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23 December 2014

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...

Day 722: Survival, Episode Two

Dear diary,

‘Master Reveals’ have been the subject of a fair bit of discussion in the last couple of months, largely because of that moment in Dark Water, when we were introduced to the latest incarnation. There’s certainly been enough of them over the years, but I’d guess that the most dramatic have to be the aforementioned Dark Water, plus Utopia, and probably The Deadly Assassin. I’m now thinking that this story might well classify, too. The Master had sort of become a bit of a joke by the time he turned up in The Trial of a Time Lord (you could argue, quite easily, that he’d become a joke long before that, but…). He’d taken to popping up once a year to torment the Doctor, and he’d end up being waved off with a tricky situation. Oh, he’s trapped on prehistoric Earth! Or burnt to death! Ar stuck with the Rani and a growing T-Rex! His plans never used to end well, but when he’s popping up so frequently and losing so often, it does start to become more than a little bit silly.

But we’ve not seen him since the events of The Trial of a Time Lord, and they were two whole seasons ago! It’s the longest gap between Master stories that we’ve had since before The Keeper of Traken, and when the Doctor pulls back the flap of the tent, to reveal his old foe sat there… well, it’s actually terribly exciting! It helps that we’ve not had a proper look at him up to that point, and the difference in his eyes serves to better hide him, too. And then, you’ve got Anthony Ainley playing the part in a way that’s entirely unlike the performance we’re used to receiving from him. Way back when he first played the part properly, in Logopolis, I commented that he even pressed buttons in an over-the-top, pantomime way. There’s none of that on display here, though. He’s toned everything right down, and it’s almost as though he’s giving a real performance. I’ve seen it said that this is the way he’d always wanted to play the part, but was convinced otherwise by John Nathan-Turner. I don’t know how true that statement is, but I’d love to see this version of the Master facing off against Davison or Colin Baker’s Doctors.

I think it also helps that he’s being given much better dialogue here than he has been in the past. There’s not ridiculous technobabble, no over-complicated speeches, and no swallowing of a thesaurus - he’s been written as a desperate man trapped on an alien world, and looking for an escape while he still has a chance. It’s actually making the character scary, and it’s been a long time since that was the case. While I’m at it, I’d love to mention his outfit here, too, because that’s also brilliant! I commented the other day about the programme bringing back so many of its icons before it heads off into cancellation, and it’s lovely to see that they’ve managed to do something different - and brilliant - with the Master before the end.

It’s also somewhat fitting that we’re back in a quarry for the last time in the programme’s original run! They’ve been a staple of the programme for as long as I can remember now (was The Dalek Invasion of Earth the first one? A quarry was being used here as… well, as a quarry, so I think we probably have to move through to The Savages before we hit the ‘Quarry As Alien World’ trope, but they’ve become somewhat ubiquitous in the years since then), and it’s only right, I suppose, that we get to visit one last one. They’ve done a brilliant job with that, too, though! During The Greatest Show in the Galaxy, I said that you could see the through-line from Mindwarp to there in terms of the ‘alien skies’ effects they were applying to location work, and this is yet another stage in that evolution. I think it stands up wonderfully. I suppose in many ways, it all comes back to my comments during Ghost Light that Doctor Who has a team at this point in its history who are able to pull together against the odds and create something really rather special. I’m so glad to see the programme going out on such a high.

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