Last of the Time Lords
The Sound of Drums/Last of the Time Lords
Utopia/The Sound of Drums/Last of the Time Lords
The Sound of Drums
|Production Code||Series Three Episode Twelve|
|Dates||June 23 2007|
With David Tennant,
Freema Agyeman, John Barrowman
Written by Russell T Davies Directed by Colin Teague
Executive Producers: Russell T Davies, Julie Gardner.
|Synopsis: Harold Saxon becomes Prime Minister, just as the world establishes contact with a mysterious alien race called the Toclafane.|
Here come the Drums! by Steve Cassidy 23/10/07
The Sound of Drums is a paradox; it manages to be rather entertaining while at the same time exceedingly boring.
Whats going on here? Has Steve gone mad? How can you be both at the same time?
Well, TSOD manages to do both. There is no doubt that this adventure has a joie de voie that makes it entertaining but at the same time there is such a sense of "seen it all before". Does every season finale have to have an alien invasion? Big SFX and Doomsday weapons seem to be de rigeur for episode 12-13? Larry Miles in his review listed the words "boring" twenty five times and interspersed it with the words "tedious" and "deju vu".
I sort of agree. It's not boring in a sleepy, disengaged type of way, because an episode which employed as many set-pieces and looked as good as The Sound of Drums is almost impossible to make boring in this kind of way, but boring in a disconnected, uncompelling way. Because the story is driven by formula, it's difficult to care and become involved in the story. Because the soundbites, the ingredients, the various oddball ideas, are more important than a coherent story, and what we end up with is populist television, but not populist in the mistaken context many people apply the term (ie anything simple and easy that works) but populist in the way of unintelligent, unconfident television that relies upon set-pieces and familiarity instead of challenging and compelling stories.
Let's have a look at what is repeated in this one. We have the trio at odds with the authorities, the social and political satire (I'll come to that later), the basic variant invasion plan as the previous finale (where it's the Master manipulating the opening of the rift as opposed to the Cybermen/Torchwood), the same execution of ideas (the invasion being the prime example of spectacle), the same gaudy pop song moment (Voodoo Child by Rogue Traders) and, finally, the same way in which the public are duped by hypnosis of good faith.
But to keep the balance there are some terrific little gems hidden away amongst the mediocrity. I especially like Nicola McAuliffe as Vivien Rook who bluffs her way in to interview Lucy Saxon. Those of us of a certain age caught the "Rook" reference. There was a Fleet Street harridan named Jean Rook who terrorised showbusiness from her column in the Daily Express for twenty years. McAuliffe does a terrific turn as Ms Rook (despite a death that really doesn't work). When she changes tack when Tish leaves the room and tries to warn Lucy Saxon about her husband it suddenly becomes gripping. Russell hits upon a truth here - the first people to uncover Harold Saxon as a fraud would be the British press. And McAuliffe really carries the scene, her earnestness and seriousness impart a gravitas to the situation.
The regulars are a pleasure as well. The ambiguous Jack Harkness always seems to bounce off well whatever Doctor and assistant he is put with. (Torchwood in the Himalayas? There won't be a yeti unmolested.) Doc Tennant gets a nice little soliloquy reminiscing about Gallifrey and Martha Jones shows some spunk when her family are in danger. Theres a terrific set piece when Saxon's people open fire on Marthas vehicle with Martha spinning the car around. Martha Jones is still this season's good luck charm.
I'm underwhelmed by the Master, played by John Simm, playing the Sheriff of Nottingham. I gave him the benefit of the doubt last time, but I actually found myself longing for Anthony Ainley to come back from the dead; Ainley played it like a panto, to be sure, but he played a pantomime version of an evil character while Simm plays a pantomime version of a pantomime character.
Much like Tennant, Simm can't make unfunny material work, so he flounders as he mugs while doing a speech on happy/frowny faces or rocking out to dance music during the climax. Simm, on Confidential, went out of his way to say he just played it how it was in the script (a lovely bit of buck passing) and some of Russell's lines are truly stinky "So, Prime Minister then? I knoooww..."/"Are you asking me out on a date?"). People point out to me that he is the alter-ego of Tennant - young, energetic, trendy. But I just didn't believe the menace of the character.
His Master did lots of evil things (and the crimes were truly horrible) but the viewing public have to believe he did. Simm just did not convince. The very fact they had to pile up his crimes to make him more evil makes it worse. A good performance means making people believe you are evil and you don't always have to do anything at all to convince people of that. For example, Jacobi put hairs on the back of my neck just after he opened the fobwatch and up to that point had not harmed anyone but I believed him to be evil.
The Sound of Drums is a OK. I can't say anything more than that. It has some enjoyable aspects, it has some excruciating aspects. (The portrayal of Americans is one. Could you believe the jocks in front of the TV munching popcorn?) It's once again a proficient effort which has every penny of its budget up on screen. Hugely unimaginative, a photostat copy of the two previous seasons - but, somehow, not "bad to the bone" awful. Just OK. Definitely OK.
Pushing my last buttons by Thomas Cookson 1/4/08
I often talk about the story that killed my enthusiasm for New Who. Whether it be World War Three, The Christmas Invasion, The Idiot's Lantern, Love & Monsters or Doomsday. Maybe my love for the new series died a slow death by five separate daggers, and like a firing squad, there's a bit of a confusion about which one fired the fatal shot.
But obviously the one that finished me off would have to be the one that I last saw, ergo the one that was last on. And the fact is that this was one that has made me so dispirited and frustrated that I think I'd save myself a burst spleen by not watching any more of this kind of crap. I've given it all the chances in the world, and each time the show has gleefully irritated and cheated me as a viewer. I might be tempted to tune in on Christmas Day to Kylie and Tennant and succumb to Russell's desperate ratings whoring, but I know better than to do that.
I've made plenty of snide attacks about this finale, but that's never going to be fulfilling unless I go into the details of why this finale so annoys me, and why it represents for me everything wrong about modern mainstream Doctor Who. But of course there are too many words just for one review so I'm going to review the finale in its two parts.
I mean truth, be told, I wasn't exactly watching the show regularly anymore. Sure, I'd watched the first two seasons religiously, but, by the time I got to Smith and Jones, I was dreading more domestics and mean bitchiness, and, lo and behold, that was exactly what I got. From that point on, I just wasn't watching regularly. My usual clockwork devotion to the show slipped up and I missed a huge chunk of Shakespeare Code. The Saturday when Gridlock was on, I was out with my friend playing Jenga instead, and didn't care about missing it. Then I kind of got back to viewing between Daleks in Manhattan and 42 (incidentally, Doctor Who's first real time story was Horror of Fang Rock) and most of that was pretty undemanding. So I tailed off again, missing the highlights of Human Nature and Blink.
So why did I tune into The Sound of Drums, knowing that it would be a Russell T. Davies story? Well, one thing was certain. This was going to be the return of the Master. Possibly the final pay off to a thirty five year conflict (which as I keep saying I think was carried on for too long). How could I miss that? In some ways, for that reason alone, I don't regret watching it. In fact, in terms of being the story that finished me off, I almost feel grateful to it for 'freeing' me.
