Sunday, July 22, 2007

Doctor Who - The Sound of Drums

First of all, apologies for the delay in posting up my thoughts of the last couple of episodes of this year's Doctor Who. The real world intruded in that my sister decided to get married on the same day as Last of the Time Lords meaning that the family had to take a trip up to Glasgow for the event - this being the same weekend as the airport there was hit by failed bombers, and the same weekend as Britain was drenched and flooded for the first time ... so I was quite pleased we travelled by train all told.

We managed to see the final episode in the hotel room, though, but then back to drinking and festivities all night. Then the following weekend, there was more things to do and sort out ... and you know how it goes.

Anyway, I've finally managed to make the time to sit down and re-watch the final two episodes again, and so here's the first of the reviews.

The Sound of Drums starts with something I thought we'd seen the back of ... a fake cliffhanger resolution. We had left the Doctor, Martha and Jack facing off against a group of cannibalistic humans in the year 100 trillion as the Master nicked the TARDIS. Yet here we start with our trio arriving on Earth. They used Jack's transporter device and what a useful McGuffin this is. Able to transport them 100 trillion years when even the Doctor was alarmed about the TARDIS going so far forward in the last episode.

One of the things about the final episodes is that they move at such a pace that you can't really take it all in. I found that I enjoyed them more a second time as I could pick up on more of the nuances, but it makes trying to write the plot down near impossible! Anyway, I'll do my best. On Earth, Harold Saxon is now Prime Minister and he is also the Master as Martha now realises. And her sister Tish is working for him (poor girl doesn't have a lot of luck does she). The Master gasses all the cabinet members and we start to get the impression that he is not in full possession of all his marbles.

His wife, Lucy, is the female equivalent of Tim Nice-But-Dim and comes over as very cowed but totally devoted to the Master. I wish he had hypnotised her at some point - like when the Jean Rook-alike journalist is slaughtered by the Toclafane sphere - as then we might have had a reason for her trance-like behaviour. I guess we just have to imagine what he might have done to her mind.

So the Master is using these Toclafane spheres (a name that is made up, apparently some sort of Gallifreyan boogieman) to pretend he has been contacted by aliens. He's also somehow able to plant a massive bomb in Martha's apartment which blows up at a convenient moment as the Doctor, Jack and Martha flee for their lives. Nice effects, but it's all a little convenient.

Martha is more than a little pissed at this, but her family is taken into custody by Saxon's men in short shrift and she's on her own. The Doctor uses her phone to talk to the Master and we get bags of backstory ... Time War, Daleks, Torchwood team gone to the Himalayas ... and then we see the Master watching TellyTubbies in a nice reflection of the scene in The Sea Devils where he watches Clangers ... a Toclafane sphere says the Darkness is coming ... what Darkness? Is this the end of all things in the far future? Or the same thing they were going on about in Torchwood? Or are they looking forward to seeing Justin Hawkins and his band on tour?

More continuity - I feel the spirit of JNT looming! - the Master is not the Doctor's brother. Excuse me ... you seem to have confused me with someone who cared! I'm afraid that this sort of fannish referencing is a little lame ... why bother to even mention it? It's as though someone has a checklist of Mastery things and they just have to tick them all off. Next we'll have references to previous adventures with Axons and ... oh ... we do have those. Check. What about the Master as a boy on Gallifrey ... check. We have to have those nifty Time Lord collars in ... check. What about a time portal ... have to have a time portal ... check. Sighs

So the child Master looked into the total perspective vortex and saw the whole of creation ... and it drove him mad and he now hears drumming all the time (and the drumming is never explained). But they also said that all young Gallifreyans look into the vortex as part of their initiation ... so why is only the Master driven bad and mad?

Now the Doctor gets all A-Team and builds some TARDIS keys with somebody-else's-problem fields in them so their wearers are not seen, and the team head off to watch what's happening.

The Master meanwhile assembles everyone on Valiant - a skybase nicked from Colonel White and Spectrum - and the President of the US is killed by a Toclafane. The Doctor, Jack and Martha use the transporter to get there - a very useful device indeed - and find that the Master has converted the TARDIS into a paradox machine (a what?). All hell breaks loose after the President is killed and the Doctor, Martha and Jack are uncovered. The Master uses the power of referencing another story (The Lazarus Experiment) to age the Doctor into someone we saw in The Family of Blood.

Are you still with me. The problem with all this is that it feels so ... so unoriginal. We saw an aged Doctor in The Family of Blood, and there it was a shock and felt right. Here it feels like they loved the make up so much they just had to use it again. And the first incarnation of the Doctor was something like 450 years old when he regenerated, so why would adding 100 years to the Doctor now make him age so dramatically? I guess we just have to go with the flow.

So the Master keys his favourite pop record to play, 'Voodoo Child' by Rogue Traders, and as they sing out about the Sound of Drums, so Mrs Saxon bops cutely, and the Toclafane spheres descend from a rip in the sky. Again, we've seen this before. There were the Daleks descending on the Earth to wipe it out, then the Cybermen, then the Daleks and the Cybermen ... it all feels old when it should feel new and exciting.

Martha listens as the Doctor whispers something to her, and then escapes with that handy transporter as the Toclafane start to decimate the Earth, killing one in ten of the populace. Standing on a hill, overlooking a devastated London, she vows to return.

Meanwhile the Master is getting all biblical (foreshadowing how this all ends) and mis-quotes from Genesis as he and his wife and the Doctor look down on the Earth ... cue the credits.

So ... an exciting episode yes, but one which increasingly felt as though the show had started to go off the rails. There was little that we hadn't seen before, and scenes reminded me of similar set ups in any number of earlier stories. The whole thing was suffused with backstory and menky bits of information about Gallifrey, Time Lords, the Master, techno-stuff about mobile phone networks (didn't Lumic use that trick?) and Paradox Machines (unexplained), Jack's super-transporter which seems better than a TARDIS, and keys which make you invisible ...

However it sets up some nice mysteries - who or what the Toclafane are for example, that could have potential. How the Doctor and Martha get out of the mess they are in, and whether the Master actually has some sort of plan or whether he is just completely barking mad.

Only one episode to go ...

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