When it came to the 21st century, we should have known we were in for a helluva ride. Far removed from the tin-pot schemes of the 1980s and the side-notes of the previous decade, the time of the Master was upon us. Having escaped the Time War by the skin of his overstretched regenerations, even the Master couldn’t have guessed how big he was going to get. A select journey from homicidal Prime Ministers to paradox machines…
The Sound of Drums and The Last of the Time Lords (Series 3, 2007)
IF COINCIDENCE HAS A FIELD DAY ANYWHERE, IT’S IN THE VAST AND CONTRADICTORY EXPANSE OF THE TIME VORTEX. And so the third series of the refreshed, renewed and lightly rebooted Doctor Who found at the end of time and the last stand of humanity when a chance encounter with an old but doddery genius, a forgetful but kind, old professor left the TARDIS crew stranded and the Doctor, in the best and worst way, not the last of his race.
Hindsight of subsequent six series can’t dull the freshness of Russell T Davies gratuitous dystopian trick in the antepenultimate episode of Series 3, just about kicking off the show’s first three-parter since 1989. In 2005’s first series, Davies had returned the Daleks to the small screen, navigating the intricacies of the Terry Nation estate to bring some Pepper-Pot classics back to the show. In the second year came the not so imperious return of the Cybermen, this time opting for a parallel universe origin tale. Following hotly behind the unexpected Macra cameo in Series 3’s Gridlock, the Master was the next obvious candidate to make a return, and so completing a set of classic villains and monsters, who’d rocked up in the New Series in the same order as they had during the 1960s and 1970s. The Master was a big scalp of course, as the production team had as much fun hinting about his return as fanboys had speculating. Take the guest starring appearance of Anthony Head in Series 2’s School Reunion, carefully flashing up in the series trailer next to partially obscured sign “…Master”. Of course, he was the “… Headmaster”, and despite enjoying the Western stand-off he had with the Doctor, fans retreated to their lairs waiting for the inevitable. And so it came. The first new Time Lord in a world very much built around the idea that the Doctor was alone, the last of his kind.
Was that really six series ago?
Straight to the Point
“Oh, a nice little game of hide and seek, I love that”
Following the events of Utopia, surprisingly resilient tension-filled momentum that remains unbeaten in the show, the resulting two-part finale has no intention of hanging about. There’s a fresh Master, force regenerated to match a bounding incarnation of the Doctor (and no doubt taking advantage of a fresh regeneration cycle bestowed on him by the Time Lords before cowardice took over), hijacking the Doctor’s TARDIS and heading into the unknown of space and time. Fortunately, with the traditional vortex effect, Captain Jack’s old vortex manipulator, which would stay with the show for some time to come, hurls the Doctor, Jack and Martha into our present day to set about discovering what became of the rogue Time Lord.
“The Master is Prime Minister of Great Britain”
The Master, stable and secure as a majority-backed, popular and time-rich Prime Minister is a great conceit. Not only does it let Russell T Davies turn his scripts back to pointed politicism but also saves the usual skulduggerous slow reveal of the Master’s plot that had on more than one occasion reduced him to pantomime. It also gives us a glimpse of the Master at full power, a considerable challenge for the Doctor to overcome but also height of great distance for a defeated Master to fall. The Master had never been so outlandish and sadistic. And that’s saying something. Although there is more in common with his original suave, indifferent, amoral and confident appearance in a sequel four decades before than had been seen for years, what would unravel from these heightened stakes is true marmite for Whovians.
We are allowed plenty of time to watch this incarnation in action, from teasing and murdering at will to sending very specific messages to the Doctor and crucially, his companions. John Simm’s incarnation may be a little strained, just as the Tennant version of the Doctor was, but in many ways is also picks up traits from the Ainley incarnation who’d happily sneer at the lesser mortals. Far removed from the 1980s however, he’s dispensed with his faux-suave nature as he’s rediscovered his taste for large-scale plots (it helps to have real taste buds back) and finally, an appreciation of companions. Both the Doctors and of his own. Of course, the taste for larger scale plotting had really returned during the 1996 TV Movie, along with the wet shave. But who would have put any space currency on both remaining with him after meeting the Eye of Harmony.
After the future Earth smashing of the Series One finale and the monster mash-up, London bash-up of Series Two, the third series needed to be as large as this international, universe threatening romp and he was the Time Lord for the job.
