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The Sound of Drums was the twelfth and penultimate episode of series three of Doctor Who.

It marked the first full appearance of John Simm as the Master, disguised as Harold Saxon, revealing the significance of that name across the series; the Master had been behind the scenes in the modern day since Love & Monsters, having arrived a year and a half prior to Torchwood's story End of Days. It also introduced a fictitious version of the United States President. At the end of this episode, the Doctor appeared profoundly defeated, with catastrophic consequences for his companions and the residents of the planet Earth.

The episode is also notable for showing the Master as a child, making it the only known appearance of the Master's first incarnation on television. The story also revealed Jack's involvement with Torchwood.


The Tenth Doctor, Martha Jones and Jack Harkness return to present day London, horrified to discover that Prime Minister Harold Saxon is the Master. "Saxon" informs the world about receiving contact from an alien race called the Toclafane. Framed as fugitives, the Doctor, Martha and Jack try to sneak in and stop the Master before he unleashes a wave of terror. But his dark ambitions reach beyond the stars...


The Tenth Doctor, Martha Jones, and Jack Harkness are trapped by the Futurekind. The Doctor fixes Jack's vortex manipulator to get them to 21st century Earth; the trip, however, is not comfortable, with the Doctor complaining that time travel without a capsule is "a killer". Martha says that the Master could be anywhere in time and space with the TARDIS, but the Doctor asserts that he is on Earth in this period of time.

Meanwhile, Harold Saxon is on the news with his wife Lucy, having just come from Buckingham Palace after winning the election and being confirmed as Great Britain's new Prime Minister. Martha tells the Doctor that she recognised the Master's voice inside the TARDIS: it was that of Harold Saxon. The Doctor realises with horror that not only is the Master now Prime Minister, but he is married as well!


The Master prepares to gas the Cabinet.

In 10 Downing Street, the Master is on his way to his first Cabinet meeting. He meets Tish Jones, who now works at 10 Downing Street. After speaking to Tish, he walks into the Cabinet Room. He tosses dossiers into the air, but his enthusiastic attitude only manages to elicit a smile from Albert Dumfries. The Master quickly changes his attitude and insults the Cabinet, calling them traitors for abandoning their political parties and jumping on his political bandwagon as soon as they saw the vote swinging his way. As their "reward", he quickly sits down and puts on a gas mask. Albert asks the Master why he is wearing a mask, and the Master replies that he's wearing it because of the gas, a process made difficult to explain because the mask muffles his voice. Before anyone can figure out what he means, toxic gas is sprayed into the room from the two deskphones' speakers. Albert manages to splutter out, "You're insane!" to the Master, who replies with a double thumbs up, before he drops dead on the table, following the other ministers. The Master, surrounded by his dead cabinet, begins to tap his fingers on the table in a four-beat rhythm.

Martha returns home with Jack and the Doctor and they quickly set up a computer search about "Harold Saxon" which shows he was the former Minister of Defence who entered the public eye when he had the Racnoss Webstar shot down on Christmas Eve. Martha points out that he has a complete biography; his education and achievements are all known to the public.

At Downing Street, Lucy Saxon is speaking to Tish when a woman named Vivien Rook arrives from the Sunday Mirror, saying she is there to interview Lucy about being the Prime Minister's wife and asks Tish to leave. After Tish leaves, Rook confronts Lucy about her husband's fictitious life story: he only appeared shortly after the downfall of Harriet Jones, but all of his background prior to that has been forged, and curiously, no one is bothering to question the forgery. Lucy responds that she made her choice for better or worse, revealing the Master's presence in the room. The Master admits that "Harold Saxon" doesn't exist, at which point he conjures four robotic balls the size of footballs. He tells one to kill Vivien as he and Lucy leave. As they rush in on Vivien and slice her to death with tiny knife blades, Lucy angrily remarks that the Master told her that "Archangel" was 100 percent sure and questions him on how Vivien knew everything; the Master demurs, admitting it was more like 98-99 percent. Lucy then fearfully remarks that other people may be asking questions about them and that their time is running out. The Master embraces his wife and promises her that tomorrow, the world will end.

