Every good hero needs a nemesis. The Doctor gets his (or one of them, anyway) in Season 8 of Classic Doctor Who; and that’s where we are this week. Finally, at long last, we meet the Master!
I’m going to continue with the (somewhat-unsupported) idea that these Third Doctor stories mostly take place near their broadcast dates. With that logic, the Doctor has been exiled to Earth for about a year when this season opens, in Terror of the Autons. (While we can’t get a specific date, we do know it is at least three months after the events of Inferno.) Here at the beginning, the Doctor receives a visit from another Time Lord (inconspicuously dressed, conspicuously floating in midair), who warns him that an old acquaintance, the Time Lord known as the Master, has come to Earth—and is up to no good. The Master is eventually seen to be in league with the Nestene Consciousness and its servant Autons, who want to destroy the humans and claim their world. (What the Master gets out of this is, strangely, not completely clear. He seems to just want genocide. My head canon is that he’s here specifically because of the Doctor, but that’s extrapolating from information about their past together that is not revealed until MUCH later.) It ends badly, as so many of the Master’s alliances do, and he is forced to join forces with the Doctor to stop the Nestene (thus giving us an early hint of the two Time Lords’ weird love-hate relationship). Unfortunately the Autons and Nestene won’t appear again until NuWho’s 2005 debut, Rose.
We get a new companion here as well, in new assistant Jo Grant. I will say up front that I’m not fond of Jo; I’m still not over the loss of Liz Shaw, and to be honest, Jo is kind of an idiot. I know she improves with time, but I can’t help disliking her here at the outset. I’ve always felt like she was placed by the production team just to be eye candy—and we’ll be stuck with her for the next few seasons. One more thing: the episode centers heavily on a large radio telescope, used to summon the full might of the Nestene. The Doctor and the Master don’t have a great history with radio telescopes; the Fourth Doctor will later fall to his death from one, in Logopolis.
We get a rare thing in the second serial, The Mind of Evil: a TARDIS-free episode. Only eight times in the entire series does an entire story occur without any sight of the TARDIS (or, to be fair, its console—see last season). The most recent such—and the only one in NuWho—is the popular Midnight. It’s also a rarity behind the scenes—though we have it all now, at one point this was considered the “most missing” Pertwee story, with no broadcast copies extant. It has since been recovered.
The Doctor is afraid of fire, due to the events in Inferno. Fortunately, later he will overcome it (for an example, see The Waters of Mars, or better yet, 42). UNIT is still in its formative years, and seems to be suffering a bit of an identity crisis; it seems to be pulled between a security role and a scientific role. Science must lead! And especially here, where the Master employs a parasite disguised as a machine that feeds on fear, with that plot serving as cover for a missile theft; the missile, in turn, will be used to disrupt a peace conference and cause a world war. Of course, the Doctor will prevent that outcome. I had trouble following this serial; it’s a good story, with multiple layers, so maybe it’s just me. Highlights: The Master recovers his dematerialization circuit (confiscated by the Doctor in the previous serial), freeing him to travel in his TARDIS; and the Brigadier…well, let’s just say he takes a lot of crap from the Doctor. He deserves an award, or maybe just a drink.
I had always heard of The Claws of Axos, and wanted to see it. It’s another failed alliance for the Master; the Axons are clearly calling the shots here. It’s odd to see him on the back foot from the outset though—usually it takes time for things to fall apart. The Axons are a selfish, resource-driven, hive mind; they’re a pretty good villain, and I’m surprised they’ve never made a reappearance, though they do get mentioned a few times. For the third serial in a row, the Doctor and the Master must cooperate, though not willingly this time, as the Doctor tricks the Master into repairing the TARDIS. The Time Lords don’t intervene to stop this repair; however, they do prevent the Doctor from escaping his exile, as they rig the TARDIS to always return to Earth, and also remove vital knowledge from the Doctor’s mind. Still, it’s the first use of the complete TARDIS since The War Games.
A few things: First, how is the Master always able to enter the Doctor’s TARDIS? That seems like a security flaw. We know that as of the 1996 movie, the Doctor hides a spare key outside the door, but that had by no means been established yet. (The Doctor is able to enter the Master’s TARDIS, however, using a key stolen from a henchman in Terror of the Autons.) Second, I feel as though this is the period of the Doctor’s life where he’s really learning and developing a relationship with the TARDIS. His first two incarnations were really very ignorant of its capabilities, and you could tell there was a steep learning curve. But now, with all the tinkering and rebuilding, he’s becoming much more familiar with it, and much more attached to it. It’s no longer just a machine to him. And finally, the Doctor really should have been prosecuted for letting the Master escape!
Colony in Space continues the TARDIS theme: at the unspoken behest of the Time Lords, the Doctor and Jo travel to the planet Uxarieus in the year 2472. There they deal with the Master’s theft of information on an Uxariean doomsday weapon, which can destroy stars. (On an unrelated note, this story is almost contemporary with The Tomb of the Cybermen, occurring only about fifteen years before that story.) While present, they deal with a clash between human colonists and the outrageously-evil Interplanetary Mining Corporation, which is suggested in later media to be the descendant of the Isiggri Mining Corporation from The Space Pirates. The IMC will appear again in later stories. As often happens, the humans, not the monsters, are the real villains here; it’s the Uxarieans who eventually end the crisis in a flash of self-sacrifice, destroying themselves with the weapon. In resolving the conflict among the humans, the Doctor does what he does best—leads them to be the best they can be. It’s something I love about this show, and I’m always happy to see it.
We conclude on a dark note, with The Daemons. It’s the finale of the season-long Master story arc, and ends with his capture by UNIT. In the meantime, he attempts to summon and use an ancient demon called Azal, but it’s not what it seems: the creature is an extraterrestrial from the planet Daemos. It is, however, powerful, and claims responsibility first for all the demonic mythologies of Earth and second for the destruction of Atlantis. There are clear connections here with NuWho’s The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit, although the beast seen there is not definitively stated to be of Daemos.
A new minor character is introduced here: technician Osgood (first name revealed in prose sources to be Tom) of UNIT, not to be confused with Osgood from The Moonbase. He’s somewhat noteworthy in that Steven Moffatt has said in interviews that he intended NuWho’s Osgood (The Day of the Doctor, et al) to be Tom Osgood’s daughter, though he intentionally left it ambiguous onscreen. Finally, much to my chagrin, Jo Grant is responsible for the defeat of Azal, in that her altruistic choice to sacrifice herself for the Doctor is more than the beast can handle, and causes its death. I really want to hate her, but things like this make it hard!
Overall, I was pleased with this introductory season for the Master. He’s without a doubt my favorite Doctor Who villain, and Roger Delgado nails the part, setting the standard for years to come. He’s evil, and formidable, but also imperfect and—to at least a small degree—sympathetic. Although I know eventually the death of Roger Delgado will tragically force a change in the part, I’m still anxious to see where it goes from here.
Next time, we’ll see the return of an old enemy: after four years, the Daleks return! See you there.
All episodes can be viewed on Dailymotion; links are below.