The opening is fairly intriguing, "I'll recognise him the moment I see him" really conveys the underlying mysticism of the Time Lords and having been late to backtrack to Utopia, I managed to escape feeling cheated by the cliffhanger resolution. And it suddenly dawns on me how much I've missed Captain Jack and his pro-activeness. Unfortunately, he'll spend most of Last of the Time Lords being out of action.
Captain Jack and the Doctor clash this week again, though for less petty reasons than last week. The Doctor directed a full dose of bitchiness at Captain Jack in Utopia, and in fact, it went beyond his usual cliqueness - 'Even the TARDIS tried to get as far away from you as it could' - but in a double-edged way he also has a go at him the moment Jack tries to interact with anyone else. Wow, how daring to have the Doctor act like a complete cock. And Captain Jack still kowtows to being part of the team. For cream puffs like Adam and Mickey to be so easily mocked yet sticking with the Doctor for more was bad enough, but to see a tough hero like Captain Jack reduced to the same is slightly more demoralising.
But this week the clash is more appropriate in that the Doctor and Jack clash in their plans for how to deal with the Master. The Doctor prefers the merciful, redemptive approach whilst Jack's plan involves snapped necks, although I do think Jack had the better plan myself. Of course, by now I've gotten used to how the Doctor's morality isn't set in stone. This Doctor who argues against killing the Master is clearly not the same Doctor who would gladly have done the job himself in Mind of Evil or Planet of Fire. Same way the the Doctor of The Unquiet Dead wouldn't have been so obscenely prudish during a galactic famine at Davros' plan to feed the dying millions through cannibalism. Same way the Doctor Who shows mercy to the last Dalek in Evolution of the Daleks despite it being armed and ready to kill, isn't the same Doctor Who showed a ruthless streak in The Runaway Bride, then again I think that ruthless streak was a pretentious moment to try to make the brainless runaround seem more meaningful than it really was.
Tennant is actually quite good in this two parter. His performance has the occasional squee, but mostly he's quite disciplined, and for once lets the menace seem grave without spoiling the effect with over-the-top mocking flippancy. Indeed, he is at his most Doctorish and in The Sound of Drums and Last of the Time Lords, his usual bitchiness is mostly absent, which is always a relief. Then again, why should I praise an episode simply for turning off the water torture for once? So I'm not elevating it to greatness or anything.
Oh, I love the Doctor's plan with the TARDIS key perception filter, but then he rubs it in by telling Martha that 'its like when you fancy someone and they don't even notice you exist'. Again, it's this unpleasant way of rubbing in the Doctor's cold aloofness to his companion, but in such a loud and overstated way that suggests he actually enjoys and goes out of his way to make people feel worthless.
I always hate it when Martha's face sinks or she makes a catty retort when she hears Rose mentioned, even when she's gone further into the future than any companion before her. The reaction it usually provokes in me is a very vocal 'yuck!' and dismay at how Russell's 'full-blooded drama' seems to deem it a requirement that characters be as emotionally immature and ridiculously self-involved as possible. Incidentally, given how much of Season Three has a nice 'second pilot' feel to it, why spoil the accesibility and freshness by season-long references to an absent character?
And, of course, then there's the Master. In Utopia, we got Derek Jacobi, playing the Master with a real sense of gravitas. There's nothing that quite conveys evil like a twisted old man who's lived his whole life hateful and remorseless and is beyond the capacity for change. He was the perfect form for a new Master. And, more importantly, seeing the Master in human form, with his evil heart replaced by a good one, explained a lot in one go about why the Doctor still thinks he can redeem the Master.
But Utopia was a story for the fans, a story set in an alien quarry near the end of the universe, featuring the last of humanity having to deal with their rapidly evolving, savage, missing link. The next two chapters were for the modern viewers featuring more domestics, more juvenile political satire and slapstick, and a Master who must conform to the "no one over 45" rule. As such, the regeneration of the Master just seems like a cynical requirement to move out the old guy. Even some of John Simm's earliest lines and hyperactive gurning in Utopia were quite irksome to watch and didn't bode well for the future.
So the Master we get here, well John Simm does his best but he's called upon to do some truly excruciating pieces of patronising humour with a tedium that must have taxed the patience of even the rabid fanboys of Outpost Gallifrey. I'm talking about the happy/angry face moment. Humour is all well and good, but this is just insultingly condescending and seems tailor made to put the viewer in a bad mood, and shouting at the TV screen 'just get on with it!' And we get more comedy when the Prime Minister Master meets the President and mocks him with a Zippy from Rainbow impersonation. All right, that bit did make me laugh; it was just so stupid and unrelenting I couldn't not laugh.
The Toclafane spheres, with their spinning swiss-army blades and sadistic disposition, are one of the few CGI threats that Russell has created that are actually threatening and have presence, as opposed to the cartoonish, all-bark-and-no-bite Jagrafess. But, of course, their homage to the Terrahawks is telling, as is the Skybase and indestructible Captain Jack homaging to Captain Scarlett. Other writers tend to homage Sapphire & Steel, pitching their audience as people who grew up on both shows and can't remember which one's which but remember the time when TV was seemingly more challenging and imaginative. Russell pitches his episodes in the same vein as undemanding, throwaway childish kitsh with a bit of showmanship to appeal to the kiddies.
But then, of course, there's the moment where the Master invites us to laugh at his hijinks as he opens and closes the airtight door on that screaming woman being torn to shreds by those Toclafane. It's unpleasant in the wrong kind of way, and seemingly aimed at the nastier, more sociopathic spectrum of kids. As many have pointed out, the old show used to direct its humour at authority and tyranny, while the new series invites us to laugh with the oppressor at the oppressed and the humiliated.
And something else. It's been pointed out to me that maybe in some hypocritical way we might have applauded Rose's bitchiness in Season Two if she could bitch well and had some witty insults in her pocket, instead of just being inane and smug. Same is true of the supposed black humour. A good piece of black humour would require wit, cleverness and the power to shock. What we get here is a gruesome moment with some infantile, repetitive slapstick randomly tacked onto the end of it. It's typical of Russell's stories that aspire to be grand guignol with bloated grotesques like the Slitheen and Victor Kennedy, but are undone by overabundant slapstick and chick-flick moments.
No, more than that. Season 17 was the show building a comfortable environment where frivolity and letting your hair down was acceptable. The John Nathan-Turner years were more stuffy, as if trying to break the ice or get in with the crowd, and so every attempt at humour or making an interesting point came off as desperate. The New Series, however, would gladly laugh at the John Nathan-Turner era for its efforts. It uses humour and mockery to be brutally dismissive of anything else, and doesn't know when to stop. New Who humour is like someone laughing at a funeral.
So no, the Master is not an effective villain and a poor shadow of his former self. There's no sense of grand plans with him, he just seems to be having a laugh and generally making it up as he goes along. More importantly, there's no way I buy him as someone who could deceive his way into the role of Prime Minister. That requires a villain who knows how to keep a lid on it and how to be subtle, much like Delgado. But I don't think Russell ever could write a villain like that, and what we get here is the Master as a disco-dancing, game-show host. I don't even cringe by the end, I'm just too numb to it. It's the only way to sit through irritating nonsense like this.
