“I Was Provoked” The Master’s Justification
The Master is one of Doctor Who’s most legendary characters. A villain of cunning and intelligence to rival the Doctor. Often, the Master is a mirror of our hero, a shadow of what they could have been if they’d taken another road.
Sometimes the Master is depicted as an unstoppable force of chaos and madness. A drumbeat in their head driving them to horrors untold. But even absent that, the Master has a drive to conquer, to set themselves up as a lord or queen over the universe. With someone like that, you have to ask, how on earth do they sleep at night?
The question of weather Time Lords sleep and exactly how often is one for another time. But in this sense I want to look at how the Master sees themselves. Various writers have tackled the character over the years, and everyone has to try their best to get into the head of this most famous of villains.
“Now I Can Say I Was Provoked!”
In the 2007 episode Utopia, Derek Jacobi’s Master is threatened by ChanTho. He then pulls some sort of electrical cable out and threatens her instead.
The line “Oh, now I can say I was provoked!” has always stuck with me as a key to understanding the Master. This is him trying to justify, perhaps to himself, his own actions. We see a bit of this later in The End of Time when he shouts at Rassilon, “You did this to me! You made me!”
The Master has to find a way to live with themselves. This spoken line of justification is perhaps an insight into how the Master thinks all the time. With each new plan, each murder and each betrayal, the cloud of excuses come down. I was provoked, they made me, I deserve this.
I have always liked the Master as a mirror image of the Doctor. We see that they are both very similar, and in the Master we see what the Doctor could have been if only things had gone differently. Similarly, in the Doctor we see what the Master could have been.
This was a focus of series 10 as the Twelfth Doctor attempted to rehabilitate Missy. I wonder how much of that was born out of her revelation at the end of series 8 – that the reasons she did what she did was because she just wanted her friend back. Michelle Gomez’s performance of just that line tells us a lot about the character.
What we see here is once again a vision of how the Master thinks. They must be right because even the Doctor, given the opportunity, would do the same. The Master does what they do as if they were a victim of circumstance, created by what happened to them. If the Doctor had walked in their shoes, they’d be in the same place. Or so Missy seems to think.
The failure of this plan may have been what started the Master on their path to redemption in series 10. It was derailed somewhat in the finale when we see her face up to her past in the form of John Simm. But in the end, the choice for her is between embracing who she was, or who she wishes to be.
Until We Meet Again
Wether or not we see the Master again is still up in the air. Chris Chibnall has not indicated one way or the other yet. So, it remains to be seen what sort of character the Master will be when and if they return.