I got inspired to write this after seeing some of the discourse about whether Dhawan's incarnation of the Master comes before or after Missy. As you can probably guess I lean more towards the latter.
“Has it never occurred to you that it could be a trap?”
The interior lights of the TARDIS were blinking, the hum of alien energy signifying it was in flight. Just for once though the Doctor was not running around the console, poking and pulling at switches and levers. She looked at Yasmin sincerely as she answered the question without hesitation.
“Of course it has. But there’s about to be a Dalek attack on earth. The one that tipped me off said it has information that could help us stop the Daleks. But not just now, all Daleks forever.”
The Doctor could tell Yaz was not entirely satisfied with her explanation. Perhaps she was right. Trusting the word of a Dalek? She must be out of her mind. But right now it was her best lead.
“It’s a calculated risk, and it’s one that I have to take,” she added, as much to reassure herself as anything.
“But, a Dalek, that wants to betray its own kind? Could that really be possible?”
“I don’t know…” The Doctor’s gaze strayed toward the TARDIS console once more, deep in thought. The idea did sound absurd, hearing it out loud. “Maybe. All I know is the universe will continually surprise you, and that anyone is capable of the most remarkable change.”
“What, even a Dalek?” Now Yaz really was looking at her like she was out of her mind.
The Doctor looked directly at her companion. “Yes, even a Dalek. Why not.”
“What about The Master?”
If it had been Yaz’s intention to trip The Doctor up in her logic by referring to the man who had just murdered hundreds of seismologists in cold blood then it appeared to have the opposite effect. Instead she smiled knowingly, as though she was privy to something which Yaz was not. It wouldn’t be the first time.
“Yes. Even the Master.”
St. Petersburg, 1916
“I was just thinking, we could call this… the Master’s Dalek Plan, or the Cyber-Dalek Master Plan, or the Cyber Master’s Dalek Plan…”
The Doctor had little choice but to listen to the maniacal ramblings of her arch-enemy, still wearing his Rasputin disguise. Though at this moment she was just as if not more concerned by the presence of the Daleks and Cyber Masters that encircled her within the grand, centuries old rotunda of the Winter Palace. She still wasn’t sure if the Master had chosen to enact his plans from this particular point in time for a strategic reason or simply because he enjoyed masquerading as one of Russia’s most notorious historical figures. Both options seemed plausible.
“But in the end I suppose we’ll just call it… the day I killed the Doctor. With a little help from my friends.”
In spite of the peril she was in, the Doctor could not help but smirk a little at the irony of the Master’s last remark. “Your friends? You hate each other.”
The Master leaned in, uncomfortably close for the Doctor’s liking, speaking in a soft menacing voice, almost a whisper. “And the one thing stronger than their hatred for each other, is their hatred for you. Just took a handsome genius to point it out to them. You see Doctor, this was all your doing, I can only take so much of the credit. All these centuries, these armies have grown stronger because of you. You know that don’t you.”
The Master paused, eyeballing the Doctor at uncomfortably close range, scanning her for a reaction. She offered him none. “But wait, it’s more than that,” he gasped, feigning a realisation, “you once had the chance to destroy the Daleks once and for all, didn’t you? Before they were ever created. You could have erased them from history but you chickened out, remember.”
“How do you know about that?” The Doctor fired an inquisitive glare.
“Oh come Doctor, between the Matrix and the Cyberium I basically know everything. I can see all of our pasts, and all our futures.”
Upon hearing the last part the Doctor’s smile returned. The same one that Yaz had witnessed earlier in the TARDIS. “You can’t know your own future. That would break the laws of time.”
“Oh but there’s no need, I’m already so many steps ahead. Has it ever occurred to you, that all this could have been avoided, if you’d only had the courage, all those years ago. Not just this, but every Dalek plan. Every scheme. You ever have any regrets, about your decision?”
“Where there’s life there’s hope,” the Doctor answered simply.
The Master rolled back his eyes, clutching his chest in sarcasm. “How poignant Doctor, what a moving little sentiment. A bit cliche.” His demeanour shifted, and he looked at the Doctor dead seriously once more. “Is that what you tell yourself, when you think of all the lives that have been lost..”
“Today I met a Dalek who wanted to betray its own species,” replied the Doctor passionately.
“Oh yeah, and what became of that Dalek?” taunted the Master, his gaze gesturing to the empty casing that had now been repurposed as The Doctor’s prison.
For a moment the Doctor looked like she might be about to come back with another retort, but she stopped herself. “I don’t need to justify myself to you.”
Unphased by the Doctor’s stoicism, the Master pressed on, sensing he had hit a nerve. “You even had the chance to destroy me once, remember, before they put me in the vault.”
