THIS EPISODE TAKES
AFTER THE TV EPISODE
TO THE NOVEL "THE
RUSSELL T. DAVIES
'THE COMPLETE THIRD
EXCLUSIVE DVD BOX
RELEASED IN NOVEMBER
HARRY SAXON BECOMES
PRIME MINISTER, AND
BEGINS. BUT HIS DARK
BEYOND THE STARS...
23RD JUNE 2007
(45-MINUTE EPISODE, PART 2 OF 3)
Thanks to an ill-timed holiday in Italy, I had to wait an extra week for the second instalment of Russell T Davies’ ambitious three-part epic. After a fortnight of abstinence almost anything would have been fantastic in my eyes, but this; this was phenomenal.
The pre-title sequence was better than I expected. Granted, our heroes escaping from the
far future by virtue of Jack’s vortex manipulator was a complete cop-out, but if we’re honest, did we really want to see the Doctor, Martha and Jack spend twenty-minutes fighting off the Futurekind? No. We wanted Saxon. And we got him. Immediately. His face everywhere.
“The Master is Prime Minister of Great Britain."
Arriving in the 21st century eighteen months earlier than the Doctor and company, the new Master had all the time that he needed to stealthily orchestrate his rise to power; he even had time to acquire himself a lovely wife, Lucy (Alexandra Moen). Watching the opening scenes of the episode, I initially thought that John Simm’s mischievous Master was more Anthony Ainley than Roger Delgado, but in truth the sheer amount of dark comedy that he employs defies comparison with any of his predecessors.
If anything, Simm’s performance brings to mind Keith Allen’s memorable turn as Sheriff Vasey in the BBC’s new Robin Hood series – just look at Simm’s opening and shutting
of the door, for example, as the Toclafane kill that troublesome journalist. He’s playing with
her screams. He then sits at watches The Tellytubbies, apparently oblivious to the fact that they’re not real life forms (a lovely homage to the Master making the same mistake about
the Clangers in The Sea Devils).
“The Master was always sort of hypnotic...”
The whole “fat traitors” bit with the cabinet was amusing too; Simm’s Master certainly has every bit of the malice that each and every prior incarnation has possessed. I love the shot that we first saw a couple of months ago in the trailer at the end of The Lazarus Experiment – the Master wearing a gas mask, surrounded by the bodies of his cabinet, just beating out that eerie tattoo on the desk.
And whilst the days of “I am the Master, and you will obey me” may be consigned to the past, Davies’ reinvention of the character has retained that inherent persuasiveness. If anything it’s amplified, as the likes of Sharon Osbourne, Ann Widdecombe, and McFly can attest.
“I am the Master, and these are my friends.”
Even Jack and Martha are affected by
his insidious suggestions – they think
that he “always sounded good”, adding
that they both intended to vote for him.
And so inevitably, the man formerly
known to the government as terrorist
“Victor Magister”, who was sentenced
(and escaped from) life imprisonment in the 1970s (or 1980s?), becomes its new Prime Minister under the guise of ‘Harold Saxon’.
It’s not long before the action begins in earnest. Martha’s flat is blown up and her family are arrested, and all the while Murray Gold’s epic score – the same wonderful piece used on the trailer referred to above – is playing full throttle. But even so, it feels like absolutely forever until the Doctor and the Master finally get to speak and even then, it is only by telephone.
“The Time Lords only resurrected me because they knew I’d be the perfect warrior for a Time War.
I was there when that Dalek Emperor took control of the Cruciform. I saw it. I ran. I ran so far.
Made myself human so that they’d never find me because I was so scared.”
In my review of Utopia, I noted how impressed I was that Davies had resisted the temptation to give us a convoluted explanation as to where this new Master came from. Well this week we are given something of a more detailed back story, but thankfully it is concise and works rather well. It seems that it was the Time Lords that brought the Master back to life - no doubt he struck the same kind of deal that the ‘Paper Clip’ Nazis did after the Second World War. The Time Lords needed him to do their dirty work, and the Master’s price has always been the same, always: life. Survival. Dominion is only what he seeks once he’s sorted himself a body out to live in.
I can see why Davies has given the Master this little back story; not only does it lend more
to these legends surrounding the Time War, but it also draws a more obvious comparison between the Doctor and his archenemy. They were both fighting on the same side. They are of the same race. The Doctor said it himself – all they have now is each other. During their telephone conversation it becomes apparent that the Doctor is glad that the Master survived, even in spite of the havoc that he has wrought. If nothing else, it means that he is not the last of his kind.
“I’m not here to kill him. I’m here to save him.”
“You’ve been watching too much TV”, the Doctor says to Martha when she asks whether or not the Master is his brother. The Master’s dying pleas in Planet of Fire certainly implied it, and as the special features on the TV Movie DVD reveal, the production team there were practically counting upon it. It’s not that simple though, thankfully. It’s far more intricate and
far more interesting.
The dark secrets of their youth will forever be debated amongst fans. In his 1995 novel The Menagerie, Martin Day surmised that in their youth, the Doctor and the Master were so very similar that they were almost the “same person”. And on that note, if you watch this episode carefully you’ll see that in the scene by Air Force One, the Master’s long coat is black with red lining, and when it blows in the wind it looks uncannily like the third Doctor’s cape. Add
to this the scene where the Master is sat munching jelly babies, and you can see a pattern emerging. They may be equal and opposite, but essentially they are the same. Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty. The Doctor and the Master.
