The Sound of Drums
Last of the Time Lords
The Sound of Drums/Last of the Time Lords
Utopia/The Sound of Drums/Last of the Time Lords

Story No. 199-201 Martha travels the world
Production Code Series Three Episodes Eleven, Twelve and Thirteen
Dates June 16, 23 and 30 2007

With David Tennant, Freema Agyeman

Written by Russell T Davies Directed by Colin Teague
Executive Producers: Russell T Davies, Julie Gardner.

Synopsis: In the distant future, the Master is resurrected... and goes on to assume control of the Earth in the present day.


Psychic Satellites! by Hugh Sturgess 14/5/15

Jesus, this is a depressing story. This is a twisted love story between two demigods, with mutual murder attempts and genocide instead of dates and screwball comedy. It begins at the end of the universe with all great civilisations dead and the human race devolving into cannibals and ends with the Master gloating that he has won. Modern-day Earth is crushed under the jackboot, and the Jones family is traumatised by the depraved atrocities they witness. The Doctor expresses the hope that "life can find a way" and the script tips its hat to The Ark In Space's "indomitable" speech, and yet the story tells us that all our attempts to survive fail and the human race - possibly the last sentient beings - end up as an army of psychotic severed heads unable to escape the dying cosmos. It is possibly the most nihilistic Doctor Who story ever broadcast. It is also quite brilliant.

I used to be really down on Series 3. My review of the series elsewhere on the site is intemperate in the extreme, using apocalyptic language to describe my feelings. I am utterly perplexed by my earlier incarnation's reaction, since it's clearly the strongest series of the RTD era. It has duds like The Shakespeare Code (I have not changed my opinion on that in the slightest) and The Lazarus Experiment, but also greats like Gridlock (a story my previous self was particularly appalled by, for some reason), Human Nature and Blink. Smith and Jones is probably the "average" episode of the year, being neither the best nor the worst, and it's delightful. Maybe coming upon The Shakespeare Code so quickly got me off on the wrong foot, but really! This goes to prove the adage that youth thinks itself wise the way a drunk thinks himself sober. The Utopia/Sound of Drums/Last of the Time Lords serial (henceforth simply Last of the Time Lords) is astonishing. It's by far the best RTD finale, and - for its scale, its passion, its production and its ideas - it's probably the best finale in the programme's history.

The story's fundamental job is to introduce the Master to a twenty-first-century audience, and in that it succeeds easily. Russell T Davies has shown the same willingness to mess with the character as he did with the Doctor himself, but what's most interesting is what he does not do. Some fans wondered whether a character so clearly out of melodrama could work for a modern audience. But RTD does not indulge in pop psychology to explain the Master's behaviour, nor does he reinvent the character as a more "realistic" figure (one who will not hesitate to kill the Doctor, for instance). The cosy gentleman-villain of yore is gone; Roger Delgado could not be further from our minds as John Simm convulses across the screen. Simm is a mad dog, a vain psychopathic sadist, but there is still the feeling that all his plans and traps are games, earthly echoes of a battle on a higher plane. The notion that the Master has the Ron Grainer theme in his head and this drives him to kidnap Concorde and sabotage the Magna Carta is too ludicrous for words, but is that really what Davies says? Davies's dialogue and Simm's performance seem clear: this Master does what he does (go through the rigmarole of insinuating himself into Britain's government, wait for the Doctor to turn up and then immediately put his plan into action) because it's fun. He thinks it's hilarious to wind up the Doctor by killing people and destroying civilisations. The Master is like a little boy who knows he can get a rise out of another child by kicking a puppy.

Or maybe he's like a little boy who teases the girl he fancies. Here, he clearly enjoys the Doctor's company and enjoys seeing how he reacts to his latest exploit. Doctor/Master slash fiction didn't proliferate after Last of the Time Lords just because David Tennant and John Simm were an all right bit of stuff. It's subtext here, but Simm and Tennant layer their performances to make this a disturbingly twisted romance. Simm reacts with near-orgasmic pleasure to the Doctor's use of his name, and the Doctor's weeping over the Master's body is too hysterical to be purely platonic. Their relationship is as extreme as anything fan fiction could dream up, though The End of Time would go even further. (I suppose Davies decided that he had got away with subtext in Last of the Time Lords and so decided to make it text.) The parallels between Lucy and the Doctor (both are in an abusive relationship with the Master, who shows them affection and then brutalises them) are subtle but disturbing. The relationship is reciprocal: the Doctor decides to settle down and live with the Master in the TARDIS, which the Master considers to be being "kept" by the Doctor; this is a telling turn of phrase, since the Master has literally "kept" the Doctor like a pet (in a kennel and then a birdcage) for the year he rules Earth. This is the first Master story to really focus on his relationship with the Doctor, and it's sick, disturbing and brilliant.

