Quantcast
subscriber help

artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

‘Doctor Who’ blogging: “The Sound of Drums”

(intro to my Who blogging, please read before commenting / previous: Episode 11: “Utopia”)

It’s all the Doctor’s fault.

I don’t think we can deny this, though the Doctor might want to. Harold Saxon came to power in the wake of Harriet Jones’s downfall… which the Doctor is responsible for. If the Doctor had left Harriet Jones alone, would “Harold Saxon” have found quite the same kind of spectacular void to fill? We talk about voting for the lesser of two evils — I think it’s stretching it to call Jones “evil,” but I can see why the Doctor might feel that way, what with her blowing up a retreating alien spaceship — but, man! How does the Doctor feel about all this, I wonder?
“The Master is Prime Minister of Great Britain… the Master and his wife?” Lucy is such a wonderful conundrum. She clearly knows her husband is up to a whole bunch of No Good, and is cool with that, but does she know the real deal with him? Does she know he’s an alien? Or does she lie in bed with him at night and wonder about that strange echo in his heartbeat? Should we feel sorry for her, poor-deluded-but-in-love Lucy, or is she as wicked as he is? It’s almost easy to understand what she sees in him — he’s charming, and that fiendish grin is enough to make a gal weak in the knees — but what about him? I don’t think it’s just that her family had the right connections to aid his rise to power (Lucy’s line about how good Harold has been to her father makes me wonder just who her father is) — he seems genuinely fond of her. Is the Master, like the Doctor, lonely?

John Simm and that grin. Yeah, I could fall for evil.

I love that Russell Davies turned what could have been a goof — the Master as Prime Minister! — into something so profoundly of-the-moment that you almost can’t believe how audacious he’s being. The weaseliness of politicians (all those “traitors” in Saxon’s cabinet), the complicity of the media in not holding truth to power (because when journalists try, like Vivien Rook, they end up, ahem, silenced), the williness of the citizenry to simply jump on the bandwagon of a candidate who says things that sound generically nice, the intrusion on civil liberties that comes with blanket CCTV surveillance and the imprisonment of the innocent (but politically inconvenient) without cause or due process… I mean, I know a lot of folks get their right-wing panties in a twist when the word “fascist” gets thrown about to describe actual, real-world leaders, but geez, is it okay for us to call Harold Saxon a fascist?

Not so much science fiction in our science fiction these days, is there?

There’s a lot of similarities in what’s happening politically and culturally in both the U.S. and the U.K. at the moment, but not everything is comparable. Even an insane, twisted, extraterrestrial Time Lord can get royally pissed off by America swinging its imperialist dick around. Gotta love that “So America is completely in charge?” the Master throws at President Winters, who doesn’t even seem to appreciate what Saxon is saying: Who died and made America boss? (Despite — or perhaps because of — the actions of our unelected president, plenty of us Americans don’t get off on the imperialistic dick-swinging stuff, either. Even some of us recognize that the U.S. has gone so totally insane lately that even lunatics like Pat Buchanan — or the Master — are on the right side of at least some things.) Hilariously pointed and bitter, the crawls under the news reports of the first meeting with the Toclafane: the British broadcast frames Saxon’s getting pushed aside by Winters as “Saxon invites President Winters to join him in formalising relations with…” (emphasis mine), while on the American broadcast, as the anchor is saying, “President Winters has been chosen to lead the world into a new age” (emphasis mine; Winters bullied his way in, of course), the crawl underneath her twists the knife with “Prime Minister Saxon forced into an embarrassing climbdown as President Winters is asked to–” etc.

Ah, but here’s some geeky nitpicking: “climbdown” is not a word an American would use; I get the sense of it, but I’ve never heard it before. And Winters calling himself the “president elect” is simply wrong. (If he were the “president elect,” he would not yet be sworn in as president, and hence would not yet be representing the U.S. internationally). Perhaps Davies meant Winters was stating that he was “duly elected”? Whatever. I’m fascinated to note that the Doctor saying “You’ve been watching too much TV” and not saying “You’ve been watching too much telly,” as I think the line would have been 20 years ago, and also Jack’s so perfectly American “We’ve gotta ditch this car” (which suggests that Jack’s been watching a lot of TV and movies, too) means there has been a lessening of the differences in slang between these two cultures. But the “climbdown” line suggests we’re still separated a little bit by our common language.

I think this all means that Davies needs at least one American on his writing staff, and for the good of Doctor Who, I volunteer to be that one American.

Ah, all the tantalyzing hints about life on Gallifrey… The idea that the Time Lords subject their children to an initiation — staring into “the untempered schism” (that’s wonderfully poetic) at “the raw power of time and space,” which drives some of those children mad… well, that’s just sick, isn’t it? The Master cannot be an anomaly on Gallifrey — he’s just one of, the Doctor suggests, many. Maybe he did grander things with his insanity, but still, this is not a well society. But of course, that’s me judging Gallifrey by the standards of my own culture — by the norms of their culture, they’re unlikely to have thought themselves insane. I also think, though, that by the standards of Gallifreyan society, the Doctor is probably considered as insane as the Master. “Never to interfere, only to watch…” How can the Time Lords not think the Doctor not just a criminal but a madman as well?

