TARDIS File 03-12: The Sound of Drums

TARDIS File 03-12: The Sound of Drums

The Big Idea: Martha, Jack and the Doctor return to London to discover that the Master is Prime Minister and find themselves on the run as public enemies.

What’s So Great…

  • That phone conversation. It’s said by two actors in two different locations shot at two different times—and yet it has positively fissionable energy as these two characters share their inner-most pain
  • The culmination of the Saxon arc is extremely satisfying. It boggles the mind to consider that the Master was laying his plans as far back as Love & Monsters.
  • The TARDIS is integral to the plot; one almost flinches at the sight of the “wounded” time capsule transformed into the paradox machine.
  • The sad and funny scene where the Doctor talks about how the perception filter is a bit like never being noticed by someone you like. When Captain Jack says, knowingly, to Martha, “You too, huh?” suddenly everything the character of Jack has said and done in the past two episodes makes a whole lot of sense…
  • The devastating cliffhanger which ups the ante considerably after last season’s kick-butt Dalek/Cybermen showdown.
  • This episode is a giant plot on the part of Russell T Davies to colonize people’s brains with the song “Voodoo Child” by Rogue Traders. Perhaps not, but it should be…

Quick Bits of Trivia: The concept of the Toclafane have been around since series one, where they were originally to have been the replacement monster for the Daleks when negotiations with Terry Nation Estate briefly ran aground during 2004. The story derives its title from a line in the song “Voodoo Child” by Rogue Traders (which rose to number 3 in the UK charts), “So here it comes / The sound of drums / Here come the drums / Here come the drums”. Indeed rights were obtained to play the song in the soundtrack before the story was even written (and Russell T Davies had to be reminded this had been done—he forgot to put it in the script originally!).

We were going to praise the story for using a ‘proper’ definition of the word ‘decimate’ (ie. killing one-tenth of the population), but DWIN’s webmaster, Myth Makers co-editor and etymological gadfly John Anderson claims on his blog this is not exactly true.

Things to Geek Out About…

  • Aspects of Gallifrey are depicted in great style such as the burnt ochre sky, majestic mountains and an encased citadel that evokes the 1980s DWM Comic Strip; additionally we see Time Lords in the traditional robes and collars from the original series AND the Master as a boy donning the black and white Time Lord outfit worn in the classic 1969 Patrick Troughton episode The War Games. The Doctor mentions that all Time Lord children are brought before the vortex, expanding Time Lord mythology in new directions.
  • The TARDIS cloister bell, last heard in the 2005 Children in Need special, makes a welcome return, announcing “wild catastrophe” as the Doctor and his companions discover that the TARDIS has been cannibalized to create a paradox machine.
  • President Winters references the “First Contact policy [that] was decided by the Security Council in 1968” when he reprimands the Master for making contact with the Toclafane—a sly reference to the year in which the story The Invasion—which Introduced UNIT—first aired
  • More intriguing information about the time war is disclosed during the phone tete-a-tete between the Doctor and the Master: in particular the Master was revived by the Time Lords as “the perfect warrior for a time war” offering a rough explanation as a bridge from the events that transpired in the 1996 telemovie (wherein the Master was sucked into the Eye of Harmony at the climax of that story). It’s also reminiscient of how the Timelords used the evil renegade during the 20th Anniversary story The Five Doctors (employing him to rescue the Doctor).
  • The Master’s fascination with the Teletubbies is a deliberate nod to a scene in the 1972 story The Sea Devils where the Master is similarly intrigued by the BBC preschool series The Clangers
  • The Master offers Lucy a jelly baby aboard the Valiant.
  • Dr. Lazarus’ genetic manipulation device (last seen in The Lazarus Experiment) has been adapted by the Master, who uses it through his laser screwdriver to prematurely age the Doctor.
  • The Master paraphrases his words, “Peoples of the Earth please attend carefully,” from the classic episode Logopolis.
  • And the list goes on…

Not to Complain But… The direction of the story is a little weaker than it might have been. Some of the action is realized in a fairly workmanlike fashion where a little more innovation might have benefited the story: in particular the scenes in Martha’s apartment or the rather lacklustre resolution to last week’s cliffhanger (mind you the writing is strong enough to compensate in most places). The status of the US President is somewhat sloppily presented as being a President-elect, (in actuality a President-elect has no standing until he is inaugurated). Jack’s assertion that he modeled the Cardiff division of Torchwood in the Doctor’s honor is somewhat laughable considering how un-Doctorly that organization functioned (Canadian fans who have yet to watch the spin-off show can make that determination themselves when it airs on CBC this fall).

All Things Considered… The Sound of Drums is a rich episode, delving into the mythos of the series, both old and new and serving it up as one part urban thriller, one part fluffy satire, some solid character study, and a good helping of what essentially amounts to The John Simm Show. Russell T Davies is keen to explore the parallels between the Doctor and the Master (both are eccentric, charming, and brilliant; both attract human companions; both are inextricably tied to the fate of humanity; and both are alone, the last survivors of their race).

John Simm as the Master is a force to behold. While he is often delightful over the top in the tradition of early portrayals of the character, he also brings great pathos to many of his scenes, such as his initial phone conversation with the Doctor about the destruction of Gallifrey. And David Tennant continues to jump from strength to strength as The Doctor, at once wistful and vulnerable in his recollections of Gallifrey with a hint of mystery as the story unfolds.

The story feels epic as it races towards the devastating cliffhanger, yet still leaving time for quieter moments like the Doctor’s reminiscience of Gallifrey or the consequences of Francine’s deal with the devil. The story greatly benefits from all the set-up in Utopia (even if the tone does change dramatically from last week) and the seeds sown throughout the third series.

Line of the Week: “So are you asking me out on a date?”

Index of TARDIS Files

TARDIS File prepared by Scot Clarke

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