At this statement the Doctor’s whole demeanour seemed to shift. She looked him dead in the eye, confused, agitated. “The vault. But that was… You didn’t look into your own future?”
“I didn’t have to.”
“No…” Realisation began to dawn on the Doctor. “That can’t be right. You… you’re not…”
The Master was grinning now. “What? You didn’t think that… oh, yes. Oh, this is GOOD!” He clapped his hands on his knees as he stood up, giddy with excitement, then burst into a fit of laughter.
“You must be before Missy. She was different. She’d changed. You changed. I saw it happen.”
“What’s the matter?” The Master’s laughter had ceased as abruptly as it had started and now he was snarling at the Doctor, as though something about the whole revelation had infuriated him as much as it amused him. “Are you thinking back to that little speech you gave? That was so emotional that one, one of your very best. Now how did it go? I really should remember I was there twice. Well anyway, it wouldn’t have made a difference.” He moved in closer, bending down to be level with the Doctor once more. Now when he spoke it was in a hushed whisper, as though he was about to share his most intimate secret. “Do you know how many people I have killed Doctor?”
The Doctor didn’t reply. She was lost in thought.
“You know it’s a funny thing, I never did keep count. After a while they all just sort of blend together, the screams, the pleas for mercy, I always like that bit. The point is Doctor that when you’ve killed as many times as I have, you don’t change because of a speech. Oh but you’d love to believe that though wouldn’t you? No, it’s more than that. You have to believe it. Otherwise how else would you stay sane, with the amount of blood on your hands.”
“People do change…” muttered the Doctor, staring off into the middle distance. She wasn’t sure whether she was addressing the Master any more, or if the remark was more for her own benefit.
The Doctor’s gaze flashed back toward her arch-enemy, caught off guard by the apparent abrupt change of topic and raising of his voice.
“You remember him don’t you? Stenza warrior, face full of teeth, I’ll give him credit, not many could pull that look off. You let him go didn’t you, after that little murdering spree in Sheffield?”
“It wasn’t like that. There was that boy, Karl. I couldn’t stop him.”
“And he came back,” said the Master.
“How is this relevant?”
“I’m glad you asked that.” He smiled. “Five stolen planets. I must say I’d have gone for something more original if it was me…”
“We stopped him. Me and my friends,” the Doctor countered, “we returned those planets to their rightful place.”
“You did. But did you ever think to check on those planets, once you’d restored them. Did it cross your mind they may have been inhabited by intelligent life?”
The question, of course, was rhetorical, but the Doctor’s pensive silence confirmed what the Master already knew.
“Oh, that’s right, you don’t like to look back, do you, at the carnage you leave in your wake. You’d rather lecture to your friends. You should have seen them, Doctor. Entire cities reduced to dust, crushed into atoms. Whole continents. Planetary genocide…”
He rolled the last two words around his mouth with immense satisfaction. The Doctor recalled saying those exact words herself during her last fateful encounter with Tzim-Sha on Ranskoor Av Kolos. She hadn’t had the chance to dwell on it back then, or at least that was how she reasoned with herself. There was too much else at stake. Liberating the Ux, saving the earth. Now it was coming back to haunt her.
The Master didn’t have to say anything in response. She recognised the look he gave her. The same as when he had told her about the destruction of Gallifrey. About the timeless child.
“I… didn’t know.” The Doctor sounded deflated, her earlier bravado extinguished.
“There’s a lot you don’t know.” The Master knelt down. He too had now dropped his usual theatrics, for once speaking earnestly. “I was back on Gallifrey, shortly after leaving the colony ship where you last saw me, as Missy.” He said the word as if it disgusted him. A chapter in his life he did not want to look back on. “I needed time to think, about my future, after everything you taught me, so I retreated into the Matrix. But while I was there I got curious, decided to have a look around, and that’s when I uncovered the lie they told us. The timeless child… All those regenerations. How many lives have you lived, Doctor? How many have died because of your self-righteousness? How many Tzim-Sha’s are there, roaming about the universe committing genocide because of you?”
Again, the Doctor had no answer.
“I used to think that if I became more like you then maybe… But you see we’re already more alike than you realise.” A moment passed before he spoke the next words, tentatively. “We could still be friends you know.”
At this the Doctor perked up. In spite of all that her enemy had said there was one thing she was still certain of. That she was the one who stopped the monsters, and right now there was an evil plot to foiled. The Master had shown her a flash of vulnerability and she wasn’t about to pass up a tactical advantage.
“If you wanna be my friend then stop whatever it is you’re doing and let me go.”
The Master shook his head, rising to his feet once more. “Oh and here you go, getting to play the hero. Well not this time. This time I’m putting your legacy right and nothing’s going to stop me. And when I’m finished everyone will see the real you.”