Simm's performance isn't as good as it is in The End of Time, when both the actor and the script are pushing everything to their insane extreme, but it's still mesmerising. Sometimes it's funny ("Funny? No? Little bit?"). Sometimes it's very far from funny (Lucy's bruises). The comparisons with Tony Blair have been made before, but what struck me upon rewatching is that the political satire is actually rather more subversive than I'd originally thought. The Master wins an election with rhetorical nonsense devoid of specifics ("This country is sick. It needs medicine."), celebrity endorsements and his control of the media. Personally, I'd've gone further and had clear rhetorical references to real-life politicians ("Tough on aliens, tough on the causes of aliens", "A old lady from Chiswick wrote to me...", "I get letters asking me 'why do the aliens hate us?'. They hate us because of our freedoms."). To stretch the point, the fake quarantine of Earth essentially says "will the last person to leave Earth please turn the lights out". Lawrence Miles moaned about the Ann Widdecombe cameo, on the grounds that it's inappropriate for Doctor Who to feature an "evil Tory bigot". But think about the context: she's endorsing the Master, for God's sake. This man, who is "just what this country needs" according to Widdecombe, has no policies and fake credentials, murders the Cabinet, assassinates the US President and kills 650 million people as part of a drive for universal domination. Say what you like about satellite hypnosis, this is a terrible indictment of Widdecombe's ability to judge character. (In fact, given that Saxon's cabinet is made up of defectors from other parties, maybe she's one of them and thus gets gassed?)

What becomes apparent on rewatching is that this three-parter (and it is a three-parter, otherwise it's thematically unbalanced) is a character piece examining the relations the Doctor and the Master have with those around them. It's like a series of concentric circles, from their relationships with those who love them (Martha and Jack, Chantho and Lucy) to the population of the entire world. Captain Jack waits for a century to meet the Doctor again and is only slightly bitter about being abandoned. Martha travels the world for a year to save the Doctor, even though she leaves him afterward. The Master betrays and murders Chantho and destroys Lucy Saxon's faith in the meaningfulness of existence by showing her the end of the universe. ("And I thought there's no point. No point to anything. Not ever." Brr.) The Doctor unites the human race in hope, the Master in fear, and the Jones family are brought together by their heart-warming desire to kill him.

This never feels like an ordinary story. This is crucial to its effect. Part of it is the weird structure: each episode is set in its own location, with jumps in between. Part of it is incidental music unique to this story. While the soaring string ensemble at the climax of The Sound of Drums is over-the-top and actually reduces the drama of the scene, the haunting wailing that accompanies the climax to Utopia and the "I took Lucy to Utopia" scene in Last of the Time Lords is superb. I'm overly mean to Murray Gold, and I want to take this opportunity to say that this is great.

Davies is playing against the cliche of him as a soapie sentimentalist. The Master wins! He destroys history and turns Earth into hell. Yes, it's all undone at the end, but you can't say that Davies doesn't give us fair warning of what he's planning as soon as we hear the words "paradox machine". As Francine says, everything that happened in the year that never was ("those... things") still happened as far as those onboard the Valiant are concerned. You're still left feeling slightly dirty afterwards, having been dragged through the muck. Utopia looks like a standard power-of-humanity up-beat Rusty story, on a par with The Impossible Planet's "I'm gonna hug you" scene, even homaging The Ark in Space's "indomitable" speech. Last of the Time Lords pulls the rug out from under us in the most horrifying way. As noted about, the lengthy scene in which the truth of the Toclaflane is discovered is amazing. Even after the Master has been defeated and things restored to normal, out there, at the end of the universe, humanity's ultimate fate as insane, cannibalised psychopaths still waits for us... It isn't Sawardian, since there are actual sympathetic characters and less casual violence (plus, no mercenaries, unless we count Jack), but in fact it easily outdoes Saward's nihilistic view of life.