The scene in which the Doctor and the Master have their conversation over the phone really thrills me, and I’ve only just now, after my fifth or sixth viewing of this episode, figured out why. Unlike if they’d had that exact same conversation in person, there’s something paradoxically more intimate about the phone: it reduces the dialogue down to just the two of them talking right into each other’s head, and highlights the duality of them: they really are two sides of the same coin. I think the Doctor knows this, and that is why he’s so testy when he dismisses Martha’s suggestion about the Master being the Doctor’s brother — they are brothers of a kind.

Vote Saxon!

Random thoughts on “The Sound of Drums”:

• Could there be a more British name than “Harold Saxon”?

• The deadly gas shooting out of those conference phones? Damn, those things always did look like nasty alien technology to me.

• Jelly babies! (Ever had one of those? They’re gross.)

• Jack still has the TARDIS key on his keyring… and what do all those other keys open…?

• I love Martha’s apartment. It’s like Ikea exploded.

• The Master likes Teletubbies? I always knew those little fuckers were evil.

• Something about Jack making the tea is very sexy. Okay, everything that Jack is and does is sexy as hell.

• “I’ve sent his little gang off on a wild goose chase to the Himilayas.” Now there’s some fodder for fan fiction. Is the Torchwood Scooby gang off searching for Yeti?

• More fodder: “I was there when the Dalek Emperor took control of the Cruciform.” Please please please a Time War movie…

• “The Valiant is a UNIT ship.” UNIT has ships? Cool!

• Great quotes from this episode:

“Ooo, you public menace!”–the Master

“I thought you were gonna say he was your secret brother or something.”–Martha. “You’ve been watching too much TV.”–the Doctor

“It’s like when you fancy someone and they don’t even know you exist.”–the Doctor, oblivious. “You too, huh?”–Jack, exchanging lovelorn looks with Martha

“Laser screwdriver. Who’d have sonic?”–the Master

(next: Episode 13: “Last of the Time Lords”)


MPAA: not rated

viewed at home on a small screen

official site | IMDb
posted in:
tv buzz
  • In regard to the Harriet Jones thing, it seems that much of this series has been about the consequence’s of the Doctor’s own actions. Anyhow, I never thought Harriet Jones’ sin, in context of the thing, was all that horrible – however, being impulsive and thinking on your feet are sometimes the same things.

    Love Simm – though I know some found his performance too Frank Gorshin like, that’s part of waht I loved about it.

    I believe the Sarah Jane Adventures will have interactions with UNIT rather than Torchwood – thank goodness – so perhaps there will be more cool Supermarionation style crafts to come.

  • PaulW

    “I think this all means that Davies needs at least one American on his writing staff, and for the good of Doctor Who, I volunteer to be that one American.”

    OI! No fair! Get in line!

    (stands in place behind Joss Whedon, Darin Morgan, Vince Gilligan, JJ Abrams, and about 150,000 other fans)

    “I love Martha’s apartment. It’s like Ikea exploded.”

    That’s not the only thing that exploded…

  • RP

    No, RTD doesn’t need any Americans. Except to make fools of like he did with President Winters, who looked so much like George Bush everyone in Britain cheered when he was assasinated by the Toclafane. RTD doesn’t like Americans and neither do most British people. Can you guess why?

  • RP, that’s a very sweeping statement to make about the individual views of 60 million people. I’d say that in many respects, Americans are liked, admired and appreciated in the UK. The problem is that Bush exemplifies the ‘stupid American’ – the inarticulate, bellicose, faith-headed international stereotype with no interest in or understanding of the rest of the world and a tendency to go blundering into situations like the archetypal bull in a china shop. Douglas Adams once wrote that if countries were people, the US would be a hot-headed teenage boy (and Canada a level-headed man in middle age, if I remember rightly – I must go back and check The Salmon of Doubt). Johnny Depp, now living in France, thinks of it as “a big dumb puppy”. But that’s a commonly held view of current US foreign policy, not of Americans themselves.

  • Ah, here it is. “Every country is like a particular type of person. America is like a belligerent adolescent boy, Canada is like an intelligent 35-year-old woman. Australia is like Jack Nicholson. It comes right up to you and laughs very hard in your face in a highly threatening and engaging manner.”

    From ‘Riding the Rays’, written by Douglas Adams in 1992 and published in The Salmon of Doubt

  • MaryAnn

    RTD doesn’t like Americans and neither do most British people. Can you guess why?

    I’m guessing it’s the same reason why lots of Americans — this one included — don’t like what “America” has come to mean in recent years.

    America is like a belligerent adolescent boy,

    I don’t deny that this is true. Yet, many Americans are not belligerent adolescent boys.

  • EricInWisconsin

    In regards to Saxon’s wife:

    In a lot of the scenes, with mayhem going on all around her, Lucy is looking dead at the Master. This is a telling clue, I think. Remember the very first Master story, involving the Autons? The Master hypnotized this poor schlub whose father owned a plastics factory. Of course, the Master killed the father, making the son the owner of the factory and the Master’s pawn.

