Is Missy Really the Latest Incarnation of the Master?
Guest contributor Cameron Smith believes to have discovered a surprising answer.
When Missy first arrived on our screens in 2014, there was a lot of debate as to her real identity; popular opinions were that she was either a new regeneration of the Rani or a female regeneration of the Master. When the latter was revealed to be the truth, the debate moved to whether she was the latest incarnation of the Master or an earlier one (á la the War Doctor in The Day of the Doctor)?
As it stands, Steven Moffat, the man who created this new version of the Master, isn’t 100% sure, or at least hasn’t given a definitive answer to this question (more on that later). However, after a recent viewing of the 20th Anniversary Special, The Five Doctors, I believe I’ve found the answer.
Lack of On-Screen Regenerations
Now, before I get into things I want to clear something up. A lot of people are upset that we now refer to the Master with female pronouns such as “she” and “her”, given her current female form. I want to clarify that I change the gender of my pronouns depending on the incarnation of the Master: “he” and “his” when referring to male incarnations of the Master, and “she” and “her” when referring to Missy.
Getting back on topic, it’s no secret to long-time Whovians that the Master is in short supply of regeneration scenes. This is a result of the Master’s status as a supporting or recurring character in the show; whenever the previous actor was unable to return or, tragically, passed away, the character was not considered important enough to necessitate a regeneration scene. Yes, there was always an explanation for the Master’s new appearance whenever one came around, be it that he was at the end of his final regeneration, had used siphoned energy to partially regenerate himself, or that he was strangely able to transfer his consciousness into a shape-shifting snake, but we were rarely treated with an on-screen visualisation of these processes.
For those who do not know, the Master was introduced in 1971, played by Roger Delgado. He reprised the role several times and was also set to return for what would have been the Master’s final story, The Final Game, before his untimely death in 1973. Without Delgado, The Final Game was scrapped and a new serial unrelated to the Master took its place. At the time, the number of regenerations the Master had been through had not been established, so when the production crew decided to continue the Master’s story, prosthetics were used to give the Master the form of a decaying corpse; this allowed a new actor, Peter Pratt, to perform the role. The Master’s morbid new appearance was explained as the character being at the end of his final regeneration, kept alive by his will to live and lust for revenge against the Doctor.
The Master did not get a new body until 1981, in which he was able to merge with the body of Trekenite scientist Tremas (an anagram of ‘Master’). Though this was not an actual regeneration, it was the only time in the classic series in which we actually saw the Master get his new body. The only other time this happened was in 2007’s Utopia, in which we got to see the Master regenerate for the first (and only) time, the role being taken over by John Simm. I’m not going to include the 1996 movie as an example here because it’s up to debate as to whether the Master actually transfers his consciousness into the new body or if he’s just controlling it in his snake form.
Old Habits Die Hard
John Simm reprised the role once more in 2009-10’s The End of Time and many of us came to believe we could become accustomed to him as our new Master. Sadly, that was the last we saw of him. After Steven Moffat took over, he made a drastic change to the show’s cast and aesthetics; a change that was met with mixed responses worldwide. Though the majority of us came to accept this change, it continued to cast doubt over whether or not we would see Simm return as the Master. The character’s future was further clouded by fan belief that the character’s story was finally complete and many different media reports about Simm’s willingness or unwillingness to return to the role.
However, as we all know, the Master returned in 2014 as Missy. Once again, we did not receive a regeneration scene, but neither did we receive an explanation for the character’s new incarnation. Admittedly, the urgency of Missy’s devious plan excuses the lack of explanation; after all, stopping your arch-nemesis from turning all of humanity into Cybermen definitely takes precedence over having a lengthy chat about appearances. I don’t know about you guys, but when it was announced that Missy would return in 2015, I was certain that we would see a flash-back regeneration scene or at least a solid explanation, but alas, it continued to allude us.
An Old, Old Friend
After Missy’s first appearance and lack of establishment within the Master’s own history, the biggest question was whether she was indeed the successor to John Simm. In an interview for Doctor Who Magazine, the question was posed to Moffat himself, to which he answered:
“In my head, as it stands, she’s the one after John. But my researches aren’t complete, so I’d better say nothing, as I’ve been wrong before. You could’ve knocked me over with a feather when the War Doctor turned up in The Name of the Doctor.”
Despite this, many of us have gone on to assume that Missy truly is the latest incarnation of the Master. I would like to believe this as well, but something doesn’t sit well with me: Missy’s own “explanation” for her return. When the Doctor deduces that she’s a Time Lady and asks which one, Missy explains: “The one you abandoned, Doctor. The one you left for dead. Didn’t you ever think I’d find my way back?’’
Now, when we last saw John Simm’s Master in The End of Time, he knew his partially-resurrected body wouldn’t last long and so he valiantly sacrificed himself to mortally wound President Rassilon and send Gallifrey back into the time-locked Time War. The question Missy poses to the Doctor does fit this event: she could’ve been rhetorically asking if he thought she would get trapped with Gallifrey. However, it doesn’t take a genius to understand that he was not abandoned there and left for dead; he went willingly… so what could Missy have meant by her statement?
