The Sound of Drums

Region 1
box set

Region 2
box set
Region 2
3-episode volume
(Doctor Who Story No. 192, starring David Tennant)
  • written by Russell T. Davies
  • directed by Colin Teague
  • produced by Phil Collinson
  • music by Murray Gold
  • 2 episodes:
    1. The Sound of Drums @ 45 minutes
    2. Last of the Time Lords @ 51 minutes!
Story: The Doctor, Martha, and Captain Jack Harkness resist against the Master's rise to the dominant power on present-day Earth. Who are the Toclophane aliens that the Master has scheduled for Earth's first open public first contact? What secrets lay hidden in the bowels of UNIT's new sky-borne aircraft carrier? And why does Martha embark on a quest across the continents?

DVD Extras (box sets only) include:

  • Episode One audio commentary by producer Phil Collinson and executive producer Julie Gardner.
  • Episode Two audio commentary by producer Phil Collinson, executive producer Julie Gardner, and writer Russell T. Davies.
  • Doctor Who Confidential featurette: The Saxon Mystery (12 min.) with Davies, Collinson, David Tennant (The Doctor),
    Freema Agyeman (Martha), and John Simm (The Master).
  • Doctor Who Confidential featurette: The Valiant Quest (7 min.) with Tennant, Davies, director Colin Teague, and
    visual effects supervisors Barney Curnow & Will Cohen.
  • David Tennant's Video Diaries (16 min.) with Tennant, Teague, Simm, Barrowman, Agyeman, Collinson,
    Alexandra Moen (Lucy Saxon), production manager Tracie Simpson, prosthetics designer Neill Gorton,
    "spark" lighting technician Clive Johnson, and sound recordist Jon "J.T." Thomas.
  • Extended Scene (deleted & extended scenes season total: 18 min.)
  • BBC One trailer promos


  • Freema Agyeman's Studio Tour of the Doctor Who / Torchwood / Sarah Jane Adventures sets & offices (18 min.), with Phil Collinson,
    construction chargehand Allen Jones, props fabrication manager Barry Jones, art department coordinator Matt North,
    assistant editor Tim Hodges, voice artist Nick Briggs, costume supervisor Lindsay Bonaccorsi,
    and containing SPOILERS for "Voyage of the Damned" and other stories found on future box sets.

Buyers' Guide Review

by Martin Izsak

(A more in-depth analysis, containing "SPOILERS" and intended for those who have already seen the program, can be accessed here.)

A great deal of momentum carries Season 29 into its finale, where it gradually digs itself into the rut of modern season arc formulae and ill-conceived plot ideas, until its primary conflict gradually falls apart. Davies essentially puts fewer and fewer of the things we tune in to see in the writing as the story progresses. Are there enough good subsidiary bits to salvage this tale? Read on....

Our main characters and setting are introduced in a manner which makes for a nice bit of variety and works very well. Sadly, several disappointing elements pile on very quickly.

First of all is the Earthly setting itself. We've seen too much of Earth in the past three years, and while we've probably had more alien planet settings this year than before, they've all been for the shorter stories. The big stories have blown all chances at taking us across the galaxy as they should. Uggh.

Worse is the fact that the program's recent obsession with the British Government continues unchecked until it becomes, essentially, the holy grail. Back in "Aliens of London" (story no. 164), Russell Davies had something poignant to say about world leadership making the exercise worthwhile. Here, it oozes a sense of being overused, and goes far to make the story feel far more small-scale than what this show deserves, particularly for a finale.

Thirdly, the manner in which the returning arch-villain of the Master has been written is a disappointing injustice. Having decided to rely on some over-used technology for his powers of mesmerism and mass-hypnosis, our evil mastermind now feels he has little need for any sense of his former charm, charisma, and elegance, and decides instead that he can be as obnoxious, irritating, and ridiculous as he pleases and still get away with it. It goes down with Doctor Who fans about as well as Jar Jar Binks did with Star Wars fans. In other words, don't be surprised to see a hacked fan edit of this story with a line and circle over the Master's face, advertising "70% less idiot" on the front cover.

Who's That Under Your Spell?