In all of RTD's finales, he is seeking to tell a sci-fi story and an emotional "relationships" story. The greatest challenge is bind the two together. Doomsday has a disconnect between the two stories, since they have nothing to do with each other. Whether or not Jackie and Pete get together is irrelevant to whether the Doctor can stop the Cybermen and the Daleks, and yet in order to accommodate the scene the story has to come to a temporary halt. The sci-fi story and the emotional story are like different stellar masses, tugging at the episode with their opposing gravities, the tidal forces threatening to rip it apart at any moment. The effect is to exaggerate the emotional story, when it is actually less important than in Parting of the Ways the year before or Last of the Time Lords the year after. Journey's End lacks both a strong practical narrative (it is 60 minutes of people congregating in a room and then leaving) and a strong emotional narrative (Is it about the Doctor being a bad influence? A good influence? Having a family? Being lonely?), which I guess is a kind of a solution. Parting of the Ways can make itself overwhelmingly about the emotional story because the Dalek threat is so inhuman that it scarcely counts as a plot. If the Daleks were replaced by a foam machine slowly engulfing Satellite 5, would many of the plot points have to change? Last of the Time Lords is superior to the other three by making the sci-fi and the emotional story one and the same. The stars have aligned and what is important to the characters' relationships is at last what is important to the fate of the universe.

The most important relationship in this story is the one between the Doctor and the Master. That is true both of the emotional heart of the story and in sheer plot terms. Every scene (I think) is about the Doctor or the Master. In Doomsday, half the scenes are about the Doctor/Rose/her family, and the other half are about two cyborg races fighting each other. Martha's personal journey and her relationship with the Doctor is a reflection of Lucy's (and Chantho's) relationship with the Master. Everything's pulling in the same direction. The Davies ex Machina isn't unsatisfying, both because it was set up with sufficient obviousness and because the Doctor-Master story has been resolved. No one thought that Davies would end Series 3 with modern-day Earth in ruins and 650 million people dead. The Master has already been beaten, so there's nothing left but for the game to end and everything to go back the way it was.

Last of the Time Lords is both broader in sweep and more personal in scale than RTD's other finales. Despite going to the end of the universe and then whizzing through the corridors of Westminster and the control room of flying aircraft carriers, its story is kept within a few rooms and spaces. It's a work of inspiration, as Parting of the Ways or Midnight are, that melds Fanboy Russell and Serious Author Russell. The End of Time, this story's sequel, is pulling in all sorts of the different directions and as a result isn't as good. This story knows exactly what it wants to do and does it, while telling a strong story as well. It's a powerful, passionate and dark story, but it's also clever, in a way that (for all their strengths) RTD's other finales are not. It's a strong sci-fi story as well as a strong emotional story. It's brilliant.

I love it when you say my name! by Evan Weston 8/8/15

I've said in past finale reviews that Russell T Davies generally writes either spectacular or disastrous finales. I've always put this three-parter, The End of Time and Bad Wolf/Parting of the Ways in the spectacular column, with Army of Ghosts/Doomsday and The Stolen Earth/Journey's End in the disastrous column. However, upon multiple viewings, Utopia/The Sound of Drums/Last of the Time Lords (my lord, what a title) doesn't really fit either descriptor. It's definitely more good than bad, and it's one of Davies' better efforts overall, but there are significant holes in the story that hold it back from greatness. It's also quite long, which I really shouldn't hold against it considering there's an argument to review Utopia as a standalone, but the second and third installments tend to drag a bit.

There's actually an interesting dichotomy that develops between Utopia and the Master two-parter that follows. Their plot points are way too connected for me to consider them separate stories, as The Sound of Drums/Last of the Time Lords is totally cheapened and at points incoherent without Utopia to set it up. But the first 45 minutes of our 135 minute special are terrific, taking some time to flesh out Jack Harkness's return and immortality while also providing an extraordinarily interesting concept - one of Series 3's great strengths - and a dynamite performance from Derek Jacobi. The second and third parts have John Simm's Master going for them, and I'll address him in great detail later on, but the story is so complicated and built off a lot of "fake science, yippee!" that it's hard to take it seriously at times.