It is refreshing though to get a TV explanation for how the Master became evil, which is about time quite frankly. The old show never really 'did' beginning stories; Genesis of the Daleks was the exception to the rule. Though since Big Finish have started doing origin stories like Spare Parts, Davros and Master, they seem to have made the crossover from extension of the old show to a self-contained reinvention in their own right. This doesn't follow Joseph Lidster's interpretation, but instead favours something shorter that can be conveyed in a single half a minute's flashback. Same way that if they bring Davros into the fold, they'll probably sidestep all the origins in Davros and just paraphrase his bouts of madness and pathos in Terror Firma where he talks of needing the psychological comfort of a monolithic, monocultured universe, which is why he needs the Daleks to win. Unless, of course, Russell writes Davros and subjects us instead to more tiresome, desperate comedy. In some ways, an origin story is important for the Master because without it the Master remains the only villain in Doctor Who to have no motive for what he does.
And I like the fact that this is all told over a meal of chips from the chip shop.
Oh, and the ret-conning of the Time War rears its head again. I'm not sure I really buy the idea that the Master could be resurrected and drafted in one go by the Time Lords. The same Master who nearly destroyed Gallifrey in The Deadly Assassin and probably obliterated as many planets in Logopolis as the Daleks, if not more, is now called upon to fight to save Gallifrey and the universe. I turned my nose up at it when it was fan fiction and I turn my nose up at it when Russell canonises it. But, then again, Russell also in some way canonised the idea that the Time Lords somehow fired the first shot of the war by their actions in Genesis of the Daleks. Another point that I don't buy. Since when did Daleks need provocation?
But, then again, the Time Lords have drafted the Master before in The Five Doctors.
There are moments in the Doctor and Master's conversation over the phone where the hints of two last survivors about to engage in a titanic battle comes through. The way that the Master first shows anger disbelief that Gallifrey has been destroyed and confides in the Doctor that he behaved cowardly during the war. For a moment they seem brought together by their loss, only for the Master to start gleefully taunting the Doctor over his destruction of both races - "how did it feel?" - and we get a sense of the Doctor's tragedy. The only other survivor of his people is a sick psychopath he can't reason with, and who delights in rubbing his guilt and sins, and he had hoped he wouldn't be lonely anymore.
But even that is ruined by cod come-ons like "I love it when you say my name" or "are you asking me out on a date?" and it all comes crashing down.
The Doctor and friends have become fugitives, and it's a workable set up, making a worthy point about our CCTV society, in which the Master has the all-seeing eye. But then they have to spoil the effect with some pretentious point about the Doctor and company being listed as 'terrorists'. Now, when Blood of the Daleks saw the Doctor called out as a terrorist by the Daleks, the Daleks were only half lying. The Doctor did, after all, blow up Skaro, so their relying on such a charge was effective. Here, it's just a crass political jape.
Oh but that's nothing compared to what goes on with Martha's family. In 42, it became clear that the Master had his agents involved with Martha's family, tapping their phones and playing the family against the Doctor. This was an interesting setup, to say the least, but then this finale goes and blows it and has the Dad running for it, being put in a police van whilst making a pretentious outburst to onlookers of how it's our fault for voting for Saxon. Not since Tegan's artificial mourning of Adric in Time-Flight, the Doctor's vow to become a hermit to purge his evil side in The Twin Dilemma has the show ever resorted to such cringeworthy pretension. There's just no development to make it seem either believable or effective. But Russell can't do development to save his life, as we find out in LOTTL.
It's a shame because the cliffhanger is such a brilliant hook, and briefly got me back in the habit of catching next week. There has been quite a good effort made to make the Doctor seem more vulnerable this season, which was really needed, given that the Tenth Doctor seemed to come through encounters with Werewolves, millions of Daleks and even Satan himself without so much as chipping a nail. In fact, given how cocky and obnoxious his behaviour was, it stretches credulity that he only got punched out the once.
But this season, that has mostly been compensated for. We've seen him getting struck by lightening on the Empire State Building spires (which made my hands sweaty in a way that a similar moment in The Idiot's Lantern just didn't), being possessed by a sentient and seriously pissed off sun and, best of all, we've seen him being noteably afraid in The Family of Blood. So the payoff for the season saw the Doctor rapidly aged and helpless as the Toclafane massacre millions. But then when I tuned in next week my last bit of enthusiasm was well and truly dashed as I was cheated for the last time.
A Review by Graham Pilato 18/4/10
Many reviews of The Sound of Drums, with both some hindsight and notes from some contemporary conversations intact, follow:
I. On consensus.
I've only really dug the Master in the past as a nemesis type of villain, a haunting sort of fun darkness there potentially behind every evil scheme (who knows who might be responsible for this evil plot?) but, like a lot of folks, I'd certainly agree he was overused and poorly written for on several occasions (especially in the mid 80s). And the John Simm Master is a grotesque without the gravitas I suppose I require, an example of the new series' worst problems. He was so petulant and in the end, overtly self-destructive, that I felt repelled when thinking of who I knew the Master to be (surely a bit camp in the past, but not this), still loads more enjoyable to watch for me than Eric Roberts' version... so there's a little perspective for you.
But as I've taken stock here, it appears to be about time to take a good look at what has become of the Russell T Davies Era of Doctor Who, when such a thing as a popular consensus saying how so wonderful this new series is seems so often wrong to me. I know my opinion is valid, but to be at odds with so much of the new fandom on things so often bothers me a bit. I don't think it's me being outsider-y or old, because I'm not that old, but I really don't want to slag the whole series, while pointing out that things have gone really wrong, I think. And the despair I've felt about the new series began to settle here, in this episode.
One useful measure that's not taking consensus, though not really one that works as reliably as consensus to convince people of quality - but which is far more objective even than simply asking people what they think - is simply waiting for time to determine what survives, what lasts, and what makes an impact. And, fortunately, at this point, very little is known on that as far as the new series is playing for individual stories' levels of impact and lasting power in cultural consciousness. You can bet that the ones "with the Maggots" and "with the Daleks" are victors in this kind of race, though, as well as the "Yetis in the Underground" and the Tom Baker Era as a whole. When you can say "the one with the gas masks", and oh, do people remember it!, it's going to last.
Many scholars will probably look on the revival of Doctor Who in the early 21st Century as a high point in the popularity of televised British science fiction, surely a notable revival in its interest to the masses. But that's about all I think we can guarantee regarding big numbers and "quality" at the moment. Based on longterm lasting and that sort of perspective, at least. I think we're probably looking at the Steven Moffat episodes as the most praised and awarded, but RTD's leadership as a revelatory popular success. That's all pretty secure. But what comes next in fan-opinion? What will the literati at large think in ten, twenty years' time about this period? I doubt it will be as popular as it is now... But many will simply look at ratings and say, "ah, now that's how you do sci-fi". Lots of continuity, an big plot arc/theme per season, one main baddie per year to eclipse the others, a great deal of attempts to revive Classic Who icons with differing levels of success, lots of media ubiquity, a great profusion of Doctor Who material swamping the British market. I wonder if this will be looked at as "the way to do it right" in a decade or more's time, or merely "the way that it was then". I wonder if there won't be time shortly where the current Doctor Who will be looked at as a popular revival, but inferior to what's to come? (This last thing is what I'm hoping... but I do wonder.)
It's not too terribly important to me what the future thinks of this period at this second but, as a recovering high school English teacher myself, it's something that really matters in the end: what has staying power or not. And whether something is deemed worthy to be remembered or not is often an interesting question, if a bit beside the point for many of us.
