO FEATURING: Adjoa Andoh, Trevor Laird,
Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Reggie Yates, Elize du Toit,
Nichola McAuliffe, Nicholas Gecks, 
Colin Stinton, Olivia Hill, Daniel Ming,
Lachele Carl, Sharon Osbourne. 

ALSO WITH VOICE WORK BY:
Zoe Thorne, Gerard Logan, and Johnnie Lyne-Pirkis 

WITH CAMEOS by McFly, and Ann Widdecombe. 


Written By - Russell T Davies,

Script Editor - Simon Winstone

Directed By - Colin Teague
Music - Murray Gold
Produced By - Phil Collinson

Executive Producers - Russell T. Davies + Julie Gardner

Originally Transmitted 23rd June 2007, BBC 1

This middle component of the storyline that saw out the 2007 run of modern Doctor Who is a dynamic, compelling slice of action and political satire. As good as it had been to have the likes of Autons and Macra come back from days long gone, and especially welcome to see the Who staple monsters that are the Daleks and the Cybermen return with a vengeance, the show badly needed the most masterly of humanoid villains to keep the Doctor on his toes.


John Simm's Master can be best likened to 'The Joker from Batman. He is utterly unhinged, and without remorse for the crimes he commits.  He actively enjoys causing chaos and misery. But such is this prolific performer's calibre of acting, the viewer cannot help but like him on some level. This is a quality inherent in all the more effective Masters – with other notable names being those of Delgado, Ainley, Jacobi (albeit mainly resting on the fake Yana persona), and Gomez.

Of course I will acknowledge the pure villainous qualities of the 'decayed' Master that showed up in the Tom Baker era, and in places also in the 1996 TV Movie. To my mind though, the ideal variant has some level of dark charm, and humorous edginess.

A great idea that makes this episode work, is putting the TARDIS crew firmly on the back foot. They do not even have their magic ship as a 'home base', and arrive late on the scene as the Master Plan has already unfolded to near finality. 'Harold Saxon' has become the British Prime Minister, and virtually the whole population are enthralled by his charisma and decidedly alternate style to politics.

The manner in which he sweeps aside all dissenting voices in his Cabinet through the method of poisonous gas, and tapping his hand on the table to the 'Sound of Drums' is a fine scene. He even gives some warning to his victims, but in such a way that he is comically obtuse, thus catching some of the supposed smartest people in the land completely off-guard.

It is hard to tell which is the more disturbing death in these 10 Downing Street sections: the prolonged suffocation of senior politicians by gas, or the way the Toclafane slice-and-dice Vivien Rook - a reporter rather too bold and determined for her own good.

                                   "I'm taking control, Uncle Sam, starting with you. Kill him!"

By contrast, the execution of the American President is played very much as black comedy. We have a boisterous and self-important world leader, and one perhaps looking down on Britain; no doubt due to the "ass" elected by the population. In this day and age, with such a controversial new president in charge this scene plays out on a different level. Even the very current affairs savvy Davies could not have anticipated this dimension his work would take.

Having a wife by the Master's side is a neat spin on an antagonist that was normally a lone wolf. Whilst he may have temporary stooges to help him (and usually hypnotised ones at that), this is the first time it appears he has a stone cold lover to endorse his villainy. In the Colin Baker portion of the Classic Series, there were tentative alliances with The Rani and Glitz respectively. However, in Lucy the Master has someone who seems to love his unending ambition, ruthlessness and even his sadism. (But of course there are limits to what evil a spouse can put up with, and this is explored effectively in the concluding episode).                                                                                                                                
The Sound of Drums (Credit: {s{LastoftheTimeLords}})The telephone conversation scene gives both Simm and Tennant a chance to share screentime equally. When they finally meet in the same frame the effect is even more marked.  However, whilst the Tenth Doctor swansong The End Of Time is inferior to this Series Three closer, it is ahead in terms of offering decent one-on-one material for two of Britain's most respected screen actors.

The 'Toclafane' - a name from young Gallifreyan fairy tales – essentially act as the Master’s force of marauding assassins. But they are a pretty neat invention, in that they combine a distinct monster look with some semblance of a disturbingly imbalanced personality. Having multiple voices to breathe life into them is also a great production choice. The story behind who these creatures are is kept mysterious for now in this particular outing. If one were to be overly critical, they could be accused of looking somewhat like the confectionary Maltesers - especially when the pulsating Voodoo Child track plays out for a distinctly long stretch. Using a piece of popular chart music was a bold move by Davies and can perhaps be seen as risking dating the production. But taken as a suitably offbeat piece of rhythmical noise, that the Master would choose to celebrate his crowning moment with, it is more than appropriate. Also, this is one of the few moments in the show at the time when composer Murray Gold is not providing persistently stirring backing music to the onscreen drama. 