Filling the TARDIS
“Mr Saxon does like a pretty face”
Perhaps the strangest change for this Master is, much to multiple Doctor’s amusement in the succeeding short Time Crash, is… His wife. The rather strange first lady of Britain is later revealed to be very much The Master’s companion – the first time we’ve seen him adopt one as the Doctor might. Aside from broadening the drama, it’s hard not to see this as a reflection of the fact that a partner-less leader is simply not electable in this day and age, psychic boost or not.
Despite having the time to manipulate events at source, the Master’s Harold Saxon’s has invented his past to gain the top job as the effective cameo from Nichola McAuliffe’s journalist highlights. And best of all, the real icing on the cake: his rise to power was possible thanks to the power void left by the actions of a very angry Tenth Doctor, dispatching Prime Minister Harriet Jones at the end of The Runaway Bride. Yes, this is a plot well laid. And while Utopia was a novelty, a fairy-tale glimpse into what could have been with a kindly and skilled, ‘better’ version of the Edwardian Doctor, it’s clear that these last two sons of Gallifrey, the Doctor and the Master, are fully entwined.
“Tomorrow we take our place in the universe”
Murray Gold’s score and Colin Teague’s direction combine to draw out the swirling lunacy of this incarnation of the Master. The loopiness of the Master’s conjuring of the Toclafane during The Sound of Drum’s climax is particularly mesmerising. And that’s exactly what the first part of this story is all about. Speculated upon, brushed against time and time again throughout the Davies run, this is New Who’s big first contact story. A first contact story against the background of the Doctor and Master’s cat-and-mouse chase of one-upmanship. This time however, there’s little pretence of mystery as a barrel load of red herrings highlight this incarnation’s absolute supremacy. There is barely a second when this Master isn’t in absolute control during a rivalry that dwarfs the other issues of state to unravel and Enemy of the State-style conspiracy thriller.
Return of the powers
“The Master always was hypnotic, but this is on a massive scale”
And as much as the sound of drums runs through this episode, now unlocked and relocked in the Master’s thoughts, the Doctor’s right about his foe’s hypnosis. Less prone to personal acts of mesmerisation, he’s exploited his political position to not only mastermind the technological and capitalist revolution of the Archangel Network – additionally a neat way to avoid detection by the Doctor during his frequent trips to 21st century Earth – but also help construct the UNIT flagship The Valliant as well. Yes, if there wasn’t any doubt, things really have moved on.
And for all the industry, for all the drums, the Master never lets his mind slip from his personal goals. You might even think it’s an obsession. It seems that the time he’s bought himself, harking back to the patience he must have developed during his years on Traken, has allowed the Master the chance to think. With his rival’s appearance inevitable, he’s now focussed on getting to the Doctor through his companion’s family. These are dark emotional tugs, so it’s no surprise that these, along with his technical achievements, dramatically seed his downfall.
A scene so serious that the Master takes his phone off speaker…
Perhaps The Sound of Drums’ stand-out sequence is the Doctor’s first major interaction with this incarnation of his frenemy in the New Series. It’s a scene so serious that the Master takes his phone off speaker. Verging from sinister and unhealthy (“I like it when you use my name”) to palpable shock, before quickly turning to exploitation of Gallifrey’s destruction, this is a big moment for Davies. And he gets it very right. It’s here we learn the truth behind the Master’s survival. That he was resurrected by the Time Lords as an asset in their dangerous war, we’d have to assume following his vaporisation at the end of the TV Movie. Desperate times… Then expose his cowardice, as that great asset ran from the Great Time War while the Doctor was forced to join it. It’s a tale that is still being told as the show nears its tenth series. It can only be hoped, although it’s probably a longshot, that Big Finish’s mow unravelling major War Doctor series will touch on this version of the Master, as it’s strongly suggested that they fought together.
Davies expands on this historical exposition with the Doctor’s own affecting reminiscences. These two children of Gallifrey allow the New Series to delve back to their home planet for the first time. There’s the moment that the Master was driven mad by the Time Vortex (or so we thought until The End of Time). It’s the first suggestion in the canonical series that Gallifreyan children are selected for the Time Lord Academy. It’s substance that both feeds and pleases fans while laying out some logic for the Master’s otherwise illogical plot. Although he had formulated it before he learned the true fate of Gallifrey (unless it prompted him to be paradoxically timey-wimey), he takes being orphaned of his planet badly.
