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Doctor Who: The Sound of Drums

Doctor: "Don't you see, all we've got is each other?"
Saxon: "Are you asking me out on a date?"

I'm usually easy to please. And there was so much that was promising in the "Utopia" set-up, too. But no. So let's go with my standard "good bits bad bits."

The good bits were pretty much everything with the Doctor, Jack and Martha. I really envied Martha, who got to hang out and run for her life with two gorgeous immortals wearing cool coats. (Why do immortals always wear long, gorgeous coats? Duncan MacLeod did, too.)

I liked Jack finally being able to tell the Doctor that he'd rebuilt and changed Torchwood in his honor. I liked the perception-shifting keys, even though they were more magical than logical; I like magic at times. I liked the flashes of Gallifrey. I even liked the Doctor's attempts to get through to the Master.

But the Master was laughable, and I'm using that word for a specific reason. His silly ridiculing quips were supposed to be chilling, but he just didn't come off as Caligula, which I can only assume was their intention. He wasn't frightening. He wasn't even funny. I kept wanting to smack him and tell him to behave himself. There was just no subtlety in his evil; it was painted in such broad strokes that it was just too much. Why oh why didn't they give Derek Jacobi a ton of money and keep him on board for all three parts? He's so brilliant he might have been able to pull it off.

Not only that, but the Master's distasteful cheap shots made no sense. How could an alien Time Lord suffer from the human foibles of sexism and homophobia, especially since he seemed so obsessed with the Doctor? Plus, when you destroy so many people and such a huge part of the world, you can be certain there will be some sort of reset button.

So a very elderly Doctor, Jack and the Jones family are imprisoned on an immense flying aircraft carrier. The TARDIS has been turned into a paradox machine. We still don't know what the Toclafane spheres are, but they're definitely psychotic, like the Master. Only Martha is free somewhere on Earth with Jack's vortex manipulator watch. Help me, Martha-wan Kenobe Jones. You're my only hope.

Bits and pieces:

-- At least there was good prep work for this. The John Smith two-parter. The Lazarus genetic manipu-whatever. Jack's obsession with the hand during the first season of Torchwood. Looks like they re-used the Downing Street sets from the Slitheen episodes, too.

-- Reporter Mrs. Rook went to first lady Lucy Saxon, certain she was innocent. Like the first lady couldn't possibly be in collusion with her husband. How incredibly stupid. At least Rook had backup.

-- Chips and jelly babies. I've never actually known what a jelly baby is.

-- Jack mentioned that Saxon was the minister of defense who first came to prominence when he shot down the Racnoss on Christmas Eve. I thought the whole alien thing wasn't being accepted by much of the public, though?

-- Saxon sent the rest of Torchwood on a wild goose chase to the Himalayas. Glad they covered that base.

-- The American president said he was the "president elect." That means he was just elected but hasn't become president yet, like Obama last December while Bush was still in office. Big oops.

-- The Master killed Jack with a laser screwdriver, and expressed a desire to do it again.

Paul Kelly says...

I really enjoyed "Utopia". Derek Jacobi was brilliant as the Master. Consequently, John Simm was always going to struggle. The bar had been set too high. It's not that Simm is a bad actor (he was superb in The Lakes and Life on Mars), it's just that Russell T. Davies screwed up his characterization of the Master. He tried to make him too zany, what with the face pulling, the Joker-esque gas pranks, and the zipping his mouth shut (I wish someone had). He was just a total arse head, and, unfortunately, his over-the-top personality stripped him of all menace. The rest of the cast tried to look frightened, but nobody really convinced.

We had quite a few celebrity cameos, too. There was ex-shadow home secretary, and all round beauty, Ann Widdecombe; British pop (pap?) band McFly; and last, and certainly least, Sharon Osbourne. He can tick my box any day? Dear God, is this what we've been reduced to?

The only parts of this episode which held my interest, were the brief glimpses of Gallifrey, and the Doctor waxing lyrical about his now dead home world. Plus, we got a fascinating insight into the Master's childhood, and how, as part of his initiation into the academy, he stared into time and space, only to go completely mad. But his recent regeneration must surely have unhinged him further. He was never as whacky as this, surely?

