Friday, January 28, 2011

"The Sound of Drums"

How does an episode start off kind of all right and end in a cringing disaster that makes you want to kill? When it's the first part of a Doctor Who finale written by RTD, of course! We're abruptly returned to London by virtue of Jack's Vortex Manipulator which is apparently more reliable and accurate than the TARDIS in spite of what the Doctor claimed last episode and it turns out that the Master is Prime Minister. As contrived as this scenario is it isn't too bad, and at least having Martha's family kidnapped by the government is a welcome change from the family set-up we experienced with the Tylers. It's also reassuring to see that the Master's talent for hypnotism is still being utilised. But as with all of these set-ups, so much is time wasting.
We see a journalist telling Lucy Saxon, the wife the Master has for some reason, that her husband isn't real. Well we already know that, and all they do is kill the journalist off anyway. We have an incredibly cheesy cartoon-looking bomb strapped to the back of Martha's television for no reason. There's a lot of footage of the Doctor, Jack and Martha striding around miscellaneous parts of suburban London apparently just so that they can have impressive-looking shots of the Doctor and Jack's overcoats billowing out behind them. There's some nice stuff with the Doctor reminscing about Gallifrey, replete with the Citadel and the classic Time Lord robes and so on, but then there's some weird stuff about 8 year old Time Lord children being taken to look into the Time Vortex with the consequence that some of them go mad which seems a bit unhealthy and which the Doctor claims drove the Master insane, which seems a little simplistic in terms of character development. I mean, by all means add things to the mythology but don't alter what we've already seen from the Master.
So let's look at the Master. Good grief. Now sort of like David Tennant, don't get me wrong about John Simm. I liked him in Life on Mars, and that proved he can do the grim and brooding stuff very well. This episode also proves that he can do humorous acting quite well. But why did they choose to give this character to the Master of all people? He's ridiculous. I stated in the "Utopia" review that Derek Jacobi's performance was evocative of Ainley, but John Simm's performance isn't evocative of any Master. It's completely out of character. Delgado's Master was a suave and power-hungry diabolical mastermind. The Beevers/Pratt incarnation was cruel and ruthless, desperate to survive. Ainley's was egomaniacal, self-involved, obsessed with destroying the Doctor. Even Eric Roberts portrayed the Master as a calculating and manipulative genius striving to reclaim his former glory. Every time we saw a sinister and ambitious man, scientific and psychological, striving to bend the universe to his will; a man of vanity and little compassion, but also brooding, serious and introspective to the point of pretension. What do we get with this new version? A flamboyant maniac who listens to pop music and has the sound of drumming in his head.
I can't believe they could have butchered the character of the Master so badly but this version is almost unwatchable in its summation of all the worst excesses of RTD's era. People say Ainley was camp and hammy! He had nothing on Simm's Master! I know Simm was told to make his performance zany because they wanted him to ape the Tenth Doctor's sense of humour but I can't think of a worse idea because that in itself is the most irritating, teeth-grindingly cringeworthy aspect of Tennant's performance. What they should have made was a Masterful Master, one who understood the humour but wasn't laughing, who defeated the Doctor at his own game by not participating. Instead they make him this silly homicidal figure evocative of the Joker but without the contrast of order verus chaos. It's childish and dim-witted and overall painful to watch. There are other things too, like why does the Paradox Machine mean a big cage and some pipes around the TARDIS? How was the Master able to do that much conversion work to the TARDIS but couldn't remove the Doctor's temporal link or whatever it was that meant it could only move between 2007 and one hundred trillion? What is the point of doing 'Americans are idiots'? How does UNIT have a flying aircraft carrier? I didn't realise we were watching Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. Did the Doctor ever really think that the Master couldn't see through the perception filter? And why on Earth does it play that horrid Voodoo Child song? Did RTD come up with the drums thing just so he could play that? And speaking of which, since when did the Master hear drums?
Then the Master gets the Toclafane to kill one tenth of the Earth's population having aged the Doctor by one hundred years with his 'laser screwdriver'. This is a joke so bad I can't believe they had the gall to make it. What on earth was wrong with the Tissue Compression Eliminator? It was the perfect weapon for the Master, killing people and making them minute in stature to reinforce his ego. It's impossible to take the ending seriously because of how absurd Tennant looks in the old man makeup, especially since we already saw him in much better old man makeup in the hypothetical flash forward in "The Family of Blood".
It's completely ridiculous. A bad story is one thing, but this is not only meaningless but takes a big dump all over well-established concepts and characters of the Classic Series and continues the dumbing-down process of Doctor Who into a valueless pop-cultural soup. What were they thinking?

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