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So okay. Here I was all set to release the rest of this series one article every other day over the course of a week. Then the BBC goes and releases a proper trailer which all but outright confirms that it’s going to be what everyone thinks it’s going to be: The Warlock is the Time War Doctor, the thing he did was to use The Moment. And the Zygons were disproportionately important to this. There will also be some stuff with a painting and a woman in a Tom Baker scarf, and Rose’s Bad Wolf powers will also put in an appearance.
So there’s no point in being coy about it. Let’s just get on with my “debunked” theories for the sake of some fun.
This is part seven in a series of articles speculating on the content of the upcoming Doctor Who fiftieth anniversary special “The Day of the Doctor”. Part one can be read here, part two here, part three here, part four yonder. Some elements of this post may be considered spoilers for the preceding 50 years of Doctor Who, and will reference noncanonical statements presented in trailers and interviews.
Theory Three: The Final Game
The Master. He is in many ways the Moriarty to the Doctor’s Holmes. Which is to say, “A minor villain who never actually did anything all that impressive, whose importance has been blown way out of proportion to the point that no one can do anything with the one these days without everyone just assuming that the other is gonna show up.”
See, ultimately the Master is a bit rubbish. To be fair, so are pretty much all of the “classic” monsters. They almost have to be: when you’re a recurring villain, it pretty much means that the audience’s experience of you is going to be “You lose a lot.” The Daleks get dragged out once a season specifically for the purpose of watching a lot of them get blowed up real good. The Cybermen spend almost the whole of the classic series being “The last desperate remnants of a defeated race trying one last high-stakes gambit to avoid extinction and failing.” And The Master.
The Master makes his debut in the 1971 serial Terror of the Autons, a story which, aside from his presence, is like 78% a rehash of the previous season’s Spearhead from Space, in which the equivalent role was played by a plastic robot. His plan here — and in at least half of his other appearances — makes no real sense: he’s helping the Nestene Consciousness (New series fans will remember them from Rose and The Pandorica Opens) try to take over the Earth for reasons that don’t seem to amount to anything more than “it seemed like it might be fun.” That’s basically how the character works: he comes up with these convoluted schemes that he tries to play off as being about him wanting some abstract kind of “Ultimate Power!” or something, but there’s no real sense of what he wants to do with that power, and most of the time, there’s barely even any sense that this “power” is anything more than “For the Lulz”. (The other half of the time, he’s done got himself into a mess of trouble and has chosen the most genocidal means of extricating himself that he can think of). This is basically why the new series declared that what was underwriting The Master’s motivations all these years was that he was plainly and simply nuts: it’s the only explanation that makes a lick of sense.
When Eric Roberts played The Master in 1996’s Doctor Who as a bit of a thug, people complained. I mean, they rightly complained that the plot of the TV movie was nonexistent, the characterization of the Master was all over the place and Eric Roberts is not a good actor. But folks also complained that The Master wasn’t being played as suave, urbane, and with a goatee.
Likewise, when John Simm played The Master in Utopia, The Sound of Drums and The Last of the Time Lords, people complained that he was portrayed as manic, playful and impulsive, rather than suave, urbane, and with a goatee.
Basically, people were complaining that he wasn’t being played by Roger Delgado. Which is a fair complaint, but since Roger Delgado had by that time been dead for almost forty years, not an especially realistic one. The death of Roger Delgado basically derailed the nascent plans for the third Doctor’s swansong. Possibly for the better; by his last appearance in Frontier in Space, it was pretty much clear that The Master didn’t really have the clout to be the One True Legendary Foe: that serial’s big ending twist is that he’s actually been acting this whole time as an agent of the Daleks. When The Master came back in The Deadly Assassin, he’d been revamped as a much more violent, vindictive and desperate character.
You see, the original concept of The Master was not simply “He’s a suave and sophisticated Moriarty-like villain.” No; the reason the Master was originally played like that was because Jon Pertwee was playing The Doctor as “What if James Bond were a Scientist?” The high concept for the Master was “He’s the anti-Doctor” — Yin to the Doctor’s Yang. So when The Master faces off against a James Bond Doctor, he does it by acting like a Bond Villain. Heck, he even wears the Nehru Jacket. And this even continues, to an extent, into his appearances opposite Tom Baker: paired off with a Doctor who’s presented as a “children’s hero”, defined by his massive charisma and scene-stealing tendencies, The Master transforms into the opposite: a child’s nightmare, an unlovable husk who stays in the hidden shadows and never takes center-stage.
Only then it all goes off the rails when they hired Anthony Ainley. Not, mostly, Ainley’s fault, but his brief for almost his entire tenure seems to be “How’s your Roger Delgado impression?”, the answer to which is “Not all that good, actually.” I mean, I guess if you’re really desperate and you squint a bit, you might argue that since Davidson’s Doctor is a less effective and somewhat sadder, more tragic Doctor, his evil counterpart would be sillier and a bit of an incompetent buffoon, but it’s simpler to assume that it’s just that he’s written incompetently because this was not a good period for the show, and good luck trying to extend that analogy to the Colin Baker era, which already has its own proper “Evil Doctor” character. Ainley only really gets to play the character as his own character, rather than a cheap and poorly-remembered version of Delgado in Survival, and part of what makes that performance good is that he does indeed bring the character some of the way back to “Evil Doctor”: he counter’s the Doctor’s chessmastering manipulator who’s always six steps ahead with someone equally manipulative, but also animalistic.
Ainley’s performance from Logopolis through The Trial of a Time Lord, and to a lesser extent, in Survival, cemented the perception of the essentia of the Master’s character as being “Do your best Roger Delgado impression.” Johnathan Pryce’s performance in the role for the parody The Curse of Fatal Death is straight-up Delgado (Heck, I’d even say he’s a better Roger Delgado than Roger Delgado was some of the time). Derek Jacobi is explicitly playing (a recreation of) the Delgado Master in Scream of the Shalka (His very brief stint at an entirely different Master in Utopia is far superior to my mind), and the whole angle of “He’s the anti-Doctor” was largely forgotten until John Simm became a dark mirror of the manic and playful “Lonely God” tenth Doctor.
Had Delgado survived, the character, had he persisted at all, would have evolved very differently. At the least, no one would have forgotten the anti-Doctor aspect to the character. The original concept for Jon Pertwee’s final serial would have seen to that. If the idea was developed as far as an actual script, I’ve no idea, It’s certainly not easily available.
The Sound of Drums gives one account of the Master’s origin: he was driven mad by a telepathic signal transmitted back to him in childhood from Rassilon on the last day of the Time War. David McIntee’s novel The Dark Path gives an alternate version of events: the then-simply antiheroic renegade becomes an extremist dedicated to forcing order upon the universe after his well-intentioned actions destroy an innocent planet. The Big Finish audio drama Master provides yet another story: two childhood friends are bullied by a young time lord. One of them (it is not absolutely clear which) kills the bully in retaliation, and the other helps cover it up. Possibly due to the interference of the gods of Time and Death, one of them moves past his guilt and becomes The Doctor; the other is consumed by it and becomes The Master.
The unmade alternate version of the third Doctor’s regeneration would have provided a third version. I can’t say whether it would have made the Master’s origin explicit, but it would have needed at the least to have made a suggestion of it. But why am I going on about The Master? Surely we’re talking about The Warlock.
True. The original backstory for The Master is, of course, no more valid than The Dark Path or Master. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that the backstory itself is invalid — just that it’s not the Master‘s backstory. So how could we use this lost backstory to explain The Warlock?
A long time ago on Gallifrey, there lived a good man. Well, an okay man. A bit better than most, I suppose. He was at the least a clever man.
One impossible day, something horrific happened. It may have had something to do with the Daleks. I’m not sure about that. The Daleks would eventually become the one force in the universe powerful and malevolent enough to engage the Time Lords themselves in all-out war, but their beginnings were humble enough; the Doctor isn’t familiar with them in The Daleks, and it isn’t really until their third encounter that they really rise above the level of the dozen other warlike races the Doctor had encountered. But this could all be more complex than it appears — the Daleks and the Doctor both could have some manner of “lost past”, ending in a kind of “reset” that left both sides reduced to something less than their legendary statuses, forced to reclaim their former stature slowly over time.
But who could have effected such a thing? Reduced the Daleks to a band of xenophobic shut-ins cowering in a single ancient city, and reduced the Doctor to an antiheroic old man more concerned with protecting himself and his own than standing up against injustice?
Let us suppose that on that impossible day, it became clear to this clever man that, in the name of peace and of sanity, that something unimaginable had to be done. But it wasn’t something within his power to do. He wasn’t heroic enough to do it. Or perhaps he wasn’t ruthless enough to do it.
And so he did the only thing he could do. He ripped himself in two. This may have involved a transporter accident. He became two beings. Id and Ego. Yin and Yang. Good and Evil. Doctor and Warlock. And The Doctor did the pure and heroic and noble thing. And the Warlock did the unforgivable and necessary thing. And they were doomed to struggle against each other through all of time, until one or the other was defeated.
The Doctor won, at least in a sense. But of course he could never rid himself of the Warlock, not completely; they were one in the same. And so The Doctor hid his dark side away inside himself, the secret that must never be released.
This was, ultimately, an act of the gravest self-denial. It cost him his name. But more, it left him diminished. Having banished his darkness had dimmed his light, and he lost his zeal for adventure and his passion to do right. So he stole away with his granddaughter, content to sight-see the universe without really getting involved in any positive sort of way and tinker with his ship, at least until a force so evil as the Daleks forced him to start redefining himself in their contrast.
Do I really think this could happen? I’m inclined to prefer the less outlandish theories, but on balance, it’s not bad. As with the “Son of Doctor Who” thing, I like the idea of picking up a discarded idea from the show’s distant past — here, the original premise for the 1974 season finale, which would have been “The Final Game”, and revealed that The Master and The Doctor were actually two aspects of the same being, somehow split into separate entities. It may, depending on who you ask, have featured the Daleks — hot on the heels of The Master after the events of Frontier in Space, and whose conclusion would have involve the Master redeeming himself by sacrificing his own life to save the Doctor, culminating, again depending on who you ask, in the two fusing back together to create a more balanced individual as the fourth Doctor. We could easily adapt that backstory to fit The Warlock, as I’ve vaguely specified above. We still need a way forward for the Doctor, who is currently doomed to die on Trenzalore and whose personal timeline is in the process of collapsing ever since he, ahem, disappeared up his own crack, and “The Doctor and the Warlock will have to reconcile their feud and merge together to create a new, more complete being (Who maybe gets some bonus lives and a new timestream which isn’t pegged to Trenzalore)” seems like a fine way to shake all that out, and if it does, it’s hard to imagine them reproducing the proposed climax of The Final Game so closely without wanting to adopt other elements of it.
As I said way back several parts ago, I favor the idea of The Warlock belonging to the pre-televised era of the Doctor’s life. But let’s set that aside for the moment, because there’s other possibilities that are interesting enough that I’d like to give them a spin…