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Recap / Doctor Who S29 E12 "The Sound of Drums"

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"That's him. He's Prime Minister. The Master is Prime Minister of Great Britain... the Master... and his wife?"
The Doctor

The one with the drumming — and decimation set to "Voodoo Child". Also, a rare correct usage of the word "decimation".

Written by Russell T. Davies.

The Doctor, Martha and Jack return to 21st century Earth, using Jack's (quickly fixed) Vortex manipulator. The Master has been on Earth for 18 months, limited by the Doctor's last-ditch block of the TARDIS controls. As for the reason he'd been living as a human: he was resurrected by the Time Lords to fight in the Time War, saw what was required of him, and ran as fast as he could to the end of the universe.

It turns out the Master is actually Mr. Harold Saxon, who has been elected Prime Minister, and the first order of business is killing his Cabinet. Using the Archangel phone network, he's not only blocked his own Time Lord energy from alerting the Doctor, but subtly brainwashed most of the population into trusting him and accepting his fabricated life story. The brainwashing signal is encoded into a four-beat rhythm that's been in the back of his head ever since he was a child. (This will be very important in a few series.)


This incarnation of the Master turns out to be just as manic as Ten, combined with a real love for mocking people, dancing to catchy pop music and snogging his very hot — and very hypnotised — wife, Lucy. The Doctor phones him up, leading to one very special conversation:

The Master: Doctor?
The Doctor: Master.
The Master: [sigh] I like it when you use my name.
The Doctor: You chose it. Psychiatrist's field day.
[about half a minute of exposition later]
The Doctor: I've been alone ever since. But not any more. Don't you see? All we've got is each other.
The Master: ...Are you asking me out on a date?

Anyway, Saxon labels the three as fugitives and they end up on the run. Also, the TARDIS, which had been restricted by the Doctor to only travel between now and the end of time, has been turned into a Paradox Machine.


Jack and Martha share a moment when they realise they're both crushing on the Doctor, though he appears to be Oblivious to Love. The Doctor also talks about an event that Gallifreyan children go through before they can enter the academy: they have to look into the Untempered Schism, which shows all of time. Apparently this drove the Master mad.

Eventually the three sneak on board the Valiant, holding TARDIS keys with perception filters. Here, the Master alleges to be arranging first contact with a race of aliens called the Toclafane. But that's a name from a Gallifreyan fairytale — whatever these creatures are, they're lying, and the Master is parading it under everyone's noses.

The perception filters fail to work on the Master, and all three of our heroes are soon caught. The Toclafane assassinate the US President (who, with the help of UNIT, attempted to take command of the situation away from the Master), and the Master reveals he has started using a laser screwdriver as opposed to a sonic, and sics the weapon on his nemesis. The Doctor is heavily aged by the Lazarus technology, using the hand from the Sycorax fight that Jack used the last episode. Badly weakened, he demands to know who the Toclafane really are, but all the Master says is that the truth would break his hearts.

With the whole world watching, the Master gets to the point: tough luck, Puny Earthlings, it's the end of the world.


"Here come the drums, here come the drums!"

The Paradox Machine kicks into gear and the sky itself seems to tear open, disgorging six billion Toclafane. At the Master's command, they begin to literally decimate the population. Martha teleports herself to Earth, still holding a perception filter, swearing that she will return.