Unfortunately, it also provides the story’s weak point. The Master may have more character and history to play with than other villains or monsters, but he returns the most retconned. The End of Time would later blame his entire existence on Time Lords abuse and that raises questions even in the temporal flux of the vortex. His was a madness presumably kept under the Master’s cloak until after graduation, a friendship with the Doctor that grew in classes alongside that madness, with a cause and a revelation that the two nemeses must have tried very hard to ignore.
“Here come the drums. Here come the drums”
As the Doctor and allies are cast as public enemies, sneaking around thanks to an improvised perception filter, there’s more time to study the Master’s plot. And that’s sound, far too sound considering this villain’s previous form, even if it hinges on an impossibility. It is the literal engine of the piece, especially after the climax aboard the hulk of the Valiant, when the episode isn’t dwelling on the Time Lords’ fractured friendship. This Master really is in control, willing to take steps to stay ahead of the game, able to resist instantly blowing his cover through hubris, immaturity or distraction, and for instance, playing along with the perception filter ruse. His new and more rambunctious personality provides Davies main chance for an irresistible swipe at world politics. His palette is larger than when he targeted Blair with the pointed Aliens of London of Series 1. After the UK Cabinet is wiped, the American President who turns up as the leader of the free world to handle the first contact, is swiftly dispatched when the Toclafane’s true nature is revealed. Although, their dark secret remains hidden.
The protector inverted
“The human race, the greatest monsters of them all”
Ah yes, those Toclafane. A rather daft and token villain with a dark secret, supposedly developed as a back-up for the Daleks should the rights not have been agreed by the Terry Nation estate in 2005. I wonder if the Master might have turned up back then, as their tragedy is far more effective knowing that his sadistic hand has guided it both malevolently and benevolently. Indeed, they are the most intriguing part of this first chance to re-explore the Doctor and Master dynamic.
The Master’s children form yet another perversion of the Doctor’s character. Taking his affinity for Earth and using it against him with a force that the Master knows will break the Doctor more effectively than any sticks and stones. Compared to that, the exploitation of the Doctor’s companions is minor. It’s deliciously twisted. More so when and when we finally see what’s actually inside a Toclafane shell (or crypt), and even more so when it’s revealed that the Master purposefully took their name from legend. That’s perhaps another bootstrap paradox to pull into his web.
The Toclafane are gruesome and they have to be. Did anyone think that Doctor Who would offer up anything as simple and optimistic as Utopia? Even if its failure leaves a ddecidedly unusual taste to the end of the year. The finale of Series Three is up there with the most pessimistic Who. Sadistically pessimistic, and that’s because it takes pains to let this Master win. What did a wise man once say? ““The optimist proclaims that we live in the best of all possible worlds; and the pessimist fears this is true”. And for all the power that showing the effect of Utopia on humanity – the reality of the dark, the cold, the furnaces as it’s unemotionally put – and even Lucy’s resulting derangement in the present day has – it’s a stark message quite unusual in the canon. Come the end of time, there is a limit to humanity’s endless survival.And for the Master, it’s all the sweeter when he’s broken an individual soul into the bargain. As Lucy says, “… Everything dying. The whole of creation was falling apart and I thought there’s no point. No point to anything. Not ever.”
Cannibalised by their innovation, collapsed inwards, the Toclafane are another variation of the Cybermen of humanity’s ancient history. In many ways it proves Mondasian logic, defeated only by the gulf of time and fact that the age of the universe has robbed it of that tragedy. It’s a symbol of that fatalism and survival that those future humans have regressed to children. But that’s not a parallel that is pulled out, as this isn’t really a story about humanity. The Toclafane, in many ways retain the touch of MacGuffin carried through from their stand-in role in Series 1. Although it’s strange that the truth of the Toclafane’s existence takes a year to out, it’s impressive that the Master bit his tongue so long to spill the beans and let the Doctor work it out for himself. It’s a twisted revenge on the Doctor the Master had for most of his life had been eager to get out the way as soon as possible. If there’s a real difference in the huge similarities between these wandering Time Lords is that the Master, for all his time on Earth and interaction with humans, seeing their indomitable spirit and reach throughout millennia, he resisted developed a fond respect and kept the arrogant innate supremacy of the Time Lord mentality that feasibly both ran away from. And why kill them, when you can use them to taunt: “Time Lord and humans combined. Haven’t you always dreamt of that, Doctor?”
