She visits him in prison, and that’s when she tells him he was – or from his point of view – is going to be her university tutor. Considerably more, too, by the sounds of it.
He’s intrigued, but that doesn’t mean he has to play by her rules. He’s the Master. She might be a novelty, and he might relish these encounters, but it’s not in his nature to bow to anyone else’s wishes. It’s rare to find someone with whom he can have such an interesting and illuminating discussion, but that in itself makes her dangerous. She’s also a potential rival, and he makes it an infallible rule to eliminate the competition.
He kisses her hand, however, at his most charming, and says, “Until we meet again, Miss Song.”
Despite the gesture, it’s not flirtation that he has in mind when he gets the chance to take the route she’s pointed out to him – spoilers and timelines be damned.
The Master is River’s new tutor at Luna University. She’s brilliant, of course, if wayward; that time-sensitive heritage elevating her above her peers – elevating and alienating her, despite her best efforts. He understands that. Inferior minds are so dull, so tedious, so inclined to petty jealousy.
She does well at archaeology; it’s perfectly natural for a lecturer to draw her to one side to discuss her studies.
“Come away with me,” he says, touching her cheek, murmuring into her ear. “One field trip you’ll never forget. I can assure you of that.”
River hesitates, despite his most tantalising promises. “I do get credit for it, don’t I?”
“Oh, indubitably,” he says, smiling. “Trust me, my dear. It will most certainly count for something.”
As he closes his gloved hand around her throat in the ruins of the Lynon Archivia, she fights back, putting up a hand to try and pull his away, enough to say: “I got a first on my module about the Ancient Lynon cities. Want to know why?”
“Congratulations, then, my dear,” he says. “I regret though, that your academic achievements will not save you now.”
River does something not many people do when faced with the Master at his most murderous: she smiles. “I calculated exactly where it was. Oh, they didn’t believe me – you know what most lecturers are like – but they gave me full marks for my methods and original argument.”
As he suspected, she knows the pain of working constantly with inferior minds. He holds her in his grasp still but refrains from going in for the kill. “What did you find?” he asks. “Some great treasure, I suppose? My dear Miss Song, I appreciate the value of money as much as anyone, but I have no shortage of methods to obtain it without your assistance. Nor do I relish grubbing in the dirt!”
She smiles again, then, as if she’s triumphed somehow and he’s almost concerned for a moment. Almost. “It’s not money,” she says. “How about power, though? That’s a different thing, isn’t it, sir?”
“I admit,” he says, “that you begin to intrigue me. What, precisely, was it you had located – believed you had located?”
She looks back at him and he loosens his grip on her. “Wouldn’t you like to know? The Lynon Oligarchy hid something in the Archivia that you wouldn’t believe.”
“One doomsday weapon is much like another in the end. I can always put my hands on one at need.”
River laughs. “Oh, it’s much more interesting than that! Now, would you rather throttle me, or would you like me to take you on a field trip? It’ll be unforgettable, I promise.”
The Master hesitates, but temptation wins, as ever. She is a surprisingly engaging and enterprising companion, after all. And once he has his hands on this mythical artefact, he can always kill her later. Indeed, he reminds himself with some regret, he will most certainly have to kill her later.
The Master is River’s new tutor at Luna University. Again.
If killing her is not as easy as he had expected, then he must simply find another method of dealing with her. He doesn’t have to murder her to ensure she never gets to the Doctor. This time he will get it exactly right.
“Come with me,” he says, and tells her of Arcadia long before the fall, the lost cities of the Tia’anu, planets dead and gone, worlds yet to come. His tales imply that he can and will give her the universe and, when he sees the interest in her eyes, he also holds out the promise of himself (so much better than the Doctor).
She won’t let him control her; that has been the role of too many others in her life, but she has been brought up relentlessly to a purpose threaded through her life like a twisted core of steel, and he, who knows well the pleasures of rebellion, whispers in her ear of freedom, of deeds done for the hedonistic thrill. He tells her that one must never be dictated to, even by destiny. The Master has never had anything but scorn for destiny and prophecy unless they shape themselves to suit his wishes.
They can be explorers, archaeologists, thieves, rule a galaxy or two – whatever she wants, he assures her. It’s not even necessarily a lie.
River looks at him for a long while and he thinks in sudden surprise that the wretched woman is going to actually refuse him at his most persuasive, before she produces a rolled up sheet of paper that turns out to contain the plans of a vault.