  • A God Am I: Invoked by the Master, who asks the Doctor if he felt this way destroying the Time Lords and Daleks.
    The Master: Two almighty civilisations burning...You must have been like God!
  • Abandoned Warehouse: Team TARDIS hides out in one after they become fugitives.
  • Airborne Aircraft Carrier: The Valiant, a homage to Cloudbase.
  • Americans Are Cowboys: When Saxon greets President Winters on the Valiant, he offers him a "tea, or isn't that American enough? I don't know, I could make grits?"
  • Anonymous Ringer: President Winters, who bemusedly offers to accept "mastery" over the aliens "if that is God's will".
  • Apocalypse How: At the episode's end, the Master has succeeded in inflicting a Class 1 and conquering Earth (not necessarily in that order) via the Toclafane's Alien Invasion. We see the After the End results in the next episode.
  • Artistic License – Politics: Winters refers to himself as "President-elect", which would mean he's won a Presidental election but hasn't been sworn in yet, meaning the outgoing President is still in charge. Davies later admitted that he didn't know what the term actually meant, and had assumed it to be a longer ceremonial title of the POTUS (presumably to emphasise that he's democratically elected rather than having seized power by force or obtained his position through a more bureaucratic process, which he would of course want to do when introducing himself to alien visitors).
  • Asshole Victim: President Winters. He starts by berating Saxon (and the UK) for not following UN protocols for First Contact, only to have the US seize control over the situation, then hypocritically order his aides to make sure his presidential seal (and not the UN logo) is being shown during the ceremony. The Master is naturally very relieved when he finally gets to order the Toclafane to disintegrate him. Similarly, because this takes place before the Master enacts his plan, Winters' death ends up sticking after time is reversed in the next episode.
  • Big Brother Is Watching: The Master uses all the tools of the modern security state to his advantage.
  • Big, Stupid Doodoo-Head: The Doctor blows out a security camera the Master is using to watch him.
    The Master: Ooh, you... public menace! Better start running!
  • Big "WHAT?!": The Doctor, when Saxon announces the First Contact with the Toclafane. We later find this is because that's the name of a Time Lord boogeyman.
  • Black Comedy:
    • The cabinet ministers being gassed to death — after the Master insults them all.
    • Vivien Rook's death involves being cut up into little pieces — but we only hear her increasingly high-pitched shrieks while the Master winces and mugs.
  • Board to Death: The Master uses two speakerphones with hidden nozzles to lethally gas all of his Cabinet ministers, while he himself comes prepared by wearing a gas mask. This, of course, coming after he delivers a bunch of hilarious insults to them.
  • The Caligula: The Master's Establishing Character Moment is gassing his own cabinet to death and giving an enthusiastic two thumbs up when a dying politician gasps, "You're insane!" President Winters makes a contemptuous comment about how Britain has elected "an ass" as PM, implying that those outside the Archangel coverage don't seem to be impressed by him. John Simm has actually played Caligula, and stated it was just a dress rehearsal for the Master's antics.
  • Call-Back:
    • The Master did the four-drum-beat with his fingers once before, although it didn't mean anything until this episode.
    • The Master was the Minister of Defence who ordered the destruction of the Racnoss.
  • The Cameo: Sharon Osborne, Ann Widdecombe and McFly happily endorse our soon-to-be Evil Overlord. Ann Widdecombe even finds him very handsome.
  • Cliffhanger: The Bad Guy Wins version, with the ray of hope of Martha escaping unnoticed.
  • Conducting the Carnage: Mr. Saxon plays "Voodoo Child" as a background to the Toclafane slaughtering one-tenth of humanity, singing along with it as he does.
  • Continuity Nod:
  • Cryptic Background Reference: The Master fought in the Time War until he witnessed the Dalek Emperor take control of the Cruciform. Whatever that was, it scared him badly enough to go into hiding as his least favorite species.
    The Master: I ran so far. Made myself human so they would never find me, because...(voice breaks) I was so scared.
    The Doctor: (sympathetic) I know.
  • Darkest Hour: Between the Doctor weakened to the point where he is truly unable to do anything and the Toclafane violently slaughtering one tenth of the Earth's population, all hope seems lost at the end of this episode, leaving the audience wondering how the heroes will manage to get out of this one.