“You’ve been watching too much TV”
The history reaching out from those premier days of the exiled Doctor acting as Earth’s protector from the stranded Master in the 1970s (or 1980s) is not ignored. There are nods to the past, most joyously when the Master’s caught watching the Teletubbies in a riff on the famous The Clangers scene in The Sea Devils. And perhaps the clearest reference to the original relationship is Martha’s tongue in cheek speculation that the Master could be the Doctor’s secret brother. A notion given a short shrift by the Doctor. “You’ve been watching too much TV”
But the universe has moved on since those carefree and Time Lord patrolled days when they were able to warn the Doctor of the Master’s arrival on Earth. Indeed, the survival of not just another Time Lord but his oldest friend and enemy, draws the guilt from the Doctor, convinced that only he carries full responsibility for the Master in the new order. It’s a three bladed portrayal: a Doctor allowing even more Time Lord arrogance to shine through than his third incarnation allowed, a willingness to become an eternal prison guard for his wayward ‘brother’, but also a deserved penance for his role in the destruction of Gallifrey. The chance for a confession to one of his own, something the Doctor never expected, doesn’t go the way the audience might expect. It’s a chance to pull out the unpredictability of the Master and his relationship with the Doctor. And if that stridently Christian allusion seems too much it would be a whole lot greater come the story’s conclusion.
A central paradox
“And I looked down upon my new dominion as Master of all and I thought it good”
There are few times when the Doctor’s been so humiliated, but the power to achieve this could only ever fall to the Master. His equal and as often suggested, his superior in ability and intellect. The Master has the Doctor’s age, his favourite planet and his wife of a Time Ship corrupted while his old nemesis is forced to sit and endure it all. If anyone could take everything that hurt from a nomad who has very little. While it’s unclear why the paradox machine the Master inverts from the TARDIS has the power to blow up the solar system, it’s another fine and twisted invention to explain away the bleak plot. When the Paradox Machine is operated and 6 billion Toclafane arrive it’s impressive. With an order for his new ‘children’ to remove 1/10th of the population, the clear implication isn’t just that the Master remains utterly dangerous, but his vicious disregard for life remains a cardinal rule. Indeed, he’s seldom actually been able to go through with it.
One Year Later…
“I told you, I have one thing to say”
After the broad political intrigue and conspiracy thriller of the The Sound of Drums, The Last of the Time Lords propels us on a year for a globe-trotting adventure that puts humanity and particularly Martha under the microscope until its controversial last tug of the rug. It’s a tried trope, the old One Year Later, and instantly slashes odds on there being some form of reset button further down the line. It does however, lend Davies carte blanche to explore that good old science fiction trope: the parallel universe where all bets are off. Ignoring the Cyberman distraction, it’s pretty much Who’s biggest take on that concept, since fittingly, Inferno give and take the sharp scenes of Pyramids of Mars or possible futures of Battlefield during the classic run. This what if has constraints that veer it away from being a full parallel universe or sideways glance however. It resolves itself very seriously as reality for a whole year, and the need for the narrative to end with the repercussions of the few at the centre of the paradox to remember the events of that year, mean their lives are never at stake. Well, except Jack. Always Jack. Sidestepping that ending it’s a vivid and globetrotting take: What if the Master won? What if the Earth fell to complete alien control? Everyone is corruptible, and everyone dispensable in a universe where the Master proves he’s less an efficient dictator and more someone who likes to rebuild things in his image. But then the Earth was never going to be enough for someone who can launch an all-out, conquering war on the universe in the name of a species with two sole remaining survivors.
“… And it’s all your fault”
Perhaps the Master’s volatile approach to domination is no surprise. The UK’s recent history has seen many careers dedicated to one goal expose a person who just wasn’t cut out for it in the first place. While the show’s widest globe-trotting adventure is a neat distraction, and shows the ambition of a third year building on its own short history let alone the preceding four decades, it’s the Master’s character that struggles the most. Perhaps he’s just not used to winning, an understandable problem considering his resume. After setting the bar so high in the far future and then contemporary Earth in Utopia and The Sound of Drums, it’s difficult for him to retain any appeal when so in charge during The Last of the Time Lords. Even when he’s ‘reminiscing’ with the Doctor about the Time War or the UNIT days.
That’s to stick the boot in of course. Later the Doctor would try the same, reminiscing about the Axons and Daleks and that’s forgivable nostalgia between these two and considering the smallest of parts of their relationship we’ve been party to. Perhaps despite everything, there’s a part of the Master listening. When earlier asserts that the drumming chose him when he looked into the Time Vortex, it’s clear that he wants, no needs, the Doctor to hear. So much salvation in that one plea. But although neither wants to be last of the Time Lords, some things, some cosmic roles, are just far too important.
