Featured Image: The 13th Doctor and Dhawan Master facing each other in the citadel. (BBC Promo Image)
Watching Series 12 of Doctor Who was an incredible and intense experience for me, and it’s taken a long time to process that, and to work out exactly why I feel such a strong connection to it. What I keep coming back to is that Series 12 makes me feel very seen as a northern disabled woman with mental health issues. Firstly, I feel seen by how the relationship between the 13th Doctor and Sacha Dhawan’s Master is written and played, and by the context in which the two characters are placed. Secondly, I feel seen because my life experiences as a disabled woman are reflected on screen in Series 12, and I feel represented by a diverse cast.
I have so much to write that I’m going to split my thoughts into 2 posts. This one is a long essay about viewing the development of the Doctor/ Master relationship as a disabled woman, and the next one (linked here once up) will be more broadly about representation in Series 12 and why it’s so important to me.
Some notes and warnings:
- There is a Word version of this essay attached at the bottom of the post, in case you find it more accessible to read it that way than in a browser
- This essay is very long, very niche and very personal, so it won’t be for everyone, but it’s important to me that I write it and share it
- It’s very plot and character heavy, so if you’re not a Doctor Who fan it might not make much sense, but I hope you can appreciate some of the overarching themes and points!
- It discusses experiences and depictions of institutionalisation
- It contains discussion/ spoilers for Series’ 3, 8, 10 and 12 of New Who, and it talks more generally about the Doctor/ Master relationship in Classic Who
- It refers to the mistreatment/ cyber conversion of Black companions, and to the end of the Spyfall Eiffel Tower scene
- I’m heavily critical of the 12th Doctor in Series 10 and his kindness speech in The Doctor Falls, so if you’re not in a space to read that, I won’t be offended if you skip this post for now!
In order to explain why the 13th Doctor/ Dhawan Master relationship makes me feel so seen, first I’m going to have to take a deep dive into where I was with the Doctor/ Master relationship prior to the start of Series 12, and how I got there. I’ll tell you why I felt the exact opposite of seen during my re-watch of New Who last year. The majority of the first half will focus on exploring my issues with the 12th Doctor’s role as a guardian of Missy in the vault, giving my perspective as a disabled woman, using the lens of Independent Living and deinstitutionalisation. Following this I want to mention my wanderings into Classic Who and why they were significant for me going into Series 12. After that, I’m going to share some of the assumptions I had going into the new series, then show why I was so happy that these were mostly incorrect! I’ll then get to why exactly the 13th Doctor/ Dhawan Master relationship does so much to make up for past stories in ‘seeing me’ as a disabled woman, and why this means so much to me. First though, I’ll briefly share my thoughts on the Doctor’s questionable priorities when it comes to the Master.
Ever since The Master returned to Doctor Who in 2007, they’ve always been my favourite villain. The idea of the Doctor facing off against someone who’s like them, who can match them in intelligence and understanding of the universe, and who happens to be one of their oldest friends, continues to fascinate me. I always got a unique thrill watching David Tennant and Peter Capaldi playing off John Simm and Michelle Gomez whenever they appeared.
The Doctor’s questionable priorities and their consequences
However, I decided to re-watch the entirety of New Who over the course of 2019 and in watching the New Who Master stories back, I felt increasingly uncomfortable with the way the Doctor responds to the Master’s behaviour. He watches the Master cause chaos, and always seems angry or distressed about what’s happening, but rarely with the Master/Missy themselves. He then responds in two ways. One is that he prioritises his relationship with the Master over holding them to account, and over the companions’ safety and wellbeing (the companions in question are invariably women, or Black, or both.) Firstly, Martha’s tortured family are forced to watch on while the Doctor proclaims his forgiveness and then cradles the ‘dead’ Master while howling with grief. Then in Series 8 he thanks Missy for giving him an epiphany about his identity while Clara stands distraught, clinging to cyberised Danny. On both occasions he still stops the Master, but it’s more about him cleaning up their mess than it is about wanting to defeat them or make them face consequences. I know that this is supposed to show the Doctor being above or beyond anger, and him being on a level with his best friend, but it comes across in the moment like he doesn’t care or like he’s completely oblivious to the harm the Master has done to the companions and their loved ones. Finally, in Series 10 his choice to prioritise his friendship with Missy ultimately results in Bill’s death/ cyber conversion after the Doctor decides that making her part of Missy’s ‘test run’ is more important than her safety. I find these scenes very unsettling to watch with hindsight.
