1. ‘Loathe as I am to admit it, you offer him a companionship that I do not.’
“Pathetic,” the Master says from the bed, as the Doctor throws himself onto the adjacent chaise longue. “Absolutely pathetic.” He looks up from the book he has been pretending to read for the last three hours. The Doctor is facing away from him in a pose of exaggerated casualness: maroon jumper contrasting pleasantly with the green upholstery. The Master smirks at his back. “I saw everything on the display so don’t bother to deny it.”
“Why would I?” the Doctor says. He picks up the dog-eared copy of Oliver Twist resting on the night stand and opens it. “I asked her along. She said no. End of story. Case closed - I’ve read this bit already. Have you been moving my bookmarks around again?” He flicks back through the pages, shaking his head. “You have. Talk about pathetic.”
“See you round,” the Master says, mimicking the Doctor’s new accent with offensive inaccuracy and ignoring the comment about the bookmarks. They both understand that he needs to rebel in some way and, with the TARDIS programmed not to respond to him and his brain programmed not to respond to the TARDIS, his options are frustratingly limited. “No grovelling, begging or bribery.”
“You just accepted it.”
“That’s right. I did. Will you stop going on about it?”
“My dear Doctor, in all the many years of our acquaintance, I have never once observed you accepting anything you didn’t like. Stubbornness to the point of stupidity has, thus far, been one of your most irritating and most consistent character traits. Forgive me if I’m surprised at your new rational outlook on life.”
“Things changes,” the Doctor says, darkly. He turns a page in Oliver Twist, though it’s obvious he hasn’t read any of the words on the one before and says, “Bound to in nine hundred years.”
“Lying about your age, to someone who knows what it really is, is not sweet,” the Master points out. “It only makes you look senile. Ah,” he says, as if with realisation. “Is that it? Are you just too old and too tired to fight everything yourself? I wish you’d told me all I had to do was wait. I would have saved all my really good plans for your twilight years.”
“Sorry," the Doctor says. "Did you say really good plans? What really good plans were those?”
“Hilarious as always, Doctor. Why you gave up your place at Clown College for a chance to become a Lord of Time I’ll never know.”
The Doctor laughs and the line of his shoulders relaxes. “All right, Master. I admit it. Every so often, when there’s nothing else for it, I have asked you to reconsider destroying the odd planet. Those were emergencies,” he says. “This isn’t. Anyway, I don’t need anyone else.” He turns around, grins, “I’ve got you,” and turns back.
“You haven’t got me, Doctor,” the Master says witheringly. “You made a version of me and then programmed it not to leave you.”
“Same thing,” the Doctor says cheerfully. “Now, kindly shut up. I’m trying to read.”
“Of course. My apologies,” the Master says and returns to his own book, which is The Count of Monte Cristo. He’s not particularly fond of the novel, but the implied metaphor – lock me up unfairly and I will escape to wreak terrible and bloody revenge – is blatant enough that even the Doctor is sure to have picked up on it by now. He’s left the leather-bound volume lying open on the console and returned several hours later to find it in exactly the same place, which is a good sign. If the Doctor had really not noticed it, the book would have been found four days later inside a fridge.
The Master waits for the length of three pages and then looks sideways in time to catch the Doctor sneaking a glance at him over his shoulder. The Master smirks. “Unnerving, isn’t it? Don’t worry. I’m not really sorry. I was merely making a point.”
“I don’t get it. You really want me to go back and insist she travel with us? Why?”
Ignoring the phantom twinge in the hearts he no longer has at the Doctor’s ‘us’ - which includes the two of them and excludes everyone else - the Master says mildly, “She’s very easy on the eyes.”
"You're saying I’m not?” the Doctor says, feigning dismay rather poorly.
The Master gives him an amused glare. “You,” he says, “are not easy on anything.”
“You enjoy the challenge, though.”
“Oh, I do,” the Master assures him. “That is one of my most irritating and most consistent character traits.”
He lets the Doctor hear that properly, sees the Doctor’s face soften and the slight raising of the Doctor’s body that suggests he’s thinking of moving from chaise longue to bed, and turns back to The Count of Monte Cristo.
“Actually,” he says, without looking at the Doctor, “I don’t want her to travel with us, but it is painfully obvious that you do. Since it is equally obvious that I will never have any privacy unless you find someone else to talk to, I suggest you go back and try again with Miss Tyler or I will be forced to kill you before the week is up.”
“Really,” the Doctor says.
“Quite definitely,” the Master says. He puts the Count back on the nightstand and gets gracefully off the bed. “Obviously,” he continues, “I’d be filled with remorse once the TARDIS powered down leaving me trapped forever inside its dead shell, but by then it would be too late for either of us. This leads to my second reason for encouraging you to take on a travelling companion, or my third if we count Miss Tyler’s physical attributes as a reason in their own right.”
