Sunday, November 1, 2015

"The Sound Of Drums" Returns The Master To The Doctor Who Universe!

The Good: Good acting, Pacing, Plot progression
The Bad: Plot-heavy, No real character development
The Basics: The Doctor Who episode "The Sound Of Drums" finally makes Harold Saxon into an on-screen character and the revelation of him makes him into one of the key villains of the franchise!

The nice thing about serialized television is that the writers and executive producers can write long arcs. In the third season of Doctor Who, the long arc is a series of peppered allusions to an individual named Harold Saxon. Harold Saxon is a mysterious person who is referenced in all of the present-day episodes of Doctor Who in the third season and he just seems like an opinionated guy who is peripheral to events in the Doctor Who universe. In the two-part finale, which begins with "The Sound Of Drums," Harold Saxon is revealed.

Picking up immediately after "Utopia" (reviewed here!), "The Sound Of Drums" pays off a season's worth of allusions to Harold Saxon. The payoff is decent, but it sets up a finale that is harder to realize than the season's worth of allusions. The result is a good penultimate episode that does a lot that Doctor Who does not, traditionally, do.

The Doctor, Martha Jones and Jack Harkness make the leap back from the end of the universe to modern times thanks to The Doctor's sonic screwdriver and Harkness's time vortex manipulator. Convinced that the regenerated version of The Master is there on Earth, The Doctor's team quickly figures out that Harold Saxon is The Master. Saxon kills off his cabinet while Martha brings The Doctor back to her flat. At Downing Street, Vivian Rook (a reporter) pushes her way into an interview with First Lady Lucy Saxon. Rook has figured out that Harold Saxon did not exist eighteen months prior and Harold and Lucy (who is his loyal Companion) kill her.

When Saxon reveals to the world that he has made contact with an alien race known as the Toclafane, he blows up Martha's apartment and incarcerates the Jones family. With Martha willingly running into Saxon's trap, The Doctor's team is forced to run. The Doctor recognizes that The Master has managed to use some form of mind control on the human population and he fills in the gaps for the Master's backstory. After arming themselves with perception filters, The Doctor's team spies upon Saxon as he meets with the American President. Both The Doctor and Saxon end up on the aircraft carrier Valiant where they square off . . . and fall into Saxon's trap!

"The Sound Of Drums" makes plausible the effect preceding the cause with Harold Saxon and his stolen TARDIS arriving on Earth eighteen months before The Doctor and Martha make it back. The gap of logic this creates is that the trapped Jack Harkness, who was looking for The Doctor for almost a century, did not find the TARDIS for the eighteen months (less four days) that it was on Earth hidden by Saxon. It also means that for most of the "present day" episodes in the second season of Doctor Who (reviewed here!) and all of the third season episodes set in "modern times" have two of the same TARDIS on Earth. Harkness's ignorance of the TARDIS on the Valiant makes less sense given that he seems to know exactly what the Valiant is.

"The Sound Of Drums" features atypical elements like a car chase and the TARDIS being used as a Paradox Machine. The Doctor's plan to save Earth entirely fails and when he falls prey to the Master, a tenth of the Earth's population is slaughtered by the mechanical balls which are the Toclafane. For those who came to Doctor Who through the reimaginging of it (the show as it was continued in 2005), "The Sound Of Drums" makes The Master sufficiently menacing and evil. He is characterized as the equal and opposite of The Doctor - smart, but crazy and concerned with domination of Earth, as opposed to saving it.

The acting in "The Sound Of Drums" is quite good. Freema Agyeman has a screen presence that makes Martha defying The Doctor seem entirely credible. The Doctor's companions have not had much going for them in the reboot of Doctor Who, but Martha Jones has been a powerful exception. While she has a growing infatuation for The Doctor - which is made explicit-enough in "The Sound Of Drums" - but Jones remains strong and determined for her own motivations in the episode. Agyeman is able to play insistent, without obnoxious and her character's protective instinct toward her family makes so much sense over her crush on The Doctor.

David Tennant is saddled with giving much of the plot and character exposition in "The Sound Of Drums." Tennant is overshadowed on the performance front by John Simm as Harold Saxon. Simm plays the part of The Master with a dramatic flair that is entertaining and disturbing. Simm is able to play Saxon with a similar level of enthusiasm as Tennant plays The Doctor when he is given the chance, but in "The Sound Of Drums," The Doctor and his people are under siege, so only Simms has electricity in this episode.

"The Sound Of Drums" is a very classic science fiction story. The Doctor Who episode is a middle act and it is a classic middle act. This is the episode where the heroes are entirely under attack and they are at their worst position. It's an engaging episode and it bears the burden of explaining so much of what the rest of the season only alluded to. The result is a good, but not extraordinary penultimate episode of the season.

For other works with Colin Stinton, please check out my reviews of:
Captain America: The First Avenger
Tomorrow Never Dies
The Verdict

[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Doctor Who - The Complete Third Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the second season of the Tenth Doctor here!


For other Doctor Who episode and movie reviews, please visit my Doctor Who Review Index Page!

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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