“The Sound of Drums” – Review: Redux

The Master “This country has been sick, this country needs healing, this country needs medicine – in fact I’d go so far as to say that, what this country really needs, right now, is a Doctor.”

The Sound of Drums

A three-parter in new Doctor Who is unheard of, although the older fans among us may remember the occasional 6 x 25-minute stories of old that equate to much the same duration. The result is that “The Sound of Drums” might sit a little uncomfortably between the opening shocks of “Utopia” and the thrills and spills that undoubtedly await us in the finale, “The Last Of The Time Lords”, tomorrow. So, for an episode with neither a beginning nor an end it is a little unusual, but it still manages thrills a plenty.

When I found out that the Master was to return, I had in my mind’s eye, the image a moustache-twirling, sinister figure with a penchant for evil laughs and wearing black but he was nowhere to be seen. Instead we got to see John Simm, besuited and camping it up with the best of them for his portrayal of the Doctor’s nemesis as a truly insane megalomaniac. In these cynical, twenty-first century times when we are perhaps more used to our bad-guys portrayed in a certain, for want of a better word, contemporary way, so it was a joy to behold seeing such over-the-top evilness. I remember seeing a lot of people state that they really didn’t enjoy the “Here Come The Drums” musical interlude, but for me it delivered perfectly as a reflection of the Master’s madness and the unmitigated joy he took in his actions. I even downloaded the song on iTunes after the episode, such was my enjoyment.

Of course, the Master acts as an ideological counterpoint to the Doctor. Not only did he regenerate into a younger, more vibrant model at the end of “Utopia” to match Tennant’s take on his character, but the evil Time Lord also picked up his own companion in the form of Mrs Lucy Saxon. When the character was originally conceived, the Master was to act as a Moriarty-esque figure for the Doctor’s Holmesian character to be pitched against, but here (and this as has probably been expanded upon elsewhere because I can’t be the first to point it out) we end up with more of a Batman/Joker dynamic at play.

Russell T Davies delivered another script of witty dialogue, memorable action scenes and great pace that was crammed so full of storyline that you were left breathless after its 45-minute of adventure. We also got a resolution to Series Three’s arc and the references to Mr Saxon that date back to “The Runaway Bride”, when we learn that the Master has adopted the identity of Harold Saxon and worked his way up to become Prime Minister of Great Britain. The fact that he left Utopia and arrived back on Earth before the events in the last Christmas special, cleverly explain the repeated references we’ve seen this series, although the reason for the Doctor’s apparent ignorance of the fact that another Time Lord had returned (given his “I’d know” comment, way back in “Dalek”) is cause for some debate. Either way, I certainly found it a lot more satisfying than both Rose’s “I take the words and I scatter them” Bad Wolf resolution, and the rather prosaic Torchwood crowbarring.

Despite the increasingly desperate conditions that developed for the Doctor and his friends throughout the episode, there were still opportunities for some nice in-jokes, such as the jelly babies being a not so subtle nod back to the Fourth Doctor and the Teletubbies being a clever play on Roger Delgado’s viewing of the Clangers way back when, There was also a lovely moment with a flashback to Gallifrey, that just gave viewers a quiet reminder of something that will become more significant in Series Four. Nevertheless the pervading feeling that I am left with is one of anticipation, with RTD clearly getting to grips with the art of the cliffhanger as we end with the Doctor having aged beyond recognition, Martha having been teleported back to Earth all alone, and Jack, immortal but seemingly without a way out of his shackles. All this while the Master seems to have total control over the planet and, just to prove his point, he has just sentenced six million to execution by the mysterious Toclafane.

Highlight: Simply having the Master back and him being madder than ever

Lowlight: The caricature American president

Talking Point: Delgado versus Simm… who’d you prefer?

Demon’s Run Rating: 18 out of 20

Original BBC1 Broadcast: 13th June 2007

Marathon Status: Episode 40!

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