He pushes the Doctor’s legs to one side and sits down on the chaise longue. There isn’t a lot of space and so he rests his arm on the Doctor’s hip, rather than leave it uncomfortably pressed between the two of them. “Are you ever going to let me accompany you on your world saving jaunts?”
The Doctor snorts. “No chance. You’d escape within minutes of landing.”
“I would certainly try," the Master agrees. "So, if that is the case, you will need someone else with you to stop you getting yourself killed. That isn't open for debate. I heard what she said out there: ‘You’d be dead if it wasn’t for me’. Correct?”
“I didn’t know you cared.”
“Oh, I don’t,” the Master lies, sliding his upper hand beneath the Doctor’s jumper and over the delightfully bare skin beneath. For once, he doesn’t seem to favour layers of clothing which makes everything so much easier. “This is self preservation, Doctor. I’m not at all interested in spending an eternity alone inside your dilapidated ship. Miss Tyler seems like a capable young woman and you like her. Ask her again, but be more persuasive this time.”
“As if I’d let you anywhere near her,” the Doctor says, but he doesn’t pull away as the Master’s fingers brush over one of his nipples. As a reward, the Master leans into him and kisses him gently.
“You can always reprogram me so I can’t go near her,” he murmurs, crawling forwards so the rest of his body traps the Doctor’s on the couch.
There must be a fault in his mechanical brain somewhere, accidental or deliberate. That or his new subconscious is trying to over-compensate for the last memory he has of proper existence, but the first seems more likely. The Doctor has claimed, more than once, that he has complete free-will, that the only blocks in his mind are physical ones that prevent him getting at the TARDIS, but the Master still suspects him of tampering with the affection circuits. In all those years of flesh and blood, he never once felt this stupid, selfless desire to make the Doctor happy at whatever cost. Keep him, yes, make him submit, of course, but not make him happy. Then again, in all those years of flesh and blood, when he could do whatever he wanted and go anywhere he wanted, he’d never managed to get this close to the Doctor, who was essentially the only thing worth wanting.
Now, the Doctor is so desperate and alone that he leans into the Master when they’re standing at the console together and now, here in his own bedroom, he wraps a large hand around the back of the Master’s neck and pulls him closer.
“I’m not going to do that to you,” the Doctor mutters, dark and intense, close to the Master’s face. “I’ll think of something else.”
The Master kisses him again, more fiercely this time because to say something that stupid is so typical of the Doctor. The Doctor tries to reciprocate, but it is obviously a distraction technique, so the Master draws away and smiles thinly. He says, “You can, of course, do whatever you like, but I need my space, Doctor, and I will have to kill you unless you find someone else to follow you around. Take this girl or another one. It’s really up to you.”
He stands up and retrieves The Count of Monte Cristo. “I’ll be in the library if you need me,” he says and starts for the door.
“It’s been hours,” the Doctor says, after his retreating figure. “She’s probably gone home by now.”
“You have a time machine,” the Master says without looking back.
In an hour, Rose Tyler is aboard the TARDIS. She laughs at the Doctor’s jokes as he shows her round the cloister room, the library, the laboratories. He grins and laughs with her. He is stupidly, obviously happy.
The Master watches their progress on a small portable monitor and hates himself.
2. ‘I say I do not kill, but then I exterminate thousands.’
The Doctor opens up the room that had first belonged to Adric, and afterwards to Turlough, for Adam: the latest in a line of precocious pretty-boys to travel with him. If he’s honest, he’d rather this one had stayed in Utah, but Rose seems pleased to have him on board. It must be nice to have someone of her own species around. Sometimes it must all get a bit “alien”. Understandable.
The Doctor leaves the two of them to talk about human things and goes to find the Master. It’s more difficult than it should be, because he can’t sense this version of the Master at all. He’s managed to reproduce the Master’s final body, his voice, his thought-patterns, but it would be impossible to replicate the background telepathic connection of their race. That’s why it wasn’t a lie when he told Rose he was the last of his kind less than half an hour ago, though she would probably see it that way. It was “the truth - from a certain point of view” as Ben Kenobi would’ve said. There is silence in the Doctor’s head. There’s no one left really, though the TARDIS helps. The Master helps. Rose helps. Adam - Adam may help. He’s been wrong about people before.
The Master - or the version of the Master he allowed himself to build after the loneliness grew too much - is working at a desk in the observatory, facing out over the simulated constellations. He looks exactly as he did during the Time War: short dark hair greying above the ears, wide shoulders, the same upright stance-
“It’s rude to stare,” the Master points out without turning around. “I distinctly remember your mother teaching you that, so please don’t try and protest otherwise.”
The Doctor grins, brief and rueful because he remembers downloading the Master’s memories into his electronic brain. He ambles over to the desk. “I brought you a present.”
“Yes, I’ve seen him,” the Master says. “Reasonably handsome, reasonably clever, more than reasonably obnoxious. He’s perhaps a little young for my tastes, but I dare say you did the best you could.”
