TV EYE: Doctor Who, week 12: ‘The Sound of Drums’

Well, if anyone was ever going to throw a spanner into the genuine goodwill I was starting to feel towards New Who, it was going to be Russell T. Davies. Fear the spoilers…

DOCTOR WHO: S3 E12 – ‘The Sound of Drums’
Oh dear…

It wasn’t my imagination. The show took a lurch back towards annoying camp the moment the Master regenerated, and we’ve now ended up with an episode which, while superficially crammed full of incident, largely failed to make much of the playing pieces that the show’s spent the last season (and beyond) putting into place. After four episodes where, even with its occasional flaws, Who was actually starting to feel slightly grown-up, we’re yanked back into the world of children’s television, and once again clearly shown that RTD’s idea of political satire is downright uninteresting stuff. ‘Sound of Drums’ was incredibly sloppy, recycling vast chunks of last year’s finale (can we get to a point where Who-related season climaxes don’t involve dimensional rifts spilling out hordes of monsters?) while barely managing to make sense among all the technobabble and- most annoying of all- making a total hash of ‘re-vamping’ the Master and transforming him into a hammy and annoying mirror image of the 10th Doctor’s least endearing habits. It’s not so much the ‘re-invention’ of the character as a smarmy, wisecracking thirtysomething, or the fact that the character is now almost totally divorced from the Delgado and Ainley versions (which, to be honest, it would have been unwise to ape)– it’s the fact that it doesn’t even match up to the performance that Derek Jacobi was given last week. Simm is obviously having a ball, but aside from the brief phone scene with Tennant spent most of the episode mugging like there’s no tomorrow. Combined with the unwise scripting and some surprisingly loose direction, which takes the show dangerously close to being back in the bad old days of Aliens of London/World War 3, the Master has ended up rather painful to watch- the kind of embarrassing comic strip villain who’d have blended in well in the Batman TV series, but has very little chance of actually scaring anyone.

The Gallifrey flashback was lovely, and the whole thing had a nice slick edge to it- but after all the build-up, the conflict between Martha and her Mother over the Doctor was actually over in about three minutes, while the whole purpose of’The Lazarus Experiment’ seems to have been so that the Master could get a funky ageing device to wave at the Doctor for no readily apparent reason. Once we’ve got Captain Scarlet-style ‘skybases’ hoverring in secret, we’ve officially left anything remotely resembling suspension of disbelief far behind, and the cartoony nature of the plot quickly added up to become downright bloody embarrassing at times.

Above everything else, RTD’s style is starting to feel old. Running around industrial-looking locations is turning into the ‘Quarry’ of New Who, and there’s only so many times you can have self-aware cameos and hordes of aliens tumbling from the sky and blasting everything in their path before it all gets a bit boring. Gosh- playing pop music at a grotesquely inappropriate moment (almost as nonsensical as backing up a Cyberisation sequence with Tight Fit’s version of ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight)- how terribly adventurous of him. He’s capable of serving up occasional nuggets of great dialogue, and the Master watching the Tellytubbies is a fantastic little nod to the scene in Classic Who where Roger Delgado’s Master watches the Clangers, but he’s also the most gigantically inconsistant writer, and it’s hard to believe that tonight’s episode was even the same series as ‘Blink’. I guess treating the audience like grown-ups just gets a bit too dull after a while.

There’s still been some damn good stuff this season– but my desire to see the finale (which will now be in two weeks time, thanks to my holiday) is officially down several notches. We’ll just have to wait and see…

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