Series Three did a serviceable job of giving the viewer a clan of relatives to make Martha’s attachment to Earth mean something, and managed to be both similar enough but also distinctly different from the dynamic that Rose Tyler had in terms of her original 'home'. Furthermore, some good groundwork was done in terms of exploring just why Martha eventually chose not to remain by the Doctor's side full time. Adjoa Andoh is probably the best performer out of this family group, and combines steely determination with a subtle sense of really caring for all those closest to her. She would justifiably return in Series Four's closing pair of episodes, as well. Trevor Laird is notably stronger in his acting, than the very tired and ineffectual henchman role that was part of 1986's Mindwarp. He makes for a devoted father figure, and shows some real bravery in helping the Doctor's party evade capture. Reggie Yates is the kind of casting choice that peppered the 1980s under John Nathan-Turner's watch, and is engaging enough. It is a rather generic brother role as Leo, however, and there is virtually no character development that the show normally pulled off so well by now. Also, for whatever reason, Yates barely features in this episode, and contributes even less in the following one. Martha's other sibling Tish, played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw is perhaps the best used recurring character in terms of the Saxon Arc itself, and is performed with conviction throughout. Much like Freema Agyeman, Mbatha-Raw has had a very fine career post-Doctor Who.

Martha herself remains a solid companion, with Ageyman really selling the reveal that the Master is the most powerful man in the country. The response to the startling impact of her 'normal' world being so drastically changed is a strong core theme of this multiparter, and plays out with full effect in the ensuing Last Of The Time Lords. As this episode comes to its cliff-hanger ending, the viewer is utterly captivated as to how Dr Jones will cope without her near-immortal mentor. Like Rose she is capable and independent, but has usually needed some superior experience and incredible intellect from the Doctor to overcome the problem at hand. This particular challenge is mountainous to put it mildly.

The Tenth Doctor putting his mind to work (Credit: http://www.bbc.co.uk/doctorwho/s4/images/S3_12)

Captain Jack perhaps is just more along for the ride after some very good material in the preceding episode where he sought some kind of acknowledgement from the Doctor. Of course, he does helps with the escape back to present day Earth - conveyed in a frenetic flash back - and he also gets to do a (very deliberate) plug for his own spin off Torchwood. Otherwise he is arguably surplus to immediate story requirements, and also suffers yet another helpless 'death' - this time at the hands of the Master, and his upgraded sonic screwdriver. This disconcerting cycle of painful demise and lurching back to life in traumatic fashion has been echoed in more recent times in the Forever TV series. Whilst short-lived at just one season, that particular show had a lead character - Henry Morgan - that has some minor similarities with the Jack Harkness character.

Pacing in this story is mostly good, and the episode packs a lot into its duration (which is slightly longer than the average of most episodes that year). The climax plays out for a good ten minutes, and thus is both truly riveting and furthers the long-running story concerning Harold Saxon, that first was glimpsed back in Love And Monsters. Most of the earlier sections are breathless chasing or exposition, with some detail on the Master's raison d'etre, and what he means to the Doctor. The whole thing could so easily be rushed, but in the hands of the dependable Colin Teague, it all comes together sufficiently well.

One recurring plot point which was a little less welcome was the call-back to The Lazarus Experiment, which many still regard as the weakest story of the run of thirteen episodes. Having the Doctor rendered helpless was a good idea on paper, but the choice here is to make him look like an especially ancient-looking man. Whilst showcasing good make up it never really adds much to the overall story, and would lead to the regrettable 'Harry Potter' CGI imp the following week. Perhaps something different, which rendered our main man immobile and slow of wits, would have worked better. 

Although much of the episode is focused on action, satire or re-establishing the Doctor-Master rivalry, the most moving and powerful portion concerns some exposition and visual display of Gallifrey and its orange skies. This is portrayed so much better on a respectable TV budget, compared to the closest precedent in the six-part 1970s serial The Invasion of Time. The narrated flashback makes use again of the poignant music Gold previously used in Utopia, and this backing track seems even more appropriate, as the key to the scene is making the viewer care for the Master through showing him in the form of a mere innocent child. Some mysterious and anonymous Time Lords also feature, with the scene notably breaking the ethnic onscreen barrier which for so long had been a minus point concerning the Doctors home world TV stories.


SUMMARY :

Whilst a little lacking in fully combining both fun adventure and true depth in terms of themes and moral lessons, this is still a good episode in a generally strong second full season for the Tenth Doctor. In comparison to the prior Utopia, it is a small step down in most respects, but many other stories would also struggle to compare favourably. Taken on its own merits, it is still a great watch, and has stood the test of time well. Back in mid-2007, the season finale was set up with a very dark and intriguing premise, and most regular viewers at the time were left desperate to see how it played out.








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