The 12th Doctor, Missy, the vault, and deinstitutionalisation
The Doctor’s second response is the one I want to explore in much more depth though. In seeing the Master as his responsibility, he takes it upon himself to hold them prisoner. He first threatens to do this at the end of Last of the Time Lords when he plans to keep the Master in the TARDIS. He then holds Missy in the vault successfully for the second half of Series 10. I can understand why most viewers would see this as a perfectly logical and reasonable thing to do. The Master is an evil murderer who (arguably) should be stopped from hurting anyone else, and as a fellow outcast time lord, the Doctor seems like the ideal candidate for the job.
The reason I disagree so strongly with this is that one of the lenses I use to view life (and by extension Doctor Who) through is that of Independent Living (IL) and deinstitutionalisation. The Independent Living Movement argues that disabled people should not be forced to live in institutions such as care homes and instead should be able to live independently in the community. Its core philosophy is that disabled people should have choice and control over their lives on an equal basis with non-disabled people. Residential institutions remove that choice and control, as institutionalised disabled people often have decisions about many or all aspects of their lives taken by other people, such as what time they go to bed, what they eat and even when they can contact their friends and family. IL activists argue that in order to be able to live independently in the community, disabled people should have access to accessible housing, community-based services such as inclusive education and accessible transport, and personal assistance.
Proponents of care homes argue that they are often best placed to meet the care and access needs of disabled people and are actually nice places to live, they might have a hair salon or a swimming pool for example. However, IL activists argues the real problem with care homes is not their lack of ‘nice’ or ‘state-of-the-art’ facilities but the fact that they remove choice and control from disabled people. Deinstitutionalisation is the process of moving disabled people out of institutions and into the community. First, accessible housing, community-based services and personal assistance are built and made available to disabled people, who then move out of institutions into the community accessing peer support to build capacity to use these tools, then eventually the institutions are closed as there is no longer a need for them.
At this point, I imagine you have questions. For a start, what on Earth does this have to do with Doctor Who? Well, for me, it means that any story with a hint of institutionalisation, in which characters are required to stay in a confined space long-term and follow certain rules because of their bodies and their perceived difference, and ostensibly for their own good, are very difficult to watch (think Amy in the hospital in The Girl Who Waited; the residents of the Trap Street in Face the Raven; the ship crew in The Curse of the Black Spot). You might still be asking how this relates to Missy though. She’s not an innocent disabled person or a character that falls into an institutional setting by accident, she’s a murderer who surely should be held accountable for her actions and kept from causing more harm? Personally, I believe that the Master’s proper and sole purpose in the Doctor Who universe is to be the Doctor’s best enemy and to be out there causing chaos, so I was never going to be fully on board with the Missy redemption arc anyway, and deinstitutionalisation is also a goal of the prison reform and abolition movements, but those are whole other arguments.
My big problem is that I am extremely uncomfortable with the Doctor playing the role of a jailer or a guard, and in particular the role of a benevolent guardian, restricting the freedom of someone they love and telling them ‘you have to in stay here, this is the prescriptive way you have to behave, this is what’s best for you’, however honourable the reason for them playing that role might seem. I know the situation seems miles apart from a disabled person having no choice but to live in a care home, but the parallels are way too strong for my liking.
To me, the Doctor represents the opposite of institutionalisation. They represent the freedom to travel anywhere in time and space, and to be yourself, even when that freedom might be restricted in your real life. I think the Doctor being responsible for keeping anyone, and in particular someone they care about ‘in’ anywhere, is antithetical to who they are, to who they should be. I hate that 12 could agree to hold Missy in solitary confinement with only him and Nardole for occasional company. Why would he subject anyone to that?! I especially hate that Missy ‘graduates’ from the vault to the TARDIS and then to the outside world. To me, the TARDIS symbolises that freedom even more than the Doctor does, so the fact that the Doctor uses it as a place of captivity, as a halfway house where Missy has to give her labour in order to prove that she’s worthy of being released, is horrifying!