“I’m a Time Lord. I have that right…”
The John Simm incarnation Master has some stand out moments of course. The ego is on full display, from the construction of multiple statues to his Mount Rushmore re-sculpt. He’s a megalomaniac, obsessed with his own image. This is something that would be further drawn out in The End of Time, and not inconsistent with the essential vanity of a Time Lord whose lifestyle has often led him to a less than dapper appearance. “I have this effect, people just get obsessed” he says in The Sound of Drums, buying straight into the cult of the Master. He loves to be adored, that’s something that hasn’t changed. Simm’s portrayal is dominated by its balance to the manic and energetic Tenth Doctor. Niftily, a year separates Tennant and Simm’s age, just as it had the original pairing of Pertwee and Delgado. As manic and consciously over the top as it seems, it’s easy to dismiss it as blandly manic. It’s a good deal more nuanced than it appears and its pitch matches the story. That the story is far more dangerous and gigantic than those involving the Master that we’ve become accustomed to is hardly this incarnation’s fault. Now the Master is stronger, fitter and madder, it’s rather gratifying that his plans are as exponential as his insanity. He has assembled a huge rocket fleet field, with Russia taking point as Shipyard Number One. He may be creating a new Time Lord army in his eyes, intended to start a war with the whole of the universe, but between the balance of two equals this Master is an increasingly deranged clown compared to the silent, aged Doctor.
Dwelling on punishments
“On this the Eve of war. Lovely woman”
Having spent many years as the Captain Black of the Who universe, zombie, husk, cat person and plasmic worm it may be with a sadistic relish that he riffs on his own long discomfort by leveraging his laser screwdriver and the developments of the Lazarus Experiment he had financed earlier in the series to age the Doctor. It’s ambiguous whether he ages the Tenth Doctor unnaturally or reverts him to his first incarnation by turning his regenerations off. Like the dismissive Rani who couldn’t care less about the Doctor’s regeneration in Time and the Rani it’s an odd and unsavoury playing with that personal preserve of a Time Lord. Especially when such a horrid Dobby-like state could befall any Time Lord. The following five years would range from a morbidly fearful Tenth Doctor explaining that Regeneration is like Death to the Twelfth who guns down an apology and dismisses “Death” as a “Time Lord for man flu”. Still, the Master has spent some time as a worm. His is a unique perspective on death and regeneration. And after all, this is the Doctor.
“One thing you can’t do is stop them thinking”
The ending rightly achieved attention for its deus ex machina delivery of what’s bluntly called a magic Doctor. It’s a stretch certainly, and a little tricky in the exposition, but at least complies with the logic of an adventure where one conniving Time Lord can influence world politics and enhance the Earth’s technology while trading on his Rugby form at Cambridge. It’s also clearly signposted in Davies’ build-up – all the way back to the advanced science ‘magic’ of the Chameleon Arch.
“Ask yourself, what would the Doctor do?”
Martha carries the bulk of the final part, but her journey is proved to be a distraction, a sleight of hand on the audience as much as the Master. And a risky one on both counts. While the Doctor’s apostle walks the Earth spreading his word, some of the more overt Christian symbolism comes from an unexpected place in the religion-baiting world of New Who. Martha may be the Doctor’s Rock on the ground, he the Holy Spirit in the heavens, but it’s the Master, self-appointed god of his creation, who never walks the earth. The two Time Lords have to deify themselves to battle and win. That’s the real exploration here, a monumental one. And in defeat, a flip of the Doctor’s earlier confession that’s part of his long soul searching, it’s the Doctor’s forgiveness that’s the Master’s worst nightmare. All weighed up, it’s no surprise that a death and potential resurrection is on the cards, just that it falls to the devil of the piece.
“No, it’s my turn. Revenge”
This Master devil’s unhinged vengeance is levelled against everybody, from the degradation to the foe he simply can’t or won’t kill to a full scale war with the universe. The Last of the Time Lords shows actual cause and effect, alongside its dramatic and ambiguous title. There’s no cheating the cliff-hanger, and that can only bring the emphasis on the method of resolution. Death is continually references, and conversely there must be life, or the life of a legend at the heart of the resolution. Death is kept in the spotlight to an unsettling degree, with the MacGuffin that the uneasy purpose for Martha’s strange quest: the one weapon that can kill a Time Lord outright. The conscience and crisis that this act would require often seems a little one-sided given what’s at stake. It’s a difficult pull to ask the audience to root for the lives of the final two Time Lords against a world that is quickly unrecognisable, and seemingly beyond repair. In that grip of death, it’s no surprise that Jack continues his welcome return, slipping into sadism to match the Master’s new world.
Can’t save everyone
“Received and understood Miss Jones?”
With a Doctor in bondage, existing on the ‘voice’ of the people, all allies in villenage (or bondage, when it comes to Jack) we see something new. Having learnt the hard way, and unnecessarily slowly, the Master’s paid far closer attention to the Doctor’s companions than he would have guessed after first stumbling across Jo Grant those many years ago. And as he is wont, the Master makes it personal and in doing so inevitably creates the loophole that the Doctor can exploit and seeds his own downfall. Some things don’t change. It’s brilliant in one respect of the annals of Who: a plot hinging on the classic separation of companion and Doctor in extraordinary circumstances.
Of course, come the end and success of the Doctor’s long and dangerous game, the Master does kill himself. Or rather he chooses death over life under the Doctor’s kindly subjugation. That’s exactly what the Doctor said he would never do and provides a satisfactory summing up of their diametric opposition. There’s even a chance for the Doctor and Master to grapple on the cliff, a none too subtle reference to their Holmes and Moriarty precursors… Although this is something else. As if everything’s been almost too heavy, the jumpy reversal of time employs a filmic shorthand straight from Superman: the Movie.
More failure awaits the dictator wiped from knowledge: The Master statures and rockets disappear as the Earth is remade. And that lightness is necessary considering the implication that humanity wants to execute the Master. Not the first time the rogue’s faced that threat, but the time for the Doctor to take responsibility.
“It’s time to change” – the Doctor is ready to change, to care for the Master but Lucy proves the murderer. “Always the women” says the Master, another reference to the early books of the story and his previous incarnation’s demise. And so, a scenario fairly closely resembling his appearance in the parallel universe of Scream of the Shalka – constrained in the TARDIS but slyly working against the Doctor whenever he’s left to his own devices – is avoided. It’s not inconceivable that he could have regenerated into a young and goateed Derek Jacobi after all given suggestions in Day of the Doctor and the eighth and ninth series.
“I guess you don’t know me so well”.
It might be expected that the Master has an escape route, but not only would that rather dull the ending if too clearly sign-posted but also be out of character based on most of his career. In subsequent appearances Steven Moffat would make light of the 1980s stories where the Master would reappear having escaped absolute, utter and inescapable death. Planet of Fire and later the TV Movie would be cases in point. In doing so, Moffat rather ridiculed the hand that fed him an astonishing, and BAFTA nominated, character in Missy. Whovians are as well used to the Master irretrievably dying on screen as much as his ‘70s incarnation might sneakily make a run for a TARDIS. So, in all it’s rather strange to find the overtly gothic sting of a reprieve at the end. It’s another nod to literary villains and implacable foes of course. The ring, the laughter. This Master really does take few chances, even if they’re high risk and rather odd in light of his recent experiences. Indeed, his escape from the Great Time War may have been even greater risk. Forget coming out of that too late – what about coming out of it too early in the temporal conflict. A bit of a one shot trick.
Most importantly, the one-up-Time-Lord-ship isn’t over. Dracula has competition.
His last words are pining. “How about that. I win. Will it stop Doctor, the drumming? Will it stop?” But is it more so than the Doctor’s immediate confrontation with a new and even more severe loneliness: “You can’t do this, it’s not fair”?
So comes another final death for the king of them. The Doctor even sets a funeral pyre. Less symbolic than it appears: he can’t leave a Time Lord body as we are later told in Series Six. The Doctor of fire against the Gallifreyan music. The eye of the storm is a prickly get out, but it does take us to a different place: The Doctor’s quite probably the most alone he’s ever been, Martha’s departure a reminder of Donna’s rejection at the end of The Runaway Bride the Christmas before. If there is a light, the whole damaging and devastating experience has taught Martha the power of getting on with life and not wasting years of her life pining. Scant consolation, and an indelible legacy for this Master. Far removed from those years of pathetic survival, his course has been successfully redirected.
Mind you, it’s a form of last gasp triumph. When he’d return he’d be no less dangerous or brilliant, albeit in a highly fragile state. The true legacy of the New Series was to fall series later, when he was no more Minister, Master nor Man.
Next Time: Finally – Missy tells us she’s so fine…