Wednesday, October 17, 2012

I'm Sorry, Sir, You Have No Clearance (First Frontier)

I'll Explain Later

We skipped the largely disliked Strange England by Simon Messingham. He gets better in the BBC Books line.

First Frontier, David McIntee’s second novel, mashes up American UFO myths with Doctor Who, and then, about halfway through, pulls off the return of the Master. The book is altogether lighter than White Darkness, although maintains McIntee’s fondness for lengthy action sequences, upon which its reputation largely hinges. Craig Hinton proclaims it to be “another winner from Mr. McIntee,” while Lars Pearson, who had been skeptical about McIntee’s first effort as well, says that the book “needed to shed about 100 pages and not end with a whimper.” On the whole this novel is apparently stunningly average - thirty-third out of sixty-one on Sullivan’s rankings, with a 68.5% rating. DWRG Summary. Whoniverse Discontinuity Guide Entry.

It’s September of 1994. “Love is All Around,” improbably, is still at number one, having landed there way back in June. They stay there for the first two weeks of the month before Whigfield finally takes them down with “Saturday Night.” Boyz II Men, Blur, Kylie Minogue, R.E.M., and Bon Jovi also chart.

Since last we checked in, a fire wiped out the Norwich Central Library. Woodstock ’94 happened, because nothing commemorates the spirit of the 1960s like a massive corporate remake. And the Provisional Irish Republican Army announces a complete halt to all military options. While during the month this book comes out, Louise Jensen is raped and murdered by British soldiers in Cyprus, the US carries out a bloodless invasion of Haiti, and, in a desperate attempt to let me have three items in this sentence, Andrew Wiles proves Fermat’s Last Theorem again.

And in books, First Frontier. Since the “I’ll Explain Later” section robs me of any chance to bury the lead, we may as well start with the big deal, which is that this book features the return of the Master. Actually, this is still burying the lead slightly, as the real story is in many ways not that the Master is back but that the New Adventures have decided to regenerate him, with the Ainley version of the Master getting shot down by Ace in one of the novel’s innumerable action sequences. This is an unusual move. For a variety of reasons it is unrealistic to have the novels maintain the status quo of the television series - and indeed they haven’t, both introducing Benny and evolving Ace into New Ace.

Nevertheless, there are degrees of this sort of thing. None of the wilderness years lines ever made a sincere attempt at regenerating the Doctor. The only wilderness year regeneration was on television. And the reason for this is relatively obvious: it’s done so that if the series returns to television it can, in theory, pick up where it left off. Even the aging of Ace in Deceit only serves to advance her age by as many years had passed since Survival, effectively keeping Ace and Sophie Aldred’s ages in line. So if Doctor Who were to have come back with McCoy and Aldred in 1993 it would have already had to age Ace exactly as much as Deceit already had. Doctor Who, having been a television series first, always enjoys a narrative gravity towards television. The canon debates on Doctor Who, tedious as they are, aren’t really about what counts, but about what counts beyond what’s on television. Nobody, for better or for worse, ever proposes a view of Doctor Who canon in which the auxiliary material is all agreed upon but we’re not quite sure about The Stones of Blood. And so very often the job of the books or audios was viewed as “preserving” Doctor Who for when the show eventually made its return to television.

But in 1994 Anthony Ainley was alive and well - indeed, he portrayed the Master again in 1997 for the Destiny of the Doctors computer game. And yet McIntee opted to regenerate the Master. To some extent this still can be read as a net favor to the series, in that it’s no longer stuck with an actor-bound Master who can’t regenerate, but making that argument requires that we both accept that the idea of a regeneration limit is actually binding and, more importantly, requires a whole bunch of assertions about the nature of what happens at the end of The Keeper of Traken that are, while admittedly plausible, in no way the only way to read events. Simply put, the amount of expositional lift needed to justify why the Ainley Master could regenerate is minimal. Indeed, McIntee’s book has little more explanation for it than “aliens! With nanites!” There is little to no favor to the future here, not least because the putative model for McIntee’s Master, Basil Rathbone, had been dead a quarter-century when First Frontier was published, making the regeneration an almost complete dead end for the series.

And certainly its effect was to be the first shot in one of the most snarled messes around for those who enjoy Doctor Who continuity, namely the timeline of the Master from Survival through to Utopia. With the TV Movie (which actually seems to contradict the existence of the Ainley Master for good measure), Mike Tucker’s novel Prime Time, Lawrence Miles’s implied Master in The Adventuress of Henrietta Street, and the Big Finish audios Dust Breeding and Master all crowding in, not to mention Scream of the Shalka and, if you’re one of the people who blindly assumes that the Ainley Master couldn’t regenerate, the difficulty in squaring away the status quo of Utopia all crowding in. Which is, in practice, the problem with trying to do bold and definitive continuity changes in a non-television version of Doctor Who is that nobody is going to listen to you. Heck, you’re unlikely enough to get anyone to listen to you if you do it on television unless you’re Robert Holmes, in which case people will take every continuity change you make seriously whether you want them to or not.