“Ever since I was a child. I looked into the Vortex. That’s when it chose me. The drumming. The call to war.”
There are a few stories that each offer up their own explanation for the Master’s descent in-to evil, none of which are mutually exclusive but all of which share one common theme: the Master is somehow chosen by evil; seduced by it. Possessed by it, even. Just as the Doctor was chosen by Time to be her Champion, the Master was chosen by Death to serve her. He was driven mad by her. This ever-present sound of drums is merely the latest addition to the myth.
Which brings me to Gallifrey. I couldn’t believe it when I saw it on screen. The Citadel of the Time Lords looked almost exactly as it always has in my mind’s eye, and the Time Lords themselves look exactly as they did back in the original series, clad in their distinctive high-collared ceremonial robes. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Even the young Master wears a tunic very similar to the ones worn by the Time Lord prosecutors back in The War Games (which introduced us to the Doctor’s people). The Doctor’s lyrical dialogue only makes the image even more evocative: all those exquisite phrases like the “continent of wild endeavour” etc truly make Gallifrey sound ancient and majestic for the first time since, well, ever. At least on television, I should qualify. Marc Platt and Lance Parkin in particular did wonders with the Time Lords in their novels.
“Some say that’s where it all began. When he was a child. That’s when the Master saw eternity”.
The accursed plot has to go and rear its head though, shattering the Doctor’s picturesque reverie. Jack tells the Doctor about Torchwood. About the global ‘Archangel’ mobile phone network. The Doctor finds that ‘Master’ rhythm, hidden in the signal. And then, equipped with a ‘perception filter’ – “it’s like when you fancy someone and they don’t even know you exist”, apparently – the Doctor, Martha and Jack set off towards their inevitable confrontation with the Master.
The scene by Air Force One is particularly well written. In spite of everything, Davies’ goads the viewer into actually rooting for the Master against the thoroughly unlikeable United States President Winters. I had to stifle a cheer when the Toclafane obliterated the overbearing oaf! I was less impressed with Davies’ decision to have the Master capture the Doctor and his companions, kill Jack, and then age the Doctor by a century or so. Other than demonstrate the Master’s... um... mastery over them, what’s the point? Perhaps Davies just thought that as the make-up department aged Tennant so convincingly in The Family of Blood, he’d let them do it again!
I think that this ageing of the Doctor is my only grievance with an otherwise perfect episode. The Valiant aircraft carrier is stunning; the Master’s “Peoples of the Earth, please attend carefully” speech is as brilliant as it is familiar; and best of all, Davies finally and decisively silences all those who said that he could not put an interesting and complex science-fiction plot together. A three-parter of this kind was incredibly ambitious, but Davies executes it perfectly.
The cliffhanger is tantalising, though perhaps a little less so than that of either Bad Wolf
or Army of Ghosts. The explosion of the Rogue Traders’ Voodoo Child as the world is decimated by the Toclafane firmly establishes John Simm’s Master as a villain for the
21st century; the producers could not have picked a more suitable actor to take on the
role. Similarly David Tennant, Freema Agyeman, and John Barrowman as well as Alex-andra Moen and all the Jones clan give outstanding performances – even the childishly-voiced Toclafane make their presence felt in earnest.
“And so it came to pass that the human race fell and the Earth was no more.
And I looked down on my new dominion as Master of all and I thought it good.”
The Sound of Drums closes with Martha’s escape and the Master’s eulogy, leaving the viewer’s appetite whet for the season finale next week. The one good thing about going
on holiday and missing an episode is that when you come back, you can sit through two
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2007
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
This story shows us the Master as young boy, arguably debunking Marc Platt’s popular theories concerning Gallifreyan propagation set out in many of his Doctor Who novels. It is feasible, however, that the Master (or “Kochei”, if you will) was born naturally some time prior to the Pythia’s curse which left the women of Gallifrey barren, though this is improbable as he was a contemporary of the Doctor’s, who – if Platt’s works are to be given credence – we know was woven in a genetic loom (much like his “daughter”, Jenny, would be in The Doctor’s Daughter) from which he emerged fully grown Another possibility is that when Platt posited the idea that modern Gallifreyans are loomed ‘fully grown’, this could include nearly fully grown, i.e. adolescent. This
is something of a fudge, but fits a lot better as it also accounts for the Doctor’s frequent references to being
“a child” and “a boy” throughout the series, not to mention the suggestive sobriquet “time tot” often used to describe young Time Lords and Time Ladies.
This story also offers us further insight into the chain of events that saw the Master start down the dark path towards evil. Here it is suggested that from the moment he looked into the Untempered Schism as a youth, his every thought was punctuated by the sounds of drums – a sound that slowly drove him mad. This does
not counteract the explanations put forward in The Dark Path and Master, however, as the Master’s fall from grace appears to have been a gradual one; the Untempered Schism is simply where it all began…
Details of how the Time Lords resurrected the Master during the Time War are not known. Presumably they used a method similar to that employed by the Cult of Saxon in The End of Time, and – given the Master’s evident ability to regenerate again – were a damn sight more successful at it than the Cult would be.
When is now? This episode is set shortly after “present” events depicted in 42 (2008).
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