Peoples of the Earth,
please attend carefully..."
PLOTLINE (OFFICIAL BBC PRESS OFFICE TEXT)
Harry Saxon becomes Prime Minister and his reign of terror begins - but that's only the start of his ambitions, as he announces mankind's first contact with an alien race, the Toclafane.
An audacious plan spanning the whole of time and space begins to close around the Earth.
Can you hear the beat? Ambitiously exhilarating.
THE DOCTOR: He's Prime Minister. The Master, the Prime Minister of Great Britain.
And his Wife!
If there was a more revelatory pre-title sequence in the NEW SERIES then this is it. The opening gambit in another "long game" eloquently crafted by Russell T Davies - does this man have no free-time or lack of plots whirling around inside his brain? - that forms part two of the series' first trilogy.
Following the "two Act" (misbalanced but heart clenchingly thrilling) UTOPIA, THE SOUND OF THE DRUMS was the perfect antidote - threatening, funnier (in a clever and astute character observation way) than the critically acclaimed Douglas Adam's 1979 script, DOCTOR WHO - CITY OF DEATH, and consummately acted by the leads.
Tennant challenges his outstanding acting flair to depict a Time Lord tormented with the anguish of knowing that he has to defeat his fellow Gallifreyan and yet remorseful for the fact that he has to defeat the only other surviving Gallifreyan. A singular "catch-22". However, the Doctor adopts the wisdom of Oscar Wilde; "Always forgive your enemies - nothing annoy them so much", whilst the Master spurns the Doctor's "love" (in effect, a desperation to be with his own kind - the very heart of all living being's need for survival - and to belong) by an act of suicide. It seems, at least.
Fans have commented that it was brave of Russell T Davies to re-invent the Master in such a (almost) "comic" and "tah-dah" clownish fashion (with a hint of lecherousness), polarised from the suave and chilling performance established by Roger Delgado (on-screen from 1971-1973) and the swan-like performance in the early appearances of Anthony Ainley (1980-81). However, the pitch was exquisite, with the mentally challenged manifesting itself as critical rudeness & witty exchanges (as demonstrated at the first face-gurning Cabinet Meeting and, later, on the airstrip as he meets President Winters):
THE MASTER (talking to the Doctor on the mobile): Are you asking me out on a date?
The chilling persona is there. Subtle and less "moustache-twirling" (yes, I would have given John Simm the iconic facial hair.) than both Delgado and Ainley.
THE MASTER: Doctor.
THE DOCTOR : Master.
THE MASTER: I like it when you use my name.
THE DOCTOR: You chose it.
The Master's "thank you" speech at the Cabinet Meeting was stunningly threatening, illustrating to the viewer that the character was both grounded and deranged, unhinged and vindictive even to his "colleagues".
Continuity note: The "Cabinet Room gas extermination" scene was only flawed by sloppy direction. The Master puts on his gas mask upside down only to have it shown correctly immediately afterwards in the following camera cut.
The scene was set for a the ultimate Time Lord showdown. Combined with a new version of the Master's iconic theme music, sounding like a 1978 Datsun Sunny car horn on steroids, by Murray Gold and the battle lines are drawn.
Continuity note: Did you notice that the Master and the Doctor (both Ninth and Tenth) wear the same style of wristwatch? Good continuity since 2005 NEW SERIES.
One of the brave inclusions - yet probably key not only to new fans/casual viewers but to the establishment of why the Master is so "power crazed" - was the "flashback" to the Master's initiation - at the age of eight - into the Gallifreyan Academy. Captivated by the raw energy of the Untempered Schism (a portal into the fabric of reality through which the entire Time Vortex is seen). Here, most Initiates will turn and run but the young Master stayed, transfixed. The Doctor ran with the others.
THE MASTER (after killing Captain Jack): Laser Screwdriver. Who'd have Sonic? The good thing is he's not dead for long. I get to kill him again.
A new section of previously unexplored Time Lord history that will make fans salivate for decades to some. Whom else did the Untempered Schism transfix? The Meddling Monk? The Rani? Borusa?
Whilst the plot and dialogue was equally transfixing, viewers may have missed or merely accepted the excellent of the production overall.
The special effects were aptly titled. Special. The computer generated Valiant (and Toclafane aliens) demonstrated - again - the skill of The MillTV as did the inspiring prosthetic make-up for the "aged" Doctor (that echoed that used in THE FAMILY OF BLOOD). All were matched, once again, by a rattling incidental score from Murray Gold.
Colin Teague's directorial DOCTOR WHO debut was suitably creative and engaging, and with a considerable level of location filming (including a dry-mouth explosion in sububria, and seemingly endless night shoots) the overall "feel" of the episode (and the next, I guess) was more James Bond 007 than BBC1 Saturday night drama series made in/around Cardiff.
THE SOUND OF DRUMS was a hybrid, character-led DOCTOR WHO story - like BOOM TOWN and more satisfying than the "shoot-them-up" battle of Canary Wharf in SERIES 2 and one that will replayed for decades to come.