Sunday, 29 June 2014

The Sound of Drums written by Russell T Davies and directed by Colin Teague

This story in a nutshell: The new Prime Minister of Great Britain is...the Master!

Mockney Dude: There is something very dynamic about the team of the Doctor, Jack and Martha walking the streets, hanging out in her flat and going on the run. I love the fact that this is a urban geek Doctor who fits in very nicely hanging out with regular people on the street. Colin Baker made a fantastic point when he said that if you were an intelligent Time Lord you would chose an image that allowed you to fit in as much as possible wherever you visit. And since the Doctor spends so much time on Earth it makes sense that he should adopt a contemporary, chic image for himself. This might go against what other people think, perhaps preferring the Doctor to stand out from the crowd (although that Ronald McDonald coat is perhaps taking things a step too far) but as a one-off incarnation, I think the tenth Doctor does a great job of retaining his quirkiness and alien qualities whilst also managing to blend into a crowd. The frisson between the Doctor and the Master when they first talk on the phone is spectacular, with the Doctor desperate to make him understand that they are the last of their kind and they need each other. David Tennant and John Simm do superb work together, it's interesting to note that when they finally talk it is the moment where Simm's stratospheric performance calms right down to a low menace. You get the sense that the Doctor is so relieved to talk about the Time War with one of his own kind. It's great to see the Doctor cobbling together a device that will hide them out of some old tat again; he’s been a bit out of practice. The Doctor is trapped in an impossible situation of wanting to save the Master because he is the only other Time Lord in existence but the more acts of slaughter he commits the harder that becomes to justify. It's horrible to watch his torture at the conclusion. What with his agonizing transformation in Human Nature and a similarly vicious procedure inflicted on him here, the tenth Doctor is physically tortured more than any other Doctor in the third series. Are we going to be stuck with this geriatric version of the Doctor from now on?

Marvellous Martha: Back on Earth and in the throes of political madness that wraps her family in a veil of evil, Martha is on top form throughout The Sound of Drums. Agyeman is back in that red leather coat but somehow she looks like a completely transformed person for her travels (maybe it is just the hair). Throughout the year we have seen Martha gaining her confidence in the face of the Doctor’s insensitivity and when her family are threatened as good as tells the Doctor to go jump and she is going to protect them no matter what. I remember watching this at the time and punching the air with delight that she finally put the smug, Rose-pining Time Lord in his place. Martha’s fury as her family are kidnapped and she is helpless to step in is terrifying and her anger towards the Doctor is long, long overdue. It must have taken all of her patience to stay still and watch as the Master mocks and manhandles her family as she desperately wants to walk up to him and kill him.

Hunky Hero: Jack is nervous to tell the Doctor that he is working for Torchwood now considering his history with the organisation but finally bites the bullet and says that it is now being run in his honour. He gives his life once again for the Doctor at the climax. What a loyal man.

Nutball Villain: The Master is the Prime Minister of England? What an awesome idea and one that could have been happily exploited during the seventies when Roger Delgado played the role. Imagine this kind of story set then, Delgado puffing away on his cigars and setting nationwide traps for the Doctor. Still Terrance Dicks and Barry Letts' loss in Davies’ gain and this attention grabbing idea gives us a strong hook and contemporary twist for the freshly introduced villain. This is a new, younger, cuter Master for the next generation and Simms is clearly having a whale of a time playing the psychotic Time Lord. I find his childish face pulling just before he murders his entire cabinet pretty chilling because it is clear that this overgrown child is dangerously unpredictable and utterly silly. It's a touch of Ainley lunacy, happy to crack jokes whilst he commits mass murder. The shot of him tapping out his rhythm of four strapped into the gas mask, completely unmoved by the death that surrounds him haunts me. Simms pleasingly goes for the homoerotic angle as the Master and flirts outrageously with Tennant’s Doctor (‘I love it when you say my name…’). It turns out that the Time Lords resurrected the Master because they knew he would be the perfect warrior for a Time War. Another little piece of the puzzle filled in. He was so scared of the War that he ran and made himself human so he would never be found. That gives the Time War even more impetus, if it managed to frighten one of the most evil men in the universe. He gets enormous pleasure from the idea of the Time Lords and the Daleks burning all the way to hell. Watching the Tellytubbies on a laptop is a terrific modern day nod to the work Letts & Dicks. Davies doesn’t include the Master just because it is a cool thing to do but he actually builds upon his mythology and teaches us new things about the character. Looking into the Untempered Schism is said to be where his madness began, with the whole of time and space opening up for him and tempting him with its possibilities. The drumming in his head has been there ever since he was a child and it has driven him to many murderous acts over the years. Is it a signal? Something calling to him? Something driving him on? It is fascinating to learn things about the character so many years after his introduction, it allows us to see him in a brand new light but doesn’t contradict anything we have seen before. Bravo.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Its as if he’s mesmerised the whole world!’
‘The man who makes people better. How sanctimonious is that?’
‘You and your little gang…which by the way is ticking every demographic box so congratulations on that.’
‘I thought you were going to say your secret brother or something…’

