The Doctor can’t explain the impulse, but it happens a few times too often (sort of definitely-not-on-purpose-by-accident, honest). He can’t catch him on Gallifrey, of course, but it’s easy enough to spot where else he’s been; horribly easy in all the wrong ways. He tells himself that if it is at all on purpose, it’s just tidying up — getting round to those niggling little wrongs he should have righted about four or five centuries back.
And he is absolutely, definitely discreet about it. Nobody can say otherwise. He doesn’t engage in temporally inappropriate conversations or actions.
Well, except for a bit here and there.
“Even for you that’s a rubbish plan,” the Doctor says, and snatches the map away from his old best enemy. “I mean, what’s it even supposed to be? I don’t know why I bothered coming.”
The Master lifts his head slowly, taking in the Doctor’s appearance with what can only be described as an odd mix of dismay, pity and horror. “Doctor?”
He opens his mouth to say something about tall, gangly, uncoordinated bodies with prominent chins, silly ears and floppy hair being cool but stops, feeling as he if he’d stepped out naked and in the wrong body. The ultimate faux pas. This is the sort of thing humans must feel when they turn up in the wrong outfit, the kind of thing he never worries about. He turns defensive: “You can’t talk. You haven’t seen some of yours. Talk about fates worse than death.”
“It is not a plan for world domination, Doctor,” says the Master, ignoring the jibe, and pointing to the document instead. “That, you will find, is the map to the theatre with several prospective restaurants marked out. I do so hate to disappoint you, but even I take the odd evening off.”
“Well, you could invite me, then.”
The Master raises one eyebrow. For someone who spends most of his time murdering people, it’s surprisingly elegant and withering. “You’ve never been the best at social occasions, Doctor. Somehow I don’t think you’ve changed. And you see, I would rather like to enjoy a meal and one of the more passable forms of entertainment on this benighted backwater of a planet. You, on the other hand, will indubitably insult the waiter, refuse to let me solve any disputes in the simplest fashion, and heckle the actors. One must, I fear have standards as to the company one keeps.”
“Well, I like that! Talk about pots and kettles and frying pans!”
“You shouldn’t be here,” says the Master, becoming irritated. “You’ll bring Them down on both our heads! Now, go away! If you don’t —”
“I shan’t have an evening out after all,” the Master tells him, with a graceful wave of his cigar. “I may make it my business to call on one of your little friends and amuse myself in some other way.”
The Doctor wonders again why he came (not that he did it on purpose, obviously, except he might have done), but stopping the Master now would be crude interference in the timeline, even for him, the sort that leaves jagged breaks in the patterns and threads of the universe and can’t be mended.
He just thinks that now he’s the only one left it’s irresponsible not to do something.
“I think,” says Rory, catching at Amy’s elbow and attempting to stop her tugging on the facial hair in question, “that the beard might be real. Amy?”
Amy stands back, but glares at the man in black with the really rubbish goatee. “Well, it looks fake. Why would anyone grow a thing like that on purpose?”
“I suppose you never did choose your friends carefully,” says the Master. This incarnation does have a rubbish beard, Amy’s right about that. Well, she’s not the first one to say so. The Doctor’s pretty sure Peri said the same thing. And Tegan. Several times. Still, rubbish beard, but perfected sneer, you’ve got to give him that.
The Doctor has him at gunpoint and it’s not as if the Master hasn’t just miniaturized a very nice scientist. Still, firing in cold blood, it’s not very him, and he doesn’t much like these things, and it would be interference —
“You haven’t got the stomach for it, Doctor. I know you —” (Sneer, sneer, sneer.)
The Doctor fires. He doesn’t much like these things, but at least this one was the nifty 3014 model with the ‘ice’ setting, which should keep the Master out of mischief for several weeks, and in the meantime, he can think of several nice planets he could leave him on.
He lowers the gun, and then sighs. “Amy. The beard is real, okay. Now leave it alone!”
He knows how to dress for the occasion too, so he wears his best top hat, full evening wear (black bow tie, very cool), and carries a sword stick. He hasn’t exactly mastered how you use it yet, though, but they’re definitely cool. Several people told him that when he was exiled back in the 1970s that time. Several very cool people he kept running into at all the best dodgy scientific institutes run by madmen (and not the good sort. Mostly).
Anyway, the point is, he knows how to dress for the occasion if he’s going to do the only sensible thing and challenge his best enemy to duel. Sneaking up on him with a weapon was all wrong, the sort of thing the Master’d do, not the Doctor.
Unfortunately, it turns out to be one of the Master’s more gelatinous days and there’s a whole thing with losing him down the plug hole and him not being able to hold a sword anyway, and a great suit getting ruined.
“But how?” says Clara when he turns up at her door and says something about using her washing machine because the TARDIS is suddenly being funny about cleaning things, like she thinks it’s his fault. Then Clara sighs. “Why am I even asking? And, no, Doctor, you are absolutely, categorically not using my washing machine to clean something that’s just eaten through a lapel while we’ve been having this conversation. Face it, the suit’s had it. You’ll have to burn it.”
And now it’s all symbolic, isn’t it, because the Master always spoils things, he always has, and the Doctor still feels that maybe he ought to do something so that he won’t in future, because the Master spoils things for everybody he meets.
And when they burn the suit in the back garden, the resulting poisonous explosion takes a lot of explaining to the neighbours and the emergency services. So much so, they run away to the stars halfway through.
You can’t, he thinks, you just can’t, do anything to a perfectly nice old man who doesn’t know who’s lurking inside him.
You just have to play at science-y things instead. It’s pretty much as good as he remembered, only he leaves about three months before the terrible ending. His past self would not be pleased to see him. (Some people have no taste.)
And now, now he can do it, here, tonight. They’re both outside of Gallifrey’s jurisdiction and this one, this Master, so very wrong: he looks at him and sees a massacre, the end of days, and a terrible year that was and wasn’t. Worse still, he sees himself; this one is a twisted mockery of his own last form. If he can’t muster up the hate, maybe he can manage a side-order of self-loathing to see it through.
“Is it you?” the Master says, as if he can hardly see him, can’t see past his own expectations, his focus on his Doctor.
The Doctor takes aim and fires. The trouble with guns of all kinds is they make killing too simple. Well, in theory they do but less so in practice as it turns out — the phone rings on the outside of his blue box even though there’s nobody on the other end, and he misses wildly and shoots an innocent bystanding tree.
And by the time he’s finished with the phone, the Master has vanished, like he always does.
Enough, the Doctor says to himself, and leans back against the TARDIS. Whatever he wanted or thought he wanted, meetings or endings, he’s crossed all the timelines he can without breaking anything, and it’s over. He thinks it’s probably just as well.
He makes his apologies to the tree, and leaves.
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