In 2017, one of the most prominent villains in all of Doctor Who canon was killed off.
The difference was, this time, there didn't seem to be much chance of the Master coming back. After all, in this particular case, the Master was killed by…the Master. Murdered by her earlier self (whom, granted, had just been murdered by her), Missy lay dead in an exploding Cyber-ship, with no hope of regeneration.
Except that in 2020, a new version of the Master appeared to menace the Thirteenth Doctor. So apparently, Missy survived.
Or did she?
Ever since the Sacha Dhawan incarnation of the Master first appeared on the scene, fans theorized that perhaps he was actually a version from before Missy, meaning that Missy would still be the final Master. And while many (including myself) dismissed this at the time as wishful thinking on the part of those (again, including myself) who wanted Missy's character arc to remain intact, I'm beginning to think this theory deserves a second look.
Yes, I would personally prefer for Missy to come after the Dhawan Master, since it would mean that she never reneged on her decision to stand with the Doctor. But that aside, there are some objectively plausible reasons for believing that the Dhawan Master came first.
Before we begin, though, I want to make one thing clear–this post is in no way intended to de-legitimize the Dhawan Master in any way. I'm a fan of Dhawan's portrayal, despite the fact that if he truly is the latest Master, I take issue with Chris Chibnall for apparently disregarding Missy's character development. As I will demonstrate, if the pre-Missy theory about Dhawan is correct, it actually makes his entire arc in Series 12 far more logical and significant.
Also, there's an anthology of short stories coming out about the Master in July, which the BBC confirms will include “a story from the Master’s latest incarnation during his 77 years of imprisonment on Earth.” So if that alone isn't confirmation that the Dhawan Master is the latest one, the book may blow this theory out of the water once it's released. Which would mean I am wasting my time writing this nerdy article.
But is that going to stop me? ABSOLUTELY NOT.
So, here are some reasons why I believe the Dhawan Master came before Missy–and, more specifically, between the John Simm and Michelle Gomez incarnations of the character. SPOILERS for the whole of Series 12 incoming.
The Dhawan Master never refers to Missy.
There are no clear references to Missy in anything that the Dhawan Master has said so far onscreen. Which is a little strange, given everything that happened between the Doctor and Missy and all the opportunities in Series 12 to refer back to it. The Master doesn't make any biting comments about how the Doctor locked his previous self in a vault and tried to cure her from villainy. He doesn't say anything about the fact that now he's a man and the Doctor's a woman, a reversal of how things were not so long ago. And there are even one or two lines that directly contradict the very existence of Missy. For example, in “The Timeless Children”, the Master says to the Doctor, “You're trying to appeal to my better nature. But we both know I don't have one.” Yet Missy made it clear that she did, to some degree, in her conversations with the Twelfth Doctor.
Bad writing on Chibnall's part? Possibly. Probably. And yet, what if it's not? What if this lack of references is due to the fact that Missy is in the Dhawan Master's future?
The Thirteenth Doctor never refers to Missy.
True, the Doctor (so far as we know) is completely unaware of the fact that Missy died on the Cyber-ship, so she wouldn't have asked how the Master was still alive. However, you'd expect her to say something about Missy, since we know for sure that she remembers everything about Missy's life.
Except that the Doctor knows better than to blurt out something like that. The Master and the Doctor have been meeting out of order for a very long time, all the way up to Twelve's encounter with the John Simm Master in “The Doctor Falls.” The Sixth Doctor met the Alex MacQueen Master, the Fifth Doctor met the Geoffrey Beevers Master, the Eighth Doctor met the Derek Jacobi Master, the Seventh Doctor met the James Dreyfus Master…their relationship is a mess, temporally speaking. “Spyfall” even confirms that a past incarnation of the Doctor met the Dhawan Master at some point! (Get on that, Big Finish.) The Doctor is very accustomed to meeting her best enemy's various faces in the wrong sequence, so it's logical that she'd avoid talking too much about things that might be in the future of whatever Master she's met. And when she's confronted with the Dhawan Master, she has no reason to assume that this is the most recent version of him. I'm not saying that Thirteen knows this Master is pre-Missy, but she may at least suspect it, and she gives us no reason to believe otherwise.
The John Simm Master turning into Missy actually doesn't make much sense.
Yes, I know, this is what both Missy and the Simm Master thought was going to happen, but Missy herself says in “The Doctor Falls” that she's not sure that the Simm Master was her immediate predecessor. The problem here lies in character motivations. Why would the John Simm Master, who hated the Doctor's insides right up to the bitter end, enough to end his entire existence over it…suddenly turn into Missy, whose driving motivation throughout her life was to rekindle her friendship with the Doctor? (Albeit in a very messed-up way, with lots of death and explosions, because this is still the Master we're talking about.) Yes, regeneration does change personality, but was it enough to change the Master's mind about the Doctor? I have a hard time believing that. Another problem is the gender change–the Simm Master, quite frankly, was a bit of a sexist, and didn't want to be a woman. Granted, regeneration being what it is, he might not have had any choice in the matter, but Time Lords actually can influence certain basic elements of their regenerated selves to a degree, especially if they really want some particular trait. (The Doctor is something of an exception to this rule–in one of the Big Finish audio dramas, a Time Lord friend of the Doctor's confirmed that he's actually really bad at regeneration, which is why he keeps going bananas every time he changes bodies.)
The Simm Master turning into the Dhawan Master, on the other hand, makes a ton of sense, as I'm about to explain.
The Dhawan Master fits perfectly into the Master's character arc between the Simm Master and Missy.
The Dhawan Master is male. He hates the Doctor with a passion. He's angry, vicious, and vengeful. Granted, he's not a carbon copy of the Simm Master–Dhawan brings his own unique flair to the role–but his driving motivations are essentially the same. It's easy to imagine the Simm Master turning into this incarnation. He's basically picking up exactly where the Simm Master left off. And, given how encounters between different incarnations of the same Time Lord work, he wouldn't remember Missy or any of the events immediately preceding the Simm Master's death.
Perhaps the whole of the Dhawan Master's arc is going to bridge the gap between the Simm Master and Missy. Maybe, in Series 13, we'll see him start wanting to be friends with the Doctor again, which will pave the way to his eventual regeneration into Missy. In fact, his storyline might even end with an onscreen regeneration into Missy, which would be amazing.
There aren't any good explanations for how Missy survived.
Granted, there aren't any good explanations for how the Master has ever survived any of his 70 skillion deaths, but in this case, it's really hard to imagine how Missy resurrected after a fatal attack by her past self.
There's also a glaring inconsistency in the Dhawan Master's backstory with regard to Missy. In “Spyfall”, the Dhawan Master says that he shrunk the real “O” and took his identity. How, when MI6 presumably knew what the real O looked like and would have spotted a fake? The implication here seems to be that the Master either hypnotized everybody into not noticing that he wasn't actually O, or altered his own form to resemble O. The first option isn't impossible, but it would have been fairly difficult, and leads to some plot holes in “Spyfall”. The second option would have required the Master to deliberately regenerate to look like O, which is very possible–it's been confirmed in the past that Time Lords can do that when regenerating. The trouble is, why would Missy have killed herself just to become O? She was perfectly happy with her appearance. True, if she only barely survived the Cyber-ship and traveled to Earth while needing to regenerate, that would fit…except for another problem.
Missy didn't have a TARDIS when she died.
Missy did fly a TARDIS at one point, though we never actually saw it onscreen. Eventually, however, she was somehow reduced to using a vortex manipulator to travel in time and space. She certainly didn't have one in “The Doctor Falls”. Now, it's logical to assume that the Dhawan Master could have stolen a TARDIS when he obliterated Gallifrey, but this raises the question of how he got to Gallifrey in the first place without a TARDIS.
The Simm Master did have a TARDIS when he died.
Again, we never saw it onscreen (more's the pity), but we know from “The Doctor Falls” that he had one. Actually, I suspect that Steven Moffat may have deliberately avoided confirming or showing the Simm Master's regeneration into Missy just in case a future showrunner wanted to insert another version of the Master between those two.
The Simm Master regenerating to impersonate “O” makes perfect sense.
Scenario 1: Missy somehow gets a timeship or some other means of travel through time and space, arrives on Earth fatally injured, ambushes an MI6 agent and regenerates to look like him…and then randomly decides she (now he) hates the Doctor again and begins to plan his downfall. Not very plausible.
Scenario 2: The Simm Master, whom we know escaped from the Cyber-ship in a TARDIS while fatally injured, arrives on Earth, ambushes an MI6 agent and regenerates to look like him, then begins planning the Doctor's downfall. Completely plausible. We even know from “The Doctor Falls” that he hypothetically had enough time before his impending regeneration to pull this off.
Various things Missy did and said fit with the Dhawan Master being in her past.
Missy wanted more than anything to be the Doctor's friend again. Could this be because she felt guilty over what her previous self did to the Doctor in “The Timeless Child”? Could the remorse we saw her display over her past crimes in Series 10 be partly based on the events of Series 12?
Also, there's that infamous line in which Missy says she's been friends with the Doctor “since he was a little girl.” I don't think this is a reference to the Thirteenth Doctor, but it could be a reference to one of the Timeless Doctors (that's what I'm calling them; let's make it a thing). Perhaps she discovered that she and the Doctor had met during his work for the Division, on one of the occasions when he was female. Or, perhaps that theory about the Master somehow being the boy who made the original Timeless Child fall off the cliff is correct.
The pre-Missy theory explains Chris Chibnall's avoidance of any reference to Missy.
If the Dhawan Master is pre-Missy, Chibnall is not going to confirm that anytime soon. To do so would be to overshadow the Dhawan Master's arc to some degree, since everyone would already know how it ends. It might also spoil some future twists Chibnall has planned for the Master. At this point, I don't consider Chibnall to be a brilliant Doctor Who writer by any stretch of the imagination, but if all of this is leading up to some beautiful, emotional scene in which we discover that Missy's redemption lies in the Dhawan Master's future, I'll be quite impressed with him.
Those are all the clues I've been able to come up with so far. As I said, all of this may shortly be proven wrong…which would be kind of a shame, honestly, because I love the idea of the Dhawan Master's arc tying into Missy's like this. At the very least, I'd like it if we never got definite confirmation of where the Dhawan Master fits into the Master's timeline, so that fans can believe what they like. For my part, I'm choosing to believe that this theory is correct until we get definite confirmation that it's not.
What do you think? Is there any evidence for or against the pre-Missy theory that I've missed? Share in the comments.