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: Read more…

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

The Mistress, Time Lady and Cyberman

You’re still obeying me? Excellent. The MaRCHster takeover reaches the current age end with quite possibly the Master’s most successful comeback. But the Twelfth Doctor, made for the kind of rivalry that was denied his predecessor, encountered a Master very different to previous iterations. this was one intent on taking us all for hellluva ride. Far removed from the tin-pot schemes of the 1980s and all those miserable constraints of survival, the time of the Mistress was upon us. A tale of … Hey Missy!

Dark Water and Death in Heaven (Series 8, 2014)

IT LOOKS LIKE THE MASTER, NOW THE MISTRESS, IS BACK FOR GOOD. SERIES EIGHT WAS EMPHATIC ABOUT IT, BEFORE SERIES NINE WAS PLAYFUL… Showing her face in almost every episode during 2014, the Master’s total appearances were very nearly 25% greater by the end of that year than the beginning. All those little asides may have seemed arbitrary, even after the great reveal of Dark Water, but programme credits ensured they were canonically embedded every time. Add in her appearance in the opening two-parter of Series Nine and that rogue’s easily amassing a frequency of appearances on a par with her/his early 1970s arrival. Time to stop mixing pronouns and determiners – we all know who we’re talking about. And Missy is undoubtedly already in the league of Delgado’s dapper ‘80s incarnation and Ainley’s smug ‘80s successor. Michelle Gomez’ recent nomination for a BAFTA, something Peter Capaldi’s Doctor astonishingly didn’t achieve for his work in Heaven Sent alone, can’t be underestimated. This incarnation, quite impossible to follow, will be around some time. And there are signs that the show itself is moving in her wake. As if in acknowledgement, the last series saw the current grey haired grump of a Doctor developed an increasing penchant for velvet jackets and capes last seen during the master’s prime.

Masterful appearances The Master in Doctor Who
How the Master’s canonical* appearances stack up in 2016. (*with the honorary inclusion of 2003’s Scream of the Shalka)

40 years on from his arrival, the Master’s life cycle has reached ever new levels of absurd drama. Yes, even more than his bug-eyed husk scheming on Gallifrey or years hidden in a garden on Traken. In fact, after the slide from suave villainy to desperate skeleton during the 1970s and those ridiculous grasps at ongoing survival through tenuous plots of the 1980s, the 21st century has set a new bar for villainous highs and impossible odds of survival lows. Last decade, the Master’s return was hidden in plain sight, through rumour and electioneering. It was a light but neat exploration of what Moffat inadvertently branded the show’s timey-wimeyness in that same series; a counter-balance to the alternative timeline year of hell that formed from his actions in the last episode of the series. The Master who fought impossibly, and gothically, back from the dead to see off the Tenth Doctor at The End of Time was never quite the same as a result. He was still brilliant, still unhinged, but with flashes of skull that recalled his death-tempting slumps of the past. He wasn’t a complete incarnation and was last seen dragging Rassilon and the Time Lords back into the Great Time War from which the cowardly rogue had previously taken great pains to escape. If the Master was going to return it would have to be breaking the Time Lock and overcoming the mystery of Gallifrey that has done much to distinguish the New Series from the Classic

A new world

“Those words from me are yours now”

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. There’s still a light spin on a tried Moffat trope as the old lady’s confused voice, employing that well known Tenth Doctor line, “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry,” tells Clara that Danny Pink is dead. And so that strange relationship comes to a close in an extraordinary opening to a season finale that’s even more bizarrely the show’s first two-parter in three years. It doesn’t quite scan considering the previous series of the pair’s relationship, but sets a fast rolling beginning not for the drama but the concept. So begins a story that starts and ends in deceit, in fact it’s riddled by it. Read more…

Doctor Who Series 9: Companion Closure – What’s in a Series?

Doctor Who Face the Raven
I think your work is EXCELLENT!

Doctor Who’s seasons and series have waxed and waned for over five decades. Face the Raven set a new bar, with a companion departure seemingly setting up a maybe-two part finale. Choosing statistics over grief, this essay looks at the show’s changing approach to confounding expectation and compounding the drama.

Taking 45 minutes out, inspired by Face the Raven.

THE CLOSING SCENES OF FACE THE RAVEN WEREN’T EXACTLY UNEXPECTED, BUT FEW WOULD DOUBT THAT CLARA’S INFLUENCE WILL STRETCH TO THE END OF SERIES NINE AND PROBABLY BEYOND. EVEN ADRIC MADE AN APPEARANCE AT HIS FINAL DOCTOR’S REGENERATION. AND HE WASN’T AN IMPOSSIBLE GIRL. That precocious mathematician wasn’t even the first of the Doctor’s companions to perish, it’s safe to assume that honour went to Sara Kingdom, adventuring for all too brief a time alongside the First Doctor during The Dalek’s Masterplan. But Adric’s was the most laboured and ill thought out demise. Sleep No More may have bodged the opening title replacement the week before, but it’s impossible to imagine the sapping horror if Face the Raven had rolled silent closing credits. But if the intervening 33 years between Adric and Clara’s departure have taught us anything about loss and companionship in Doctor Who, it’s that there are many fates worse than death.