  • Dead Man Writing: A message from Vivien Rook, the journalist killed by the Toclafane, is sent by email as a Video Will.
    Vivien Rook: If I haven't returned to my desk by 22:00, this file will be emailed to Torchwood. Which means if you're watching this then I'm... Anyway, the Saxon files are attached.
  • Deadly Gas: The Master hides gas dispensers in the conference room to get rid of that inconvenient Cabinet.
  • Death Trap: The Master has finally become smart about this — he knows full well the Doctor will escape last episode's Cliffhanger and the Incredibly Obvious Bomb, but uses these deadly distractions to put pressure on the Doctor and his companions until they fall into the real trap.
  • Discontinuity Nod: To the controversial proposed post-TV Movie storyline. No, the Master is not the Doctor's long-lost brother.
  • Distressed Dude: The Doctor and Jack are captured by the Master in the episode's climax, while Martha escapes to fight another day.
  • Domed Hometown: The Citadel of the Time Lords.
  • Eagleland: US President Winters is the type 2 variety with his arrogance and bullish presence. The Master even calls him "Uncle Sam" before having him vaporized.
    The Master: Anything I can do? I could make the tea. Or isn't that American enough? I dunno, I could make grits. What are "grits", anyway?
    Winters: If you could just sit.
    The Master: [rolls his eyes] Misery-guts.
  • Emergency Temporal Shift: The episode kicks off with the Doctor, Martha and Jack escaping the ravenous Futurekind by using Jack's hastily-repaired vortex manipulator.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: The Master isn't fond of his Cabinet's behaviour, betraying their parties for his. Then again, he likely didn't want them backstabbing him. He also ran to the end of the universe itself because the Time War was too destructive for even him.
  • Evil Counterpart: Lucy Saxon, to Martha Jones. Mrs. Saxon is a Time Lord's companion (and wife), who stands by him no matter what. Trouble is, her Time Lord is set on subjugating Earth, wiping out large swathes of the population, and eventually founding an empire.
  • Evil Gloating: The episode ends on the Master giving his own personal New Era Speech to the Doctor.
  • Evil Versus Evil: The Time Lords realised that the Master would be the perfect soldier for the Time War.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: Martha realises that, from her family's perspective, all of series three has been this.
    Martha: That's so weird, though — 'cause the day after the election, that's only four days after I met you!
    The Doctor: We went flying all around the universe, while he was here all the time...
  • Foe Romance Subtext: The phone conversation between the Master and the Doctor. "Are you asking me out on a date?" The way the Master sighs when he says "I like it when you use my name..."
  • Foreshadowing:
    • The Doctor offhandedly mentions that Gallifrey was only perfect to look at.
    • The Master tells the Doctor that if he knew what the Toclafane really were, "[his] hearts would break".
    • The effect of President Winter's disintegration at the hands of the Toclafane is exactly the same as the disintegration by stet radiation in the previous episode, hinting at their origins.
    • The theme that plays when Martha teleports away to witness the Toclafane ravaging London is a more dramatic version of the music that played in the previous episode when the Doctor talked about humanity's "indomitable" nature.
  • For the Evulz: The Toclafane view this as an excuse to decimate the Earth; "It's fun!" Bonus points for proper use of the word "decimate".
  • The Fourth Wall Will Not Protect You: The Master keeps pulling In-Universe versions on the Doctor, giving media interviews that make it clear he knows the Doctor is watching.
    The Master: Tomorrow we take our place in the universe. Every man, woman and child. Every teacher and chemist and lorry driver and farmer. I dunno, every [looks directly at camera] ... medical student?
    [The Doctor, Martha and Jack look shocked; the Doctor looks behind the TV and finds an Incredibly Obvious Bomb]
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: The Magpie Electricals sticker on the back of Martha's TV is only on-screen very briefly.
  • Genre Blind: Saxon's Cabinet really should have run away and never looked back from the moment he started calling them traitors.
  • Go Mad from the Revelation: The Doctor's story about how the Master went insane after looking into the Untempered Schism as a child. The Doctor admits that he was one of the children that "ran away" and that in some ways, he never really stopped.
  • Hero with Bad Publicity: The Master has our heroes declared public enemies one, two and three.
