The Sound of Drums

(Again, the Doctor Who episode.)

Three thoughts:

1. I still can’t decide how much I like John Simm’s Master. On the one hand, he’s often very funny (the double-thumbs up during the gassing, “Ooh, you public menace!”, “Oh all right — it’s me!”), on the other hand he’s utterly unthreatening. Someone, in a comment I now can’t place, said that they thought we were meant to view the Master’s insanity as on some level tragic. That makes a lot of sense, not least because in principle it makes the Doctor’s conviction that he’s going to save the Master, not kill him, more powerful. But as acted in the episode, there’s nobody there for the Doctor to save; Simm is just an evil cartoon. I think part of the problem is that Simm’s Master is so clearly Evil Tennant, with all the flightiness that implies; I think one character needed some weight to ground the serious exchanges the characters have, like that telephone call. (Can you imagine what Christopher Eccleston and Derek Jacobi would have done with that exchange?)

2. I’m finding Doctor Who‘s treatment of its present-day timeline increasingly fascinating — specifically, the fact that it is now so radically different to our own timeline. It’s still set now, but it’s got alien invasions and giant flying airbases and all sorts, and the extravagance doesn’t quite seem to square with the show’s reticence to go to other planets. One of my favourite scenes from the new show’s run is the end of “The End of the World”, when the Doctor and Rose step from the death of the sun to the utter normality of a crowded London street. I don’t think that scene would work any more, because there is no normal for the show to return to. I mean, as of “The Sound of Drums”, Earth has just had a tenth of its population massacred, and unless “paradox machine” is code for “big reset button” (which I’m not ruling out; when Martha teleported at the end of the episode, I was actually surprised that she was still in the present, rather than having jumped back to a point at which she could change events), that’s got to have serious knock-on consequences for future episodes.

3. Last week I hazarded a guess that Martha was being set up to do something that would force the Doctor to notice her, setting up a more equal partnership for season 4. I still think that’s more-or-less where they’re going, although Martha has been forced into a situation where she has to act, rather than (as I would have preferred) seizing a moment. But now I’m wondering what the set-up for the Christmas special is going to be. The previous two specials have been transitional: the first dealt with the Doctor’s regeneration, the second with his post-Rose trauma. But we’re not expecting either Tennant or Agyeman to leave the series in the next episode, which suggests a more straightforward standalone episode. However: assuming they don’t do a big reset on the timeline, what if, given (a) the evident devastation on Earth and (b) Martha’s gradual facing-up to the fact that the Doctor has absolutely no interest in her — what if Martha decides to stay behind and help out, rather than continue travelling? Thus setting up a Christmas episode in which the Doctor, realising what he’s lost, has to win back her friendship? I think I’d like that.

11 thoughts on “The Sound of Drums

  1. The one bet I’m placing for next week is that, in some way, the deaths of one in ten will be rescinded. (Especially if, as the trailer hinted, even more radical changes to Earth are due down the timeline.) It would just be too grim an outcome for them to stand. The other bet I’m sort-of placing is that the Simm-Master’s eventual fate will tie in with the bit of new Gallifrey mythos we have: perhaps being chucked into the vortex that started him off down this path as a child? The other other bet I’m sort-of placing is that Mrs Master will turn out to have some central role, on which RTD hasn’t yet played all his cards, in unpicking this. (There was a weirdly underlined shot in Ep 12 of her crossing her fingers while Simm gave a speech: still haven’t figured out why. Was he lying at the time?)

  2. Yes, I’d agree that they probably can’t live with killing off 600 million people, even off-camera, and will be forced to revoke it.
    My problem with that is that it’s such a repeat of the reversed apocalypse at the end of Season 1, when they wiped out the human race and then unwiped them, just as the use of mobile phones in Saxon’s takeover is exactly the same plot as the Cybermen takeover in RoTC/AoS (isn’t it? I didn’t watch them with total concentration).

