Saturday, 4 May 2013

The Promise vs the Reality 2

Doctor Who: The Sound of Drums

The Sound of Drums is the second-to-last episode of season 29 of Doctor Who. While it is usually counted as being the first part of a two-part story, concluding with Last of the Time Lords, it really has to be seen as following on directly from the preceding episode Utopia (which finished on a cliffhanger, so the two stories would have to be linked by that if by nothing else), and in the context of the story arc that had been building up for the entire season - that Britain's new Prime Minister, Harold Saxon, was in some way a baddy.

With that in mind, here's the trailer:

This trailer is all about the Master. It starts with scenes (well, clips really, considering this is a trailer) establishing that the new Master, whom we would have just seen Derek Jacobi turn into in the final scenes of Utopia, is the new Prime Minister.

We hear a fragment of his speech "...diplomatic relations with a new species..." and see floating balls appear. "...and these are my friends." The mere fact that we know he is the Master makes his friends sinister by association. The peril in this trailer has so far been cleverly implicit.

Now we get some more obviously exciting scenes: a house explodes; some mannys get gassed; we see a manny screaming at the camera - perhaps in the traditional Doctor Who Monster POV shot?

Back to the Master - he's in a gas mask, giving a thumbs up (this gesture is a deadly insult to cats, you know). Now he is shouting into his 'phone "Run for your life!" and "I said RUN!" Who is he shouting at? We don't know, but we can guess it's the Doctor.

The shots of the Master are intercut with shots of some mannys shooting guns, with the implication that they are the Master's minions. Who are they shooting at? We don't know, but again it seems likely that it's the Doctor or maybe his Companions.

The Master meets Mr President, the significance of which is lost on me, speaking as a cat, unless it signifies that the Master is trying to take over the world. But he usually is, so I would have taken that as a given.

The last shot of the trailer is of the Master's face, addressing the camera and perhaps the viewers directly:
"What this country really needs, right now, is a Doctor." He smiles and goes "ting" - no he really does. This is a marvelous fourth-wall shattering moment on which to leave us hanging until the full episode next week.

Quite apart from the fact that this trailer makes no reference to the cliffhanger situation that the Doctor, Jack and Martha were left in at the end of Utopia, which is a touch of genius, this trailer is effective because it promises that so much of what this season's arc has been building up to will be delivered upon next time: the Master is the Prime Minister of Britain, but there's clearly more to his plan than just that (the floating balls point at this) - so what is his plan and what can the Doctor possibly do to stop him?

So what did The Sound of Drums deliver after all that?

Well, for a good portion of its run-time, the episode looks like delivering on all it has promised in the trailer and in the season-arc so far. True, the Master is a silly evil version of the Doctor now rather than the character he was in the old series, but would a Delgado or Ainley-style Master have worked put against David Tennant's Doctor?

That aside, the Master is indeed Prime Minister of Britain, and he spends the early part of the episode killing anyone who might be able to curb his power or expose him as a baddy. It seems to leave him all-powerful in Britain and we, the viewers, know that only the Doctor is going to be able to stop him in the end.

The Doctor, Jack and Martha turn up, having escaped from the Utopia cliffhanger and traveled to the present where the Master is. The Master finds out where they are and sends his minions after them. The high-point of the episode is that the Master - the baddy - is the all-powerful ruler of the country, and the Doctor - the goody - is on the run with only his two friends, everyone else against them. What a great premise.

It goes wrong almost immediately after this, when the Doctor turns his TARDIS keys into invisibility cloaks.

From that moment on, the story is doomed. It spirals downwards into stupidity culminating in the Doctor being turned into an old manny by means of the Master using his magic wandlaser screwdriver, the Doctor's severed hand (one of the stupidest plot threads in Doctor Who, and we're not even done with it now) from The Christmas Invasion, and some science from The Lazarus Experiment.

The episode concludes with the Master summoning the Toclafane to take over the world, and doing so in such a way that the only possible way out is for the whole story to be cancelled retroactively come the next episode. Which it is. Even with this fact being somewhat foreshadowed in the form of the TARDIS 'Paradox Machine,' it still represents a terrible nosedive from the high promise offered by the Sound of Drums trailer.

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