  • Hidden in Plain Sight: The Master has not only been on Earth the entire time the Doctor has been teamed up with Martha, he's actually been running for election in the Doctor's favourite country!
  • Hope Spot: When the Doctor and company find the TARDIS on the Valiant, and then they go inside to discover that it's been cannibalised to make a Paradox Machine.
  • Hypocrite: President Winters takes the Master to task for ignoring UN convention and not taking First Contact seriously. He then gloats that he'll be the one getting all the screen-time, and arranges for his personal suit of office to be front and centre.
  • I Always Wanted to Say That: When the Time Lords meet face-to-face. "We meet at last, Doctor! Ooh, I love saying that!"
  • I Have Your Wife: The Master has Martha's entire family held captive... except her brother, who she manages to warn in time because he was out of town. He was going to show up in the next episode for more than a cameo, but the actor wasn't available. Just imagine being Leo and finding everyone in your family except you has suddenly lived through a year of torture.
  • Immortal Life Is Cheap: The Master points this out after zapping Jack with the laser screwdriver.
    "And the good thing is, he's not dead for long. I get to kill him again!"
  • Incredibly Obvious Bomb: Seriously, that bomb on the back of Martha's TV looks like something Wile E. Coyote would use to catch the Roadrunner. To be fair, the Master does love his children's TV programming, since he's seen watching and marveling at the Teletubbies a few scenes later. And how often do people look behind their TVs, anyway?
  • In Love with Your Carnage: The Master is very impressed when he realizes how the Doctor ended the Time War.
    The Master: What did it feel like, though? Two almighty civilizations, burning... [breathy] ooh, tell me, how did that feel?
    The Doctor: Stop it!
    The Master: You must have been like God.
  • Insult Backfire: The Master, upon being accused of insanity, just gives a double thumbs up.
  • Invented Individual: The Master fabricated an entire backstory for his "Harold Saxon" character.
  • Lampshade Hanging: Martha asks what kind of person would call himself "the Master". The Doctor later calls it a psychiatrist's field day.
  • Large Ham: True to form for the Master, John Simm makes a determined effort to act everyone else off the screen.
  • Last of His Kind: As the President walks away, the Master says "The last President of America". (The Master means "of The United States", but he's not from around there in the first place.)
  • Late-Arrival Spoiler: The image of the TARDIS transformed into the Paradox Machine makes up the main menu screen for the Season 3 DVDs.
  • Left the Background Music On: When Mr Saxon announces "Here come the drums!" and lets the Toclafane into the present day, the chorus of "Voodoo Child" by the Rogue Traders ("Here come the drums, here come the drums") starts up. This appears to be a dramatic device similar to the "Dalek theme", "Time Lord theme" etc., until we see Lucy dancing along to it. The Master then turns off the PA system.
  • Mass Hypnosis: The Master is sending a subconscious signal broadcast over a satellite phone network. It doesn't contain complex brainwashing instructions (which would be rejected) but a simple message like "Believe in me" or "Vote Saxon", enough to swing a crucial majority behind "Harold Saxon", and later to cow most forms of resistance.
  • Meaningful Name: Lampshaded with the Doctor (the man who fixes people) and the Master (the psychiatrist's field day).
  • Mind-Control Device: The Archangel satellite network.
  • Neck Snap: Jack suggests using the perception filter to just sneak up behind the Master and break his neck. The Doctor considers this too "Torchwood" — and it turns out it wouldn't have worked anyway.
  • Nemesis Weapon: The Master has a laser screwdriver to counter the Doctor's. It can do all the same things as the latter, and also zap people.
  • Never My Fault: Before purging his Cabinet, The Master tears into them for abandoning their parties to join up with him and thus thinks they deserve what happens next. This despite the fact that he's already mind-controlling everyone in Britain, and presumably that would have influenced their decision to turn coat in the first place.
  • Never Speak Ill of the Dead: Jack says that every legend he's heard of Gallifrey made it sound "perfect". The Doctor diplomatically admits that it was only perfect to look at.
  • New Era Speech: "... What this country really needs — right now — is a Doctor."
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Word of God is that due to the Doctor preventing "The Golden Age" of Harriet Jones, this created an irregularity in the course of history that wasn't supposed to happen. As a Time Lord, the Master naturally noticed and readily exploited this to become Prime Minister. Bet having a Prime Minister that only shot at hostile invading aliens on Christmas Day doesn't seem so bad now.invoked