One of the responses to this argument is that Missy actively asks the Doctor to teach her to be good, and consents to staying in the vault during the process, implying that she could leave at any time she wants. I argue that this makes it worse rather than better. Institutionalised people will often ‘choose’ to stay in an institution rather than move into the community because it’s what they know, and it’s what people in authority around them say is best for them. They also often don’t have access to the tools and support they need to live independently. Therefore, they are denied the opportunity to experience how much better living in the community and having choice and control really is. Missy only promises to be good when she’s facing death, so it’s not a free choice. It’s unsettling that she would choose to stay in the vault in such bad conditions just to learn from the Doctor, and teach him in return, to gain his friendship. I can’t tell if she has any other motivations for staying, if she genuinely wants to be there, or whether or not her needs are being met. The opulent living space with her piano, library and couch might make her more comfortable, but to me those ‘nice things’ further symbolise the Doctor’s benevolent guardianship. They don’t make up for her loss of social interaction and control, just like hair salons in care homes don’t solve the problem. See what I mean about parallels?!
Missy might get to challenge the Doctor’s ideas of what constitutes as good, but he’s still the one with the power to decide what behaviour counts as good enough to warrant release. His criteria for that, and therefore his motivations for keeping Missy in the vault in the first place seem very dubious. He holds her for decades, then decides to give her a test run on the basis that she gives some advice, does TARDIS maintenance, gives him and Bill a lift home from Mars, and cries a few times. These seem like the very first steps of redemption and in no way signal to me that she wouldn’t murder the first person she met on the outside once she got a taste of freedom again. The fact he’s so keen to test her after seeing only these initial signs of a potential change, suggests to me that keeping her in the vault isn’t really about helping her to be good (he could do this outside of the vault), making sure she’s fully redeemed, preventing her from murdering anyone or keeping his oath. Instead, I can only conclude that it’s primarily about exercising control over her by restricting her freedom and making her prove she’s ‘good enough’ to be like him by moulding herself into his ideal of a friend. He does this while telling her that this is what is best for her, and that her pain is necessary. There is no good reason for the Doctor to institutionalise anyone, but that one of the primary conditions Missy has to live up to in confinement is to prove she’s worthy of the Doctor’s friendship, is especially difficult to stomach.
I think the arc is meant to imply that the Doctor was motivated by the oath, and by wanting to punish her/ prevent her from hurting anyone else at first, but then over time he realises that these aren’t valid reasons to hold her after all. I think he’s also meant to have realised that his version of good is too restrictive, but the whole arc is rushed, so neither of these things are clear. If this is the case, then it’s still awful that Missy has to wait so long for him to work this out and do so much emotional labour in the process. In the end, even if his bar for what counts as good changes, he still expects her to reach that bar before he’ll commit to being her friend. He still thinks it’s acceptable to exert excessive control over her by only releasing her in order to test her friendship. It’s not even clear what would have happened if she’d ‘passed’ the test. Would the Doctor still have put her back in the vault or the TARDIS until the next sanctioned outing but been more willing to show friendship, or would she have become his equal companion, allowed to be free and out with him on all his adventures? Whatever his motivations for keeping her in the vault are at the beginning, where they end up seem just as bad to me, however good his intentions are.
I know it’s not meant to come across this way. I can see it’s meant to be another fun two-way teacher-student storyline. However, watching it all play out within the institutional setting of the vault, or within the TARDIS which is used as an institutional setting, with the Doctor seemingly holding all the power to keep Missy inside these confined spaces, and appearing like he thinks he’s doing a good thing, was heart-breaking. Add to this that Bill ends up being cyber converted in the fall out after she was so clearly against the Doctor’s plan, and I was left horrified and infuriated!