At Martha's flat, Jack suggests that the Master could have been living in Earth for decades, but the Doctor explains that when he used his sonic screwdriver on the TARDIS as the Master stole it, he fused the coordinates so that it would only go to the last place and time it had landed in, that being 21st century Earth. He estimates that the Master couldn't have arrived more than eighteen months earlier, so doesn't understand how he has the entire country supporting him in such a short time, even if he was "always hypnotic". Martha and Jack admit they thought he was a nice guy, and they had even planned to vote for him. The Doctor asks what exactly Harold Saxon stood for, but Martha struggles for an answer stating he just had a voice she felt she could trust. During this, Martha begins tapping her fingers in a four-beat rhythm which the Doctor picks up on. Suddenly a Saxon Broadcast comes on the television. In the broadcast, the Master mentions several previous alien attacks, namely the destruction of Big Ben, the spaceship over London, the ghosts and metal men, and the Christmas Star that came to kill; and how the government kept them secret. He then says he has been contacted by a new species, called the Toclafane. The Doctor is aghast upon hearing the name, knowing it's false. The Master then claims that tomorrow morning, "We will take our place in the universe. Every man, woman, and child. Every teacher and chemist and lorry driver and farmer. I don't know — every medical student?" The Doctor, knowing the Master is talking to them, looks behind the television and finds a bomb; he, Martha and Jack run out on to the street just before it explodes, destroying Martha's flat.

Martha get out

Martha's family are arrested.

The Doctor, Martha and Jack climb into a car and Martha calls her mum against the Doctor's advice. Francine asks her to come to her house, claiming she has plans of getting back together with Clive. Martha realises something is wrong, as she knows her mother can barely stand to be in the same room as her ex-husband under normal circumstances. Francine hands the phone to Clive, and Martha asks him to just say 'Yes' or 'No' when she asks if anyone is there with him, not knowing Miss Dexter, a government official working for the Master, is listening to the conversation. Clive, after considering for a second, answers "Yes," and tells Martha to run. Miss Baxter orders the police to arrest the entire Jones family. Martha phones Tish at Downing Street, just as Tish is dragged away by two guards. Martha, the Doctor, and Jack arrive at Francine's house as Francine and Clive are being forcibly dragged by police to a jail transporter van. As they screech to a stop, Francine shouts a warning to Martha, and Miss Dexter orders armed police to ready their rifles. With no choice but to make a run for it, Martha quickly puts the car in reverse and drives off as the police officers open fire, bullets shattering the back windshield and the sides of the car. As they drive off, the police officers shove Francine and Clive into the back of the van and lock the back doors.

As the three of them abandon the car, Martha phones Leo, who is in Brighton with his partner and child visiting a friend. As Martha warns her brother to hide, the Master interrupts the phone call. The Doctor takes the phone and talks to his old enemy, demanding to know who the Toclafane are as he knows there's no such race. The Master changes the subject and asks about Gallifrey, and is surprised to learn that the planet is gone, the Daleks are almost wiped out and the two of them are the last Time Lords. The Master says that the Time Lords resurrected him as the perfect warrior to fight in the Time War, but he ran away in fear when the Dalek Emperor took control of the Cruciform, explaining that he used a chameleon arch to turn himself into a human and fled to the end of the universe so he couldn't be found. The Master realises that as the Doctor survived the Time War then he must have been the one to end it, and tries to get under his skin by asking how it felt to have two mighty civilisations die by his hand. The Doctor keeps his cool and begs the Master to leave Earth alone. The Master refuses and informs the Doctor that he, Martha, and Jack have now been deemed as armed and extremely dangerous terrorists and that Jack's friends have been sent on a wild goose chase to the Himalayas. The Master then suggests that the Doctor turn to the right. The Doctor turns, sees a surveillance camera there, and realises that the Master is watching him through it. He promptly shorts it out with his sonic screwdriver. They decide to take the Master's advice and take off running.