  • No Hugging, No Kissing: Definitely averted with the Master shamelessly embracing and snogging Mrs. Saxon. The Doctor seems amazed that the Master has a wife at all, even for political reasons.
  • Noodle Incident: The Master says he ran from the Time War after "the Dalek Emperor took control of the Cruciform", because he was "so scared". The only thing we know is that the Cruciform isn't the Crucible from the Series 4 finale, and that, given the Master's general lack of fear towards anything, it must have been bad.
  • Oblivious to Love: Really, Doctor? Really?
    The Doctor: It's like when you fancy someone, and they don't even know you exist. [he rushes off to do something, leaving Martha stewing in frustration]
    Jack: [to Martha] You too, huh?
  • Oh, Crap!: The Doctor expresses terror at the TV bomb, and then horror at the Paradox Machine.
  • Orange/Blue Contrast: The warehouse/flashback scene. The warehouse is blue except for the fire, Gallifrey has an orange sky (as established previously), and the Doctor's fire-lit face is 50-50 as he starts his monologue.
  • Our Presidents Are Different:
    • President Winters is President Jerkass with a side-order of President Buffoon... or just plain President Unmodified, given how much of a Dubya analogue he is.
    • The Master, naturally, is full-on Prime Minister Evil.
  • Out-of-Character Alert: Martha phones her parents to make sure they're safe. Her mother tells her she's fine and that she and Martha's father have decided to give their marriage another shot. Martha immediately knows something is wrong because they'd never get back together. They're actually being watched by the Master's underlings who are listening to the call.
  • Overly Long Gag: The Toclafane kill a journalist who was close to unmasking the Master's cover. He closes the door on her screams. Several seconds later, he opens it: She is still screaming. He winces and closes the door. After some more time, he opens it again and she is still screaming. To quote Freema Agyeman on the DVD commentary:
    Freema: That's so naughty... oh, he's ENJOYING it!
  • Painful Transformation: The Doctor being aged clearly hurts like hell, given he spends the entire time screaming and flailing.
  • Perception Filter: The Doctor explains that the TARDIS has one, as it's designed to blend in — and as the TARDIS keys are pieces of the actual ship, they have the same properties. Using this and the Archangel Newtwork's own perception-altering effect, the Doctor amplifies the filter so that he, Jack and Martha are basically invisible unless they draw attention to themselves. He plans to force one of the keys on the Master, which would cancel out the brainwashing signal.
  • Pre-emptive Declaration: Why is Mr. Saxon wearing a gas mask in a meeting with the Cabinet?
    The Master: Because of the gas.
    Albert Dumfries: What gas?
    The Master: This gas.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: The Master refers to Martha and Jack as "the girlie and the freak... although I'm not sure which one's which." This could just be showing how little he knows about humans, but given Jack's sexuality and Martha's race it comes across as this.
  • President Evil: Well, Prime Minister Evil — mass mind control, gassing the Cabinet to death and inciting an alien invasion are the Master's first acts as the PM.
  • Psychopathic Manchild: Not just the Master, but also the Toclafane with their little girl voices and the pleasure they take from slaughtering people in painful ways.
  • Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: The Master would like to remind everyone of the imminent arrival of the percussion instruments heralding violent engagement. At high volume levels.
  • Put on a Bus: The Master sends Jack's team off on a wild goose chase to the Himalayas, ensuring Jack can't call them for help.
  • Race Lift: This episode is notable as the first Doctor Who TV story to show a black Time Lord. (The Doctor Who Magazine comics previously had a lengthy story arc about a black regeneration of the Master, and Big Finish Doctor Who featured a black regeneration of Rassilon.) The concept wouldn't be discussed until "Death of the Doctor", though, in which the Doctor confirms that he can be "anything".
  • Rapid Aging: The Master has not only improved and miniaturised Lazarus' device, he's figured out how to do it in reverse. He ages the Doctor a century in less than a minute, leaving him a wizened old man.
  • Reaction Shot: When Martha jokes about expecting the Master to be the Doctor's brother, Jack stops and looks at the Doctor as though seriously considering it. The Doctor just finds the suggestion weird.