“Hands off,” the Doctor says, sliding his own over the Master’s shoulder and squeezing gently. “He’s for Rose.”
“How indescribably disappointing.”
The Doctor presses a quick kiss to the Master’s hair which smells exactly like the Master’s hair always used to when not slicked back with Brill cream. “You’ll get over it.” With the hand not on the Master’s shoulder, he pulls a small, triangular instrument from his pocket and places it in on the desk. “This is for you.”
“… A Celestial Harp,” the Master says with poorly concealed surprise. He puts down the propelling pencil he has been working with and reaches for the tiny harp, withdraws his hand without touching it. He taps his lips thoughtfully. “Remind me where it was you went this time, Doctor.”
“Earth,” the Doctor says, retreating to one of the room’s armchairs and dropping into it. It’s been a rough day. The worst in a long time. “Utah, 2012. Massive underground alien museum.”
“And how did you acquire,” the Master indicates the harp, “this? Not from the Gift Shop, I assume.”
“How do you think?” the Doctor asks. “I stole it.” He crosses his arms over his chest, hugs himself. “They were just going to bury it in concrete. Are you going to play it or what?”
The Master turns to look at him and arches a thin, dark eyebrow. “Would you like me to?”
The Doctor nods once. “Yes. Will you?”
“Of course, if you wish it,” the Master says, which is presumably some sort of dig about his servitude. He picks up the harp and flexes his fingers over it experimentally. “That is assuming my mechanical hands are up to the challenge. The precision of a Time Lord body is unlikely to be equalled by wiring and skin grafts.”
“My wiring’s perfect,” the Doctor says.
“My dear Doctor, that is hardly the point,” the Master says and strokes a single note of almost unbearable sweetness from the instrument in his hand. He cuts it short and tsks. “It’s flat and by almost an eighth of a tone.”
“It’s fine,” the Doctor says, rolling his eyes. “And don’t say you’re out of practise either. Like it matters.”
The Master smirks and, after another false start, begins to play something very familiar. When he was alive he was an excellent player and death has barely dulled his performance. The sounds he coaxes from the Celestial Harp now are so different to those produced in Van Statten’s office as to be incomparable. The Doctor is shivering after the first chord of a song he remembers the Master playing for him nine hundred years ago. If he closes his eyes he can almost believe that he is young and blonde and sitting in their rooms at the Academy, trembling at the same notes.
“That distress call we were following,” he says suddenly, “turns out it was from a Dalek.” The Master’s fingers twitch and the song spasms briefly away from perfection. “One little Dalek,” the Doctor continues with some madness. “The last one in the universe. All on its own, locked up under ground, being tortured by idiots.”
The Master shakes his head wryly. “I suppose you tried to rescue it and reintroduce it back into society.”
“No,” the Doctor says wretchedly. “I tried to execute it – I didn’t– I couldn’t – Rose… tried–”
He tells the rest of the story in short, jerky segments. The worst part is that he would have done it if Rose hadn’t stopped him. Would have done it without a thought. He’s killed so many Daleks now and hasn’t regretted it. Hasn’t regretted it at all. He’s regretted that moment of indecision outside the laboratory on Skaro though. He’s regretted that almost every day since the Time War. He’d wondered, then, if he had that right. Now he is the highest authority left in the universe. The Daleks have taken everything from him and he’s done wondering. Rose was right to stop him now he can’t stop himself. She’s right. He’s changing and not for the better. Soon he won’t recognise himself.
“So, the last Dalek in the universe is dead,” the Master says once the Doctor has lapsed back into miserable silence. The final notes slide from his fingers and fade away.
“Yes,” the Doctor says. “It’s dead.”
The Master nods. “Good.” He sets the harp gently back on the desk. “As it should be. Be sure to tell Miss Tyler, from me, that in future she should stay out things she cannot possibly appreciate.”
“Fantastic,” the Doctor says. “I should have realised there was no point- you know, why am I even talking to you?” He gets to his feet. It’s best he leave before he says something he will regret later.
“You told me for the same reason you created me in the first place,” the Master says lazily as the Doctor reaches the door. “Because there was no one else and you needed someone to validate you.”
“Go to hell,” the Doctor growls before he can stop himself and storms out. He regrets it later.
3. ‘I am by no means fond of you.’
The Doctor hasn’t changed in over a thousand years: he fights passive-aggressively if at all possible. There are no blazing rows, no blows – they only fence when they are pleased with each other – and the Master’s experiments are not even sabotaged during the night. The Doctor just stops visiting. He spends all his conscious time with Miss Tyler where the Master can’t reach him, and, if he sleeps, it is somewhere dusty that hasn’t been used for the last five hundred years. It is all so childish.