That evening, one of the Toclafane appears before the Master asking if "the machine" is ready. The Master informs it that it will reach a critical mass at 8:02 AM, two minutes after the "first contact". The Toclafane reminds him of the darkness that is coming from which the Toclafane must run, but the Master merely reminds the creature of their deadline.

As the TARDIS crew hide in an abandoned warehouse, eating takeaway chips, the Doctor gives Martha and Jack some insight into the Master's origins. After denying Martha's suggestion that he and the Master were brothers, he explains that at the age of eight, initiates were taken by the Time Lords to look into a gap in the fabric of reality known as the Untempered Schism, through which could be seen the whole of the time vortex. Some were inspired; some ran away and some were driven mad. While the Doctor ran and has never stopped running, he believes the Master went mad. Jack then receives a posthumous message from Vivien Rook to Torchwood Three about the Archangel Network. The Doctor is initially disgusted about Jack's involvement with Torchwood, but Jack insists that not only was the old Torchwood regime destroyed at Canary Wharf, but that under his command Torchwood no longer perceives the Doctor as a threat. Vivien's message reveals that the Master has been using the Archangel Network of communication satellites to hypnotise people to vote for him. This also kept the Doctor from detecting him earlier — Time Lords have an ability to sense when another one of their own is around, as well as recognise another Time Lord after they have regenerated. The Doctor then produces three keys equipped with perception filters allowing himself, Martha, and Jack to be seen, but not detected if they put them on.

TARDIS Paradox Machine

The Paradox Machine.

The American president, Arthur Winters, arrives in Air Force One in London. He tells the Master that UNIT has control over the operation, citing a United Nations protocol. Winters insists on moving the first contact to the neutral ground of the UNIT aircraft carrier Valiant and conducting the meeting with the Toclafane himself. The Master brings along Francine, Tish and Clive, and the Doctor and friends follow using Jack's vortex manipulator. On board, they find the TARDIS, its cloister bell ringing, and the interior glowing an ominous red. It has been changed by the Master into a paradox machine, set to go off at 8:02 AM, two minutes after the first contact. The trio head for the room in which the first contact is being held. The Doctor has a plan: if he manages to put the TARDIS key around the Master's neck, then everyone will see the Master for who he truly is.


President Winters begins his address.

When the first contact begins, the Toclafane complain that the president is not their "Master". The Master reveals himself to the entire world and tells the Toclafane to kill the president; Winters is promptly incinerated on sight. The Doctor is captured by the guards — the Master had seen past the perception filter and knew he and the others were there all along. The Master temporarily kills Jack with his laser screwdriver, equipped with LazLab's Genetic Manipulation technology. With access to DNA from the Doctor's hand, it allows the Master to artificially and visibly age the Doctor by 100 years adapted from Richard Lazarus's de-ageing technology. The Master brings in the Jones family to witness this attack, revealing their betrayal in doing so.


The Toclafane invade Earth.

With the paradox machine ready, the Master tells the people of Earth to witness the end of the world. The paradox machine activates, creating a massive rift above the Valiant from which six billion Toclafane descend as the Master and Lucy dance to "Voodoo Child". The Master orders them to kill one tenth of the Earth's population. When asked, he refuses to reveal the true identity of the Toclafane, saying it would break the Doctor's hearts. Whilst the Master is distracted, the Doctor whispers something to Martha and, with a regretful look at her friends and family, she teleports to Earth using Jack's vortex manipulator. As she watches the Toclafane descend and start laying waste to Earth, she promises that she'll be back, and runs away from the city.

Back in the Valiant, the Master and Lucy look down on the planet with the aged Doctor between them, forced to confront his failure.