This is a standard problem in other ultra-long-form serialized media. In superhero comics, in particular, it’s a common ailment. About half the chapters of my Wonder Woman book have some variation on “and then the writer threw out all of his predecessor’s new ideas and created his own supporting cast.” Doctor Who typically avoids this by having a relatively small amount of continuity - there just aren’t that many things to discard or completely reinvent, and most of those lack a heck of a lot of coherence to begin with. If you quietly change the Cybermen from tricky subversive communists who lurk around space stations into a strutting army of silver badasses nobody’s really going to notice. There’s just not a lot of continuity in televised Doctor Who to dramatically rewrite. Seasons Twenty and Twenty-Two excepted, the bulk of stories aren’t sequels to previous ones.

But because of the differing audience for the novels there are, understandably, a heck of a lot more sequels. First Frontier is the thirtieth New Adventure and more or less the halfway point of the range. And while by definition any attempt to count this is thoroughly subjective, I can get a pretty defensible tally whereby it’s the fifteenth novel whose basic premise positions it in terms of some previous story. (That said, the frequency with which this happens drops off sharply around this point - ignoring internal New Adventures sequels [the back two-third of Cartmel’s War Trilogy, for instance] I get nine sequel books in the last thirty-one. The reason for this is relatively straightforward - those writers interested in doing sequels largely migrated to the Missing Adventures line, where sequel books were exceedingly common, including a five-book run in 1996 in which every single book was a sequel to a previous adventure.) And so the phenomenon of writers throwing each other’s continuity out becomes considerably more common.

Indeed, for all the influence of the Virgin line, and it ought be obvious by this point that there was a lot of it, virtually none of its influence was on the level of continuity. Save for the nod to the Chelonians in The Pandorica Opens I’m not sure anything plot-wise from the New Adventures has been acknowledged by the new series. Certainly there’s no evidence of its largest and boldest claims about continuity: the Looms and the Other and the Gallifreyan Houses and all that jazz. And this is true of most of the Wilderness Years material. Even as it spins increasingly fraught and complex takes on the program’s history and continuity, these inventions are almost all ignored.

I said on Monday that fannish engagement is an inherently paranoid mode. This obsessive and, more to the point, fruitless sequelizing of the fan-run wilderness years demonstrates that. The wilderness years were uniquely concerned with the endless propagation of theories and data, simultaneously working towards a master narrative of Doctor Who and foreclosing the possibility of that with their own tangled mass of contradictions. In this regard its fitting that McIntee makes what is probably the most blatantly and thoroughly overruled change to Doctor Who continuity in a book that is also a celebration of the iconic paranoia images of UFOs and the Cold War. It is probably going a bit beyond what can fairly be described as authorial intent, but it is further fitting that he picks the Master as the subject here, and that he makes a change that, in a fundamental sense, cannot possibly be reflected in many of the later media in that Basil Rathbone cannot possibly be cast in a major role in Doctor Who.

The relevance of the latter is straightforward enough. By making a change to Doctor Who that would necessarily have to be at least partially rejected by future media McIntee is almost inviting paranoid engagement. The idea that a Basil Rathbone Master was ever going to stand long-term was on the face of it ridiculous. (Indeed, it doesn’t even last until the end of the Virgin line.) But the use of the Master is perhaps more complex. I alluded to it partially last entry - there is something intrinsically paranoid about the Master. His prior three entries into the series all came at moments where the series took a paranoid turn. And here he appears again not only surrounded by the paranoid mythology of UFOs, but in a way that drives the paranoid mode of the wilderness years forward considerably.

It is worth, then, sketching out exactly why the Master is such a paranoid figure. A big part of it is the inherent confusion of his name. He may be called the Master, but the one thing he cannot possibly do is actually be the Master of anything. He is, after all, defined as the dark mirror of the Doctor. But this isn’t quite accurate. He’s not just the dark mirror, he’s the inferior mirror. This is the basic problem with any “evil version of the hero” villain. Because the role of the villain is to be reliably defeated they cannot possibly be an equivalent to the hero, whose role is, after all, to reliably not be defeated. (This inferiority is even reflected in his name - the Master has a lesser academic degree than the Doctor) And yet the nature of the “evil version of the hero” concept is that they are, in theory, an arch-villain. This makes the Master a figure of paranoia - he is on the one hand a supposed anchoring part of the narrative, and on the other is always inadequate to that purpose. Like the master narrative sought by the paranoid the Master purports to explain everything, but ultimately fails to explain anything at all.