Poor plot mechanics are also at work to make this far less than believable, by having virtually none of the hypnotized masses get any screen time whatsoever. We see character after character getting irritated and upset at the Master's shenanigans, but not what is compelling them to continue to accept his rule. Where are the shots of the faces of those who are mesmerized by the Master's power?

It all points to the absence of a healthy goals vs. barrier structure for the middle act of the plot, to provide challenges which the Doctor and co. should be able to sink their teeth into. After having roped in a large recurring cast, Davies gives them little to do other than get locked in the prisoner dynamic, and most idiotically, keeps the Doctor locked in it with them as well.

A good chunk of the screen time is devoted to Martha, producing essentially the third Doctor-less story of the season. Sadly, this is also the least effective one of the bunch. Martha's story strand gets a few interesting beats, particularly when her group embarks upon an action sequence in order to make additional important discoveries. But in the end, Martha's efforts prove to have been an over-complicated way to really just run around looking for the return of the Doctor - a thumbs down motivation for any Doctor-less story.

This is such an antithesis of a great story, one shakes one's head wondering what the production team were thinking, or how they can sit and swoon over how great they still think it is on the DVD audio commentary. Having massive logistical complications for a story and figuring out how to pull it all off on time and on budget doesn't necessarily produce a great story. Creating new worlds and alien cultures in which to set the story automatically reduces those logistics by about half, because you no longer need to provide all the present-day Earthly details that the audience should recognize - instead you have the freedom to create situations with logistics that better suit your budget/schedule and enhance your story. Doctor Who needs to be "out there" in the galaxy to become truly epic, and it will be so much easier and more rewarding. In other words, don't be afraid of the quarry as alien planet, or the enclosed set with just a few establishing optical shots. These things can so easily take you out there and give you the freedom to let your characters play and impact each other and leave their mark on a world.

Mythology's Quest

It is important to note that the story is not a complete write-off. The first episode in particular has a number of nice beats as our heroic trio explores the nature and scope of the Master's plans, and comes to grips with who he is. Indeed, John Simm proves he can turn in an excellent performance as the Master when proper scenes are written for him. The Master is in particularly fine form in the middle of the first episode, with his first confrontational words directly with the Doctor being a good highlight.

Perhaps best of all is the Doctor's flashback to the Master's origins on Gallifrey, fully fleshed out with audio-visuals including a musical theme for Gallifrey and all the symbolic costumes and regality one remembers from the good old days of this decades-old program. And so we sort of get another alien planet without actually getting our characters there to interact. Most bizarre of all, while the old program was typically good at establishing alien settings with models, but had somehow neglected to ever create a model or any other means of an establishing shot for one of the most often visited and important alien locations in its long history, Doctor Who now presents its first ever view of the domed Capitol building and city on Gallifrey, complete with panoramic view of the majestic surrounding landscape and a poetic voice-over narration from David Tennant - all for a story that doesn't actually go there. Yes, weird. But we'll take excellence wherever we can get it. Thank you!

I will also praise the imagination and spiritual nature of the Doctor's glorious table-turning moment leading into the conclusion of this story, which was very beautifully executed on screen. I just don't think it was worth the number of useless scenes that came before it.

Similarly to "Doomsday" (story no. 181), Davies is sacrificing good plot stratagems to focus on the discovery of as many ideas, recurring characters, and themes as possible, cramming them into the finale willy-nilly whether or not it makes much sense. U.N.I.T.'s appearance here is once more of the half-hearted variety that we saw in the later Philip Hinchcliffe era. Unless one is prepared to resurrect the great cast charm that we used to get with recurring guest actors like Nicholas Courtney, John Levene, Richard Franklin, and Ian Marter, the exercise of bringing U.N.I.T. back is hardly worthwhile. U.N.I.T. is largely faceless in this story, apart from U.S. President Arthur Winters. His minimal screen time and other more important duties won't begin to fit the bill, although actor Colin Stinton does such a marvellous job of the role that he easily upstages the Master. Well done.