Uncredited cast[]


General production staff

Script department

Camera and lighting department

Art department

Costume department

Make-up and prosthetics



General post-production staff

Special and visual effects


Not every person who worked on this adventure was credited. The absence of a credit for a position doesn't necessarily mean the job wasn't required. The information above is based solely on observations of the actual end credits of the episodes as broadcast, and does not relay information from IMDB or other sources.



  • This episode is part of a continuous arc which begins in the Torchwood episode Captain Jack Harkness, is developed in the Torchwood episode End of Days, switches over to Doctor Who in Utopia, develops in this episode, and ends in Last of the Time Lords.
  • Russell T Davies' interpretation of the Master was influenced by the Rogue Traders song "Voodoo Child", and he asked script editor Simon Winstone to clear its use in the story even before he had begun writing the scripts. Indeed, the lyric, “Here it comes, the sound of drums,” provided the episode with its title. Davies almost forgot to include the song in the narrative and was reminded by Winstone at a late stage.
  • This is the first three-part story since Survival, which incidentally was the last of the ongoing series to feature the Master.
  • Sharon Osbourne, McFly and Ann Widdecombe appear as themselves endorsing Harold Saxon.
  • In an interview with Doctor Who Magazine, Russell T Davies stated that the eponymous drumbeat was not inspired by the opening bars of Ron Grainer's original Doctor Who theme tune (as many fans believed), but by his alarm clock which plays a sound similar to the aforementioned sound of drums when it goes off.
  • The series 4 track, "UNIT Rocks", plays on the President's arrival in Britain. However, it switches to the series one and two track, "UNIT", on his departure.
  • Many aspects of the episode all revolve around the number four. There are four drum beats; when the Toclafane are first shown, there are four of them; and on each Toclafane there are four spikes on the bottom plate and four spikes on the middle plate.
  • This episode shows the surface of Gallifrey, the Capitol and other Time Lords.
  • The Seal of Rassilon is visible on various elements during the Gallifrey flashback.
  • When Jack logs onto the Torchwood system, the Torchwood theme tune plays in the background.
  • The Master wears variations of various outfits from different stories. He wears a black single-breasted suit, white shirt and black tie, from Planet of Fire, albeit without the black leather gloves worn in the original costume. He also wears a black overcoat with red satin lining, like Jon Pertwee's early outfit and black leather gloves during his airport meeting with President Winters.
  • This is the first time a Gallifreyan child has appeared on screen, although there had been previous references to "time tots" during the Fourth Doctor era, and Susan Foreman, the Doctor's granddaughter, was said to be 15 in An Unearthly Child. In Smith and Jones the Tenth Doctor refers to having played with röntgen-bricks in the nursery.
  • It is indicated that Jack has possible romantic feelings for the Doctor: in The Parting of the Ways he kissed the Ninth Doctor as well as Rose and when the Doctor uses the analogy of being in love with someone who doesn't even realise it, Jack asks Martha, "You too?" with a serious look on his face.
  • When the Doctor and the Master are speaking to each other the phone, they really are talking to the other person. Instead of having the lines read to them on the set, David Tennant and John Simm called each other in order to make the scene more authentic.
  • As the Toclafane remove one tenth of the population Noel Clarke's voice can be heard during the alarm calls.
  • Martha's suggestion that the Doctor and the Master are brothers - dismissed by the Doctor - was Russell T Davies' response to a popular fan theory he found rather daft.
  • Some of the car action sequences in this episode were filmed by Freema Agyeman herself rather than a stunt double.
  • David Tennant's makeup in which the Doctor is aged 100 years was inspired by William Hartnell.
  • The Gallifreyan headpiece was an original prop from the classic series. At the suggestion of Gary Russell, the young Master's outfit reflected the earlier Time Lord costumes established in The War Games.
  • The car chase was originally much more elaborate. It was scaled down due to budget concerns.
  • Russell T Davies decided against bringing back the Master's tissue compression eliminator, despite his fondness for it. He decided that he had enough tricks to use against the Doctor.
  • When Saxon addresses the nation, his first words are "Britain, Britain, Britain". Tom Baker used these words often as a narrator for the comedy series Little Britain.
  • The Mysterious Man from The Lazarus Experiment was due to make a cameo appearance. But when Bertie Carvel was not free, the character became Sinister Woman instead.
  • Vivien Rook was named for journalist Jean Rook. Russell T Davies would later use the name again in Years and Years.
  • Having already examined a well-meaning, if flawed, Prime Minister in the form of Harriet Jones, Russell T Davies was now eager to explore what would happen if the Prime Minister were a truly malevolent figure such as the Master.
  • Searching for a suitable humiliation which the Master could inflict upon the Doctor, Russell T Davies turned to Neill Gorton and Millennium FX, who handled various monster costumes and prosthetics. They had won a BAFTA Craft Award for transforming Paul Whitehouse into an elderly man for Help, and Davies confirmed that they could likewise give David Tennant the appearance of decrepitude.
  • The Archangel Network was originally named Angel One.
  • A more elaborate car chase sequence was excised after it was found to place too great a strain on the budget.
  • Colin Teague's wife Marjorie played the woman watching television with her baby.
  • The cafe scene had originally been scheduled for Mac's Cafe in Cardiff, but had been postponed and was instead recorded at Forte's in Barry.