Now, I haven’t seen every single serial featuring the Master, but I do know that he often appears to die towards the end, so if Missy is indeed a past incarnation of the Master, there are a lot of potential jumping-off points where Missy could be inserted. However, I believe the 20th Anniversary Special, The Five Doctors, is the actual jumping-off point. I bet anyone who is familiar with the special is scoffing at my conjecture. It’s true, Anthony Ainley portrayed the Master before The Five Doctors and long after, at a time when the character had no remaining regenerations, so how could Missy possibly fit in here? Although The Five Doctors does take place in chronological order for the Doctor, I propose that this was not the case for the Master.
In the special, the first five Doctors are each taken from their respective times and placed in the Death Zone, a barricaded area surrounding the tomb of Rassilon, the first President of Gallifrey. Although the reason for the Doctors being there is initially unknown, the Time Lord High Council knows sinister forces are at work, so they use a time scoop to get the Master and send him into the Death Zone to rescue the Doctor. They gave him a transmat device so that he could get himself out of the Death Zone when necessary, which he uses to try and persuade the Doctors of his good intention. However, his assistance is rejected each time he approaches one of the Doctors; in particular, while he is talking with the Fifth Doctor, they are both attacked by Cybermen and during their escape the Master is knocked unconscious, allowing the Doctor to take his transmat device and teleport himself out of the Death Zone, leaving the Master to be killed by the Cybermen.
As you might expect, the Master was able to regain consciousness and convince the Cybermen to spare his life. Nevertheless, this is a very notable example of the Doctor abandoning him and leaving him for dead. Now returning to my suggestion that this didn’t take place in chronological order for the Master, I believe that, for him, this took place after his appearance in the final serial of the classic series, Survival. It is perhaps the most notable of the Master’s unexplained escapes, with various comics and audio dramas giving several conflicting possibilities. I believe this is where the Master was taken from because a) it would explain the Master’s escape, and b) Rassilon’s statement at the end of The Five Doctors. After the day is saved, Rassilon offers to return the five Doctors back to their respective times but also returns the Master, stating: “His sins will find their punishment in due time.”
Although they could not have known this at the time of writing, Rassilon’s statement likely refers to the Master’s execution in Doctor Who, the 1996 television movie that canonically takes place after Survival. At the start of the movie, the Master’s form is deliberately silhouetted to disguise the fact that it is not actually Anthony Ainley playing the Master at this point, so, like the Eighth and Ninth Doctors, I believe there is another incarnation of the Master between Anthony Ainley and the silhouetted man that appears in the movie: Missy. As I pointed out earlier, the Master was not known to have any remaining regenerations at this point in time, however the Time Lords did offer him a new regeneration cycle in exchange for his assistance in rescuing the five Doctors, so what if they already gave it to him?
So to put this all in chronological order from the Master’s perspective, he was stranded on the Cheetah World at the end of Survival. At this point, the Time Lords used a time scoop to bring him back to when the five Doctors were stolen from their times and placed in the Death Zone in The Five Doctors. They offered him a new regeneration cycle in exchange for his assistance, but, knowing that he could die in there, they secretly gave it to him when he was teleported into the Death Zone. After being left for dead by the Doctor in the Death Zone and being teleported back to his original time (albeit in a safer location), the Master would eventually be forced to regenerate, becoming Missy. Insert all of Missy’s adventures, until a time where she is captured and exterminated by the Daleks, but their extermination rays merely prompt her to regenerate (back into a male), forcing the Daleks to disintegrate him to ensure his death in the 1996 television movie.
Now this theory clearly isn’t perfect. If Missy is indeed a past incarnation of the Master, why does she come to present-day Earth in 2014 to make her army of Cybermen; why does she receive the current Doctor’s confession dial in 2015’s The Magician’s Apprentice? With a little bit of imagination, you could say that Missy deliberately came further forward in the Doctor’s time stream as part of her surprise birthday present for him; perhaps the gift of Cybermen was an ironic jab at the fact that the Doctor had previously left her to be killed by Cybermen? What if the Doctor deliberately sent his confession dial to Missy, knowing that she would be the incarnation of the Master most likely to help him? What if Missy actually does get stuck on Skaro in The Witch’s Familiar, directly leading into the movie, meaning that we may not see her again? What if the Time Lords didn’t give the Master a new regeneration cycle when he went into the Death Zone, how would he have regenerated into Missy?
There are a few ‘What if’s with this theory, but this is true for all theories, that’s why they’re called theories, not facts. We may not ever get an explanation or regeneration for Missy, or perhaps we will and she does end up being the successor to John Simm. Either way, until the day comes that this theory is definitively proven wrong, it shall stand as a definite possibility. But what are your thoughts on Missy? Do you believe she’s the latest incarnation of the Master or do you suspect that she could be an earlier incarnation? Feel free to let me know your opinions in the comments and thanks for reading!