Only mildly vexed by the Doctor’s ridiculous, but predictable sentimentality over the Dalek, the Master becomes distinctly angry at being ignored, at being so dismissed, at the Doctor’s disgusting ingratitude. With active confrontation impossible, he is forced to creative reparations. He introduces a fast growing mould in all the bathrooms and saws through the legs on the beloved chaise longue. He finds the Doctor’s signed copy of Mein Kampf and leaves it propped up against a toaster. He hides Miss Tyler’s shoes if she is foolish enough to leave them in the console room and leaves notes for her in the Doctor’s handwriting asking that she pick up a large tube of haemorrhoid ointment next time she ‘pops out to the chemist’. Finally, he stops concealing the signs of his own presence: gramophones are left playing in recently vacated rooms, fires left burning, a third toothbrush appears in the main bathroom which is now hopelessly mouldy.
The Doctor cracks after a week of this warfare and barges into their bedroom without warning. “Congratulations. Rose thinks we’ve got a ghost.”
“Oh dear,” the Master says mildly. He keeps his expression infuriatingly neutral, which is no more than the coward deserves, and puts down his data pad. “That is unfortunate. Did you tell her it was the ghost of your psychopathic ex-lover, or did you insist all her problems were her own doing?”
“No. I bought her a lot of shoes and took her to see her dead father. Both were a mistake,” the Doctor says irritably and sits down on the chaise longue which promptly collapses under his weight.
The Master attempts a dignified chuckle, but it emerges as unrepentant, wicked laughter. The Doctor lobs one of the neatly sawn, ex-longue legs at his head with all the accuracy of a former cricketing enthusiast and the Master only just manages to duck in time.
“Bastard,” the Doctor says from the floor.
“Indeed,” the Master agrees. His lips are still twitching with barely suppressed sniggers. “Now, Doctor, is it too much to hope that you have finally finished this tedious sulking?”
The Doctor shrugs against the wall, one leg stretched out in front of him. “I dunno. Have you?”
“Are you planning to apologise?”
“Am I planning to apologise?” the Doctor asks incredulously. “My bathrooms are ruined. Rose thinks she’s gone crazy. This sofa,” he gestures at the remains of his chaise longue, “once belonged to Queen Victoria.”
The Master raises one elegant eyebrow. “Did it really? How fascinating.”
“All right,” the Doctor says seriously, “I’m sorry. I never should’ve told you to go to hell.”
And here they are once more: perpetually apologising for the wrong things. It’s possible the Doctor doesn’t even realise his error, so in return, the Master says, “And I, my dear Doctor, am sorry that a perfectly respectable piece of royal furniture had to suffer in your stead. It did not deserve its cruel fate.”
The Doctor huffs a short, disbelieving laugh and shakes his head. There is a long pause. The Master waits. The Doctor folds his arms.
Eventually, for no reason other than that he is bored with the silence, the Master says, “So, you took dear Miss Tyler to see her dead father. May I ask how that went? Well: I assume.”
The Doctor gives him a hard look, which twitches into a poorly disguised a grin. “I was eaten by a reaper and I don’t mean almost eaten, actually eaten.”
He tells the rest of the embarrassing story without prompting. The Master smiles and makes snide comments at appropriate points, which the Doctor accepts with an amused tolerance. In a generous mood, the Master decides this means he must have learned his lesson. When the Doctor falls asleep on the floor – he must not have slept all week – the Master refrains from drawing a debonair beard on his face in indelible ink. He watches the Doctor sleep. Then he realises that this is what he’s doing and has to leave.
4. ‘Perfect pitch – finally.’
Glenn Miller’s greatest hits are playing throughout the TARDIS.
“Why don’t you just turn it off?” the Doctor mouths when he finds the Master wandering the corridors wearing large, bright green headphones which look, frankly, ridiculous with his Edwardian shirt sleeves.
“I assumed you had some reason for this assault on good taste,” the Master says, removing the headphones and wincing slightly at the final bars of Chattanooga Choo Choo, “and that you might take my interfering with it as a slight. Do you?”
“What? Take you interfering as a slight?” the Doctor teases, pulling the Master into a loose approximation of the steps he has just danced with Rose in the console room as In the Mood starts playing again.
“Have a reason,” the Master clarifies with a faintly amused smile.
“I do. We’re celebrating,” the Doctor says, grinning back. Despite his hatred of swing music, the Master has taken control of the dance, apparently without even noticing. “Everybody lived!” He laughs and says it again because it feels so good. “Everybody lived, even Jack.”
“And who is Jack?”
“New boy,” the Doctor says. “Captain Jack Harkness. You’d like him. Very handsome, very clever, kind of obnoxious, but -”
“- he’s for Rose,” the Master finishes with feigned weariness. “They always are. Sometimes I-” He grimaces suddenly and, without finishing his sentence, strides off down the coral lined corridor.
“Master?” the Doctor asks, following him. “Are you all,” the Master opens the first door they’ve passed and tugs him through it. “Right?” the Doctor finishes as the door shuts behind them. “Did you know this was a cupboard?”
“It temporarily slipped my mind,” the Master’s voice admits.