And for Billie's benefit (and anyone else who hasn't tasted the sickly little fellows), Jelly Babies are an English sweet (candy) made from a soft, sticky, jelly-like substance and shaped like a baby. They're not unlike Gummi Bears, though the texture is quite different -- Jelly Babies are soft in the middle with a harder outer crust.


Doctor: "The Master was always sort of hypnotic, but this is on a massive scale."

Saxon: "Doctor."
Doctor: "Master."
Saxon: "I like it when you use my name."
Doctor: "You chose it. Psychiatrist's field day."

Jack: "So, Doctor. Who is he? How come the ancient society of Time Lords created a psychopath?" Good question.

Doctor: "Some would be inspired. Some would run away. And some would go mad." The Doctor said he ran away. Guess we know what the Master did.

Doctor: "Oh! I know what it's like. It's like when you fancy someone and they don't even know you exist. That's what it's like. Come on!"
(Martha looks at Jack. Jack looks at Martha.)
Jack: "You too, huh?"
Billie Doux loves good television and spends way too much time writing about it.


  1. I enjoyed the Master in this arc but I can understand where you're coming from too.

    However sexism/homophobia aside, the Master does seem to have a weird stalker ex-boyfriend type of dynamic with the Doctor as well.

    Lucy intrigued me a lot. Sort of Drusilla-ish with the dancing, except she seems to have two left feet.

    The jellybaby, it's a sweet and one the Fourth Doctor often had. He threatened a villain with one in an old story so it's an in-joke.

    Martha really gets put through the ringer. The Master aged the Doctor, killed Jack and used her family as hostages when he wasn't ordering the Toclafane to kill everyone.

    Good review as always.

    I hate Sharon Osbourne. I'm not even going to pretend to be PC. I'd give that woman a right kick up the backside. The other camoes were fine.

    John Simm also played Caligula as well in something.

  2. OH MY GOD. You don't have jelly babies in the US?! What a desolate wasteland of sweeties it must be. I hope you at least have sherbet lemons :-) Thanks for the review Billie, I don't watch Dr Who much but might have to see the McFly cameo at least.

  3. The point of having the Master characterized as such is to contrast him with Tennant's Doctor. One of the Doctor most enduring qualities is to use humor in the face of danger to make everyone feel safer. By having the Master then use humor to create a sense of danger strips the Doctor of one of his best qualities.

  4. Billie - you forgot that Spike was an immortal who also had a long coat ;)

    I really liked the story concept of this one. There was just a problem of certain bits of dialogue and then how the actor had to do things with those lines.

    I didn't understand the whole running away theme that was in this. It was a loose strand that just didn't quite fit.

  5. I believe there is another major fail from Martha like I posted in the previous episode. The Master was crouching right next to her, looking at the aged Doctor - wasn't Martha supposed to put her key on The Master to reveal his 'real' self to the world? Instead she panics and teleports away. I suppose they needed another episode. ;)

  6. Agreed wholeheartedly with you on the Master here, Billie and Paul. He feels goofy and lacks any real menace behind the silliness instead of being like the Joker when he's done well with the right mix of humor and menace.

    I knew about Jelly Babies thanks to Tom Baker being my first Doctor, and he brings them up a lot. they sound delicious, not going to lie!

    I admit too that it irks me that the Master has had this sound of drums in his head going back to his childhood, but it was of course never mentioned back when Delgado played him in the 70s. Retconning stuff is often not something I like, but this feels real ham-fisted to me. And to answer those asking earlier; Delgado was very much a debonair, suave villain as the Master, Ainley was almost always over the top but not intentionally goofy, so not until Simms took over did he get 'wacky'.

  7. The "Jelly Babies" thing reminds me of an amusing exchange from one of the episodes with the Fourth Doctor:

    (Romana is eating a Jelly Baby)
    DOCTOR: Where did you get that?
    ROMANA: The same place you get them.
    DOCTOR: Where's that?
    ROMANA: Your pocket.


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