Shakespeare lasts, and keeps getting reinterpretted, as do so many essential tropes of sci-fi and Doctor Who. It's great. We see Literature in there somewhere, even if it's terribly cheesy or camper than anything else ever has been. But I think the standardizing of tests and the modern tendency to look for objectivity in criticism, let alone literature, are rather dangerous ways to find real signs of quality, too. They simply deny the organic, dynamic aspects of both myths and audience reception. We do what we can to get a consensus here, but it's always best that we don't stop talking about it critically because then we really will be abandoning quality for sheer commodity.
II. On the Singing Master/Detective.
That singing Master scene cut the character "The Master", as I recognize him, out of the storyline and replaced him with a fellow I'd rather not concern myself with as TV-watcher. What's wrong with the scene? The song's lyrics resembling the relationship between the Doctor and the Master were too on the nose, it felt like a parody more than drama and the song itself was painfully at odds with the tone of the story. And, as I've said elsewhere, I'm debating with myself everyday even whether I should be saying this stuff, as I can see where it's all fun and enjoyable to many - and me - but I just wish RTD's series would be more reliably so to me and many more. This isn't me cutting back. But it feels like it. It's not always as thoughtful or challenging as it could be, nor is it as reliably charming and engaging, beautifully produced as it is.
I don't like this Master, this John Simm or this Russell, not with this song. That I can't make it plain to the whole of New-Who-loving fandom irks me a little.
And that scene seems to epitomize why. He's nuttier and more incomprehensible in his actions than just about any villain yet in RTD's Who, I feel. He dies when he needn't. He doesn't kill the Doctor, but he ages him magically to the point of being a shrunken CGI gnome? And he's created as the "Anti-Tenth" with all his dashing looks and pop flair with feverishly fast delivery, but he comes off like a camp icon to beat all with a plan to revive a species he hated. If he comes back (a la laughter with painted fingernails lifting an alien ring?) then I sure hope he's portrayed differently.
I think I'm a pretty big fan of naturalistic drama; unnaturalistic depends on what's the matter of the drama, really. But Doctor Who is a series with a whole lot of unnaturalistic things happening, that's, in many of my favorite moments, veered off into bigtime postmodern fun in the last 25 years or so. But that's not to say I don't think the Master is belittled and a bit too overtly camp and annoying in that singing scene. Again, I need to see more Dennis Potter, I think, too! But all of the acclaim of The Singing Detective looks to be justified by the half-hour or so of clips I saw on Youtube.
III. On popularity.
Now, I have also seen how popular this new Master is, it bothers me that I can't just step up and say, "Praise God. All things are beautiful and we thank God for our bounty." (Let's not mention war and strife and famine and pain right now.) The new series god may change that.
Please, Lord, help us eliminate suffering. I am proud shouter in my minor online forum noise.
And here: I'm thankful for the bounty before us. (Please let's not mention how RTD's show can both drive me crazy with frustration and still be so wonderful so much of the time. Let's just accept what we have.) But I'm still pissed at things that certain creators of it have chosen to do some of the time.
Let me go write it down online hoping that someone sees it and we can maybe make some changes when word possibly gets back to the creators. And talking about how popular the show appears to be on a very immediate basis with huge numbers of people doesn't say much at all about its critical accomplishments. Celebrity dance shows are popular. This really boggles my mind. And Oscars are given out annually to films that aren't the best. I don't trust every critic, every fan, nor every person saying something's popular. That's the point here, folks. I wish we'd stop arguing over the value of viewing ratings. The numbers of mass people watching are high. The show is popular. But many of the best Doctor Who stories of the past weren't popular when they were on. The War Games, Season 18, McCoy's last two years: these are all periods of the old series that had generally low British ratings and very unimpressive AI responses, IIRC, but they're surely some of my favorite periods, and terribly significant to not just fandom but the series afterwards, impressing the minds of the next generation of sci-fi writers. Just because there are more people watching certainly has never meant something is better; it's a reasonable indicator, but not anything like a reliable one.
But I'm happy with the world of RTD, on the whole, and new Torchwood episodes are looking to be so much better than their average first-season achievements, so I'm pretty impressed there. We'll see what comes, but I think we also shouldn't forget that, in fact, there could be even more people very pleased and happy and engaged with RTD's Doctor Who. We shouldn't stop criticizing it just because some people are unhappy to hear a single negative word.
For all the fans who say "Oh, I think it's the best it can be right now", more power to them. But the ratings and AI info will never replace the kind of detailed critical stuff we can get into here. I do wish the "RTD is God" folks would back off a little... even if this place is perfectly theirs as well to comment in. (And I promise more elegant posts in future, myself, natch.)
My Whovian negativity is not unproductive. But it's pretty spent now... I hope someone will back me up on some of this stuff, though. I mean, I don't really want to participate in a forum where it's all "squee" factor comments and that's it.
Here are some more substantive things: why do we suppose the RTD plot cheats are so easily accepted by so much of fandom these days?
What does it take to justify a massive "reset button" press? Surely, there have been consequences in every case to the resets of the big season finales. Many people seemed to agree that The Parting of the Ways reset was justifiable at the time, though, only because the Doctor regenerated.
What about RTD's pisstaking on Doctor Who itself in many of his episodes? Who does that appeal to and should that be as common in this series as it is? I suppose the Master's song is a bit like a pisstake, a parody at least, of his relationship to the Doctor. Certainly, it's among the campest moments in the new series. I'd say I was turned off horribly by the flying, comic hand scenes in Rose, still RTD's worst episode in my eyes. What kind of camp material is acceptable in Doctor Who? At what point is it too much to you guys?
In the end, that scene just rubs me totally the wrong way. I think we can look at as fresh and weird, or funny and bold, or mad and offputting. Whatever. Regardless, it's not anything like what I savor about either that Master, any Master, or Doctor Who.
The best thing that's come out of it for me is online discussions with references made to Dennis Potter. And that made me check out Singing Detective clips on youtube, as I've never seen it here in America before. (I wonder why not? Perhaps because I was too young when it was shown here, I don't know.) But it's brilliant, and horribly affecting on both the bathos and the pathos sides of things... So, from just some clips of psoriasis-ridden Michael Gambon and bizarre musical numbers, I'm pretty overcome.
But I don't care, I still wish that song and mad opening never stepped onto the screens of RTD's third season finale. Makes my skin crawl in all the wrong ways, that. The Singing Detective's musical visions were all about delirium and memories of live singing, making a whole lot of sense for the moment in every scene I saw.
IV. On previous points: Pettiness, Not-So-Pettiness and Being Cursed with a Long Memory, Dammit.
You know what? The Scissor Sisters scene is pretty much another one of my big ambivalences... The song was cool and its "here come the drums" opening was really creepy in the episode, but "Voodoo Child"? If the Master would explain some of his mad behavior, I might accept it a little better. I mean, it looks very much like, for the sake of the world watching TV, the Master was playing a theme tune for his rift opening so the home viewers knew what to make of the mood for this situation. With his wife madly dancing... which is so creepy. She was awesome in these episodes, BTW. Why do I find this worse than or even at all intolerable compared to the Master's madness at the end of Logopolis? Perhaps it's a matter of recognizability, thus it's just me, but perhaps it's that this Simm Master was just nuts, period.