It is pitch black in the cupboard, although, if the Doctor remembers correctly, this particular cupboard is filled with towels in a variety of sizes and colours and so the loss of sight is not a great one. The big band music is playing in here as well.
“I had hoped this door would provide an escape route,” the Master explains. “One of your companions is approaching. At such times, I usually try to make myself scarce before my programming kicks in.”
Sure enough, a moment later Jack’s voice rings out in the corridor outside, distant but coming closer: “Hey Doc, are you there? Rose told me I’d have to ask you where my room was… Hello? Hello, Doctor?”
“Ah - he’s,” the Master says shakily, “American. Miss Tyler is quite, quite welcome to him.”
The Doctor takes a tentative step forward and reaches for the Master’s shoulders in the darkness. “You know, I could remove the inhibitor,” he offers as Jack turns his call into a song to the tune of Little Brown Jug.
“Yes, you could,” the Master agrees, batting the Doctor’s hands away weakly. His voice is rapidly losing the rich timbre and intonation that mark it as his. “But imagine how awful you’d feel if you arrived home to find I’d murdered your precious humans in a fit of pique. It is usually fine,” the Master says, now almost like a early-computer rendering of himself: flat and monotone, “but we seem to be trapped here and if you don’t do something to distract me very soon, I’m afraid that I am going to pass out.” By pass out, he means his brain will turn itself off, but they’re both more comfortable with the organic euphemism.
“Right. ‘Distract’ you,” the Doctor says, forcing himself to sound wry, like this is a normal day, like this is normal banter before sex. “Even about to collapse, you’re incorrigible.”
He unbuttons the Master’s trousers and slides his hand into them, grabs the other man’s cock. His grip is purposefully rough and painful and the Master hisses, “I meant tell me about your day,” through gritted teeth, sounding briefly like himself again.
“Oh? Did you?” the Doctor asks, as the Master’s cock hardens in his hand and the breath the Master doesn’t need breaks from him in short gasps. “That’s nice. Sorry, I misunderstood. Fantastic day. Really fantastic. I saved a lot of people, did some dancing-” he stops talking because it sounds like Jack is walking passed the door and the current situation would be difficult to explain if he decided to open the door.
“Master?” the Doctor hisses when the immediate danger has passed. The Master has gone still and the little breathy noises are fewer and shallower. If the Master responds to his name at all, it is impossible to see the movement in the darkness. The Doctor curses under his breath. It doesn’t matter, really, if the Master switches himself off: the Doctor can easily switch him back on after Jack has gone, but it’s that sort of thinking which suggests this Master is not the Master, just a copy the Doctor made to keep himself entertained.
The Doctor gives the Master a quick kiss and kneels, tugging the Master’s trousers down with him. He runs his hands up the Master’s thighs, lowers his head slowly because it’s very dark and it would be really embarrassing to poke himself in the eye. There’s no time for anything slow or technically brilliant, he merely slams his mouth down repeatedly, hands on the Master’s hips to steady himself. He lets his teeth scrape across sensitive almost-flesh and, at last, the Master gasps raggedly and his hands flutter uselessly over the Doctor’s head, trying to steady him.
“You should really,” the Master pants in his own voice, hips arching forward as he tries to dictate his own rhythm having abandoned his attempts to control the Doctor’s, “grow your hair.”
The Doctor grins around his cock and pushes him backwards, wishing for light because it would be wonderful to watch the Master quivering against the wall. He bobs his head once, twice, and swallows hard. The Master comes with a small choking noise: sharp and vaguely synthetic in the Doctor’s mouth, like artificial lemons. They’ll have to work on that. If the Master’s skin tastes like Time Lord skin there is no reason his come should taste like this, pleasant though it is.
“So,” the Doctor says, sitting back on his haunches, “As I was saying, I did some dancing, and then I sucked my lover off in a towel cupboard after he made some feeble excuse about forgetting the layout of the TARDIS. All in all, not bad.”
The Master laughs and drags him upwards by a leather lapel. “I assure you, I did forget.”
“Yer, right,” the Doctor says, and though Glenn Miller is still playing and, at first, they miss each others’ mouths awkwardly in the dark, it is briefly perfect.
5. 'Doctor! You’re alive!'
The Master works out what must have happened very quickly. Observation one: the Doctor and his companions have been abducted by an extremely powerful transmat beam. Observation two: the TARDIS’s external scanners show that it, too, has been transported across the universe to (observation three) Satellite Five, which now seems to be providing a multitude of television channels, the contestants for which are provided by (observation four) an extremely powerful transmat beam. Ergo, the Master deduces, the other occupants of the TARDIS are now trapped in a game show, or various game shows, for reasons unknown.
Fortunately, the TARDIS entertainment system is one of the few the Doctor allows him access to, because, apart from wiping the favourites list and signing them up for the Sontaran pornographic networks, there’s hardly anything the Master can do to abuse this privilege. Now, he keys in descriptions of the Doctor, Miss Rose Tyler and Captain Jack Harkness and leaves the computer to search for them.
