Doctor Who: Revisiting THE SOUND OF DRUMS / LAST OF THE TIMELORDS - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Hannah hears the sound of drums…
A promising election campaign followed by the decimation of life as we know it at the hands of a sociopath. I will forgive you for believing I am referring to the 2010 coalition government (or the Brexit referendum for that matter). No, there was a simpler time when this sentence was just the summary of the series three finale of Doctor Who.

As a young Millennial, my first true taste of the Doctor and his adventures was through the 2005 reboot, and I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t watch it religiously when it first aired - Saturday night was family night and my family are not particularly Who-orientated - so The Sound of Drums and Last of the Timelords was the first finale I watched as it aired: nose pressed against the screen of a 9 inch CRT in the ‘back room’.

But does it still fill me with the same sense of awe as it did back then? Admittedly, I’m watching it on a bigger screen now and I am twice as old as I was when it first aired. I have come, over time, to understand a lot more than I did back in 2007 (or so I hope) and with that knowledge I can now see this two-part story for what it really is.
The two-part finale carries a lot of weight; it introduces us to the new incarnation of The Master, an old friend-turned-enemy of the Doctor, and we say goodbye to Martha. The parting of ways - now that’s how you do a companion exit! - between the Doctor and his companion is usually a solemn affair, but quite honestly, I was crossing my fingers for this one, the unrequited puppy love was starting to wear thin.

One of the most impressive things about these episodes is how the intensity of John Simm’s performance seems an almost parody of the smouldering drama David Tennant has brought to the Doctor up to this point. This is helped by some very clever camerawork, especially in the Last of the Time Lords, cutting hastily between two angles making Simm’s speech seem even more panicked and garbled. This intensity allows Tennant to be calm, compassionate Doctor: No fun quips or crooked smiles and winks, just an old man who has lost too many friends. When you put the two of them together you truly begin to feel that you are standing at the feet of gods, although, admittedly I am thinking more Loki and Thor than Hel and Odin.
Now, let’s stop fawning over Simm and Tennant and take a minute to talk about the secondary villains, the Toclafane. Born of the last civilization of humans we see in Utopia, the Toclafane are spherical death machines housing, what looks like, miniature Face of Boes (Shoutout to Last of the Timelords for introducing us to the ‘Jack Harkness is the Face of Boe’ theory that no-one asked for). Their motivation is somewhat unclear; they survived to see the universe collapse and therefore want to go carve up their ancestors? I’m not really buying it.

I understand the Toclafane exist solely for a ‘humans were the bad guys all along’ moment, but come on RTD, you’re better than this. With the existence of a paradox machine and the not so gentle nudging in the Master’s dialogue you may as well have put a big neon sign that flashes ‘Very Clever Twist Incoming’ in the middle of the Valiant boardroom.
The Toclafane and their origin provide a little bit of a problem thematically in Last of the Timelords. The resolution of this episode relies heavily on one of Russel T. Davies most overused finale recipes: Deus Ex Machina with just a sprinkle of retcon. Whilst the Toclafane’s motivation is explained as what happens when humans lose hope, the key to restoring the Doctor from Dobby to Deity is his unwavering belief in the power of prayer. AND. IT. WORKS. Add in the quick demolition of the Tardis console room (which is magically fixed in time for the Titanic to crash through it) and we’re introduced to ‘The Year that Never Was’. Everybody is alive and well and there are no real consequences. Oh, apart from the death of the president, which I feel would be a bit more of a logistical issue than the Doctor portrays it as.
Across both episodes, there is so much to love: the dialogue is fantastically written and beautifully brought to life by the cast, Tennant really stretching out his acting chops as he battles his oldest friend and the numerous subplots that lay as a backdrop to the overarching narrative of good versus evil, truth versus hope. What we see are two ancients duking it out. Martha putting her big girl boots on to moon over the Doctor to anyone with ears before finally telling him she’s over him.

But the story we should have been watching was hiding in subtext: The story of the once happy wife, now covered in bruises and meek, finally facing her aggressor. The story of a doctor who sacrificed his own life to ferry around a love-struck Martha. The story of mankind rising up against their oppressors, ever resistant to the Darkness; not waiting for Jesus in a pinstriped suit to fly out of his cave and press the reset button.

Preferring the company of fictional characters to living, breathing people; it should come as no surprise that Hannah is a connoisseur of all things geek. Whilst their body resides in the capital of Wales, their heart resides in Middle-Earth and their mind remains firmly lodged in the memory of that embarrassing thing they did when they were eight.

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