And U.N.I.T. has to now compete with Torchwood within this story. John Barrowman seems much more comfortable with himself and his role as Jack Harkness than he did in Season 27, boosting his already considerable charisma up a notch, and making his added presence to the show very welcome.

Davies' obsession with the human race proceeds full blast as he focuses on it once again in this story. If we had actually been out to see some of the other civilizations and cultures that Martha wants to refer to in this story, it probably would have worked much better. Instead it's only worthy of a groan in audience response, as we wonder why, yet again, the writers are unable to come up with anything more original.

Parallel Paradox

One of the most important ideas behind this story's plot rests on very misguided ideas of temporal mechanics, and both the writer and his characters have proven that they ought to know better by now. Luckily, the visuals in the story can support both poor and excellent explanations for what happened, so we can put this plot's bad points down to characters not understanding what actually happens.

In short, the better explanation is encapsulated in my favourite line from "Doomsday", which Davies wrote: "Every single decision we make creates a parallel existence, a different dimension...." (Yes, I'll be hanging Davies by this line everytime he commits a sin against it). Too bad this story doesn't have a character who can explain events from this perspective, because it would really elevate the tale. Of course, you know where to find my explanation for events.... in the In-depth Analysis version of this review, along with all the SPOILERS you won't want to know until you've seen the story yourself.

Psychiatrist's Field Day

Despite his other character problems, the Master's traditional motivations seem to work fairly well. In some senses he is working to regain what he had before, or rather something that existed before and, though not really his, provided him with some level of comfort.

He also has a particularly grand ambition to work towards, rebuilding a new version of society with himself at its head. And it seems he has resolved a previous issue with his lifestyle of choice, practically abandoning all known desire to travel through time and space as a loner, and choosing instead to surround himself with billions of minions in a command structure, and even taking a wife to boot. It almost doesn't seem like him.... and will probably spark more debate amongst fans.

And revenge remains a side-consideration as it should, as he continues to enjoy his sparring with the Doctor and finds as many ways as he can think of to draw out that process and get his kicks out of it. It does believably feel like overcompensation for the fear that he showed in his nightmares in "The Mind of Evil" (story no. 56).

Extra motivation is added via the new inner expression of his obsessive madness. This seems plausible and okay if it were a recent addition, such as a result of experiences during his latest adventures. I'm not sure I can buy it as something that's been in play since he was eight. Whatever.

"I guess you don't know me so well"

The story's wrap-up is quite lengthy. We don't mind, since it seems to contain more substance than the main conflict, and has a few really nice, worthwhile scenes. Captain Jack's portion of the wrap-up is probably the best bit of all. His revelation is thrown away in a nicely ambiguous fashion as well - is he merely pulling the Doctor's leg and keeping a very straight face?

Once more, Murray Gold throws the gamut at us during the season finale, making this one of the richest, most dynamic, and most varied of quality of the year's scores. "Boe" is probably the best track I've ever heard him create - every human should listen to this piece at least once per day to help promote wisdom, longevity, and their own inner peace. Superb! His track for Gallifrey also deserves maximum praise.

While tracks like "Martha's Quest" are typical good quality orchestral movie-music, Gold takes greater chances with "The Master Vainglorious", mixing good bold grandness with stranger synthesizer sounds, swirling in some schoolyard prank riffs, and a sizeable dose of loud harsh repetitiveness. It definitely matches the mad version of the Master that we get, thus it works well in that sense.... but if that version of the character was not the greatest idea, perhaps it would have been better to emphasize something else musically.

Other tracks like "The Master Tape" get just plain ugly to the ear; thankfully the show only used a short bit of it. Why it was included on CD instead of other more worthy selections from the season, I'll never know. But perhaps the worst music of the story are the source pieces that the Master and his wife "rock" to, which always seem to be used in a context designed to disgust the audience. Disgust, really? It shouldn't be any wonder that fans don't regard this as anything near the greatest story ever.

And of course we can't leave this story and without discussing the actual "sound of drums" itself. I'm not sure whose idea it was to use the rhythm of the main Doctor Who theme song for this, although thankfully in some instances Murray Gold embellishes this making it less recognizable. But borrowing this rhythm here is about as unoriginal as it was when Dudley Simpson borrowed it as the basis for his Dalek theme in "The Evil of the Daleks" (story no. 36). That rhythm is best suited to express the Doctor's wandering restlessness, his urge to continue from world to world, and age to age. That's how it's been anchored to us via the show's theme music. Need something for a whole new aspect of a completely different character? Something completely new would have been better.

Music by Murray Gold
"The Master Vainglorious", "Martha's Theme",
"Martha's Quest", "Yana (Excerpt)",
"All the Strange, Strange Creatures",
"This is Gallifrey: Our Childhood, Our Home",
"The Master Tape", "Blink",
"Martha Triumphant", "Boe",
and an alternate version of: "The Doctor Forever"
are available on:
Audio CD - Doctor Who:
Original Music from "Series 3"

More info & buying options

"UNIT", and an alternate version of
"The Doctor's Theme" are available on:
Audio CD - Doctor Who by Murray Gold
Silva Screen SILCD1224

More info & buying options

Well, "The Sound of Drums" was definitely less than I'd expected from this year's season finale. While many stories had built up our anticipation for an active heroic Doctor facing challenges worthy of his skills, only "Smith and Jones" (story no. 183) delivered the way I'd hoped. This story makes some useful additions to "Utopia" (story no. 191), but sadly it remains unsatisfying and less than believable, as well as a disappointment. The anticipation of the return of the Master had also been seriously under-delivered. And so "Smith and Jones" continues to top my list of season favourites. "The Sound of Drums" by contrast can't really compete with the superior "Human Nature" (story no. 189), or any of the marvellous shorter off-planet adventures this season (most of which were also written by Davies), or even "Blink" (story no. 190). This year's season finale only achieves a very mediocre rank. In fact, head writer Russell T. Davies seems to do so much better when just writing a one-off story, maybe that should be what he focuses on, and let someone else have a go at the season openers and finishes for a change.

Little did I realize how Davies would surprise me the following year by being excellent precisely where my expectations were lowest....

Season 29 Rankings:

Best Story:

  1. Smith and Jones
  2. Human Nature
  3. Utopia
  4. 42
  5. Gridlock
  6. Blink
  7. The Shakespeare Code
  8. The Sound of Drums
  9. The Runaway Bride
  10. Evolution of the Daleks
  11. The Lazarus Experiment

Best Music (all Murray Gold):

  1. Gridlock
  2. 42
  3. Human Nature
  4. Smith and Jones
  5. Utopia
  6. The Sound of Drums
  7. Blink
  8. The Shakespeare Code
  9. The Runaway Bride
  10. The Lazarus Experiment
  11. Evolution of the Daleks

Best Writer:

  1. Chris Chibnall (42)
  2. Russell T. Davies (Smith and Jones, Utopia, Gridlock, The Sound of Drums, The Runaway Bride)
  3. Steven Moffat (Blink)
  4. Paul Cornell (Human Nature)
  5. Gareth Roberts (The Shakespeare Code)
  6. Helen Raynor (Evolution of the Daleks)
  7. Stephen Greenhorn (The Lazarus Experiment)
(Why did we not get more from writers
Matt Jones, Tom MacRae, and Toby Whithouse
who aced last year's rankings?)

Best Director:

  1. Hettie MacDonald (Blink)
  2. Charles Palmer (Smith and Jones, Human Nature, The Shakespeare Code)
  3. Graeme Harper (Utopia, 42)
  4. Colin Teague (The Sound of Drums)
  5. Euros Lyn (The Runaway Bride)
  6. Richard Clark (Gridlock, The Lazarus Experiment)
  7. James Strong (Evolution of the Daleks)

This story has become available on DVD:
DVD NTSC Region 1
14-episode boxed set
for the North American market:

DVD PAL Region 2
14-episode boxed set
for the U.K.
DVD PAL Region 2
plain 3-episode volume
U.K. format only

Note: The full season sets contain commentaries, behind-the-scenes featurettes, and other extras. The smaller volumes only feature the plain episodes.

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Read the Buyers' Guide Review for the next Doctor Who event: "Time Crash"

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