Always a show of commendable contrariness, Doctor Who often celebrates what other shows consider a misfortune. The loss of a lead or many lead actors may sink other dramas, but for Doctor Who it’s very much the life juice of its longevity. Not just the most imaginative programme on the box, but one with an unquenchable thirst for change. We’ve seen huge events in the fabric of the show tie in with major occasions many times before, but somehow Face the Raven decided to fly in the face of convention and rob the New Series of its longest serving companion two episodes from the series’ end, during what might in most series form the two-part finale. That doesn’t look so strange in the eclectic structures that the New Series has adopted since 2010, especially considering Clara’s three unconventional entrances. But back to that change piece, Series Nine sees things greatly changed from not just the Classic Series years, but even the format adopted when the show returned in 2005.

And within these structures, borrowed and sometimes blue like the TARDIS, sub-even trends wax and wane, like the much coveted episode 10 rule set by Blink that burned out brightly and quickly within a few years. There’s lots to consider when plotting out the structure of a series as reliant on change as it beholden to its heritage.

The rise and fall of the Classic Series

Built on quantity as much as anything else…

Doctor Who was built on quantity as much as anything else. The first three seasons covered three quarters of the year each, back in the glorious days when almost every individual episode warranted its own title. That makes naming something like The Daleks with any accuracy particularly fraught. The seasons then simplified, but still ran from autumn through to the following summer all the way to the arrival of colour. With the appearance of the Third Doctor in 1970, the show dispensed with Christmas and ran six months from January to June until the Fourth Doctor’s arrival soon saw it tilt back to December through May and then even further to autumn through spring (with the honourable exception of the disrupted Season 17). That was a broadcasting structure that stuck until the show’s hiatus in 1985. Splattered in between were repeats, particularly during the 20th anniversary year and notably the November broadcast of The Five Doctors in 1983 – 32 years ago this week. Read more…

Doctor Who Series 9: Have companions become more important than the Doctor?

Invasion of the Zygons Doctor Who
Didn’t I say, if we hang around long enough we’ll get another show…

The fifth of a series of essays inspired by the stories of Doctor Who Series Nine. The return of the Earth invasion, politics and the last brilliant multi-Doctor story. But something wasn’t quite right. The Doctor wasn’t in total control. His companions were.

A question brewing for 10 years. Inspired by the The Zygon Invasion and The Zygon Inversion

IT’S NOT TOO SOON, IS IT? WHEN COMES TO DOCTOR WHO IT MAY AS WELL BE TOO LATE, SO LET’S JUST SETTLE ON THE TIMEING BEING EXACTLY RIGHT. From where I sit in the far future Clara’s been gone for centuries and I’ve managed to get over it… Yes, this might be a little strong. Episodes of Series Nine are increasingly piling up the doom and gloom surrounding Clara’s imminent departure. It could be any time now, but even if it falls before the series finale, the repercussions will reach to the end and beyond. It’s certainly going to be a wrench. As the recent two-parter proved, she’s not only the modern era’s longest serving companion, but quite possibly the most important companion in the show’s history…

But Clara’s colleague companions have been important for many years. If the New Series can be marked out from the classic years in any terms, it’s not the missing Time Lords but the increased role of who the Doctor calls his “friends”.

The Classic Years

Far beyond… “The nightmare scenario…”

Companions had a simple purpose in many of the padded stories of the classic era. Classic companions like Leela, who accompanied the Fourth Doctor, had foibles and qualities that fed into the tone of the stories that followed their introduction. In further adventures they often used these to find new and very personal ways to get into trouble. Leela brought an Eliza Doolittle model to the TARDIS. Harry Sullivan was an imbecile, but also a doctor. Sarah Jane Smith was a reporter. Nyssa was a scientist, specialising in bioelectronics. Tegan was an air stewardess who was constantly trying to get back to Heathrow airport and once did. Mel Bush had an eidetic memory and a spectacular scream. But often, despite their unique characteristics, companions served their greatest narrative function within the confines of their origin story. None of their characters defined subsequent stories.

Perhaps the nearest the series came to that was the delirious Brigadier in Series 20’s Mawdryn Undead, a Blinovitch loaded time bomb wandering around an alien ship until he created a scene. That same season Tegan fell under the spell of the Mara for a second time, although she was the bridge rather than the focus for these stories. Then came Mel in Trial of a Time Lord. Having seen her in Matrix projections of the future, the Doctor retrieved the companion he’s never met to form part of his defence, only for her to take a role in foiling the fiendish plot of the Valeyard inside the Matrix of the Timelords itself. Earlier came precocious Adric, whose sacrifice to mathematics enabled his friends to escape. It was his last act, but he certainly never found out if he was right.

Original crew

When she left, she left for love …

Even original companion Susan was as removed from adventures as her offish un-Doctorly grandfather. Indirectly, it was her elevated extrovertness and poor subtlety that brought two humans, Barbara and Ian, on board the TARDIS to kick-start the two exiles’ involvement in the universe. Susan and the Doctor didn’t leave Gallifrey to gallivant around the universe after all. With so little of the show’s fabric stitched by the time she left the TARDIS crew a year later, she was never attached to being a Time Lady or given their key abilities. She even had the sauce to claim the acronym of TARDIS as her own, as the Doctor presumably fondly remembered in The Zygon Inversion. That said, she did display telepathic abilities, saving Barbara in The Sensorites, that might just have exceeded her grandfather’s. When she left, she left for love. She didn’t play a part in any arc, presumably the Time Lords never caught up with her to put her on trial. Maybe she wasn’t pursued – but could she have escaped the Time War?  Read more…

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