DOCTOR WHO: The Master Encounters - THE DEADLY ASSASSIN - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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The Master returns, although he's looking altogether different. Christopher Morley revisits the classic 1976 Tom Baker adventure, The Deadly Assassin.

As silly titles go, The Deadly Assassin is definitely top of the league! Someone really should have sat down & thought about it- after all by the nature of their professions assassins are obviously deadly ( they kill people for a living, don't they?). It does, though, tell us a great deal more about the politics of the Time Lords than ever before. Peter Snow & his election night Swingometer are nowhere to be seen, though..

Following The Hand Of Fear & Sarah-Jane Smith's departure from travels in the TARDIS the Fourth Doctor returns home to Gallifrey. Its Presidential Resignation Day, & he's had an awful premonition that something bad's about to happen to the Lord President...

Companionless ( Tom Baker having declared that he could do things by himself behind the scenes, though producer Philip Hinchcliffe deemed a companion a necessity- hence Leela's introduction in The Face Of Evil), he sets about stopping it from happening in the first place.

But an old enemy lurks in the shadows of the Capitol, aided by Presidential candidate Chancellor Goth ( played by Bernard Horsfall, the same chap who portrayed Lemuel Gulliver in The Mind Robber, which the novel Future Imperfect reveals to have been part of his service as a Celestial Intervention Agent early in his career. He's the one who sends Doctor Two off to aid his past & future selves in stopping Omega in The Three Doctors). Evidently moving into the higher echelons of the political infrastructure has only increased his susceptibility to corruption/ a hunger for greater power!

But who's helping him along? Following Roger Delgado's untimely death, the Master nonetheless returns to the fray...Peter Pratt giving life & voice to perhaps the most monstrous incarnation yet! He's looking like he's been in the wars a bit- indeed he will be in a rather big one after gaining a few new bodies first ( The Keeper Of Traken  & Utopia). In the process of attempting to save the President from certain death at the hands of a staser rifle, though, Four accidentally goes a bit Lee Harvey Oswald. The luckless President is unfortunately fated to do a bit of a President Kennedy...

And because he hadn't named a successor before dying, elections are called for. Goth immediately states his intention to stand as a candidate, calling for a swift trial for the man in the scarf! In a moment of genius the Doctor invokes Gallifreyan law- specifically Article 17- which allows him his freedom while making a rival claim for the Presidency, thus delaying his murder trial. When Goth reports this to the mysterious robed Phantom of the Opera lookalike assisting him in his bid for power, we get our first true glimpse of the horribly disfigured Master. He'll later be shown to have lost none of his desire for destruction...

Castellan Spandrell is won round by the Doctor's claims of innocence after testing the staser for himself, & he ( along with Co-Ordinator Engin) begin their own investigation into the assassination. After which the stage is prepared for a battle between the two most famous/infamous renegade members of the Time Lord race- the Master having created a reality of his own design inside the Matrix, a vast virtual Gallifreyan database of sorts. Four sees no choice but to potentially fatally enter the Matrix himself! This should give you some idea as to why that's not necessarily the best idea he'll ever have...

Despite his often-professed love for the man who followed in Tom Baker's footsteps as the man to hold the key to the TARDIS, Steven Moffatt must have taken at least some notice. The Deadly Assassin also establishes a limit of 12 regenerations/13 lives per Time Lord. At which point they finally naturally die- or so it went until The Time Of The Doctor & Eleven's regeneration into Twelve. Evidently the chance to in effect cheat death is at the digression of the higher-ups on Gallifrey, who were so moved by Clara Oswald's post- Trenzalore plea that they allowed the Doctor to live at least a while longer, mercifully with no Malcolm-Tucker style sweary outburst of relief at not actually dying.

It could be seen as a softening of the stance they took earlier, in The War Games. Sentenced to enforced regeneration & exile on Earth following repeated breaches of his people's policy of non-intervention in galactic affairs, they do at least grant the Second Doctor the chance to choose his next appearance. He doesn't like any of the alternatives, though. Hence his exile starting with this face instead...

It still doesn't explain how the Master was able to put his plans into effect, though. Luckily a dying Goth can shed some light on that. He'd found the Master, near death at the end of his regenerative cycle & far from his magnificent best on Tersurus & sought to use him as part of his power-grab. Rather unhelpfully he dies before he can reveal how the Master was going to in turn use him as a pawn! But even though he's decayed rather a lot he hasn't lost any of his mental skill, concocting an elaborate faked death as part of a scheme to steal the mythical Sash & Rod of Rassilon. The relics are in fact keys to the Eye of Harmony, which he's seeking to use to rejuvenate himself & escape his rather charred current form.

All of which sets the scene for his eventual renewal of sorts in The Keeper Of Traken- Anthony Ainley taking the reins from Pratt all the way up until Survival. The less said about the Eric Roberts Master from the Eighth Doctor's TV film appearance the better, though Derek Jacobi showed he would be in great hands on the basis of his brief pre-John Simm cameo. Cue the inevitable round of speculation as to who'll have stepped into the shoes of the universe's biggest badass by the time Series 8 comes around if indeed the rumours of his return are true!

But then, to really put the cat among the pigeons, who says he'll actually be a ' he' at all? Surely its not just the Corsair ( The Doctor's Wife) who can change gender as part of the process of regeneration? 

Who knows- one day the Doctor might be female too! While opinions on the issue may vary wildly ( believe us, they do), it might prove to be a progressive step towards changing the nature of things. And even after 50 years of wibbly wobbly timey wimey stuff that has to be an exciting prospect, right? Before Peter Capaldi was announced as the Twelfth Doctor several newspapers did indeed speculate that the post- Matt Smith incarnation would be a lady!

No less than Steven Moffatt himself has said in the past that 'the more often it is talked about the more likely it is to happen, I suppose' . Even Helen Mirren has weighed into the debate. When asked if the Doctor should ever be female, she said ' I think its absolutely time for a female Doctor. I'm so sick of that man with his girl sidekick- I could think of at least ten wonderful British actresses who would absolutely kill in that role'.

Whether she included herself in that list isn't known- but even within the Who family the issue divides opinion. Peter Davison has in the past made his opposition to the idea of a woman Doctor clear:
"If you suddenly make the Doctor a woman you’ve effectively just said, ‘Well let’s give you a sex change’, and I don’t think that works.To me it would be a rather odd thing. To have a female Time Lord would be like having a female James Bond."
While Sylvester McCoy proved more supportive:
"I wonder sometimes if Doctor Who would lose some fans with a woman in the role. But we need more equality among the sexes because it isn’t there yet. We don’t give women enough credit. Women can be heroic in science fiction and can be intelligent, complex characters, of course. If the Doctor can change from looking like Colin Baker to looking like me and change yet again so he looks like the not-as-handsome Paul McGann, then turning into a woman doesn’t seem much stranger. It’d be interesting and they should try it."

To leave you with something to chew on, let's close with a parting remark from Tom Baker, who after leaving the series was asked what sort of chap the Fifth Doctor might be. He simply said “Well, you’re making an assumption that it’s going to be a man.”. Nicely put indeed!

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