The Master thus ends up representing many of the show’s worst instincts. His obligatory returns (even before the clues started dropping everybody knew he was back in Series Three), his inept schemes, and the way in which his presence collapses a plot into utter straightforwardness are fundamentally allies with a death-drive obsessed paranoia that is problematic in the context of Doctor Who. And unlike other villains who inevitably return, his concept is grounded in nothing other than Doctor Who itself. The Daleks and the Cybermen are concepts unto themselves that, when introduced, bring their own ideas to the story. The Master is nothing more than the failed master narrative of Doctor Who itself.

And yet he is strangely inextricable from the show. Which is odd. For the most part I would argue that Doctor Who resists paranoid readings. Its anthology-style storytelling intrinsically cuts against the idea of a torrent of information by fracturing the ongoing narrative - up until 2005 Doctor Who simply didn’t have “arc” stories that could provide such a strange and foreign thing as an ongoing narrative. It worked in an altogether more fragmentary style. But the paranoid is always lurking around in Doctor Who, if only as an alternative that it casts itself against. Doctor Who never drew much on UFO mythology - indeed, the ridiculous conceit of UNIT and routine alien invasions goes almost exactly against the secrecy of UFO mythology. When the show has bothered to explicitly address how so many alien invasions go forgotten by the general public it tends to suggest that the general public simply forgets about them in a supreme act of self-deception, not that there’s some shadowy government organization covering them up. It’s not until 2006 that we get one of those. Even the UK cousin of UFO mythology, Quatermass, is more often drawn upon as a contrast than as a model. Doctor Who is a conscious break from this style. (And so it should have been no surprise that it was also a conscious break from the standard paranoid style of cult television.)

And the Master ends up being the aspect of this break that continually haunts Doctor Who. He is the dark mirror of the Doctor in that he comes from the paranoid alternative to Doctor Who from which it is continually breaking from (and thus continually dependent upon). And First Frontier, in both framing the Master in a larger paranoid narrative and demonstrating the extreme paranoia of this era of Doctor Who, captures that perfectly, if perhaps inadvertently.


  1. None of the wilderness years lines ever made a sincere attempt at regenerating the Doctor.

    I was under the impression that Virgin did make a sincere attempt at this, got as far as having photos taken of David Troughton in costume as the eighth Doctor, but this was vetoed by the BBC?

    1. The photo shoot thing was actually debunked, but they did begin some planning for regenerating the Doctor and having a David Troughton Doctor take over. He would have been a really large Doctor who was fond of knitting, and didn't understand his own strength, a gentle giant sort of idea. Cornell has mentioned ideas like having the Doctor land the TARDIS on a landmine, or having the Doctor get completely cut up only for a pod inside the TARDIS to regrow him, but that was probably just a lunch conversation Cornell had with Andy Lane before Rebecca Levene shut the idea down. You can actually see some foreshadowing for this idea: the end of Parasite makes it seem as though a regeneration is coming soon.

      I think one thing Phil is missing in this thread is the degree to which the NAs thought themselves the direct continuation of Who. By this point, I think most of the authors didn't expect the show to come back, but thought of the series as a book line. In this context, it makes perfect sense to regenerate the Master into Basil Rathbone- the book line is moving on, and so why should it stick with old continuity. In our modern day world of competing timelines for the 8th Doctor, a time war to deal with continuity inconsistencies, and a huge line of spin off material, this viewpoint seems odd, but in the mid 90s, the idea that the NAs just WERE Doctor Who wasn't so out there.

      BTW, Phil, which 15 books are you counting as sequels? I get (off the top of my head):

      Lucifer Rising
      Blood Heat
      No Future
      Blood Harvest
      Final Frontier (maybe...just the return of the master is hardly a sequel)

      Which is a bit lower than your count.

    2. It's always a bit of a mug's game to reconstruct a count like this over a week after I wrote the post, but the key phrase is that the premise positions it in relation to past stories - and thus I counted things like Revelation that were not sequels as such. So off-hand, what I've got:

      Exodus, Apocalypse (Logopolis), Revelation, Love and War (cheeky as it may be), Deceit (Daak), Lucifer Rising, Iceberg, Blood Heat, Conundrum, No Future, Legacy, Blood Harvest, and First Frontier. Which is still only thirteen. I must have also counted Time's Crucible and... hm. Did I count Birthright? That was tenuous of me if I did.

  2. That's a really convincing argument for the Master's role within Doctor Who's continuing narrative. May I just clarify though - are you suggesting that the Master represents the dark /sinister/mirror side of the Doctor's inherent narrative collapse? What does that make his threat literally? incommunicative stability?

    I've always disliked the whole arch-villain trope for the Master which I feel was conditioned by the strange affinity Doctor Who seems to carry for Sherlock Holmes but was a misreading of the role that Moriarty actually played in Conan Doyle's Holmes stories.

    The Tenth Doctor/Master dynamic was really interesting though playing out as a potential detourning of the character traits of that particular Doctor's incarnation.

    Apart from the Dream Lord we haven't really seen The eleventh Doctor's 'evil twin' yet. I wonder if Moffat has something up his sleeve?

  3. the Master has a lesser academic degree than the Doctor

    I'd never noticed this! I guess this means that there must be an even more pathetic renegade Time Lord called "the Bachelor"...

    1. Not "The Bachelor" but "The Graduate". We've all seen the film. But we forget that it is canon. For goodness' sake, what's the theme song called?

    2. The Bachelor is of course the nemesis of Professor X, and flies his own version of the Professor's TASID (Time And Space through Inexplicable Dimensions) - appropriately called the ANTACID.

    3. I'm fairly certain Christopher H. Bidmead proposed a script in the late '80s entitled "Baccalaureata" to explore just these ideas... or, rather, I wish he had.

  4. About half the chapters of my Wonder Woman book have some variation on “and then the writer threw out all of his predecessor’s new ideas and created his own supporting cast.”

    My "favourite" example of this is John Byrne, whose new supporting cast comprised an archeologist and her teenaged daughter, despite the fact previously discarded supporting casts already included an archeologist and her teenaged daughter. IIRC, a later writer (Jiminez?) brought Vanessa back as a villainess, with her motivation being essentially "Who's this Cassie girl, and why's she replaced me?"

    You might be interested to know that McIntee has (of course) his own theory about how the various Master narratives (sorry) tie together. Basically, there's a reason The Dark Path attributes a TVM quote to "the (ersatz) Master".

  5. While in real academic terms, a Doctor's degree is better than a Master's, I am fairly sure the jackanapes is better qualified. I think either the Target novelization or the tv broadcast of "The Sea Devils" establishes the Master has a First in Cosmic Science. Or has that been retconned?

    1. In episode one of "Terror of the Autons," the René Magritte-looking Time Lord reminds John Pertwee that the Master's "[D]egree in cosmic science was of a higher class than yours."
      "Yes, well, er, yes, well I...I was a late developer," responds the Doctor.

    2. Tom Baker's Doctor says of The Master in "The Deadly Assassin" "He's a genius. Almost up to my standards". But that's also Tom Baker's Doctor, so make of that what you will.

    3. Perhaps the Doctor was taking some continuing education classes off screen? ;p

    4. Tom Baker's Doctor also said of Romana's sonic screwdriver, "Bit basic though," before handing his own back to her by "mistake." So yeah. :)

    5. My point exactly. Tom Baker's Doctor is a bit of an unreliable narrator and doesn't take too kindly to being shown up.

    6. The Master's higher class in Cosmic Science is probably an undergrad degree. If Gallifrey's a bit Oxbridge (and it is), then classes aren't awarded for postgrad degrees. Presumably the Doctor persevered longer with postgraduate study and got his doctorate. This would make sense of the 'late developer' remark.

  6. Oh, my dear Douglas. You have been careless.

  7. Hm! It makes sense that a recurring Doctor Who villain would represent a mode of storytelling the series can't take. Not so much narrative collapse as narrative corruption.

  8. I don't know if this novel describes the new Master as "looking exactly like Basil Rathbone" (which would be pretty lame) or just looking a lot like him, in which case you just have to cast someone who looks as much like Rathbone as Tony Curran looks like Vincent van Gogh. But interesting point nonetheless.

    As for the Master himself being lame: the "evil counterpart" doesn't necessarily have to be equal in ability, just the flip side of a particular concept. So in Moffat's Sherlock, Moriarty isn't necessarily Sherlock's mathematical equal in reasoning ability, just someone in the same intellectual ballpark who takes the opposite approach, i.e. planning and executing crimes rather than solving them. One of the interesting things about that show is that Moriarty's M.O. tends to involve outside help -- through whatever means he recruits accomplices and catspaws and turncoats, and you might argue that Sherlock is cleverer but has an exploitable weakness, that of relying only on himself and no one else. This may very well be exactly the point of the speculated resolution to the season 2 cliffhanger, but to say any more would REALLY be spoiling it. Anyway, the point is that the Master is not just the Doctor's mathematical equal -- as though a hero/villain clash could ever be as simple as playing the nine of clubs against the nine of spades in a game of War. He's interesting (to the extent that he is) because he has all of the Doctor's abilities and resources but applies them to gaining power and causing destruction (hence the non-academic sense of "Master") as opposed to removing oppression and repairing damage (hence "Doctor" -- though I think the academic reading is equally fascinating and a great observation). The emphasis SHOULD be not on "who wins in a fight between Superman and Captain Marvel?" but on "what could you do with the freedom to travel in time and space if you were a complete sociopath, and what resources (that you might not have just in your own natural abilities) might you need to call on in order to stop such a person?" In theory, this is the climax of "Last of the Time Lords": the Master is a total asshole and so even if (debatable) laser beats sonic and his brain beats the Doctor's, he has no real friends and thus is essentially outnumbered. It's the flip side to the Sherlock situation (though swap "friends" for "conspirators").

    That said, in practice the end of "LotTL" was as we know utterly emetic, and the Master is almost never used in this thought-provoking or meaningful a fashion. In fact, your "second-rate by definition" view of him is only proven out by the number of invasions he's arranged and then hastily aborted when the Doctor convinces him that, in effect, the monsters he's allied with are much more dangerous than he is. If he were really that bad, the Doctor would be teaming up with the Axons to stop HIM. You could argue that he's not really intended to be Satan, but then you'd have to figure out what it means that he's not really a villain or an evil twin but something murkier and grayer, and you'd have to put THAT onscreen instead of endless mwah-ha-ha scenarios. And, history being what it is, it would smack of the troubling trend toward valorizing/redeeming the villain that you get with charismatic baddies like Hannibal Lecter, Darth Vader, and (I imagine, based solely on hearsay) Dexter. So I'm not sure I'd prefer that. (continued)

    1. In reading your analysis of Sherlock/Moriarty and the Doctor/the Master, I was reminded of nothing less than Space Ghost's adventure versus the Space Spectre. Space Ghost can succeed thanks to the power of friendship, while his evil alternate universe duplicate the Space Spectre is left alone and sad because no one likes him and he doesn't have any friends.

    2. I don't remember this from Space Ghost's talk show at all.

    3. The novel describes the new Master in detail, but without using any comparisons. I didn't get it myself, and was worried that they were somehow implying he'd regenerated right back into Delgado.

      "n theory, this is the climax of "Last of the Time Lords": the Master is a total asshole and so even if (debatable) laser beats sonic and his brain beats the Doctor's, he has no real friends and thus is essentially outnumbered." This was basically the climax I saw,and it was pretty awesome, IMHO.

    4. I'm sincerely glad you enjoyed it. For my part I didn't even think about that reading of it until I wrote that comment, and I suspect the reason is that it's so obscured by misleading imagery that it seems to be expressing (what I'd consider) the opposite. There are a million ways we could have seen the theme played out in fairly ordinary (even plausible) terms, with his literal friends literally saving him, but instead I could only see Space Jesus and his army of worshippers/supplicants awakening the power already inherent in him, a climax about faith and hope rather than loyalty and love. Maybe when I watch it again I'll feel differently about it this time, but the first time through it was a crashing disappointment.

    5. See, I saw it as more of a spirit bomb thing - they each gave him a bit of their psychic energy.

    6. The climax of LOTTL fascinates me, because on my initial viewing I experienced a sort of parallax: I loved and hated every aspect of it simultaneously. I saw both the "spirit bomb", which I thought was great, and the "Space Jesus", which...wasn't. "Clap your hands if you believe in Time Lords"=terrible, while "I'll get by with a little help from my friends"=awesome. I imagine this points toward some tensions in the ethos of the show under Davies, but I'm not clever enough to figure out what those tensions are. This is one of the many reasons I look forward to Sandifer's reading of that series and that episode.

  9. (continuing) For me personally, the Master's appeal is almost never in what he represents (as you've argued well, he doesn't or hasn't been used to represent much) but in who's playing him. Roger Delgado was such a pleasure in the role that I couldn't care less what he was actually doing or whether the character even made sense. The fried-egg Masters were fine in their stories but had exactly the amount of screen time to work (a minute more, much less an episode more, and all bets are off). Anthony Ainley's great stories were almost invariably great despite him rather than because of him; I don't think he was a poor actor, but he didn't have Delgado's ability to transcend his role. Eric Roberts was just one more mistake in a production composed almost entirely of mistakes. And then there's Jacobi/Simm, both of whom I'd say were more in the Delgado camp of being interesting in their own right, but did not make me wish for more of the character, especially after the revelations of "The End of Time."

    To make a short story long: casting, casting, casting. Which means that any Master who exists only in books, with no onscreen charisma to carry over, is in trouble from the start. You have to work overtime to establish some individual personality on the page, and with a preexisting character like the Master who barely achieved that onscreen most of the time, I wonder how or whether the novels ever could.

    1. I think this is a fantastic point. The only thing I'd add is that The Master as originally conceived (the mercurial, anarchic, revolutionary and frequently destructive half of The Doctor lost to him by the trauma of his exile and left to run wild as Jon Pertwee pokes about UNIT) was such a fantastic, tantalizing concept it makes Delgado's stories that much more interesting and enjoyable for me. It really deserved some kind of payoff at the climax of the Letts era and it's a shame that never got the chance to happen. The flipside of that of course is that outside of the Pertwee era, The Master is rather stripped of his purpose and symbolism, which makes him a problematic character to work with despite also being an iconic part of the show.

    2. The Simm Master at least attempted to get back to that "shadow self"/"what has this version of the Doctor given up" concept. Of course, we've had that concept done more literally in both the Valeyard and the Dream Lord, so.

    3. I'm not sure Simm!Master was really a stab at that concept from what I saw, although I grant it's been awhile; I haven't seen that season since it aired. As for The Valeyard, it seemed pretty clear to me he wasn't a part of Colin Baker's Doctor that had been lost so much as he was the terrible thing Colin Baker's Doctor would turn into if left unchecked.

      As for the Dream Lord, frankly I read him as simply Steven Moffat's petulant swipe at Sylvester McCoy, but Oh Dear God I don't want to get into another argument about Steven Moffat.

      Delgado's Master and Pertwee's Doctor were originally written as two manifestations of the same personality that needed to be rejoined for the combined mind to reach enlightenment. Those other characters just struck me as either The Doctor's dark side or The Doctor's evil twin.

    4. I don't want to drag you into another argument, but I'd love to hear more about the petulant swipe. I'm firmly ambivalent about both McCoy and Moffat, so I have no investment in fighting with you about either of them. :)

      I love this stuff about what the Master was originally intended to be. I'm not sure I'd ever heard that before and it's going to make watching those stories again a lot more interesting.

    5. At the risk of leaving myself open for yet another knock-down-drag-out, I'll briefly summarise my feelings on the Dream Lord. Basically his demeanor and physical appearance directly invoke McCoy to me, or at least a reading of McCoy facilitated by the myth that the New Adventures were a teleological extension of the Cartmel era: He's short, mysterious, manipulative and challenges the companions to asses their own lives. The fact that he is then revealed to be a manifestation of The Doctor's insecurities, self-doubt and general dark side (and when combined with knowing Moffat's staunch preference for the perceived "humanity" and "frailness" of Peter Davison's and Paul McGann's characters) lends itself to a rather troubling and not-at-all-sympathetic-to-Sylvester-McCoy reading of the character IMO.

      There's a secondary thread one could pick up there about the contrast of "Time Lord" and "Dream Lord" with the latter being the malevolent entity knowing Moffat's seemingly negative opinion of stories and dreams given the context of "Angels Take Manhatten" and Season 2 of Sherlock, but that's getting away from the core topic here and is a discussion perhaps best left to another time and place.

      Yes, Delgado's Master was never The Doctor's evil twin: He's not actually an evil character, but rather an avatar of pure, unrestrained chaos and anarchic revolutionary change. That's why his plans and motives tend to make no sense-They're not supposed to: Delgado isn't evil, he's chaos incarnate. This is balanced by Pertwee being the representation of order and control; The Doctor and The Master were not meant to represent good and evil as much as they were yin and yang.

      This never gets a payoff onscreen of course for a number of reasons. The first and foremost one of course is that Roger Delgado tragically died in a car accident thus putting any plans for a grand climax featuring The Master and The Doctor's ultimate redemption and steeped in Eastern spiritualism on ice. Secondarily though, Katy Manning turned out to be bloody brilliant and much of The Master's symbolism and purpose got transferred to her instead starting in Season 9.

    6. encyclops:
      "I love this stuff about what the Master was originally intended to be. I'm not sure I'd ever heard that before and it's going to make watching those stories again a lot more interesting."

      I first ran across this in an interview with Barry Letts that ran in DOCTOR WHO MAGAZINE maybe 15 years ago. Totally blew my mind! Up to then, this had never even been hinted at anywhere, certainly not on the show, and not in any other articles or interviews I'd seen with anyone.