I feel so strongly about this because the storyline is deeply personal to me. I’ve done a lot of work on Independent Living campaigns since 2017, and Independent Living and deinstitutionalisation are issues I’m very passionate about. I’m fortunate enough to have never been institutionalised; I’ve always been able to live either with my family or in accessible accommodation with personal assistance. I have however, been placed in settings where my freedom was restricted relative to my non-disabled peers by people I love and respect. I was expected to behave in a certain way within those constraints, and I was told that that was what was best for me and that I should learn to live with it. It’s amazing how easily you’ll buy into that when you’re convinced that what you’re being told is right, and you want to reach that ‘ideal’ standard of behaviour to gain others’ approval. Looking back now though, I know that those restrictions and expectations caused me a great deal of unnecessary anxiety and didn’t represent what was best for me at all, despite the genuine good intentions of those around me. In hindsight, it’s frightening and it was very painful to watch the Doctor, someone who I usually trust to represent freedom, do that to someone else in an institutional setting, even someone as guilty as Missy.
The 12th Doctor and I didn’t get along well anyway, but we had started to make up during Series 9 and the first chunk of Series 10. Unfortunately, his treatment of Missy and Bill in Series 10 meant that we did not part as friends. I can see the logic behind why he does what he does, and I know he believes he’s doing a good thing, but that doesn’t make it any easier to take. It’s why his speech on kindness in The Doctor Falls, which I know means so much to so many people, rings so hollow for me. Institutionalising disabled people and removing their choice and control is often framed by those in power as a kindness. The bots in The Girl Who Waited even say ‘Do not be alarmed. This is a kindness.’ But putting a Black queer woman in danger just so you can test your oldest friendship is not kind. Institutionalising your oldest friend in solitary confinement in the hope that you’ll change their behaviour is not kind. I’ve heard 12’s kindness referred to as aspirational. I can see that, and I know that he tries, but he just doesn’t get anywhere near close enough for me.
In contrast, Missy’s ending works pretty perfectly, because when she’s released onto Mondas she gets to explore whether being ‘good’ and being with the Doctor is something that she really wants outside of the restraints of being about to die/ being in the vault, all with the help of her past-self. Her flip-flopping between being on the side of the Doctor and Simm Master is wonderful, and it’s what I’d been waiting to see since Extremis. I love that in the end she says no to the Doctor, then changes her mind, then her past (free) self is so mortified by the prospect of his future-self choosing to stand with the Doctor that he decides it can’t be allowed to happen. I read Missy’s hysterical crying laughter in her final moments as her saying ‘Oh, of course it was going to end this way’ and saw it as a line being drawn very firmly under her redemption arc.
The Classic Who Doctor/Master relationship
I started watching Classic Who last year, and in watching the Classic Master stories I saw a very different type of Doctor/Master relationship. I got a taste of how their dynamic could work in a way that is much more appealing to me. Little did I know that they were also giving me a frame of reference going into Series 12, laying the groundwork that helped me to both make sense of and glean so much joy from the 13th Doctor/Dhawan Master relationship.
In the Classic series (at least what I’ve seen of it so far) the Master is someone with his own grand schemes and ambitions which are completely separate from the Doctor, someone who disguises himself and forges alliances with different monsters to get into positions of power, and someone who for the most part is pretty chill and happy to get on with his own plans for world domination, that is until the Doctor comes along and gets in the way. The Master often expresses a desire to defeat and kill the Doctor, and then attempts to do so. The Doctor is similarly agitated by The Master’s plans and actively wants to defeat him. The first time I noticed this I was taken aback, because it hit me that this is something that we hadn’t really seen before in New Who. Simm’s Master is perfectly content to make the Doctor sit and watch while he takes over the world, and Missy’s conquests are about showing the Doctor that they are the same and trying to gain his approval. In response the Doctor tries to be that benevolent figure discussed earlier. I warmed to this different dynamic in Classic Who quickly, thinking that it was more fun to watch. I didn’t realise there was actually more to it than that yet though.
Another difference in the Classic Doctor/ Master relationship that I enjoyed is that neither the Doctor nor the Master pleads for the other’s friendship as with 10/Simm and 12/Missy, but it is still entirely obvious that the Doctor and the Master are old friends, who never really want each other dead! They also seem to relish the process of trying to beat each other. I found this more classic hero/villain with added backstory and friendship dynamic really entertaining and interesting to watch, and I started to question whether I actually preferred the Classic Masters and their relationship to the Doctor over the New Who Masters. If only I had known what was around the corner!
