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Doctor Who Masters … Well … The Master


Jodie Whittaker as the Doctor in 'Spyfall'

**Spoilers for the first two episodes of season 12 of Doctor Who within**

The Master is one of those Doctor Who villains that is hard to bring back without it feeling almost cheap—he has returned a lot in years past—but the beginning of season 12 is off to the races with one of the best interpretations of the character yet. For those of us who started our adventure with Doctor Who with Christopher Eccleston, the first venture into the Master saw John Simm embody him in a way that drove home the push and pull of the Doctor and Master’s timeless relationship.

For years, it felt like a torturous love story. Both hero and villain—once friends, and Time Lords who chose very different paths—were drawn to each other and bound by the past. It was a mix of wanting the other gone and yet still needing them in their life. Simm came crashing in with a song called “I Can’t Decide” by the Scissor Sisters, which talked about whether or not the singer (so in this case, the Master) wanted to let the subject (the Doctor) have a brutal death or live.

That relationship, the tense push and pull back and forth, only continued on through Missy (Michelle Gomez) and her torment of the 12th Doctor and then, finally, both Missy and the Master took him on in his final hours. So that was seemingly the end to the modern-day Master, which is maybe why the shock of Sacha Dhawan’s reveal hit me so hard. For a while, seemed as though Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor might be going Master-less as she blazed her own trail. But who is the Doctor without the Master to counter?

Sacha Dhawan in Doctor Who

Dhawan’s transformation into the Master from friendly, almost hapless MI6 analyst who had spent the episode supporting the fam was astonishing to watch. O, an MI6 agent who believed in the alien activity around the world, was a necessary connection for the Doctor to make. He seemed like a friendly face who might even make for occasional Companion-material. Then when he reveals that everything the Doctor knows about him is a lie, the show kicked into high gear and it felt like the stars of Doctor Who really aligned. In Spyfall,” the Master thought he bested the Doctor, but because this is Doctor Who, he was eventually left trapped with his plans crumbled. But we know he won’t stay contained forever. We can’t wait.

Dhawan’s Master drove home the truly diabolical nature of the character in the reveal that Gallifrey was destroyed at his hand. Throughout the last few seasons, the Doctor could rely on the knowledge that the Doctor wasn’t the last of the Time Lords, but then the Master destroyed their home for the lies they told them both. Just what the Master’s claims that they were lied to will come to mean is likely the long-arc reveal of the season.

Refusing to tell the Doctor what those lies were and destroying their home, leaving them as the lone Time Lords once again? All of that is, at its core, what makes the Master such a terrifying villain to the Doctor. That and the fact that the Master knows the Doctor so completely—when they talk atop the Eiffel Tower in “Skyfall Part 2,” there’s almost a friendly accord in their face-off, the intimacy of such a long familiarity. We now have a new face and an extraordinary new actor to embody the Master. Seeing this fresh take, this unhinged threat to the Doctor and her adventures, burst into malignant light? It’s truly one of the best interpretations of the character that I’ve seen yet.

(images: BBC)

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Rachel (she/her) is an I, Tonya stan who used to have a poster of Frank Sinatra on her wall as a kid. She loves superheroes, weird musicals, wants Robert Downey Jr. to release a new album, and would sell her soul for Pedro Pascal as Kraven the Hunter. She is Leslie Knope and she's okay with that. Secretly Grogu's mom and Lizzie Olsen's best friend.