The Sound Of Drums
I'm very tempted to add a star to Utopia after that. Normally new Who's multi-parters wait until the end before selling an interesting premise down the river, but The Sound Of Drums leapt straight in the first shot (the biggest cop-out of a cliffhanger since The Mark Of The Rani) and kept on going, eventually coming to top Gridlock as the season's worst episode.
I will admit that there are some nice moments in the middle, while the TARDIS crew are on the run. Tennant gives a good performance after last week's wobble, and the flashbacks to Gallifrey are nice (although – and I'm sorry if this sounds patronising, but it IS going to happen – they don't automatically qualify the episode as a five-star classic). But oh, what a drop in the ocean.
RTD's attempts at political commentary no longer elicit any feeling in me at all (I wonder how Americans are going to feel about this episode, though?), although the reference to The Sea Devils did nicely demonstrate how utterly idiotic Teletubbies is and always was. The plot turned me off quickly too, consisting seemingly of people pulling gadgets out their pockets. The Doctor and co. are on the run for half the episode...and then it turns out they can teleport anywhere, anytime, including Captain Scarlet's airbase. The arc of Martha's family? Over in all important respects after the first ten minutes. After an entire season of waiting for a payoff. The Doctor aged to a crinkly old man? Don't worry, some random crap will happen next episode and sort it out. That's how RTD's episodes work.
Adding to the long list of disappointments in the episode, I'm underwhelmed by the Master, played by John Simm, played by the Sheriff of Nottingham. I gave him the benefit of the doubt last time, but I actually found myself longing for Anthony Ainley to come back from the dead; Ainley played it like a panto, to be sure, but he played a pantomime version of an evil character while Simm plays a pantomime version of a pantomime character. Davies's script overdoes the whole “take a lame joke and repeat it again and again” motif (see also Margaret's escape in Boom Town), and the happy / sad scene at the beginning sends the show so far into send-up that it ceases to be Doctor Who altogether. Ask yourself this: how much more would people laugh at The Happiness Patrol if it had cameos from Jane Fonda, Michael Heseltine and Bananarama?
You know, I'll tune in next week. But I don't think I'll have much trouble waiting. I don't care what the Toclafane are, I don't care how (or whether) the Doctor gets de-aged, and I don't care how he defeats the Master, mainly because I can guess. So the world's being wrecked, is it? Countries being torn down, people massacred, etc etc etc...and meanwhile there's a big 'paradox machine' primed and ready to go. I can see a reset switch at twenty paces. Like I said, that's what happens in RTD episodes.
After earning back so much goodwill throughout the third series, Davies goes and gives us this giant custard pie of an episode. It's all I can do not to give it the lowest mark of all.