I suppose it's fair to just start at the beginning. Jack's return is really well done, with excellent somber acting from Tennant and a terrific steely determination from John Barrowman. Through the Torchwood series, he's had time to really step into this role, and he's far more confident and assured than he was in Series 1, even from Bad Wolf/Parting of the Ways. He's excellent throughout the three-parter, even though he's given far less to do in the second and third episodes. His character's return touches all the right notes as well: his immortality is revealed in a way that feels fair to audiences who have and haven't seen Torchwood, and the references to Rose are appreciated. It makes sense that Jack would ask about her instantly, as well. He also bonds nicely with Martha, which makes a lot of sense when you think about how the socially-naive Doctor treats both of them. Basically, his return feels totally justified, and it's nice to see Davies use the long running time to give him some moments to shine.

We've also got a lot going on in the first segment, with the creepy yet disposable Futurekind running around, humans waiting to get onto a broken rocket and Derek Jacobi providing the episode's center as Professor Yana. Jacobi is terrific as the bumbling scientist with the drums in his head, and the slow reveal of his true identity - which starts in his first appearance - is extremely well done. His assistant Chantho is utterly adorable, especially when Jack hits on her. One of the great plot conceits in the story is the use of the chameleon arch from Human Nature/The Family of Blood to bring the Master back. It's a stroke of continuity brilliance by Davies to use a plot device from a standalone adaptation as the big setup to the finale, and it helps to provide one of the best plot twists the show has ever done. The final ten minutes of Utopia are the strongest the three-part special has to offer, with the Face of Boe's words from Gridlock coming true as the Master shuts down the defense systems. Jacobi's abrupt switch from kind to menacing is all kinds of awesome. A part of me wishes we could have more Jacobi Master before his change into Simm.

Then again, John Simm is possibly the best guest star Doctor Who ever brought on, so maybe I shouldn't get ahead of myself. I've read criticism that the Master is presented out of character, but he was a tired villain in the classics and especially the TV movie at this point. Simm did for the Master what Heath Ledger did for the Joker, introducing a scarier, crazier incarnation of the character to a scarier, crazier generation. He's completely irresistible; you get so caught up in watching him prance around and light up the screen that you're almost rooting for him. He can switch from jokey and smiley to blood-curdling evil at the drop of a hat, and he strikes the perfect balance between camp and menace. We've seen nasty villains and funny villains on Doctor Who, but never one that so perfectly captures both - and succeeds in his plans! How many bad guys can boast that? Add to it his personal connection to the Doctor and fascinating backstory, drums and all, and it's tough to argue the Master isn't the best Doctor Who villain of them all. Quite frankly, Simm's Master is one of my favorite television villains of all time. He's the number one reason to watch Utopia/The Sound of Drums/Last of the Time Lords. Oh, and don't forget, he wins in the end!

There are other things to like about this one, too. David Tennant ends up out of the picture for the last third or so, but he's still very good in the time he's given, and his interplay with the Master over the phone is one of the best scenes here. I've already complimented Barrowman, but Freema Agyeman might be even better as Martha Jones for the final time as a full companion. I really wish Martha had stuck with the Doctor, over her romantic infatuation, into the fourth series, mostly because I don't want Catherine Tate for an entire run of stories, but Agyeman's always been really underrated in my eyes and I love her as a companion. Martha is once again put through the wringer in his one, watching her family arrested and humiliated (partially) because of her actions and then forced to walk the earth spreading the word of the Doctor. Martha's development into her own person completes itself in this story, and it's wonderful to see.

The rest of the supporting cast is great, as well, with a special shoutout to Ellie Haddington as the sad and conflicted Professor Docherty in the third part. Adjoa Andoh finishes up her great run as Martha's domineering mother, and her character receives some nice resolution. I also have to compliment the marvelous production design. Utopia/The Sound of Drums/Last of the Time Lords feels like a Doctor Who film, with its lush sets and huge CGI shots, particularly those of the Valiant. We're taken from a trillion years into the future to present day London and then up into the skies above, and it seems natural and huge. Murray Gold's score is fantastic, especially his theme for the Master, which fuses electronic sounds with huge orchestration for a genuinely unsettling piece of music.

The Toclafane also deserve note, as well. They, along with the obvious set up with Jack Harkness' immortality and the Master's reveal, are the main reason why Utopia cannot be reviewed as a standalone story: the eventual reveal of the Toclafane as the poor refuges from the end of the universe is heartbreaking and tragic, and without meeting those characters, that twist would mean much less. They're also quite creepy as monsters, slicing and dicing their way through the story as an effective weapon of the Master.