But I don't think Simm's acting was very bad, it was RTD's choices that made it seem mad.
Well, you know, people number far greater than just those with access to old DVDs who remember the Master as the brooding, devilish man in black, the arch-enemy of Doctor Who. Why Russell chose to not use the goatee I wonder about, but I don't mind at all it not being there.
I mean, what if the Daleks only looked a little bit like old Daleks in the new series? Would that have bothered folks? I think so, but not that much. As long as several essential things remained the same... Basic stuff that, well, people can debate what essentially makes a Dalek, or the Master, but while I don't mind the Tenth Doctor announcing "Alons-y", I do mind the Master threatening to turn into a Broadway act. Not how sure I can be about actually knowing how to explain that one.
"So does the Master watching 'The Clangers' [in The Sea Devils] belittle the character [in the same way as singing that song does here]?"
Ah, no, that makes him wonderful and strange. That I laugh at, and love. I love the madness of RTD's Doctor Who, but not all the time. Not this time when he's barking. And that's it again, that strange tone of the character, it hurt, that disparity between the tone of the Master and the world around him. Why did he want more Time Lords? The Master hated the Time Lords. Whenever he wanted to rule people in the past, he seemed to want simply to win, to beat the Doctor, to change things and cause chaos, to get little, strange, creepy things changed. He's the "pull the wings off a fly to make it hurt" villain. This guy, he didn't make sense and he accomplished what he wanted, almost, but it got to a point here where I just cringed the whole way through it. And then he let himself die.
I dig: the Toclafane killing the reporter on the other side of the door. "What gas?" "This gas." (This is misquoted.) "Oh that old thing, I think it fell behind the couch. This is my wife."
The return of the Master is to make us remember an old thing, to get in touch with our preconceived notions. And then this guy went and acted in a way that really irritated me, first glance, no comparisons to icons, just bothered me. I found the song annoying and the Master singing along repugnant. A radical new interpretation is great, but this guy pissed me off and added musical Doctor Who to it.
Sure it's subjective and I like that people enjoyed it the way it was, but I really hope someone convinces RTD not to bring back this version of the Master. He's not very interesting or complex, just nuts.
RTD's been quoted (sorry, I can't remember where) as saying he doesn't like the Master, either, but felt he was compelled to bring him back because of the character's popularity.
I think it's about the level at which you're watching. I like a lot of epic sensibility in my Doctor Who, but also some heroes and villains that I feel like can respect, and the John Simm Master, especially with his love of pop music makes me fill a bit queasy... Meanwhile, I'm a big fan of a lot of mad, mad villains, so I'm a little self-contradictory, I guess. I like all of the pop music in The Christmas Invasion and The End of the World's pop music was especially brilliant. But the Master is, you know, the MASTER, he's not the Sprite...
It belittles him a bit.
And Doctor Who: The Musical may yet happen, but The Pirates (audio) is the best and most reasonable form of that that I ever want to see.
Want a Classicist Whovian take? Tom Baker broke out into cactus. He didn't break out into song.
By the way, I loved the musical episode of Buffy... and of Scrubs. But I don't think it makes much sense when the tone of the show is apocalyptic... and the Master was keeping the Doctor in prison for a year. You get the impression he sang this song every day, maybe.
V. On the popularity of the horrorshow and its lame return to us in every season finale since The Parting of the Ways.
That Who is trendy now means people, not just people like you and me, but people, lots of great, diverse people, like it and want to see it do well. And there sure is a euphoria that comes from folks, folks like anyone, when that is the case about something they like and then a stranger wants to know their opinion! Wham, yes, we say we dig it. AI figures only state the immediate afterglow responses, too, for the most part.
Know something about Britain's masses, though? They were inundated with very shiny Doctor Who advertisements on the BBC before Christmas. They were pleased on the whole, as you said, by a whole lot of new Doctor Who in the last three years, and they were probably more than ready for a pop icon to come back on TV after months away. (Trendy.) And then it happened, and it had a story resembling Titanic and people died, the Doctor wept, kissed dusty air, made a sweet little man happy to be rich on an alien planet, and it was Christmas! I'm so not saying what I think the masses should say. But I can well imagine why they were pretty happy.
Also - and now I'm really going on, always do - I think that Britain's been in love with Doctor Who for a long time. And I'm an American with a job that has crazy hours up alone in the middle of the night writing this to tell you something from an outsider's perspective (us and them?) I think there's a whole bunch of millions of Brits in love with Doctor Who, have been since the sixties. And they were very happy to see this thing come back and be so accessible. They're watching episodes, discussing them with friends and family sometimes, and they're happy it's back. That's not just trendy, that's fandom. Not obsessive fandom like us mad ones writing so much obscure arcane inanity, but fandom nonetheless. And when those wonderful folks, who see annual Doctor Who on Christmas as a fun, charming tradition, see a shiny new episode that does a whole lot of what they expect it to do, they definitely want to plump the numbers too, I bet. I expect, I hope, I don't know. I'd say anything to cheer the other fans, to bump the numbers for Doctor Who, to keep this show on the air. And that was my point, that AI responses are something people say to report back to the masses themselves. We like the show, we want it.
I still choose to feel vindicated about my friend Wade's making fun of my Doctor Who addiction when I was 12, now. I don't care if that makes me childish. It's hip now, fool.
VI. On being disappointed.
I mean, being disappointed, dispirited and frustrated after a season that gave us some brilliant stuff only makes sense when the rest was not on the same level. Much in the same way that I love and I'd defend McCoy's TV era - a period over which more disagreement there hasn't been in fandom, I'd say - I'd still agree that it was a show in need of some improvements... then as much as now with RTD's most recent episodes. And I'm glad people are very critical... and I expect Russell is too.
But has anyone heard the DVD commentary track on Last of the Time Lords, where he moans, "ooh, I know the fans are melting down now!" at the "I can't decide" music video bit? I mean, it's not a thing to savor. But then, it's so bold it's surely impressive. You can never fault Russell his boldness. Like Steven Spielberg, another bigtime producer, when he hits it big everyone knows it and when he misses, people everywhere have something to say. I'm not sure that's the best person for comparison, but I always think of the climactic scene with the opening of the Ark in "Raiders" as the epitome of "can't fault it" bold.
I think it might be his taste or his style a bit, that frustrates people. RTD's got such a way of images defining story, in his own episodes and many that he's commisioned, that demands attention, and keeps one impressed. When one takes a moment to think about the logic or the potential plotholes or the question of plot necessity of some moments, hypercritical fans in particular, then one gets to the point where the big beautiful image of the magical flying Doctor encased in a bubble of light comes into being a God to the Master and says "I forgive you", and it's either spellbindingly beautiful: "Look, the Doctor got to be God. I knew it all along. It's perfect. The Doctor is our British idealization of a sci-fi God, it's a huge and extraordinary climax to take us to after such an epic three parter." Or it's a bit perplexing: "Look, the Doctor is unaffected by the Master's DNA scrambler because of the Archangel network's conduction of millions upon millions of people saying the Doctor's name and thinking about him, not that they all know him that well, but he's getting a cell phone call from the whole world at once, so that, along with the Doctor's telepathic integration with the matrices of the network made him able to heal himself and then psychokinetically raise himself up and then take down the Master. Huh. And the Master's just let himself get killed to spite the Doctor. Huh. Does that make sense with what we know? Well the Master has died before, apparently, and come back; perhaps he's got something planned this time. But then if this meant nothing, and the Master is fine, then what was the point of this big epic?" In any case, the image is unforgettable and resonates. It's either love or perplexing frustration, as I see it. And I'm sure there other possibilities. But such moments make it impossible not to come down hard on a side, whichever side you pick.
