Saturday, September 29, 2007

“I like it when you use my name”: Doctor Who

Roughly midway through this week’s Doctor Who, ‘The Sound of Drums’, the Doctor and Master share a conversation over their cell phones. That in itself is an amusing example of how Who has been brought into the 21st century. The scene is especially notable, though, because it serves well as a summation of everything this season’s final two episodes are going for. When you leave aside the epic threat and the explosive action, what you’re left with is a battle of wills between two men who really should never be fighting in the first place. During their phone conversation, the Doctor appeals “All we’ve got is each other” to which the Master retorts “Are you asking me out on a date?” The moment is reminiscent of a playground fight in which any attempts at sincere emotion from one party are met with immature mocking by the other. To me, ‘The Sound of Drums/Last of the Time Lords’ can be accurately surmised as what happens when such a petty argument takes place between two people of immense power.

Admittedly, there’s more to the Master than petty anger. During a brief breather between set-pieces, ‘Drums’ takes a trip via flashback to Gallifrey, home of the Time Lords (majestically brought to life in CGI). Here writer Russell T. Davies delivers a simple but effective bit of backstory. Young Time Lords, we are told, were put to the test at age 8 and shown “a gap in the fabric of reality…all the raw power of time and space”. Some would be inspired, some ran away, and a few went mad. The Doctor ran; the Master went mad. Throughout the episode, the Master repeatedly mentions a “drumming” in his head which leads him to commit horrible act after horrible act, hoping that it might go away once he’s satisfied his own urges. It veers close to sci-fi hokum, but the Gallifrey sequence is beautifully realised and John Simm delivers every line with a haunting intensity that could turn any sceptic.

Simm is primarily what makes this episode play. In fact, that’s exactly what he does for most of it – he plays around, relishing the (increasingly rare) opportunity to bring a villain to life who genuinely enjoys himself as he takes over the world. Not that he isn’t scary – he’s completely terrifying! Whether gassing the cabinet, disintegrating the President or descending his faithful Toclafane upon the world, Simm maintains a sharp balance between the dark and light sides of his character, and steals the entire episode along the way.

Outside of his scenes, some things work and some don’t. Martha’s material is the best – early on there is a heart-stopping sequence in which her family is apprehended by the Master, one-by-one. Both Martha’s initial horror and her subsequent fury with the Doctor are effectively played by Freema Agyeman (who I will talk more about next week). Plus there’s a classic little moment when Jack first realises Martha’s feelings for the Doctor and sighs “You too, huh?” (although I hear that this line was cut by Sci-Fi - shameful). John Barrowman, charasmatic as ever, gets less to do in these last two episodes but is brilliant with everything he’s given. Weaker are all of the scenes involving President Winters, a dull and unnecessary Bush-alike who suggests that political satire isn’t really Davies’ forte. Other aspects that play weakly here – Lucy Saxon, the Toclafane, the paradox machine – are thankfully strengthened by explanations provided in the finale, although this drags ‘Drums’ down as a result.

It all leads to a barnstorming finale in which the Master takes worldwide control in one fell swoop. It’s a thrilling sequence, well crafted with moments of playfulness – the Master dancing to Rogue Traders’ ‘Voodoo Child’ as all hell breaks loose – and an epic, geek-tastic final shot of London being destroyed. Darker/character moments aside, ‘Drums’ is the most unashamedly fun Who has ever allowed itself to become, and for that reason I loved it.


Todd said...

That is quite possibly the most ridiculous promotional photo I've ever seen. Go, U.K. PR people!

Jon Delfin said...

Either I'm hallucinating, or Jack's "You, too" line wasn't cut. Discuss.

Joey Sims said...

I didn't watch the Sci-Fi version as I live in the UK, but at least one person commented at House Next Door that the line was cut out so I took their word for it.

Carrie said...

I don't remember that line. I feel like I would have, because it is a pretty great line. Then again, I totally could have just missed it. Must. watch. again.

I think there were good and bad aspects to this episode, and I'm interested to see how it all plays out in the finale. I am absolutely loving Martha right now, though. Freema Agyeman is really bringing it.