    At one point, the Master explained his plans to this guy and the guy smiled at the sheer wickedness of it. Like Lucy, I think, he was hypnotized and so far gone that he didn’t even care. His will had been so completely overwhelmed that he was nothing more than an empty vessel for the Master’s will. This is what’s happened to Lucy, I think. Totally brainwashed.

  • Katie

    It’s all the Doctor’s fault…Harold Saxon came to power in the wake of Harriet Jones’s downfall… which the Doctor is responsible for.

    When I first watched this and they said Harold Saxon came to power after the downfall of Harriet Jones my exact words were “good job Doctor”.

    “I think this all means that Davies needs at least one American on his writing staff, and for the good of Doctor Who, I volunteer to be that one American.”

    I’ll fight you for it.

    “The Master cannot be an anomaly on Gallifrey — he’s just one of, the Doctor suggests, many. Maybe he did grander things with his insanity,…”

    The thing I found interesting regarding the Master was the comment “they brought me back”. Brought him back from what? Traveling across space and time? Back from the dead? Back from carbon freeze? Brought him back from what? And all because he was apparently crazy enough to do something so horrible no one else was capable of doing it.

    “Hilariously pointed and bitter, the crawls under the news reports of the first meeting with the Toclafane:”

    I noticed that too. It was a wonderfully subtle way of showing how our beliefs and views of what is going on in the world is shaped and how things are definitely not as they appear. I also noticed the whole “President elect” comment which I thought was weird. I do however enjoy when Winters responds that he’s in charge since “England elected an ass”…I can’t help feeling that RTD was really directing that at us Americans considering what we’ve been dealing with.

    “It’s like when you fancy someone and they don’t even know you exist.”–the Doctor, oblivious. “You too, huh?”–Jack, exchanging lovelorn looks with Martha”

    I swear they cut Jack’s response. I was waiting for it because it’s so so great. I was so upset. Guess this means I have to go watch the commercial free BBC version. There’s a bit of Jack the “criminal” coming back in this episode when he tells Martha to ditch the car. Jack acting criminal is always fun. And poor Torchwood off chasing the Yeti.

    I love this episode to pieces. I find myself randomly tapping the drumbeat because it’s so damn catchy and hypnotic. Whoever thought of that particular beat was very clever indeed. And the piece of music they use whenever something tragic and sad is happening (ie. Rose’s “death”) is so mournful and moving.

    Only one episode left! How in the world am I supposed to wait till Christmas for new Doctor Who?!

  • When I was at Armadillocon (an American convention in early August in Austin), there were a few people wearing Vote Saxon buttons. So I guess they grabbed the episodes from “the nether world” and got to see them early!

    Was I the only person who thought Saxon looked like Tony Blair? And was equally hyper?

  • MaryAnn

    I swear they cut Jack’s response.

    No! Bastards!

  • JSW

    The thing I found interesting regarding the Master was the comment “they brought me back”. Brought him back from what? Traveling across space and time? Back from the dead? Back from carbon freeze? Brought him back from what?

    Back from being sucked in to the heart of the TARDIS as he was at the end of the 1996 TV movie.

  • Ok, perhaps It’s just been too long between episodes, but did anyone else think that Vivian Rook was Harriet Jones in disguise?

  • allochthon

    They *did* cut Jack’s “You too?” response on the SciFi showing. Bastards!

    Which surprised me, since SciFi seemed fine with Jack’s omnisexualism in season one.

  • MaryAnn

    I’ll say it again: Bastards.

  • Tom

    I have just found this blog, and by jove it’s fantastic!

    I can totally sympathise with loving the Doctor far too obsessively than can be natural. Despite the fact I’ve seen all the episodes (Australian) I look forward to your comments on the Last of the Time Lords.

    Enjoy – and VOTE SAXON.

  • Pyre

    Katie: I find myself randomly tapping the drumbeat because it’s so damn catchy and hypnotic. Whoever thought of that particular beat was very clever indeed.

    Listen to the persistent drumbeat in “Mars, the Bringer of War”, one movement in Gustav Holst’s symphony The Planets. (I highly recommend the lively version with Herbert von Karajan conducting the Berlin Philharmonic; unfortunately the music just drags in the version by Sir Adrian Boult with the London Philharmonic.) Long long ago, I thought “Mars” would be the perfect theme for Mordor in a Lord of the Rings movie, and “Mercury” would be splendid for the opening titles sequence.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    No, no, no, no Time War movies. The only surprise in that story is the one we already know: the Doctor is, in fact, the kind of man (read: Time Lord) who would let the world burn if it meant destroying his enemies. This is the crucial point of the Time War – this and the loneliness it bred in the Doctor’s psyche.

    Besides, while I agree that the new series are very much about the Doctor, we the audience still need a Companion to be our touchstone. I’m not sure there’s room for a Companion in a Time War movie.

    Also, I strongly suspect that Davies, Moffat, et. al., have never really worked out the timey-whimey ball mechanics of removing the Time Lords and Gallifrey from all time, yet leaving the Doctor, the Master, and the Dalek survivors intact.

Pin It on Pinterest