The Good: It's another season that has quietly whispered its arc secrets to us along the way. Mentions of Mr Saxon and the slow poisoning of Francine against the Doctor. Now it is time to pay off the audience. The idea that Martha has only been away for four days considering the places we have visited this year is a lovely idea that only Doctor Who (with its time travelling possibilities) could pull off. I love the way the Jean Rook scenes go from a media frenzy to a dire warning – this is Davies’ characterisation at its best with Jean running rings around Tish, Lucy outmanoeuvring her and the Master entering quietly to murder her. A terrifically marbled scene. The obligatory celebrity appearances are well thought through this year with Sharon Osbourne, McFly and Anne Widdecombe (an evil group of celebrities if ever I heard one) all giving the Master their endorsement. You realise with cold horror that the Master being in power is all the Doctor's fault, his first act after his regeneration was to instil a vote of no-confidence in Harriet Jones. What a simple idea the Toclafane are, floating orbs with child-like voices and psychosis that weild scalpels and lasers to cut people to pieces. I think they look very impressive on screen. Watching the Master’s speech to the country makes me remember just how good Davies was at world building; the way he segues the events of Aliens of London, The Christmas Invasion, Army of Ghosts and The Runaway Bride into his speech to highlight how much public contact the human race has had with aliens of late is inspired. It’s clever how these exposed invasions are exploited to make contact with a new alien species a massive, world changing event that genuinely whips the world up in a storm. Colin Teague's direction really comes into its own during the explosive scenes in Martha's flat, all skewered angles during the exposition and a marvellous low angle shot in slow motion when the bomb showers glass onto the street. This is a very new kind of danger where the Master has the back up of armed police forces that can tear people from their homes and open fire on them on the streets. How gripping is the sequence of Martha trying to contact her family and watching as they are captured by Saxon’s forces, closing in on them like an iron grip? I was on the edge of seat again (much like the climax of Utopia). I get goosebumps every time I watch the standoff in the road as the car screeches to a halt and the police open fire. It feels like we are back in season seven territory again but with a very contemporary feel. The Doctor has been on the run from armed forces before and it feels as wrong now as it did then...but in the most dramatically satisfying manner. Who didn’t get a genuine thrill of excitement to see Gallifrey brought to life with such stunning beauty? This is the Gallifrey that we have always dreamed of but never had the resources to realise before. It is hard to think those dismal corridors and cafes from Arc of Infinity are a part of this magnificent structure. I felt like a seven year old who had been given a bag of sweets when I saw the Valiant. This is Doctor Who, Spooks style on acid. More dark concepts in the idea of the TARDIS being raped by the Master, a blood red interior with the console locked away behind an iron cage. It hurt the Doctor to see the TARDIS violated in such a way. Great to see that The Lazarus Experiment was setting up a future developments (although I found it perfectly watchable in its own right). It does give the story extra credence, however. The ageing of the Doctor wouldn't be half as harrowing to watch if it wasn't speeded up. The final set piece has to be seen to be believed with the Master creating a hellish rip in the sky and allowing the Toclafane to come pouring through and rain down on the Earth. Voodoo Child rocks on and even the TARDIS starts dancing as the paradox machine kicks in and Hell descends upon the Earth. It's utterly brilliant lunacy and the furthest Davies could take an alien invasion without destroying the show itself (indeed he has to rewind it all later but let's not worry about that now).

The Bad: The only point I feel the comedy is pushed to the edge is when the Master opens the door several times and we hear Jean screaming as the Toclafane tear her to piece. It really isn’t very funny and threatens to spoil what has been a wonderful character scene. Speaking as someone who lives nearby, Leo really isn’t in Brighton.

The Shallow Bit: Martha looks absolutely gorgeous with her hair down, it's almost as if she has deliberately dressed kick ass just as she it is needed. I especially love how the Master stands proud in a black and red velvet cape, full of his own pomp and circumstance to mock the Doctor’s third incarnation.

Result: The Sound of Drums is basically a massive kiss to the Pertwee era with politics, international intervention and first contact with alien species all coming to the fore in spectacular ways. But underneath that you have the thrilling Doctor/Master relationship, which veers from violent enemies and perhaps too-close friends in the aftermath of the Time War. And underneath that you have Martha gaining her independence and fighting to keep her family safe from the grip of terror that has seized Britain. There are so many stand-out scenes it would be impossible to name them all but with highlights such as the flashback to Gallifrey, the murderously childlike Toclafane's first appearance, the very real threat of guns and bombs threatening the Doctor and the awesome reveal of the Valiant this is a hard episode to top. It's an episode packed with incident, character drama, action and revelations and closes on one of the best ever cliff-hangers in the shows history – the Master misquoting the bible as his killers descend upon the Earth and begin slaughtering one tenth of the population. I re-watched this episode so many times after it was first transmitted and it doesn’t matter that the wrap up had a mixed response, it is a perfect slice of contemporary Who and coming on the heels of Human Nature and Blink manages to continue to up the game of series three. The last ten minutes are near flawless with superb direction, music and effects combining to make the mother of all climaxes: 10/10


Anonymous said...

The Master was the Prime Minister of England? Just England?

Charley Archer said...

I know this is an old post, but I completely agree with everything you say. I absolutely adore this episode and this whole story is my 4th favourite story of new Doctor Who (even with the next episode not being quite as good, but that's just a testament to how good Utopia and The Sound of Drums are) after The Waters of Mars, Human Nature/The Family of Blood and Midnight.