There has always been a darker side to the Doctor, and some regenerations have borne that out more than others. The First Doctor, the Seventh Doctor, and the Twelfth have all been shown as manipulative, and would even lie to their friends, and have no qualms with it. Other Doctors have their moments of moral ambiguity, fury, reckless actions, and more. That’s not to mention the fact that the Doctor (seemingly) committed double genocide against his own people and the Daleks – or at the very least, believed it was something he was capable of.
Little is known of the Doctor’s early life before he left Gallifrey. We know he spent time at the academy (scraping through with 51% on the second attempt), he had failed his TARDIS driving lessons, had a family, a daughter, a granddaughter and a best friend. It’s that best friend that poses an interesting question. That friend was, of course, the Master.
A rival Time Lord, one of the most evil and corrupt beings the Time Lords ever produced. A man driven to chaotic and downright evil actions, party thanks to a maddening drumbeat in his mind, planted there by the Time Lords themselves when he was just a child. He was from a rich family, one with estates on the mountainsides. He was almost as clever as the Doctor himself (which, given the Doctor’s record, might not be too great a boast), and the two of them were very close friends. In The Sea Devils, the Third Doctor describes their relationship thus;
“He used to be a friend of mine once. A very good friend. In fact, you might almost say we were at school together.” – The Third Doctor, The Sea Devils (1972)
Later, the Tenth Doctor has a conversation with the Master in The End of Time, in which the Master reminisces about their childhood.
“I had estates. Do you remember my father’s land back home? Pastures of red grass, stretching far across the slopes of Mount Perdition. We used to run across those fields all day, calling up at the sky” – The Master, The End of Time Part 1 (2009)
There are other lines and impressions that demonstrate that, once upon a time, these two were very close friends. But something happened to pull them apart, something divided them and pushed them towards separate paths, one towards mastery and dominion, the other towards ‘making people better’. Most of us have assumed that it was the Master who turned to evil, and thus broke off the friendship, but what if it wasn’t. What if it was the Doctor who turned – turned FROM evil?
As established in The Sound of Drums, the Master had the terrible drum beat implanted in his head during his initiation into the academy. It was during their time at the academy that the two were friends, and if the Master’s descent into evil would have already begun by then, what does that say of the Doctor who befriended him? Were the two, perhaps, more alike than he would later care to admit?
With this in mind, much of their relationship starts to make sense. The Doctor’s constant insistence on not killing the Master has always seemed somewhat overblown, even by his often pacifist standards. Lingering romantic feelings may still be a possibility in either case, but in addition to this, I think that the Doctor is desperate for the Master to turn away from Evil and believes that they can be turned, because he already turned himself.
Perhaps, looking back on their encounters, with the Doctor ever thwarting the Master’s attempts at domination, but often holding back from a final deathblow, it gains a new light. Further, the Doctor’s obsession with not killing the Master, but trying to save them.
“He’s a Time Lord, which makes him my responsibility. I’m not here to kill him. I’m here to save him.” – The Tenth Doctor, The Sound of Drums (2007)
If we look at the Doctor’s story from this angle, things start to fall into place. The First Doctor’s often off putting nature, his lying, manipulation, and the fact that he almost leaves the others to die a number of times early on. His resistance to new friends and companions, his initial reluctance to do things for the greater good, but rather for his own satisfaction. This is not a person who has always been good. Indeed, in any other show, he might have been the villain.
Slowly but surely, the Doctor becomes more and more a hero, and less a villain. He starts to see good in people, he starts to believe that they can be saved. Perhaps, what drives him to save the Master, is a desire to see them also come away from evil, just as he did, and whenever he fails, it feels like another betrayal. Perhaps, from the Master’s point of view, the Doctor was the betrayer, the one who left, the one who changed sides. This would explain some of the Master’s deep animosity. It would also explain why the pair are often willing to join forces; each wants to pull the other in their direction, hoping that their old partnership will rekindle something within the other.
In Planet of Fire (1984), the Doctor watches as the Master (apparently) burns to death. He is visibly shaken, saddened, and emotional at having let this happen. As he “dies”, the Master at first threatens the Doctor, but then offers him “anything in creation” as a bargaining chip. Was this a desperate plea, or something the Doctor once desired? In School Reunion (2006), Mr Finch offers the Doctor the chance to reshape the universe, and the Doctor does seem genuinely tempted…
MR FINCH (CONT’D): The Paradigm gives us power, but you could give us wisdom. Become a God. At my side. Imagine what you could do, think of the civilizations you could save. Perganon, Assinta… your own people, Doctor. Standing tall. The Time Lords… reborn.
The Doctor still says nothing, staring into Mr Finch’s eyes and not looking away.
SARAH JANE: Doctor, don’t listen to him.
MR FINCH (turning to her and Rose): And you could be with him throughout eternity. Young… fresh… never wither, never age… never die. Their lives are so fleeting. So many goodbyes. How lonely you must be, Doctor. Join us.
The Doctor has a faraway look in his eyes… he’s so terribly tempted.
THE DOCTOR: I could save everyone…
MR FINCH: Yes.
THE DOCTOR (whispers): I could stop the war…
Ultimately, it is Sarah Jane who pulls the Doctor back to his senses. The fact that he is so tempted by this proposition perhaps, once again, shows how he and the Master are not, at heart, quite so different. The Doctor fights every day to be better than he was. Perhaps, the final act of the Time War brought him face to face, once again, with the man he could have been if he had stayed on the Master’s path. When he hears of it, the Master relishes the idea of ‘two almighty civilisations burning’.
Does this explain the darkness that still lives inside the Doctor? Does he look at the Master and see the Time Lord he could so easily have become? What was it that turned the Doctor away from the path to evil? Was it Susan? Was it something else? Did it have something to do with ‘the blackest day’ of the Doctor’s young life, as mentioned in The Time Monster?
What do you think? Was the Doctor once an evil Time Lord?