I've been full of praise so far, but as I mentioned at the top, there are some real holes in this one. The Utopia segment is fairly flawless, besides its slow pace and somewhat lame villains, but once we get the Master up and running, the story flies out of control. This is odd, because the Master is the best thing in it, but the things that happen around him just don't make sense. Basically everything the Doctor does in The Sound of Drums - whether it be fixing the vortex manipulator, inventing the perception filters or his general random knowledge - seems to be forced by the script. The perception filters are especially annoying, considering you'd think the Doctor would have used this sort of device before. Something like this would be like the psychic paper in its usefulness, but nope, we just need it for this one script. Not even a throwaway line about how dangerous it is or something. The plot is also fairly obvious from the beginning of the main story, and it's a shame that there really is no plot twist after the Master's reveal to throw us off course a bit more. Of course, this is all juxtaposed against the Master gleefully murdering the British government and opening and closing the door on Vivian Rooke's screams, so it's all good. He really is the best, you know.

Unfortunately, it gets worse from there. The plot, and more specifically the big Davies ex Machina at the end, works within the context of the story, I'll give it that. The paradox machine is established early enough in the episode that I don't want to mind its use as a reset button at the end, though I can't help it. I am okay with the religious imagery of the Doctor rising in the "prayers" of the people. I can't imagine it was intentional, considering Russell's stated leftist beliefs, and while I don't love seeing the Doctor used in that way, it makes sense if you parallel him with the Master as the devil. However, the resolution with the Archangel network is just ridiculous. I do not buy it for one second, and, as sweet and sentimental as it is, it totally cheapens everything the Master did. It's not even bad plotting as much as it is just emotional cues taken too far, and it really hurts the resolution. We then get a pointless scene with the Master muttering something about black hole converters, and the whole thing just takes a little too long to wrap up.

Really though, for all that's great about this finale, it's worth putting up with one of Russell's more inane plots. And considering the finales directly before and after this one, it could have been a lot worse. A mediocre second two-thirds of story and technobabble is lifted much higher than it should be by Simm's incredible performance and by the setup of the Utopia segment. I'll conclude with this: while Martha Jones appears in three Series 4 stories, she's never as good as she is here again, and her final speech to the Doctor is an absolutely perfect way for her character to leave the show. It's a fine example of Davies putting love and development into a character across a full season, and Martha's arc is one of the most convincing for a companion in the new series. While Series 4 is an extremely bumpy ride in that regard, Series 3 is a triumphant return to form for Doctor Who, one that I'm afraid hasn't quite been reached in all the years since.


Ranking the Stories - Series 3

  1. Blink (A+)
  2. Human Nature/The Family of Blood (A-)
  3. Smith and Jones (B+)
  4. Utopia/The Sound of Drums/Last of the Time Lords (B+)
  5. The Lazarus Experiment (B+)
  6. Gridlock (B+)
  7. The Shakespeare Code (B)
  8. 42 (B)
  9. The Runaway Bride (B-)
  10. Daleks in Manhattan/Evolution of the Daleks (C-)

Ranking the Supporting Characters - Series 3

  1. Sally Sparrow - Blink
  2. Laurence Nightingale - Blink
  3. Joan Redfern - Human Nature/The Family of Blood
  4. Captain Jack Harkness - Utopia/The Sound of Drums/Last of the Time Lords
  5. Francine Jones - The Lazarus Experiment
  6. Thomas Brannigan - Gridlock
  7. William Shakespeare - The Shakespeare Code
  8. Tish Jones - The Lazarus Experiment
  9. Billy Shipton - Blink
  10. Chantho - Utopia/The Sound of Drums/Last of the Time Lords

Ranking the Villains - Series 3

  1. The Master - Utopia/The Sound of Drums/Last of the Time Lords
  2. The Weeping Angels - Blink
  3. Richard Lazarus - The Lazarus Experiment
  4. The Family of Blood - Human Nature/The Family of Blood
  5. Florence Finnegan - Smith and Jones
  6. The Toclafane - Utopia/The Sound of Drums/Last of the Time Lords
  7. Hal Korwin - 42
  8. The Judoon - Smith and Jones
  9. The Cult of Skaro - Daleks in Manhattan/Evolution of the Daleks
  10. The Macra - Gridlock