  • Red and Black and Evil All Over: The Master wears mostly black suits, while his overcoat has red satin lining, providing a darker spin on one of the Third Doctor's getups (first seen in "Spearhead from Space"). Fitting, as the Third Doctor was the incarnation that the Master faced in his debut serial.
  • The Reveal: The Master was resurrected to be a soldier in the Time War (having previously met his apparent end in the 1996 TV movie), but after seeing the horrors involved, he ran to the end of the universe and used a Chameleon Arch to make himself Professor Yana.
  • Rewarded as a Traitor Deserves: Invoked (though obviously not justified) by the Master before gassing his Cabinet (who he implicitly mind-controlled into joining him, to boot):
    The Master: As soon as you saw the votes swinging my way, you abandoned your parties and you jumped on the Saxon bandwagon! So this is your reward... [dons gas mask]
  • Say My Name: The Master likes it when the Doctor does.
  • Scenery Porn: Gallifrey is given a big CGI scene. It is indeed "perfect to look at".
  • Sharp-Dressed Man: We see a flash of red satin inside the Master's coat.
  • Ship Tease: Aside from continuing the background arc related to Martha's unrequited love for the Doctor, this is also the first episode in which Jack outright admits to being in love with the Doctor as well. Neither get around to saying this to the Doctor's face, of course. This is the last time any on-screen reference is made to Jack having such feelings for the Doctor, as Torchwood soon paired him with Ianto Jones instead.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Shown Their Work: One of the rare correct usages of "decimate" in pop culture, which is killing one-tenth of something, which is what the Master orders the Toclafane to do.
  • Significant Anagram: Mister Saxon = Master No. Six note . According to RTD, this was unintentional.
  • Sound-Only Death: Vivien Rook. Played for laughs — see Overly Long Gag.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: The Master dances to pop music as the Toclafane descend to exterminate 1/10th of the world's population.
  • Take That!: Some elements of the Master's fictitious backstory parody the actual life of politician, writer, compulsive CV-padder and perjurer Jeffrey Archer.
  • "Take That!" Kiss: The Master blows one of these at the Doctor.
  • Temporal Sickness: Using the Vortex manipulator causes this and Teleportation Sickness. No capsule you know, it's a killer.
  • Terrible Ticking: The Master's drumming — he even uses the rhythm for his mind control, causing people to unconsciously join him in tapping it out.
  • Too Dumb to Live:
    • Winters turns into a blubbering, outclassed idiot when the Toclafane show up. What follows is ZAP!
    • Vivien Rook finds indisputable evidence that "Mr. Saxon" is a fake. Who does she show it to first? Mrs. Saxon, the one person other than Saxon himself who would most want to keep it a secret.
  • Tranquil Fury: The Master briefly drops his hamminess before dealing with the President.
    Winters: Saxon, what are you talkin' about?!
    The Master: I'm taking control, Uncle Sam, starting with you. [to the Toclafane] Kill him!
  • Trashcan Bonfire: Present in the warehouse the Doctor, Martha and Jack hide out in. They sit around it while talking.
  • Undead Tax Exemption: The Master has to go to some lengths for his fake backstory to be accepted — the 1% of people unaffected by his brainwashing signal note that the forgery is actually very obvious.
  • Unspoken Plan Guarantee: The Doctor explains that he plans to slip the Perception Filter key around the Master's neck. Of course, this doesn't work.
  • War Is Hell: Invoked by the Master, who found the carnage of the Time War too much even for him.
  • We Come in Peace — Shoot to Kill: The Toclafane claim to be bringing gifts of technology and protection, simply in exchange for humanity's friendship. They proceed to wipe out one tenth of the world population within minutes of their arrival.
  • Wham Line: "Every, I dunno, medical student?" That's when the Doctor discovers the Incredibly Obvious Bomb behind Martha's TV.
  • Wicked Cultured: Decimation is used as properly defined; "remove one tenth of the population". It's also a reference to the Master's little-known obsession with proper grammar.
  • Written-In Absence: The Master sends Jack's Torchwood colleagues on a wild goose chase to the Himalayas, so they're unable to help.
  • The X of Y: "The Sound of Drums".
  • You're Insane!: TWO THUMBS UP!
  • You Watch Too Much X:
    Martha: I thought you were gonna say he was your secret brother or something.
    The Doctor: You've been watching too much TV.


Alternative Title(s): Doctor Who NSS 3 E 12 The Sound Of Drums