My assumptions going into Series 12
I’ve almost reached the end of the deep dive! So, here’s where I was regarding the Doctor and the Master going into Series 12, post-New Who re-watch, and as a new Classic Who fan:
- I still had a lot of love for Missy, but overall, I still felt hurt and let down, both broadly by the 12th Doctor’s era, and by the vault storyline and Missy’s arc as a whole (except it’s ending)
- I assumed that the redemption arc was done, and that when the Master came back, they would be back to being the Doctor’s enemy.
- I also assumed that the Master wouldn’t be back for a long time. I certainly assumed that the 13th Doctor wouldn’t get a Master, because the 11th Doctor didn’t get one. This made me sad. I might have a lot of issues with how the Doctor handles the Master, but they are still my favourite villain and I would be happy to see them in every series
- I knew that I enjoyed the Classic Who Doctor/Master relationship, but I hadn’t made the connection between that and my grievances with the current New Who relationship yet
- I assumed that the Classic and New Who Doctor/ Master relationships belonged very definitively to their own eras, and that that wouldn’t change
- I wasn’t even excited about Series 12 until the trailer was released, when I did start to feel some hope that it might actually be really good!
Enter Sacha Dhawan’s Master
I’ve finally reached New Year’s Day and the start of Series 12! There I was, watching the very entertaining and impressive Spyfall Part 1, when suddenly: enter Sacha Dhawan’s Master! I don’t think I’ve ever been so shocked/happy! One of my assumptions had already been proved wrong and I was beyond thrilled! A second was about to be shattered too.
Not only are Jodie and Sacha absolute perfection in that whole scene, but in the space of just a few minutes we learn that:
- The Master has been disguised as O for years, wreaking havoc in the very powerful organisation that is MI6
- The Tissue Compression Eliminator (used by the Classic Masters) is his weapon of choice! I lost my little fannish mind when he brought out that matchbox!
- He likes to have a lot of fun
- He’s put a bomb on the plane! He’s actually trying to kill the Doctor! (but not really!)
What was that I was just saying about maybe preferring the Classic Masters to the new ones?! I fully suspected Sacha might be my new favourite Master after Spyfall Part 1, but after Part 2 I was left utterly astonished. In the space of one episode I could see shades of all of the main 4 Masters in him (apologies to Jacobi, Roberts and the crispies.) He has the competence, the ambition, and the talent for ‘working with’ other species of Delgado, the knowing smile of Ainley, the unpredictable temperament of Simm (but Sacha does it much more effectively, sorry John) and the learned emotion of Missy. On top of that, he has so much more to add to his Master- the rage, the cheekiness, the constant need to perform, the patience, (and I won’t pretend, the sexiness) to name but a few. He builds on it even further in The Timeless Children and honestly, I’m so spellbound that I’m ready to go to the end of the universe with him!
Seen by their anger
Chibnall has given me a Master that I adore, and who shares many characteristics with the Classic Who Masters, whom I only met last year, and who I was just thinking could be my preferred Masters. Frankly, that’s enough to make me think he has a window into my brain, but that’s only the beginning of why I feel so seen. The relationship between Dhawan Master and the 13th Doctor is electric, and one of the main reasons why is that they are absolutely furious with each other. We see it in the gallery, where 13 is so disgusted and unimpressed and the Master is so menacing, then it’s really showcased during their scene on the Eiffel Tower when 13 lets rip, and the Master returns the favour once he realises he’s been tricked.
Watching 13 get so angry with the Master, and to see that anger returned, ignited something in me. The last times they were together, and in the time since, they really hurt each other, and me, so to see them face up to that means an awful lot. They’ve both been burnt so they should be pissed off with each other. To see it on screen feels so incredibly healing. The shift in their relationship is crystallised by one exchange:
13: “When does all this stop for you? The games? The betrayals? The killing?!”
Dhawan Master: “Why would it stop? I mean how else would I get your attention?”
This is so gratifying to hear said out loud! When 13 refers to ‘all this’ it shows me she’s finally getting angry for all the destruction, hurt and harm he’s caused in the past, she’s not just stressed about his current scheme. It feels like she’s angry on behalf of Martha, and Clara, and Danny, and Bill, and me. It feels like she’s finally holding him to account and is prioritising this over their relationship. She reinforces this by showing that she wants to both stop the Master and beat him. She doesn’t just want to clean up his mess, she really wants to defeat him and make him face consequences. This absolutely shouldn’t happen in the form of her outing him to the Nazis, but it feels amazing when she leaves him to the Kassavin, and she’s delighted to have stopped him.
