Thus revealed, the creature buried its nose in the tire-tilled soil...
January 24, 2020
The Master Dynamic

So I'd meant to go on an extended rant about the 2-part Doctor Who season opener, but then things got super terrible and I hadn't much felt like writing much about anything, let alone something as ultimately trivial as a television show. I still don't know that I'm entirely up for this, but somehow it feels like a thing I should get out of the way? Despite the triviality. So here goes:

Spoiler: the Master is back, and... kind of terrible, and not in the way that a good villain should be. The Master, admittedly, is one of my favorite villains from any property -- not because he (or, quite recently, she) is necessarily a compelling character (the "evil" version of the hero trope is, well, a trope), but because he and the Doctor frequently interact so amicably. While the two characters are often in opposition, there's genuine respect and fondness between the two, and on more than one occasion the Master has worked with the Doctor to further a mutual goal (usually survival) and has even moved to save the Doctor when there seemed to be no immediate benefit to doing so. Granted, the Master has often sought to *turn* those latter situations to his benefit, but there still seems to be a certain sincerity to his initial motivations. As the Master said on one occasion when the Time Lords enlisted his aid in an attempt to preserve the Doctor's life, "A cosmos without the Doctor scarcely bears thinking about."

But here I am primarily talking about the Master of the classic series. The incarnation of the Master played by John Simm in the 2005+ series largely threw away the civility and pleasantness, instead opting to do things like scream in the Doctor's face and making the Doctor crawl around on hands and knees and live in a dog house for an entire year. I did not like it. But when the Master returned some years later -- this time regenerated into a female body and known as the Mistress, or Missy for short -- there was a sort of return to the old dynamic. Here Missy's schemes seemed to focus on regaining the Doctor's approval and/or highlighting how similar the two were, and ultimately the Doctor took on Missy as a sort of apprentice in an effort to imbue her with the ethical underpinnings her character had so long lacked. The writing there wasn't always brilliant, but it was -- in my view -- several steps up from the Simm incarnation and a welcome return to the aspect of the Master/Doctor dynamic that I had always found most compelling. Missy even almost redeemed the Simm Master for me, since Missy's final appearance also saw the return of that previous incarnation (wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey), and I rather enjoyed seeing the two versions contrasted (though admittedly that particular Simm was way more controlled and a whole lot less ridiculous than he appeared during the Davies run). Ultimately the two versions killed each other, which I found to be an especially interesting choice in light of just how survival-focused the character has been throughout his/her history. (Even in his initial nuWho outing, we're told that the Master was so afraid of perishing in the Time War that he erased his memory, altered his DNA to appear human -- this proud Time Lord who consistently thumbs his nose at the inferior species! -- and fled to the farthest reaches of the universe in the far future in order to hide and so preserve his life. Heck, the final serial of the classic series, in which the Master appears at his most desperate and unhinged, is titled "Survival.")

So all in all, I found Missy's run to be a relatively satisfying return to form and end for the character. And while I absolutely expected the Master to return again at some point (the classic Master also has one of the best lines in any media in which the villain inexplicably survives: upon returning from certain death and being questioned about his survival, the Master simply exclaims, "Come, come, the whole universe knows I'm indestructible!" and that is that), I'd hoped that a) the character would stay gone for a while and b) a returning Master might retain some of the restored congeniality (and perhaps even a desire to do good, if only to indulge the Doctor) of the Missy incarnation.

Alas, those hopes were in vain, because the Master is back (after staying gone only one season) and is running around screaming and publicly murdering people left-and-right and demanding the Doctor kneel before him and say his (the Master's) name and other such nonsense. I could go on about that, too -- but that's what YouTube clips are for? So the first is from "The King's Demons," which is an okay classic serial (I think it's fun and RennFesty; it also has the benefit of being comparatively brief); the latter is from the second part of "Spyfall," this season's opener. I have no idea which modern audiences would prefer (probably, sadly, the latter), but hopefully you can at least see the contrast I've attempted to describe and understand why the former better exemplifies what I've found most appealing about prior incarnations of the character and his relationship with the hero.

-posted by Wes | 10:46 pm | Comments (0)
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