      It hit me that I'd repeatedly read that Barry Letts was a big fan of "STAR TREK", as witness stories like "THE CURSE OF PELADON" ("JOURNEY TO BABEL"). And his concept of The Master was straight out of "THE ENEMY WITHIN", where Kirk is split into two people by a transporter accident. Neither is whole, and he has to be reunited in order to continue to function.

      It may have been in that interview, or in an article in that same issue, or elsewhere, but I also recall an article that studied the Pertwee era in depth, and they were trying to make sense out of what appeared the totally senseless actions and schemes of The Master. But the idea that he was somehow the Doctor's other half, and that everything he did was to get back at The Time Lords and to prove a point, suddenly started to make more sense in that context.

      I used to think for many years that, based on various descriptions within the stories, that if there had been an accident, it must have happened long before we ever "met" The Doctor, meaning, long before Hartnell ever came to Earth with Susan and met Ian & Barbara. If this were so, it would mean he'd been "incomplete" for the entire run of the show up to then! On the other hand, a friend of mine who speculates a lot on these sort of things has suggested it could well have happened WHEN The Time Lords forced his regeneration on him. That as part of his exile and having his memories stripped from him, he was also split in two. I'm not sure which possibility I like more, but either could work.

      But again, since Letts never managed to do it, and then "The Master" (note quotation marks) was brought back in "THE DEADLY ASSASSIN", the characters has NEVER really been handled "right" since.

    7. Josh, thanks for explaining! I'm not sure I'm sold (that the Dream Lord is meant to be McCoyish, or that Moffat has a negative opinion of stories and dreams given his "fairy-tale" concept of the show), but it does make me want to watch "Amy's Choice" again and think about it. :)

      And thanks to you and Henry for more on the order/chaos thing. I think we do still see glimpses of this later on, most prominently in "Logopolis," where his plan to hold the universe to ransom seems almost like an afterthought to the joy of throwing rocks at windows (mathematicians).

    8. @encyclops My pleasure! I do think that thread is in "Logopolis" (and "Survival" too, actually), but it's not as overt as it is in the Letts era. Actually, someone could have fun with that idea: That the Doctor and The Master never reconciled and thus some essential aspect of each of them has forever been lost.

      Re: the concept of "fairy tales": Just briefly I still think my reading holds given the *kind* of fairy tale Moffat is telling: It's explicitly a Peter Pan story about a magical man with a box to Neverland and the core conflict the companions have to deal with is whether or not to "grow up" and leave adventuring behind. Eventually, they choose to grow up and Moffat seems very much of the mindset that this is a positive move, that growing up means submitting to domesticity (and a very particular kind of heteronormative domesticity) and also that Doctor Who is a fairy tale best left for children.

      But that's all I shall say about that now because that's a debate for another time and I'm risking further arousing the ire of my peers.

    9. @Josh, in response to: "...someone could have fun with that idea: That the Doctor and The Master never reconciled and thus some essential aspect of each of them has forever been lost."

      But isn't the fourth Doctor so wild and anarchic that he is clearly supposed to be the "whole" version of the Doctor, reunited with the lost anarchic elements that were split off as the Master? That's what I figured after I read about Letts' intentions. The third Doctor is too restrained, conservative, and establishmentarian, unlike the first, second, or fourth. The Master must have been split, accidentally or purposefully, by the Time Lords when they forced a regeneration. Perhaps the Master was the part of the Doctor who was most uncooperative and resistant to the Time Lords and seemed like he might (accidentally) threaten Earth if confined there, or work hardest to figure out a way to escape. Then... after beings split off, he steals a TARDIS and escapes anyway. So "Planet of the Spiders" should have instead been about the Doctor and the Master re-combining, the shock of which would cause another regeneration, and you get Tom Baker's Doctor, who occasionally seems dark and spooky and unnerving exactly because he's got those anarchic Master elements back again. Maybe the same elements that made the first Doctor a trouble-making anti-hero sometimes.

  10. i've never like the character of the Master, since he primarily exists to lose, and thus is always going to be relegated to an also ran. It reduces his effectiveness to the point where you simply have to conclude that he's quite a bit of a limp dish rag. no wonder Tegan and Turlough and Nyssa never reacted to meeting the master post Castrovalva: they knew he was crap, even if he didn't.

    The other aspect is that the Master, as another time traveller, doesn't work with your time travelling protagonist, since his part of the narrative collapse is to align the two subjective timeline (his and the Doctors) is a way that should be utterly impossible. His best aspect of narrative collapse is to put up not an evil version of the Doctor, but an ineffective one, a Doctor that we really have no interest in watching bas he's so sad sack.

    The Derek jacobi version of the master, by the way, was killing it. I would love, even though i dislike the character, to have seen him with more screen time as the Master realized.