  3. 1. on the other hand he’s utterly unthreatening

    Well, of course he’s threatening. He’s just unleashed an army of killer robots on the Earth with orders to kill every tenth person, and apparently there’s something even worse in store (though it isn’t clear to me whether this is something the Master is responsible for or just responding to). What he isn’t is threatening in his own right, divorced from his ability to cause damage. That said, I’m casting my mind back on the last three seasons, trying to find a villain who was threatening in their own right, and I’m coming up all weeping angels.

    Unlike the Cybermen and, post-“The Parting of the Ways”, the Daleks, however, the Master is interesting, at least inasmuch as he casts a new light on the Doctor and on his personal failings. We’ll have to see whether he turns out to be a person in his own right as well.

    2. I think you might be giving this issue more thought than the writers have. They seem to be trying to have their cake and eat it – set stories about massive alien invasions on Earth and still have that Earth, all-but unchanged, to tell more invasion stories in. When Saxon went on TV to announce that he’d been contacted by an alien species, the response should have ‘oh no, not another one.’

    Which is not to say that I don’t also think that the 600 million deaths will be reversed next week.


    I suspect you’re right about Lucy Saxon. We still don’t know why the Master picked her, or how he could have been kind to her father.


    Season 1, when they wiped out the human race and then unwiped them

    Is that confirmed? I thought Rose only brought Jack back to life. Otherwise, there’d be millions of immortals wandering the galaxy and the Doctor would be terrified to leave the TARDIS.

  4. He’s just unleashed an army of killer robots on the Earth with orders to kill every tenth person

    No, he’s just unleashed some special effects. When I say he’s unthreatening, I mean I get no sense of menace or danger from Simm’s performance; nothing to draw me into the episode, make me believe in what’s happening. He’d be a much more effective mirror if he wasn’t so obviously the same character, but evil. (Think Faith vs. Buffy for a comparison.)

    My problem with that is that it’s such a repeat …

    Given how much of the rest of the plot is a rehash of earlier episodes, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if they revoked the massacre as well. But I’d respect the show a lot more if they let it stand.

  5. Chance: Yes, next episode we will have the Daleks insulting John Simm’s mum.

    I was not impressed by the Master either. In a way I think he needs to have some of Tennant’s crazy energy so that they play off each other, but he was just bonkers, and not in a menacing or tragic way, just in a being hyper and silly way. I’m not sure if it’s the acting or the writing or the direction or what, but scenes like the one where he does a comedy panto act while listening to a woman being chopped to pieces should be much more disturbing than they are.

    And this is as good a place as any to make the rant I keeping meaning to have, which is that I would be so so pleased if they put the Doctor/Companion relationship on an even footing and not Martha following the Doctor round out of puppy-dog devotion and love. Sure, the Doctor is charming, but can’t she be travelling in the Tardis because, ooh, she gets to see the whole of time and space? Not because she wuvs him, because frankly I had enough of that last season.

    Oh, and more Captain Jack.

  6. Liz – OMG YES! Enough with the women whose only though revolves around tru luv. It was bad enough with Rose in season 2, but now it seems completely and utterly unsupported.

  7. One of the things that used to be so interesting about Who was that it was one of the few shows which did not depend upon unresolved sexual tension between the male and female leads. New Who not only throws that out, but has gone back and retrospectively alleged that the tension was always there in the first place. (Viz. the ruining of Sarah Jane Smith, a classic role model for young girls in the 1970s demonstrating that you didn’t need a man to complete you, reduced to adopting space aliens because she wished she had had a child.)

    I feel the same way about Starbuck and Apollo shagging – couldn’t they just have had them be friends? Wouldn’t that be, like, you know more interesting?

  8. I said “Also – I think RTD intended us to take The Master’s madness as somewhat pitiable, as opposed to just plain silly, but that’s largely failing to come across.”, but I suspect I was not alone.

    And yes. I agree entirely.

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