"Be bold," my acting professor said. "Either get the standing ovations or go down like the Titanic, but be bold. The worst thing you can ever be is adequate."
And RTD doesn't miss any opportunity to shock and insist on making a point that we can't miss. I applaud him. But he's also caused such problems for my critical intellect on some occasions. I say praise him, but worry. And bless him too for bringing back a popular, often brilliant Doctor Who.
But it's miraculously trendy, Thank God.
I'm still in love with VotD up until the "iceberg" hits... And it's still great fun afterwards, for the most part, if idiotic. I think most of its detractors would still agree it's fun.
I liked it really well for a while. I was very entertained, mostly because it looked pretty great and was full of kick and momentum. I'd recommend anyone watch the thing... but it wouldn't be the first Doctor Who story I'd pick to recommend. After watching, though, the thing felt pretty hollow to me and I've been writing endlessly about this disappointing feeling to do with it in the last few days, lord knows why. Well, partly it's I because I wasn't "moved".
I was making a point about what viewing ratings mean. Do you think viewing ratings always mean we're looking at something truly wonderful and worth complete praise and adulation when they go up so high? I think they don't. I think they mean that what's on is very diverting because of what's immediately getting our attention: "pretty pictures".
I think everyone would prefer to blame one person for, as it's been referred to in various places, "the raping of their childhood", but we're all in this together, aren't we? But, as others have said, you know viewing ratings don't mean a thing is critically very good, just that it's prettier to look at than what else is on at the time. And it sure was pretty to look at.
VII. On Potential Doctors and Being Human (through to the start of the fourth season).
I think the third season's arc concerning how the Doctor developed was about a kind of season of education for him on human potential. The Master at the end of the season was a meeting with another outsider to that potential, but a negative to the Tenth Doctor's energy; he was very much intentionally that, I'm sure, with all of his mad pop flair just like the Tenth Doctor's. But it was a departure from the previous season's gradual buildup to Rose's sudden leaving in Doomsday. The Doctor dealt with her being gone in The Runaway Bride, fine. But then she haunted the whole third season too, and Voyage of the Damned.
I think the second season dealt very nicely with the loneliness issue and what people like the Doctor, Jackie and Elton do to get around it, but the third season was far more about describing a mostly positive vision of the extremity of potential within "human nature" itself: from Martha's determined nature and human curiosity in Smith and Jones, constrasted there with the shapeshifting villain and the strangeness of the Doctor as a patient and all the panicking at the hospital; and then moving through the optimistic take on humanity in Gridlock; The Shakespeare Code's Shakespearean genius of language (where Shakespeare saved the day more than the Doctor, really, in the end of that one); Evolution of the Daleks' human-Dalek hybids; The Lazarus Experiment's human ancestral potential of monstrosity; the obvious Human Nature; Blink's human heroes who actually managed to save the day without the Doctor's help, except for his one little bit of important exposition; and then the big Utopia dream and the Toclafane's antithesis posed to it in Last of the Time Lords.
The arc of the Doctor within all of that stuff was most impressive in relation to his recognition of human nature itself. That's great. Brilliant. I'm still thoroughly impressed with RTD's vison from year to year. But in discussing the long term for David Tennant's Doctor, I still don't - and now I'm becoming a broken record - see where he's going at all. It might even be that that's for the best, but the fixation on Rose does confuse the signals of what the future might bring, I think.
And I think that much is clearer in other epics by this point in the hero's journey. But it seems that there is a potential, certainly, here for some awesome continued storytelling, as the current series has done some great things with some clearly well planned arc-making.
I've also started to feel a little disgusted with myself now after so much spreading of seeming negativity on the current series. I am the optimist that hopes the Master can be revived in a new incarnation to be used very nicely with the signaled future plots in that direction from painted fingernails and a ring getting picked up... But then, wouldn't any more of the John Simm Master be a bad idea?
Of course, credit is due to well planned hero's journeys. But in this day and age, no one should expect less than that. I just want to expect a lot more than what led to Last of the Time Lords' massive cheats and Voyage of the Damned's Rose-substitute.
Does the Tenth Doctor's character arc, sketched out in detail in season two and season three, in relation to companion emotional attachment internally, really seem like a full and exciting one to you right now, though?
Because, as I was saying, it does seem to be repeating itself a bit... and I wonder if it can't be a lot more interesting than simply fixating on Rose and the light that she brought (as seen throughout the fourth season, only beginning with Voyage of the Damned).
Something that I think may also be a problem with fandom is that we might miss out on some things being great because of the difference between "intentionally great" and "accidentally great". I mean, I have no doubt who was responsible for the "exisiting in retrospect" successfully created tragic arc of the Fifth Doctor. Eric Saward, Peter Davison and bloody John Nathan Turner. The first wanted violence to matter, to hurt, in his Who. The middle wanted his character to be heroic and to matter, and was frustrated by playing a weak, even bland hero. The last wanted to have a fallible Doctor, a vulnerable youthful one in opposition to Tom Baker's. And we know this, but we look at is a happy accident that Adric's death, Turlough's duplicity, Tegan's displeasure upon leaving, the Master's death, and the Doctor's eventual sacrifice of himself for Peri, as he had nothing left to fail at, all led to a massive arc of tragic storytelling. And we see it as accidental. It wasn't, though. I mean, it makes sense from the seeds planted in Season 19 and it keeps that era as looking very confidently made and impressive to me. When serendipity is inevitable, it's not serendipity. And I don't want to call it synergy. So I won't.
Big trouble is, I have no idea what I would have thought had I watched the Davison arc on TV upon original airing. I turned seven in 1984. But when I did see Earthshock for the first time in '87 or thereabouts, I imagined this show getting much darker and taking the Doctor and company to quite the darkest places. It excited me, as much as it moved me greatly when they killed off the companion I identified with so much! But it looked reasonable that such a thing as the end of season 21 might have come from that. Again, the trouble with my perspective of the long-term anticipation then is my age at the time. And the fact that we got very little time to stew between Castrovalva and Caves of Androzani, compared to the original Brits and the three years it took for them, seeing as it's always aired wekly in full stories on the local PBS station here. Doctor Who always has more momentum here.
But Who has had several long-term arcs set up and completed in the past with much impressive clarity and depth, even in places appearing to have a similar level of planning the like of which RTD gives it. I'd say the first Doctor kept growing as he related to Susan's departure and then Vicki's seeming to stand in for Susan... and then that speech at the end of The Massacre. It wasn't intentionally marked as a journey, quite, but the changes there. The change from a passive Doctor to an active one happens in The Sensorites. And then it's on to the point when the Doctor gives full-fledged leadership to change future history in The Dalek Invasion of Earth. I think the level of respect given to each companion's departure in the series' first two years, as much as the Doctor's growth to the central hero of the show, would account for a kind of assured audience's confidence in the long-term growth of the character, from misanthrope to sweet old man and eventually to weary old man. Even if that weariness came somewhat more by Hartnell's illness than the writing. Intentional? Beyond The Edge of Destruction, some of it, certainly. Accidental, perhaps, but allowed for with an assured clarity of intent for the series generally along the way.