Not only is she holding him to account, but by really wanting to defeat him as an enemy it also shows me that she’s completely let go of that benevolent guardian role I have such a problem with. She’s so hurt that she no longer sees him as her responsibility, someone she needs to ‘look after’ or exert excessive control over. She’s not interested in keeping him ‘in’ anywhere or trying to say that she knows what’s best for him. She just needs to stop him, hold him accountable, then deposit him somewhere that he’s free to escape from until the next time they meet. I’m so relieved and thankful that the Doctor seems to have moved on with this. A lot of my trust in the Doctor, and my faith that she is on my side as a disabled woman, has been restored through several of her choices in Series 12, but particularly through how she interacts with the Master (for the most part) in both of their stories.
On the other hand, Dhawan Master’s deadpan response signifies to me that he’s had enough time and space since the vault to feel free to be himself again, with no need for the Doctor’s approval, and that he’s comfortable enough to admit that he still needs her attention. His expressions of anger make me feel seen just as much as the Doctor’s do, because they reflect the frustration I felt watching the Doctor’s treatment of Missy. I know it’s not in the script, but obviously it is in my head canon that a big portion of his anger comes from Missy’s time in the vault! I believe his anger because I know from experience that it doesn’t take very long at all once you leave a restrictive setting for you to realise how problematic it was, and for resentment to start to build about that. Of course, there’s the small matter of the Timeless Child knowledge to drive him to rage as well! It’s very gratifying that the Master has so many opportunities to express his rage fully, because it also feels like an outlet for me to let the Doctor know how hurt I was by their behaviour.
It’s also wonderful to see that he’s enjoying his freedom and having the time of his life messing with the Doctor, because I know how incredible getting to access that freedom is too! He’s always completely delighted with himself whenever he thinks he’s winning, and as bad as it is, I can’t help but be delighted for him! In The Timeless Children he also gets to take control back over the Doctor and have his moment in the spotlight with the Cybermen. I’ve seen criticism that trapping the Doctor in such a way for so long is boring and removes too much agency from her as our woman lead character, but it thrills me that the Master gets this time to develop, be centre stage and to get all of his feelings out.
I have no issue on a personal/emotional level with the Master exerting control over the Doctor in this context, and I love that the Doctor gets to take agency back by breaking out of the matrix and letting him know how not broken she is. I’m not for one second saying that this Doctor/Master relationship isn’t problematic. It definitely is! By its very nature, the Doctor/Master relationship will always be problematic. Chibnall has just managed to hit on a shade of dark that I find (mostly) fascinating and compelling as opposed to discomforting and distressing. I know that I need to keep interrogating that, but for now I’m happy with where I’m at!
I may have implied so far that I don’t want the Doctor and the Master to display their friendship at all, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. I still totally want to see that they have a friendship, I just don’t want either of them to have to beg for it so explicitly, at the expense of the companions’ needs or their own freedom. What makes 13’s and Dhawan Master’s relationship even more amazing to watch is that even through the negativity, their friendship is obviously still bubbling away underneath! They don’t need to plead for it or try to prove themselves worthy of it, it’s just there. You can see the friendship in so many aspects of their interactions. It’s in their utter delight when they think they’ve got one up on each other, in the playfulness, in the teasing, in the pettiness, in their knowing looks, in the reminiscing, in the complete ease with which they chat to each other, in their total willingness to play each other’s games even though they might try and resist at first and in the brief moments that they do let their guard down and show vulnerability. Ultimately, it’s there in the Master’s actions in being so desperate to show the Doctor the truth about their identities and share the burden of that knowledge with her (he knows full well it’s a gift, even if he’d rather not admit it!) It is effortless and glorious to watch! Now that they’ve got some of their anger out I wouldn’t even mind if they made up ever so slightly in Series 13 and were forced to work together for a while. I’m not totally unreasonable!