  11. ' “and then the writer threw out all of his predecessor’s new ideas and created his own supporting cast.” Doctor Who typically avoids this by having a relatively small amount of continuity - there just aren’t that many things to discard or completely reinvent, and most of those lack a heck of a lot of coherence to begin with. If you quietly change the Cybermen from tricky subversive communists who lurk around space stations into a strutting army of silver badasses nobody’s really going to notice. There’s just not a lot of continuity in televised Doctor Who to dramatically rewrite. Seasons Twenty and Twenty-Two excepted, the bulk of stories aren’t sequels to previous ones.'

    That's a fascinating idea, and I'm not sure whether it's correct or not, at least for 21st Century Doctor Who.

    Whether there is a "small amount" of continuity or not, it's notable that a lot of "event" stories of 21st Century Doctor Who are formed from continuity with Classic Doctor Who - and with itself.

    I'm thinking...



    The Parting of the Ways

    School Reunion (the double story-event of the return of SJ and of K-9)

    Rise of the Cybermen


    (Stories with continuity of style: The Unquiet Dead - and Tooth and Claw.)

    The Sound of Drums (Gallifrey scenes being a big event)

    Planet of the Ood

    The Sontaran Stratagem

    Turn Left and the next story TSE/JE which is a sort of "The Five Doctors" for a new century.

    The End of Time

    The Time of Angels

    The Hungry Earth

    2011 eschews the continuity-fest of recent years for its event stories though, if you don't count River Song... :-)

  12. In a way, the Master always indicates the limitations of conspiracist thinking. The general narrative of the conspiracy is the flood of more and more information of increasing complexity. There's this enormous amount of seemingly contrary information to put together. But the conspiracy narrative always builds up to the reveal of who was behind it all. And once it's revealed that there's only one person or cabal behind it all, the alienating complexity of existential confrontation trying to assemble a ridiculous world into some kind of sense . . . becomes an action movie with a clear set of heroes and villains.

    Like you said Monday: Oh, it's him again. Narratively, it's an impossible payoff. There's no way an us vs them confrontation with the simple force behind all the craziness could be adequate to the combined weight of accumulated craziness.

    Tangent: I think this was a reason (among so very many reasons) why the Star Wars prequels were so terrible. The heroes were enmeshed in this complicated conspiracy trying to figure out the nature of all these secret manipulations just out of sight. But we in the audience always already knew Palpatine was behind it all. But the film was assembled in such a way that the information we all already knew was doled out in little chunks, just as it would be if we, like the characters, had no idea what was going on. Their conspiracy became our frustration. Perhaps the movies should have been pitched as a melodrama of inevitable tragedy.

    Back to Doctor Who: This is the ultimately self-contradictory nature of any kind of conspiracist thinking, as you discussed in The Deadly Assassin. The world is complex, so even while the development of the conspiracy narrative is one of increasing complexity, the conspiracy itself acts as a panacea. There's always a simple cause (It was Old Man Ainley from the haunted amusement park all along, Freddie!), which is comforting.

    Off the top of my head, the only conspiracy narrative I can think of that really sticks with complexity all the way through is From Hell. The simple Whodunit answer is known fairly early, and the point of the narrative is to explore the complexity of the world that could bring such terrible acts about.

    Umberto Eco's Foucault's Pendulum is another subversion of the complexity-hides-simplicity conspiracy arc. The simplicity of the enormous complex conspiracy of the book is that the conspiracy theory nerds made it all up with their research database on conspiracy theories and a computer program.

  13. Also: There may be no version of Doctor Who canon where we're not sure if Stones of Blood counts, but I believe there's at least one that completely rejects The Celestial Toymaker...

  14. "This is the basic problem with any “evil version of the hero” villain. Because the role of the villain is to be reliably defeated they cannot possibly be an equivalent to the hero, whose role is, after all, to reliably not be defeated."

    Another way of looking at the Doctor/Master relationship is to draw a comparison between James Bond and Ernst Stavro Blofeld. The major difference here of course is that Blofeld is more of a successful villain, as many of his schemes succeed perfectly...providing they are not schemes that bring him into contact with Bond. Money-laundering, weapons and drug-trafficking for example. As soon as Bond gets involved, Blofeld becomes the arch-villain and then fails, as the narrative requires him to.

    This probably wouldn't work with the Master, as his ambitions (and therefore his schemes) always seem to be of such a galactic or universal scale that the Doctor always gets involved, and therefore the Master always fails.

    Almost all of the Master's schemes from Season 8 would probably have succeeded...if only he hadn't tried to implement them on Earth, the Doctor's patch.