Do I see that assuredness right now in New Who? Yeah, of course, but on a season-to-season basis far more so than truly long term. And not so much since the fourth season was so much weaker on the whole, along with the specials of the past year, thus far, than the standard set in the first through third seasons.
I got a similar sense from my first viewing of Remembrance of the Daleks a couple years after I experienced Earthshock's darkening of the long term and I was old enough then to appreciate very much that this was going somewhere very interesting. The long-term arc, lurch though it may have done at that point, was clear shortly and it was awesome. The Cartmel Masterplan, as it's known, was all about that kind of planned journey. It's certainly what led to novels so good, inspiring fandom to do so much with it for years and years.
Does the Tenth Doctor's character arc, sketched out in detail in season one and season two both, in relation to companion emotional attachment internally, really seem like a full and exciting one to you right now, though?
I mean, it's impressive - and clear - how much the episodes tie together Martha's slow growing acceptance by the Doctor, but that's still only so little of a beginning of his journey to me. Her journey was very impressive, but the Tenth Doctor's continued dealing with this loneliness, being something that appears to me to be increasingly hollow, a retread of something we've got in depth already in The Girl in the Fireplace, tied in to what came just before in School Reunion. By the time of the Doctor's forgiveness of the Master, it seems ridiculous that this is something we've gotten from a Time Lord who's been essentially lonely and dealing with it forever. Human Nature fit nicely into what was developing there, though, via its turning the situation on its head and making the "Lonely God" perspective into one seen in reverse, from the lowly human man looking up, and that was great, but then comes the Master. The Master's choice to die was absurd; for that character to betray himself and his own survival like that, denies his self-importance. Russell had the Doctor comment as much in foreshadowing of the death. Making him spitefully accept death just to get at the Doctor is the worst betrayal of the character there was in that story. By this time, with Voyage of the Damned, it just seems tired, this emphasis on Rose and loneliness, lovely as it was once, back in the second season.
But of course, I'd still like to see what comes next very much. And, as I despised the end of Doomsday (as Rose's departure was understood, expected, and then the Doctor needs to tell her he loves her?), I wish my heart could have broken for him, but that's not the hero that I love... And what will fix this essential Time Lord loneliness? What's coming along, long term?
Am I exhibiting the problem with fandom again, calling attention to what was and without knowing calling it what will be? I don't think so. But it's too easy to look at VotD and think it may yet portend more along those lines.
VIII. On the Illusion of Predictability and the Formulae of RTD.
I don't want to make a complaint on of the illusion of predictability, you know, but an embrace of it; sorry if I didn't make that clear yet. The thing is, the more we think we know what's going to happen through the use of formula, the more we're likely to be surprised when variations occur. And, as there is a formula in place, I think we know something of what's coming; if season four matched the same formula as seasons 1-3, it's not just tone that we'll see that's similar and we risk overfamiliarity. But then it can still be brilliant. (I was happy to go for the ride.)
The formula as we've seen it thus far for each season has been very consistent in what placement each episode of the 13 has and what role it plays as a part of the whole. Those first two-parters have all introduced a major new monster to the series, each time a monster that was meant to seem a bit like classic Doctor Who monsters with a new take on them. That's very consistent, I'd say. The job of each episode in its place at that part of the season has been consistently about the same. The tone, the matter of what the episode is introducing and the connection between each as a trad/rad, up/down balance, even the precise amount of foreshadowing we get for the season finale earlier on, has been achieved pretty clearly I think, in pretty much the same way, at similar points, each season. And fans see this. We expect it. We like it. But we worry about things feeling stale soon because of it. Many fans have complained of that already with Voyage of the Damned.
Originally Posted by Jonathan Blum: "Seems pretty clearly signposted for me - his journey from "no second chances" [in The Christmas Invasion] to "I forgive you" [in The Last of the Time Lords], and from being the most conspicuously emotionally-connected Doctor (who starts off sitting down with his companion's family at Christmas dinner) to reeling when those connections are ripped away from him en masse, and only inching in the direction of opening up again. His continuing journey in the second season directly follows on from where the first leaves him. That's already more of a journey in two years than, well, any Doctor ever, and given that his third year is building up to a story packed with the people he has emotional connections with, it seems fair to say it's continuing..."
More of a journey than any Doctor ever? That's hardly the case: the change in the First Doctor in his first two years from creepy old scientist to sympathetic, sweet old man; the journey the Sixth Doctor (that he was meant to have on TV) had, or rather began, from unstable hypersensitivity to wise and mellowed; the journey the Fifth Doctor had from Tom Baker's superhero to the most fallible and eventually tragic of heroes; the journey the Seventh Doctor had as a depressed, bumbling clown with a dark side to an epic dark mastermind - though we all know that one turned on a dime in Remembrance - but he went even further than that by becoming Ace's mentor and then going through the wringer with her at the end of Fenric, and then Survival, but that journey was of course eventually greatly about novels and we're talking TV... Even the journey of the Third Doctor with Jo, as mentor and father figure, was a pretty seriously great one, with many clear steps along the way.
And I don't know, I find the third season journey pretty hollow. Why forgive the Master? Just because the Doctor understands the Master's loneliness? Admittedly, it's something. I don't discount that. A very impressive something. We don't see the ends, though, and that's what I'm worried about. The connection from one sentiment to another is lacking. Where does he go from here, from Rose, from Rose-substitute Astrid? And, when looking for the long arc of the Tenth Doctor, it's got to be asked: why was he so "no second chances" hard to begin with? The fact that he's still stuck on Rose for so long seems wrong to me, out of character for the very distant, very alien Doctor I know; almost mocking, or at least clashing with, the whole point of Human Nature. The question is why and when did she provide such a solace for him from that damage? Just at the end of Dalek when she convinced him not to kill the Dalek? Surely that's not what endeared her to him so much, not so much as the stuff he sees in Astrid that immediately makes the audience think of Rose.
The audience was brought to new Who with Rose, so he had to be fixated on her; that's the angle that played there, that's how I see it anyway. It makes some sense in keeping the audience's love for Rose in mind, but I question its value when it makes Martha's connection to the audience potentially weaker. We're not talking the problem Sam had connecting to the Eighth Doctor here; this is a Tenth Doctor appearing to actually favor keeping Rose as company over other people; much as he likes
The thing is, despite the journey thus far for the Tenth Doctor, I don't see this guy's endpoint. When is he a fulfilled character? The fact that I'm even asking for that answer and expecting something to actually come and reward my interest must indicate I'm impressed on many levels by this current production of Doctor Who, but I don't rely on it much now, especially with the likes of the mad Master we got.
Oooh, I expect in years to come that some of Russell's story will get more consistent slagging, the seeming canonization of fan-hate as we see now for the likes of The Space Pirates and The Power of Kroll. I imagine the farting Slitheen and Love & Monsters (love it as some of us do) will be held in similar levels of contempt. And I've found it very rare amongst my friends who watch new Who and the media in general that there aren't a good deal of people annoyed at some of Russell's episodes, particularly the season-end deus ex machinas. The ambivalence is there. We love and hate the guy. I think he's great, but I do expect much better than Last of the Time Lords. A lot of fans find his new Who a great triumph, a return of a British pop icon in all its grandeur, but his overindulgences and fans frustrations with them are well documented as well.