  • 6.9 million viewers - Overnight ratings
  • 1.09 million viewers - BBC3 Sunday repeat ratings
  • 7.51 million viewers - Final ratings[2]


  • The drumbeat was based upon Ron Grainer's theme music for Doctor Who. As noted above, according to Russell T Davies an alarm clock inspired it.

Filming locations[]

  • Hensol Castle, Miskin, Pontyclun, Mid Glamorgan, South Wales
  • Esplanade, Cwrt-y-Vil Road, Queen's Road, High Street, Arcot Street, in Penarth
  • The Friary, Cardiff
  • Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff
  • Maelfa Shopping Centre, Llanedeyrn, Cardiff
  • College Green, Abingdon Street, Westminster, London
  • Wenallt Woods, Wenallt Road, Caerphilly
  • University Place, Splott, Cardiff
  • MOD St Athan, Barry, Vale of Glamorgan
  • Maindy Road, Cathays, Cardiff
  • Whitmore Bay, Barry Island, Vale of Glamorgan
  • Fortes, Barry Island, Vale of Glamorgan

Production errors[]

If you'd like to talk about narrative problems with this story — like plot holes and things that seem to contradict other stories — please go to this episode's discontinuity discussion.
  • When the Master first puts on his gas mask, it is the correct way up. It then cuts to a different shot where it is upside down. It then goes back to the first shot where it is the correct way up again.
  • When the Master stands up on the Valiant to announce that he is "the Toclafane's Master", President Winters is visible in the background, only the Toclafane aren't there. In the next shot, they return, buzzing around Winters' head.
  • When the Master runs to the window to watch the spheres descend, he presses against the wall, which visibly bows out.


Home video releases[]

External links[]



  1. According to the episode The Sound of Drums, Martha Jones' present day during series 3 of Doctor Who takes place over a six-day period, with the Saxon Master being elected three days after Smith and Jones, and the Toclafane invading Earth five days after Smith and Jones. However, sources differ on which dates these stories are set. According to PROSE: The Paradox Moon, the Toclafane invasion happens on 23 June 2007, placing the events of Smith and Jones on 18 June. According to AUDIO: Hysteria, Smith and Jones takes place in 2008, with a UNIT mission log in AUDIO: Recruits referring to the recovery of moon rocks from Royal Hope Hospital in March 2008. A newspaper clipping in PROSE: The Secret Lives of Monsters places Smith and Jones on a Sunday 4 June, thus placing the Toclafane invasion on Friday 9 June. In the real world, these dates do not fall on a Sunday and Friday in either 2007 or 2008.