Context and companions
I mentioned at the start that I also feel seen by the context in which 13 and Dhawan Master are placed. There are two things I mean by that: firstly, the stories/ settings they are placed in a super fun and compelling to me. A spy thriller followed by a chase through time with Ada Lovelace and Noor Khan, then a finale in the beautiful ruins of Gallifrey and its matrix?! So cool! Secondly, I’m very grateful to Chris Chibnall that in both Spyfall Part 2 and The Timeless Children for the most part the Doctor and the Master are separated from the companions, who get to go off on their own adventure. This means the companions get a chance to show how competent they are as a team by getting themselves out of trouble, and that they are kept well out of the way of the sights of the Master! No cyber conversion, no tissue compression, no death to be distraught over. I couldn’t be more relieved that Chibnall did not repeat Moffat’s mistakes and that we get to take all 3 companions with us into the Christmas Special.
In all of this I’ve realised the reason that I feel so seen by the Doctor/Master relationship and its context in Series 12, including all of its parallels to the Classic Who relationship, is that it represents exactly where I want the Doctor/ Master relationship to be. All I want the Doctor to do is get mad at the Master when they (and anyone they’ve hurt) deserve it, then put a stop to their shenanigans in a way that firmly halts whatever they’re up to at the time and in a way that holds them to account, but not in a way that the Doctor can exert excessive long-term control over them, and to still keep hold of their friendship. All I want the Master to do is get mad at the Doctor when they deserve it, cause chaos, and have fun in the process but not be too awful to any individual non- time lords, not to kill any companions and to still keep hold of their friendship. That’s all. Not too much to ask, right?! I can’t believe I actually got all of it in Series 12, but I couldn’t be more pleased that I did!
Re-evaluating my feelings towards the Doctor/Master relationship during my New Who re-watch was tough. Feeling as though the Doctor was thoughtless towards the needs of his companions in the face of the Master, then feeling entirely let down and alienated by his treatment of Missy in the vault was a very difficult experience. I was happy to see a different side of their relationship in Classic Who, but I assumed that was consigned to history. I thought we wouldn’t get to see a new Master for ages, and even if we did, I had no reason to believe a new Doctor/Master relationship would make up for past encounters.
Thank God Jodie, Sacha and Chibs proved me wrong. Sacha’s brilliance in bringing to life a wonderfully developed Master has left me enchanted! What’s more, the anger that the 13th Doctor and Dhawan Master express towards each other has made me feel so seen as a disabled woman. 13’s anger proves to me that she is thinking about her companions when she confronts the Master, and that he is no longer more important to her than the pain he has caused them. It also shows me that she is no longer interested in trying to institutionalise him or have control over his every move. It makes me feel like she cares about me as a disabled woman, from both sides of the coin. The Master’s rage on the other hand reflects the pain I felt in watching the Doctor remove Missy’s choice and control, and demonstrates just how much torment has been added by the new knowledge of the Timeless Child. The freedom that he is allowed to express that anger, and to have fun getting his own back, makes me feel so relieved that he and I have been given both the space to move away from Missy’s time in the vault, and the opportunity to express to the Doctor just how harmful their behaviour was. That their friendship is implicit in both of their actions rather than being heavily one-sided equalises them further. Finally, in placing the Doctor and the Master in compelling settings but separate from the companions, I’m free to watch them in all their wonder without worrying if the companions are going to be in the Master’s firing line. All together this creates something so meaningful to me and I’m so grateful that all the pieces have fallen in just the way they have.
See what I mean by intense? I still can’t quite believe that Series 12, and in particular Spyfall and The Timeless Children exist and that I’ve managed to write all of this down! I’m still a little bit bewildered by it all, but I’m so happy that it has happened and that it has helped me on such a deep level. I feel unbelievably lucky and so very seen.
I am extraordinarily grateful to Chris Chibnall, Jodie Whittaker, Sacha Dhawan and to all the crew that worked on these episodes for meeting me where I was, for giving me exactly what I needed when I needed it, for healing some old wounds and for giving me so much joy through 2 of my favourite Doctor Who stories of all time. It means everything, and I can’t wait to see where the story goes in Series 13.
Thank you for taking the time to read this, and if you have any thoughts, I would love to hear them! Tweet me @rebecca_15 and I’ll be back with Part 2, on representation in Series 12 soon!
If you want to learn more about Independent Living and deinstitutionalisation you can visit the ENIL website here: