Doctor Who: The Master through the decades – The New Series Compression Eliminated

The New Series Masters - 21st century

Bringing the Master’s journey up to the current day. For the past two years, Jokerside has tracked the Doctor’s arch-nemesis through time… Well, through the past five decades. From his suave arrival in the 1970s to her tussles with the Twelfth Doctor, Jokerside presents the summary… The 21st century: The Master throughout the New Series!

ARRIVING EIGHT YEARS INTO THE SHOW’S RUN, THE MASTER QUICKLY ESTABLISHED HIMSELF AT THE TOP TABLE OF DOCTOR WHO VILLAINS. The 18 years that followed saw mixed fortunes for the dastardly Time Lord, from volte faces to crispy husk, from zombie smarmy to a complete lack of priorities.

The suggestion remained however, that the foe would always return for the big moments. While the Daleks and Cybermen stole a spot in the show’s 25th anniversary season, it was the Master who backed the final story of the Classic Series. On many levels, brilliantly named Survival. Seven years later, it was the Master who took the role of antagonist in the Doctor’s short-lived foray into American television.

So surely it was a done deal that the show’s glorious return to British screens in 2005 was counting down to the greatest death-dodger’s next resurrection… It just took a couple of years. And when this Jokerside retrospective of the Master through the decades reached the 21st century, a few rules needed to be broken.

The schism caused by the Great Time War on screen and the machinations of the BBC behind it, led to two parallel glances for the first decade of the new century. The Who canon had split and the trail of the Master with it. Although it hadn’t appeared likely at the beginning of the decade, the 2000s would prove to be a pivotal decade for the despicable Time Lord. He was to take on three distinct forms, breaking out of his survivalist years with a bang, before plummeting back to them and helping to take out yet another of the Doctor’s incarnations on the way. And then things were really going to change.

But the confusion started, as Jokerside observed, with the villain’s demise at the close of the 1996 TV Movie, “an inescapable ‘curse of fatal’ type death, was subsequently picked up by two very different returns that resolved in two parallel universes. And of course, thanks to the ever-eccentric machinery of the BBC, they’re as co-dependent as they are incompatible. Yeah, and people wonder why fans are pre-occupied with canonicity… To make matters even more confusing, across the two realities there are some notable similarities to mull.”

So, let’s split the universe.

The Master in the 2000s – “Dear me, how tiresome” (A Tale of Two Jacobis)

Scream of the Shalka, online anniversary special (2003)

The Master in Scream of the Shalka and UtopiaNovember 2003 marked Doctor Who’s 40th anniversary, but there wasn’t to be much of a celebration or televised special as there had been around the show’s 10th, 20th or 30th birthdays. At least, not in the usual sense. Doctor Who was no longer a beast of television, but continued through an extended universe of audio plays, books official and unauthorised, comics, reprints, merchandise and in the of-their-time web pages of BBC Interactive.

The dream project of James Goss, then BBC producer now Who author, had to steer the production over rocky terrain to bring a new kind of special to dial-up internet across the world. Gs pulled a number of great decisions from the jaws of adversity, such as hiring Paul Cornell to pen the script. And Cornell’s take was no slavish continuation:

“Cornell crafted a classic and creepy tale in the Quatermass-mould, an innovative invasion that was in many ways a lighter precursor of the process Russell T Davies would undertake for the television reboot. It’s no surprise they came up with some similar solutions in the changed media landscape of the new century. Rightly ignoring regeneration, as Rose would, Shalka introduced a new Doctor with a notably sharper and fluctuating personality, coping with in-built angst as he struggled to shake off the grief of losing an unseen and un-named female companion. In this continuity, much to his chagrin and resentment he’s continually dispatched to problem areas by those unseen and unnamed… We can only assume that the Time Lords had a new PR team in.”

And alongside Richard E Grant’s new Doctor came was a refreshing if deceptively familiar Master in tow.

“In a series of short scenes, this Master cuts a memorable figure. Superbly voiced by Derek Jacobi, his is an incarnation very much in the Delgado mould. In many ways, this is Cornell’s love letter to that Master. But the trick here is that he’s never a major threat. As if he’s trapped in a time loop of the last few minutes of almost every one of the Delgado incarnation’s plots – forced into joining forces with the Doctor.”

Cornell managed the difficult feat of wringing classic menace and humour from the villain, enhanced by the flash-based but effective animation that often keeps, “this android Master’s silhouette in shadow amid stunningly shadowy imagery, as if to compound his mysterious constraint.” The links were never tied up, but there are clear assumptions to be drawn from this and his fate at the climax of the TV Movie. Best of all, it brought a ready-made new dynamic for the show’s leading Time Lords:

“This Master’s actually a robot construction of the Doctor’s, containing the Time Lords consciousness but with strict programming parameters that are suggested to include an inability to leave the TARDIS. Quite presumably then, he’s a direct continuation of the Master’s deranged and very final death in the Television Movie. And his place of death, in the heart of the TARDIS, may well provide another explanation for his anchoring in the time ship aside from the Doctor’s caution. This Doctor, although wonderfully crotchety, self-absorbed and distracted is right to be wary, as the Master will of course switch allegiance at any opportunity.”

And as a reluctant ally for most of this adventure, this Master still manages to be incredibly effective when he puts his mind to it.

“So, there’s the Master, effectively in the Eighth Doctor TARDIS, informing the Shalka that he’s the dearest companion to the owner of the craft. He’s a dapper gent, all calm and suave (only hesitating when his minor transgressions risk detection), and he’s still scientifically superior. His first act is banish the Shalka from the craft by reflecting their “tiresome” screams.”

“Unfortunate” is the wrong word to describe Shalka’s all too hasty consignment to the bin of non-canonical oddity. As Jokerside observed, it’s to the nefarious time traveller’s credit that he had “not only taken main villain duties for the 1996 TV Movie, but also assumed an unprecedented spot in BBCi’s 40th anniversary webcast.” With stock so high, he was a shoe-in for any rebooted series that came about… And unfortunately for Shalka the announcement of that very thing happened just under two months before the anniversary adventure was released.

Of course, the Master would return, but there would be a few red herrings in the four years that separated Shalka and a trip to Utopia in the revived series third year. There was a grand plan it seemed, and the Master wove his way through arguably the New Series’ greatest season without us even realising.

“An impressive feature of the Davies years is that the big bads returned in the same order as they had in the original run. Daleks, Cybermen, the Master, Davros. Even the Macra managed to slot in the right place. But the return of the Master was going to top the lot, as he’d been around without us even noticing. And considering Human Nature was followed by Blink, that’s saying something.”

We didn’t encounter the Master first of course. Instead we stumbled upon the affable Professor Yana at the end of the universe, helping the last of humanity find Utopia. He appeared brilliantly in the form of Sir Derek Jacobi (“an assured touch of class throughout”) who had so skilfully crafted a frustrated, sly Master in Shalka. The reveal at the close of an episode that really hadn’t promised very much at all is brilliantly handled.

But Utopia has a deceptively brilliant build-up. As well developing into one of the show’s greatest zombie homages, Utopia is a lot more than race against time action propelling a villain into the finale two-parter.

“Utopia is really a simple tale of two men, both on the verge of discovering themselves. The mysterious and out of time Professor Yana and the returning Captain Jack. After Jack’s survival at the end of the first series, Davies had been quick to explain that the charismatic time agent wouldn’t return until the third series. That return, and even Torchwood’s advent all helped obscure Utopia’s real obsession… Utopia is deceptively well plotted. Jack’s presence not only casts a shadow over the over enthusiastic Tenth Doctor but explains away the irregular jump to the far, far future. And where better place to find the Master than the end of the universe…”

There he lurks, but the Master’s return has to contend with the changes wrought by the New Series. A lot had changed and as one of the Doctor’s key foes, his return not only had to overcome the new ‘lone Time Lord dynamic’ of the revival, but the pair’s considerable history. While the hints as to Yana’s true identity are all there, until the words were uttered no fan could be sure what was happening. But it’s all very rewarding in retrospect.

“This old man, crucially in his Edwardian garb, a brilliant scientist, still manages to surpass the Doctor’s grasp of science and engineering without his faculties intact, as he acts out the opposite of his former self; in pursuit of unification and utopia. Perhaps the only pause the episode’s allowed, there’s that wonderful chance for the Master to work with the Doctor – with some telling joking around – for once not out of bad luck or foiled plans. And behind it plays the soaring Murray Gold piece we would soon associate with Gallifrey…”

Utopia seizes the chance that Shalka never had: signing off the past while setting a template for the future. Yana, “endures a fair build-up including some guest sound bites from previous incarnations, before making the most of his short but dastardly turn. Considering the incarnations to follow, it’s almost as though Jacobi’s stint used up all that suppressed rage and hate in one sharp push, allowing frippery and facetiousness to gain more of a foothold. (Post-transformation) he’s wonderfully cold, and even his irritating assistant (another reference to the Doctor) manages to grasp a chan-gut-wrenching-tho from her death as well as setting the Master’s game-plan for the series finale. As he says, ‘As one door closes, another must open’.”

While the Master’s first murder in decades is a failure, it allows him to mirror his great foe…

The Master in the 2000s – “No beard this time… well, a wife

The Sound of Drums, Series 3 (2007)

Master The Master John SimmUtopia had unlocked Doctor Who’s first three-parter in 18 years, and in John Simm given us a brand new manic Master into match David Tenant’s frenetic Tenth Doctor. And the Great Time War allowed show runner Russell T Davies the chance to craft a Master unfettered by his failed physiology for the first time since the mid-1970s. And more than overcoming his husky constraints, the Master’s “stable and secure as a majority-backed, popular and time-rich Prime Minister”. It 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 a height of great distance for a defeated Master to fall.”

Davies wrings a horrific dystopia from The Sound of Drums and Last of the Time Lords – effectively – the ‘what if the Master won’ tale. And of all the Masters we’ve seen, this might just be the one you least want to win. As Jokerside observed, “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.

“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.”

Indeed: “This Master’s a megalomaniac, obsessed with his own image. 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.”

Simms’ Master picks up sneering from the Ainley’s 1980s incarnation and a love of children’s TV like the Delgado 1970’s persona. Fortunately, he also retained a fine sense of a grand plot from Roberts’ 1990s version. Of course, each of those ‘different’ incarnations were very likely the same one. This was the first time we’d experienced a new ‘Time Lord’ incarnation of the Master since 1971. But the greatest aid to this new Master came not from within, but thanks to the closer plotting of the New Series, the Doctor himself. To the latter’s wry amusement in the subsequent short Time Crash, the Master had gained a damaged wife of a companion. He had achieved his rapid rise to power thanks to the power vacuum left when the Tenth Doctor deposed Prime Minister Harriet Jones in The Runaway Bride. And while he’s retained his “obsession” with making the Doctor suffer, he’ seems to have learnt from his past.

“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.”

But it’s the key parallel of this Master as dictator of Earth that the Series 3 finale excels.

“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 decidedly 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’.”

Those Toclafane are another variation of the Cybermen of humanity’s ancient history, in many ways “proving Mondasian logic”. As such, they pitch a rather unlikeable strand of pessimism to sit alongside the Doctor’s usual optimism, particularly after his comments on the survival of mankind in Utopia. The Master’s new, focussed delight in sadism very much points towards his arch-nemesis:

“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.”

Such sadism may seem extreme, even with the contradictory views of regeneration the New Series presents (death? Man-flu?). But then, “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.”

Last of the Time Lords, Series 3 (2007)

More surprising than the transition from the Enemy of the State intrigue of the story’s first part to the dystopian globetrotting adventure of the second, is that it ends in explicit Christian allegory. The infamous deus ex machine ending that sees the magic Doctor resurrected is only one part of that:

“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.”

True to form, the roots of the Doctor’s defeat of his nemesis after one year, relies on deception, deceit and the Master’s own technology. Defeated and shot by his wife, payback for his sadistic actions, the Master’s presented with a similar scenario to 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”. 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. But this Master chooses death instead, with only the slightest hint of a gratifyingly gothic horror resurrection down the line. And although the Earth resets for all but an unlucky few, the Master’s year-long triumph has left an impression:

“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.”

The Master in the 2010s – “I need my friend back”

Dark Water, Series 8, (2014)

At the close of the decade that saw Doctor Who roar back as one of the BBC’s most successful shows, the Master played a key role in ending the tenure of one of the Doctor’s most popular incarnations. By that time, thanks to his ropey resurrection in The End of Time, Davies had the chance to write for a Master who’s sunk quickly back to a survivalist state. All hoodie and bleached hair (still no beard), the fiend seemed further away from his 1970s roots than ever.

With more character and history to play with than other villains or monsters, the Master returned to the New Series with the most changes. The End of Time blamed, “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.”

Sucked back to Gallifrey at the close of that epic adventure, it seemed that the brief appearance of a Master not resorting to a volte face this time, or failing to think through the consequences of his actions had been a mere flash in the pan. Little did we suspect that, “40 years on from his arrival, the Master’s life cycle was to reach ever new levels of absurd drama.”

Masterful appearances The Master in Doctor WhoSeries 8 once again brought us a Master dominated arc, but unlike Series 3 it unravelled in plain sight. To such a degree that 25% of the fiend’s appearances have come since 2014. This time, it wasn’t a paradox and regeneration that kept us in the dark. Show runner Steven Moffat had little interest in the survivalist Master, despite his love of the show’s 80s era (in fact, he’d later have great fun at its expense), instead using the opportunity to present a Master at the peak of his powers. Or more appropriately, a Mistress at the peak of her powers.

Missy had arrived, and while her predecessor had conquered Earth, she had taken over Hell.

“The world the Mistress slowly returns to is a whole lot bleaker than the one the Master left, but that’s partly down to her convoluted scheme. From the Twelfth Doctor’s debut in Deep Breath, Series 8 is a bleak one over all, dogged by death and war, taking breaks in the dainty, absurd teatime surroundings of the show’s mysterious new Mary Poppins. The quick, sad and blunt beginning of Dark Water reconfirms that thanatopsis, as if it was needed.”

Yes, it’s the death of companion Clara’s boyfriend that, apparently coincidentally, launches us into the Mistress’ grand scheme. But the incarnation that Moffat shapes is different to her predecessors in more than gender. In fact, the shift is so great, and Series 8 so invested in it, that the show has to shape to accommodate her:

“All the way up to its iconic finale, Dark Water is not an adventure that worries about place or time. It lives in a conceptual realm, immediately concerned with getting these characters to a hell of paradox and death, but getting the slush of the psychic interface out of the way early on. That ambition is not uncommon in a peak episode Steven Moffat finale, nor is the strange pacing. That it doesn’t strictly feature a parallel universe or alternative realities, that there’s no nursery rhyme or prophetic mantra, puts it a step up from the finales of Series Five and Six. And any alternative existence is a side-note in this resolution to the series arc. It’s most important function is to establish a tone in which the new Mistress can be unveiled.”

It’s not so much the darkness of the theme. As Jokerside observed, “Moffat’s afterlife fits into a grand Who tradition, particularly the edgy bureaucracy that Robert Holmes had masterfully brought to alien societies. It’s odd, disturbing and dark, although oblique and impossible to tie down in Moffat’s hands. Despite the difficult and deliberately confrontational concept at the heart of Dark Water’s light plot, the concept of death and afterlife has been inherent to Who for some time. Indeed, the difficulty of balancing that with comedy, mainly Chris Addison’s distracting Seb, is far more difficult than confronting the afterlife over Saturday tea.”

And the mechanism for Missy’s scheme, featuring many a nod to past adventures, is similarly rooted in the work of that great father of the Master Robert Holmes,

“That unreality, the answer to the series-long riddle that has hinged on this Mary Poppins figure, is down to a classic piece of Who-lore, again invented by Robert Holmes. It’s Time Lord Matrix technology, the advanced computer database/artificial construct that has allowed for all manner of artistic license since the mid-1970s. For once, there is no need for Moffat to pull in that parallel universe or premonitory rhyme through paradox. Instead there is Who’s ultimate re-writing tool.”

As for the Mistress herself, she is not so much a shift in the character’s direction as responsive tool in the constraints of the production:

“Missy herself, despite managing to retain her mystery until the end of Dark Water, is soon revealed to be just as much a detached and self-absorbed psychopath as her predecessor. That said, she’s a step forward in achieving the ideal mix of comic relief and unsettling terror for the New Series under Moffat’s leadership. Big on strategy, utterly deranged: she’s fascinating.

The Master’s change of gender ticks loads of boxes. It confronts, confounds, exacerbates the constant gossip surrounding a female Doctor – while steering heat away from the good Time Lord for an incarnation at least. Although, come that next regeneration it might serve to tangle things further. It also confronts the criticism levelled at female characters during the early years of Moffat’s tenure. By the conclusion of Series 8, with the Mistress joining the family of Kate Stewart and instant favourite Osgood at UNIT, as well as Clara who was well on her way to becoming the show’s longest serving companion, Doctor Who was dominated by strong female characters.”

Clearly, the gender repositioning changes the dynamic with the Doctor, now in the older form of his twelfth incarnation. While the, “rhyme and reason for the Master’s reappearance is brushed aside it’s not with disdain. There’s more a sense of sexual tension combined with an ambiguous anger at the Doctor for abandoning her.”

That odd disdain for some of the Master’s daft days would come later. Because yes, Missy cut such an immediate and fan-baitingly cool line her survival for quite some years to come is all but ensured. No incarnation has made such an impressive, ready-made introduction since Delgado’s in 1971. But that didn’t stop Moffat wringing the red herring dry on the way.

“The gender shift lets the Master cut loose like never before. That comes with a risk considering the Master’s fine history of disguises, both terrible and middling, alongside the occasionally pathetic pseudonym. But Michelle Gomez’s performance is enough to power away from the misdirection of the sporadic Missy’s appearances and create a scene-stealing persona in the context of Series 8’s most unreal environment. It’s no wonder that on her sneaky and deceitful first appearance, her suggestion that she’s a Random Access Neural Integrator, or RANI, fell very flat as a red herring.”

Death in Heaven, Series 8, (2014)

The Mistress, Time Lady and CybermanOf course, as much as credit goes to Moffat and Gomez, there’s some readymade cultural baggage Missy can fly off with. When she floats down on an umbrella – a ridiculous but forgivable leap typical of the Moffat era, the touch of Mary Poppins becomes blatant. Missy is deranged, but thanks to the flirtation this gender-reversal’s promoted, any accusations of melodrama or excessive mania that dogged the character’s last three incarnations are mitigated.

Her plot continues the trend for larger schemes set by the 1990s; in fact it’s her most lavish yet. In Delgado’s last appearance, 1973’s Frontier in Space, the Master entered into an unholy alliance with the Daleks. Simm’s Harold Saxon had continued that trend by mustering an army of corrupted future humans, the Toclafane. Now it’s the turn of the Cybermen, continuing their continued collapse into slave obscurity.

The two-part finale (the return of the Master earned the show’s first multi-part episode for four years) takes pains to nod to Cyber-classics including The Tomb of the Cybermen and The Invasion under Rachel Talalay’s superb direction. In a curious cycle, those only serve to highlight their straitened existence, just as The King’s Demons had to the mid-1980s Master. So often defeated by love during the Moffat era, Death in Heaven may be the peak of their trough:

“It’s a grand scheme, utilising the entire of the Earth’s dead as fodder for the great zombies of the Who universe. But in the event, the fresh fiends spend the entirety of Death of Heaven just standing around. It makes their Graveyard March of The Next Doctor look like the original Marathon.”

But this is Missy’s show, and they are little more than a zombie virus. There are numerous references to the Master’s past exploits to go with homages to the Cybermen, as well of course, particularly recalling his 1970s adventures. The intricacies of the plot, from the TARDIS that takes the front doors of St Paul’s Cathedral to the actual transference of the dead to the MATRIX remain obscure, but it’s certainly spectacular and a fine canvas for the full reveal of this foe’s new lease of life.

“Once Missy’s name is out, her plan underway, Death in Heaven is a curious spectacle. It’s talky, although absurd. It’s not without action, but spends a great deal of its extended running time in a graveyard. Fortunately, it’s also sporadically broken up with acts of supreme, dedicated and unpredictable evil by the Mistress.”

And evil she is.

“Smarmy, deranged, a master strategist and under Moffat, she appears more deadly than ever before. It’s key in her merciless dispatch of the cheerful Doctor Chang, king of the first episode’s exposition. That small sequence shows the issues of combining such an unsympathetic villain – she’s no antihero although would impossibly wander into that territory come the following year – with one of the show’s most enjoyable characters. It’s tricky.”

And in the midst of her capture by UNIT, recalling the conclusion of 1971’s The Daemons, trussed up like Hannibal Lecter, in a nod to The End of Time, Missy enacts one of her most memorable deaths:

“Previously, the vast majority of this foe’s kills might have been seen as amoral, part of a grander plan. With Missy there seems to be a specific intent and enjoyment, even exceeding her predecessor’s sadism. It’s no mistake that Murray Gold’s music takes on a touch of the comic Grand Guignol, another nod to that difficulty in framing this unframable character. If there’s an equivalent to this new dynamic, it’s not that Missy is the Doctor’s Moriarty but his Joker.”

It’s all the more damning that her victim is Osgood, one of the other female characters who effortlessly confronted the role of women in Moffat’s Who. Although the impact of that death would be slightly undermined a year later, Missy’s intent shone just as strongly.

And in a year rooted in the Doctor’s struggle with whether he’s a good or bad man, his enemy has the upper-hand:“Missy knows exactly what she is: ‘Well look at me, I’m bananas’” To rub it in, the crisis promotes the Doctor to President of the Earth aboard the new UNIT flagship (plane) a wry twist on the events of Last of the Time Lords.

“I need you to know we’re not so different. I need my friend back.”

The true power and surprise of this incarnation is proved come the end when Missy has not only revitalised the nefarious Time Lord, but answered the Twelfth Doctor’s riddle.

“The Mistress may highlight the inherent conflict at the heart of the Doctor, but she also inadvertently solves it. Who else could do that? Come the conclusion he realises that it’s not about being good or bad, but her action, or offer, affirms him in the belief that he’s in fact “an idiot with a box and a screwdriver”

Back to its place at the climax of the most miserable and cynical series of the revived show:

“Dark Water is a mash of ideas, packed with exposition and intent on fooling us through various Missy sketches, and has very little plot of its own… It’s worth noting that the Doctor’s escape, a freefall catch-up to the falling TARDIS recalls that great uncanonical Master adventure Scream of a Shalka. Away from the Matrix, we’re in a heightened reality all around.”

So, in many ways then, it’s much like Series Eight itself. It’s impressive that for all its bottled misery, it spawned an incarnation of a familiar character so refreshed and crucial in laying out the next stage of her matching Doctor’s story.

Yes, with her mysterious reappearance and misdirection, Missy linked the Gallifrey plot from the 50th anniversary to the close of Series 9. Off the back of a series that saw the character enjoy a ubiquity not seen since 1971, more than anything, the Master, or Mistress, was relevant again.

“The yin and yang was re-established at the climax of Series 9. And somehow it remains more complex, compelling and endless than ever.”

Previously: The Classic Series Compression Eliminated

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