By the time he returns with a stack of reasonably interesting books, the TARDIS has found and displayed the Doctor in a game of Big Brother, and Captain Harkness being ogled by two shiny white robots. The Master smirks and presses record on both channels. Moments later, the screen divides into four and Miss Tyler appears in the section next to the captain, answering various embarrassingly simple questions erroneously. The Master saves this, too, for posterity.
Having located the Doctor and his human pets, he is at somewhat of a loss until the first disintegration occurs in Miss Tyler’s program. In other circumstances, this development might well have amused the Master, but the Doctor is stuck inside one of these shows and they have only just started making love again. It would be extremely upsetting if he got himself disintegrated now.
Leaving all three shows running, the Master pulls the recording of the Weakest Link into the fourth quarter of the screen and rewinds it. The ‘disintergrator’ beam is slightly too bright. He magnifies the image and re-watches it. When the black girl is ‘evicted’ he swaps the footage and examines that beam as well. It is quite definitely a transmat.
Unfortunately, tracing its source proves to be impossible with all the useful systems still locked against him. Keeping an eye on the television programs, the Master finds his place in The Time Machine – the Doctor has such a parochial collection – and resigns himself to waiting.
The Doctor escapes within half an hour, which the Master observes with something that feels disgustingly like pride. He finishes The Time Machine and is several hundred pages into the Felspoonian classic Falling Upwards when the headache sets in. The headaches are the first warning, signalling the imminent arrival of a non-Time Lord, and almost unbearably painful. At times, it feels like he has the drums back so insistent is the pounding his head.
The Master leaves the screen displaying various close-ups of the transmat beam, and a genuine disintergrator beam from the TARDIS’s data banks, and retires to the library.
The Daleks take him completely by surprise.
Fortunately, the Master is deep inside the TARDIS whilst the Daleks are, for the moment, outside it, and so he doesn’t scream out loud. He screams inside his head though, backing away from the library’s main screen which is now displaying an enormous fleet of, maybe, two hundred battle craft. The image flicks to the inside of a Dalek ship which is swarming with the creatures. They are supposed to be dead, the Master thinks desperately, the Doctor had promised-
He shudders and stops himself, forces himself to return to the screen. Rose Tyler is apparently onboard the Dalek command ship, the Daleks are talking to someone, they grate out the Doctor’s name over and over, but the Master’s brain refuses to make connections for him. The fear is crippling.
The last true memory he has is of standing in this TARDIS’s console room, having already made the decision to run at the next opportunity. He remembers the Doctor – who still wore velvet then: soft and completely unsuited to the situation – refusing to go with him one last time. The Master had hardly cared at that point. He remembers that most clearly of all: how even the Doctor had seemed a minor consideration compared to the need to get away.
The highly illegal mental snapshot, on which his new brain is based, was taken at this meeting. Apparently, things got worse after the Dalek emperor seized control of the cruciform, but the Master doesn’t remember that. He assumes that was when he ran or was killed, or that the Doctor burned him along with the rest of Gallifrey, but he doesn’t remember. He only remembers the fear this new body was born into.
The screen goes blank and, moments later, TARDIS lurches into take off. Unfortunately, with the immediate danger gone, the Master regains full control of his deductive faculties. They are not running; they are going to rescue Miss Tyler from the middle of the Dalek fleet.
Abandoning dignity for a better time, he sprints to the console room, but the awful, thumping headache sets in before he has even reached the wardrobe gallery. His vision cuts out moments later and there is obviously no point going on.
Furious and trembling, the Master retreats back down the corridors. Gradually, the headache fades and his sight returns. He sinks to the ground next to an external display screen and watches the horrific situation develop into a nightmare.
The laughter starts as the Doctor turns to face the emperor of the Daleks. The sound is high and hysterical. The lungs the Master doesn’t have ache: the perfect simulacra of terror. They are all going to die, he thinks with astonishing clarity. First the Doctor, then the Doctor’s friends, and then the TARDIS and her final occupant. This is it. The Doctor has brought him back for this: the opportunity to be killed by the Daleks a second time and, this time, he can’t even run away. Through a combination of programming, fear, and the Doctor’s determination to keep him out of any event he might use to his advantage, he has been effectively rendered helpless. He has never felt less like himself.
With no access to the console room, the Master is unable to prevent the Doctor returning to Satellite Five. Using the entertainment systems, he manages to pipe a short snatch of nauseating human music into the console room, ‘if you need me, call me’, but the Doctor shuts it off almost immediately and sets about building the Delta wave without him. The switch should be pushed by someone without an organic brain, someone who would wipe these Daleks out without a twinge of regret, but the Doctor doesn’t ask the Master to do it for him. He tricks stupid, trusting Rose Tyler into the TARDIS and leaves.
The Master realises what must be happening as soon as the Doctor begins spouting gibberish about crossing his own time line. This time, by concentrating on the figures of pi, he manages to push through the headache and the momentary blindness and is half way through the wardrobe gallery before his knees buckle and he collapses, still several feet from the top of the spiral staircase leading down to the console room. Through the drumming in his head, he can hear Miss Tyler’s realisation and her pathetic attempts to send them back to the Satellite. He hears the Doctor’s voice tell her about emergency program one and his plan for the TARDIS, and then another hologram of the Doctor flickers on in the wardrobe and sits down next to the Master.
The Master manages a weak sneer in the direction of the transparent image. “I suppose… you think that’s… very clever.”
“It is very clever,” the Doctor’s recorded voice says more quietly than the version of himself downstairs, “and you’re very predictable. Now, be quiet and listen. If this recording’s playing, I’m sending Rose home. Whatever I’m facing, I’m certain I won’t survive and I don’t want either of you involved. That means the TARDIS is yours now." The Master pushes himself to his feet as the hologram continues to talk. “When emergency program one activates, all the controls will be automatically taken off isomorphic, except the navigation circuits which stay locked.”
The Doctor has always been terrible at goodbyes, but this is easily the worst so far. Were he here in person, rather than merely a holographic representation of himself, the Master would have punched him by now. As it is, the Doctor has robbed him even of that small satisfaction, has left him trapped in a crippled TARDIS, on his own forever, imagining it mercy. Anger rapidly replaces the fear.
“Can’t have you running about the universe without me looking over your shoulder,” the Doctor continues through the final whir of dematerialisation. “And I don’t want you coming back for me either, Master. I mean that.”
Miss Tyler runs out of the console room and, freed from the programming restrictions, the Master hurls himself down the spiral staircase. Above him, the Doctor’s voice says: “I’m sorry I couldn’t say goodbye in person.” The Master ignores it.
“I don’t want you coming back for me,” he mutters furiously, flicking open the maintenance circuits which, as promised, answer to his touch as if to the Doctor’s own. It’s futile, of course. There are ways to bypass isomorphic restraints, but the Doctor knows them all as well, if not better, than the Master, and he must have locked everything up tightly before leaving to be so confident. Nonetheless, the Master tries all the tricks he knows, and improvises a few more. The TARDIS remains uncommunicative until he tries shut her down completely in the hope of restarting her in a more cooperative mood. At the final stage, rather than turning off, she sends a bolt of electricity strong enough to kill a living Time Lord up his arm to express her displeasure. Fortunately, the Master is not, technically, alive and so the shock merely fries the circuits in his right hand side.
Mumbling curses in several languages through the left of his mouth, he drags himself out of the console room and along the corridor towards the nearest robotics lab.
He has managed to replace the circuits in his face and upper body by the time the TARDIS takes off. The Master limps over to a display screen and brings up a view of the console room. Rose has opened the heart of the TARDIS and the entire vortex is now running through her head. The Master experiences a grudging flicker of respect at the action: bravery carried to a level of stupidity usually reached only by the Doctor. They chose well. It’s almost a shame that her mind will be ripped to shreds by the experience.
He allows her to save the Doctor and destroy the Daleks, and concentrates on replacing his own leg, only looking up when the Doctor carries Rose’s body back into the TARDIS. Half expecting to be locked out again now the immediate danger has passed, the Master activates the communication channels into the console room, coughs and says, “Doctor?” when everything seems still to be functioning. The Doctor pulls the screen round so that it is facing him. “Is it over?” the Master asks quietly.
“It’s over,” the Doctor says. “Rose saved us.”
The Master nods. “I know. She did very well… for a human.”
The Doctor grins and starts to say something about the majesty of the human spirit which is lost as his whole body spasms.
“Doctor?” the Master demands, before he can stop himself. “Doctor? Are you-” he scrabbles for his own screen, pulls it closer, and now he can see the gold of the vortex sparkling beneath the Doctor’s skin. “Oh, you idiot,” he hisses.
“It’s all right,” the Doctor says firmly.
“Is that so?” the Master asks sardonically. “Using what definition? My dear Doctor, surely even you have noticed that you’re regenerating.”
“Yes,” the Doctor says, “regenerating. Which is normal.” He gives another slightly pained grin. “Still - another one you’re not responsible for, Master, and just three more to go. You should be ashamed.” He glances to his right. “Looks like Rose is waking up. I’ll come and see you when it’s over. All right?” The Master nods wearily, and the Doctor closes the channel briefly before opening it again. “Oh, and Master? Stay out of this. I don’t want to be blonde again.”
“Ah, yes,” the Master says with a faint smile. “I was exceptionally fond of that regeneration.”
The Doctor rolls his eyes and closes the channel a second time.
Once his image has vanished, the Master wastes no time in hacking into one of the overhead camera feeds, reasoning that such an order is practically a dare. Despite his heavy involvement in the Doctor’s fourth regeneration, he has never actually witnessed one of them first hand, which seems, now, like a criminal oversight.
The event is remarkably similar to the Master’s memories of his own, though the orange flare is a touch ostentatious. He makes a note to mock the Doctor about it at a later date.
The new Doctor is young and stringy with a mad grin and longer hair, which appears to have come into being coated in a thick layer of gel. He talks very fast in another embarrassingly human accent. The Master watches him interacting with Rose for several minutes, learning him again, and then returns to his repair work: the Doctor’s new voice chattering comfortably in the background.
It’s not long, however, before the TARDIS lurches wildly, sending the Master’s tools skittering across the room. Clearly regeneration has not improved the Doctor’s driving. Indeed, if possible, it appears to have grown worse: the TARDIS actually seems to be crashing into solid objects. No wonder the man failed his driving test on so many occasions. The Master grasps the work bench firmly until the shuddering stops and the TARDIS touches down. He returns to the screen in time to see the Doctor stagger down the ramp towards the exit, giggling like a man insane.
He must have botched the regeneration process again, the Master realises with a mixture of amusement, exasperation and anxiety. That makes three failed attempts of which he is aware, and who knows how many others? More than the Doctor is willing to admit to, presumably. A brief spell in a zero room will undoubtedly smooth any rough edges, but the Doctor appears to have forgotten this and collapses almost immediately in the streets of London, leaving the bemused humans to carry him away from the only place he might conceivably get better.
Once again, the Master finds himself separated from the Doctor whilst the other man hovers between life and permanent demise, but without the threat of the Daleks also looming over him, he manages to remain calm. The Doctor will return or will be brought back soon. He simply has to wait until that happens. He locates the zero room he forced the Doctor to build a week before Rose’s arrival and ensures that it is functioning at full capacity. He finishes Falling Upwards and its less than inspiring sequel, and swims eighty lengths of the TARDIS’s main pool.
By this point, well over twelve of Earth’s hours have passed and the Doctor has still not returned. Worried and bored, the Master flicks through Earth’s limited range of television channels and soon happens upon an urgent appeal from the prime minister.
The scanner reveals that the alien ship hanging over London is ludicrously primitive, so much so that, at first, the TARDIS has trouble distinguishing it from the most advanced technologies on Sol 3. It is actually broadly possible that the humans might be able to defeat their invaders without any external help, but it is inconceivable that the Doctor would not offer it. Unless he were seriously incapacitated.
The Master paces and, briefly, considers hacking into his own brain in an attempt to circumvent the programs which keep him from leaving the TARDIS, before he dismisses the idea as nonsensical and dangerous. Instead he returns to the zero room and carefully removes a grey-pink panel, the width of his hand, from one of the walls.
Reprogramming and adapting the panel takes longer than anticipated, but the Master has finished and has even attached a long chain to his creation creating a rather ugly pendant, by the time Rose and Mr Mickey Smith carry the Doctor back into the TARDIS. As soon as possible after they leave the Master pushes through the main doors into the console room.
The Doctor is completely still on the metal grating, looking vaguely ridiculous in blue dressing gown and pale, striped pyjamas. The Master strides past a thermos of tea which is dripping steadily into the TARDIS’s core and over to his side. He raises the Doctor’s head gently and slips the chain around his neck. It takes a moment, but then the Doctor’s eyes flare open, hazel this regeneration. He grins and they crinkle round the edges. The Master lets go a ragged sigh of relief and stands up.
“Hello,” the Doctor says cheerfully from the floor.
“Hello,” the Master returns, hearing his own voice shake slightly. “How nice of you to finally put in an appearance.” He offers the Doctor his hand and the other man hoists himself upright. The device around his neck bounces against his chest with the sudden motion, and the Doctor raises it to eye level with interest.
“You… reversed the polarity of the zero field,” he announces after a momentary inspection, “so that it reflects outwards rather inwards. Oh, that’s very good.”
“Rather better than the cabinet you built from the original doors,” the Master points out with a tinge of smugness.
“Now,” the Doctor says, “there was nothing wrong with my cabinet. And,” he adds, pointing a finger at the Master, “I wouldn’t have had to build it in the first place if you hadn’t tried to kill me.” He looks around, taking in the empty console room, the spilt tea, the external screen which shows Rose and the other humans cowering in the alien ship. “Right. Time to save the world. I don’t know, leave it alone for a day while you take a nap and it just needs saving again.”
“Dressed as you are?” the Master asks, raising one elegant eyebrow.
The Doctor shrugs. “Bit early for nudity,” he says, hooking the zero room device beneath his pyjama top. He winks lewdly. “We’ll save that for later.
“Hey,” he says when the Master rolls his eyes, and starts to leaves. The Master turns back to look at him. “Thank you,” the Doctor says seriously.
The Master nods curtly and lets himself out of the console room. As he does so he hears the Doctor say "did you miss me?” and smiles.