The awards he's winning, though, are rightfully deserved, as I think most fans do also believe. And I wouldn't call that anything but a bit of ambivalence though, that sense that we love the guy for bringing back a legendary favorite series and then along with it several great stinkers. Skeptics are everywhere. Despite the ratings for Voyage of the Damned, the reviews, the actually critical ones, not the "what a hit" ones, generally found it lacking. By the way, I never would have complained this much about Russell before the Master went bonkers. Not since The End of the World, anyway.
Long-term vision seems to only last per season, and it's only really been impressive on that level once, with the first season, the Ninth's year. What is the Tenth Doctor's journey, Russell? I'm about to find out, but when the epic-most moments thus far are so lamely infected with sentimentality beyond all use or reason, I find myself disturbed to the point of asking in hope of something better than "it's about becoming a better man through Rose."
I feel RTD misused and poorly recreated the Autons, the Master, and even the Daleks, to a lesser degree, on his New Who series. His second and third season finales, though popular with many, are much the same as his Christmas Specials, mad rides with little to make sense from often massive plot holes and painful leaps to extrordinary levels of plot cheating, such as how the Doctor shrinks in Last of the Time Lords and then why he returns to normal with the telepathic connection to Archangel. And then why that makes him, basically, God, for a minute. Much the same as so many RTD cheats, it's fun impossibility that hurts the brain of anyone that thinks about it. There you went, Russell, making us think so much to follow your mad plot and then you put so many things in it as well that just don't begin to make sense.
And I'm losing faith in his leadership these days, especially after the Master story melted down with the arrival of John Simm's loony tunes Master with a newly defined purpose, to stop the drums because he's mad. Just mad, not vengeful, or megalomaniacal. I mean, how, and why, was he planning on making the humans into a new civilization of Time Lords? Why drums? Why the love of pop music? Why make the Doctor old at all? A mad madman is quite the least interesting sort of villain. And the Yana-Master was a huge waste to kill off, considering.
The show's fun, hard to predict, often incredibly brilliant, but often totally beyond the pale. I really doubt I'm the only one that's annoyed by the overusage of the sonic screwdriver cheat these days, only to be triply disappointed to see John Simm's Master come up with the laser screwdriver. It's not a cheat so much as just another part of the biggest "jump the shark" finale yet.
And then the Titanic story was so pretty but so familiar and tired, promising the world and giving us "you're not falling, you're flying", whatever that meant. RTD promises the best ever of anything on TV when he shoots the moon with his mad style in some cases: to my mind, Love & Monsters, Gridlock, and Tooth and Claw, along with The End of the World and, really, most of the first season. And that promise is what allows such disappointment. I feel like Martha, all unrequited despite the closeness to potential perfection. Or, rather than perfection, consummation. I have yet to really want to exalt this era of Doctor Who. And I wonder if it's because we just have a kind of drifting sense here of what to do with him.
RTD's Doctor falls in love, but doesn't. Why? His relationship with Rose inexplicably bordered on romantic, even more than the 8th Doctor and Grace in the '96 TV movie. And then Martha is not worth noticing like that. What makes Rose better for the Doctor? I'll tell you.
Audience identification. That's it. Unless they really did want us to think that the Doctor has something for blondes? Consider Astrid.
Would Steven Moffatt do better? I think so. He justifies his plots. The thing, though, is that I do worry. RTD is brilliant, but unreliable, in my eyes. Without his leadership, I think the average episode quality may well rise, but the scatter would also likely diminish. I doubt the highs would be so high. Russell T. Davies wrote my favorite two episodes of the new series and four out of my five least favorite. We, fandom, are pretty ambivalent, I think, about this guy. And I don't want to lose the writer of Gridlock to a fan coup d'etat at BBC Wales. Not that that would happen.
...and you will obey me by Noe Geric 28/11/23
In the previous episode, we saw a very old foe come back in the character of the Master. This week, we'll see that the Master was in fact back since the last Christmas Episode! I'm perhaps one of the few that doesn't consider Utopia to be part of the ''Series 3 Final Trilogy'' because it has an atmosphere of its own and the story isn't supposed to be the same. The Sound of Drums is quite an oddity that wouldn't have been made back in the old days when Delgado was still the evil Time Lord. While Utopia built-up brilliantly toward the Master returning, The Sound of Drums needed to show everyone how dangerous he is. And even before the episode began, I'm disappointed Derek Jacobi didn't get to play the ''true'' Master in more than two scenes. I'm not a big fan of Simm's portrayal, too hysterical for its own good. But that doesn't necessarily means that I don't like this story...
The episode began with the pre-title sequence (like most of the episodes since the revival of the show), and we're directly faced with a plot-twist you can't have seen coming! The YANA idea from Gridlock was already a nice addition. But knowing that Harold Saxon, the guy everyone has talked about since last year, is the bad guy, is quite a surprise. For New Series fans who never heard of the Master before, it must be a nice little reference. But for old fans who watched Survival when it was transmitted, it's probably one of the most surprising ''Haha, you didn't see this coming!''
Then, after the credits, you've got that scene with the Master/Prime Minister killing his associates. The scene is perhaps too OTT for its own good, and even if Simm tries his best, because the Master looks like a cartoon villain. Ho, and god I hate the ''I heard the drums'' idea. Yes, it might be a plausible explanation for the character's madness, but it doesn't quite match with what we've seen of the character since Season 8! Then we get back to the Doctor, Jack and Martha, and I'm more than happy that Harkness is back! Perhaps he should've made his return earlier, as their chemistry is quite incredible. I've never really liked the Doctor/Martha team. Characters works better when they're a team of three (see The Empty Child to The Parting of the Ways). At the beginning of a new series, it's OK to have the new companion alone with the Doctor, but after six episodes or so, I always feel that a second character needs to be introduced to add something new to the dynamic of the show.
And we come to one of my favorite scene of the Series: Martha phones her family. Her Dad's reaction is so epic I'm never tired of watching it again and again and again... The episode is mostly built around the Doctor losing against the Master, and it works. We also have another enemy for the Master in the person of the American President Elect. Perhaps the character doesn't appear enough for the characters to create a true rivalry.
Sometimes, Davies tries to add some comedy. While the Toclafane message is one of the funniest bit of the episode, the gag in which the Master kills the journalist and listens to her scream through the door, is a step too far. As I'm talking about the bad bits, the old Doctor prosthetics are terrible. I've never met an old person that looks like that! It's even worse than in The Family of Blood!
The Sound of Drums might be one of these episodes I'm never tired of watching. It has lots of good moments, the characters are all OK, and the pace is incredibly fast. You barely notice the forty-five minutes of Simm being OTT. It might not be ''the best episode'' but it's one of the great numbers of examples ''Why Doctor Who isn't like any other SF show''. There aren't big spaceships battles at every corner, alien race in every scene and complicated technological plots in space. This is a madman who becomes Prime Minister, and I can't see any other SF show doing the same without looking ludicrous. But don't expect the next episode to live-up to this building, because it's easier to create lots of threats than to resolve them! 10/10