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…

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