“My first jewel heist,” she says breathlessly. “Pretty please. And you know what they say about the Alathusian Glory Crystal, don’t you?”
A little galled, he admits that he does not.
“Oh,” says River and smiles at him. “In that case, this is going to be even more fun than I thought.”
He watches her. “Why?”
“Some days,” she says, “I want to be a legend.”
Of course, as it turns out, jewel heists are complicated to pull off, especially when one half of the partnership has failed as yet to learn the meaning of the word subtlety. Luckily, it’s one of the Master’s specialities, and he not only bails her out of jail afterwards, he presents her with the famous crystal – another tawdry bauble as far as he’s concerned.
“I’ll have to do something to thank you,” she says, placing the crystal on the console of his TARDIS. “Whatever could that be?”
He turns, about to say, that she really has nothing she can offer him, when he sees the glow saturate the console first and then the whole console room.
“Immediate overhaul,” she says, with a rather irritating smug smile. “Your whole TARDIS in shiny, working order, right down to the last cog and gear.”
“It’s rather more sophisticated than cogs and gears,” he says, and checks the controls in hasty concern, but the crystal does seem to have had nothing but a beneficial effect.
River moves across to stand too close to him. “The question is,” she says, “does that make us even, sir, or are you now in my debt?”
“Don’t be ridiculous.”
“I’ll have to try harder then,” she says. “I had all sorts of ideas about how you could repay me.”
The Master faces her and, finds, if only for an instant, that one of his hearts is beating faster than it ought. “I brought you here,” he says. “For the moment, you owe me everything and I owe you nothing. I wouldn’t advise you to forget it.”
“Dearest Master,” she says. “You know full well that isn’t true. You came after me for a reason, so I think…”
He decides that, clearly, there is only one way to deal with her for the moment. He draws himself up, though what height he has is mostly in the mind, and faces her, pausing for long enough for her to anticipate his intentions, before he kisses her. What follows, he observes, is not all that distasteful. Speaking purely objectively, one could almost call it pleasurable. One could almost – almost – fathom what the Doctor might see in her.
He asks her in the end, what tempted her the most out of his many promises, and is taken aback when she looks at him with a smile that holds far too much affection, and says, “You, my dear Master. Sometimes you’re much more like him than you know.”
It’s then that he decides, with some regret, that he must kill her.
It’s easier said than done. He really should have remembered the guard’s warning on their first meeting: no matter what, don’t kiss her. Indeed, that is not a thing he should need telling at all.
Unfortunately now, as he clings to his last regeneration with only River on hand to help, he doesn’t have the time to spend regretting such a fundamental error. He curses himself and her as the light fades.
“Well,” says River kneeling over him, “if you promise not to try that again, I’ll help you find another body –” She pauses in momentary reverie over that, which even in his current condition he finds immensely irritating. “And then we can stop wasting regenerations neither of us has left and go and steal the Mace of Wrastonix. My Middle Galaxies tutor said it was rumoured to make the wearer invincible. Could be fun. What do you say, Master dearest?”
He closes his eyes, foreseeing another fight over such an item. “Why not?” he croaks. “I must regenerate – I must survive!” He cannot die without triumphing over the Doctor. He sees him in his mind’s eye, mocking him for this ignominious end. The Master has no more lives left to lose, but he can always find one more to take.
“Right then,” says River, looking at his TARDIS console. “Lucky I gave this thing an overhaul, isn’t it?”
She’s intolerable, he thinks, and realises that he’s made the wrong call again.
The Master is River’s new tutor at Luna University. The third time is the charm, isn’t that what the humans say? He sees his mistake now, of course. He’s been complicating things. The truth is that River was always a weapon. The only thing he needs to do to complete his victory over the Doctor is to make her his weapon; that when she destroys him she will do it in accordance with his will, with his words on her lips.
And is there anyone in the universe better fitted to such a task than he? Those who took her before had no idea. He’ll take her and teach her the pleasures of hatred. Murder is often a mere necessity, but in some cases, it’s an art. Rare cases, of course, but the Doctor is most certainly one. Death and victory where the feelings are involved has a flavour that others lack. He’ll teach her that to truly want to kill someone, you learn their habits, stalk them like a hunter with its prey, jealously guard your mark. The death itself, when it comes, will be that divine mix of pain and pleasure which is beyond words.
“Come with me,” he says to her, and will not take no for an answer.
She learns from him swiftly, as she always does, and he sees only too late the obvious flaw in his plan, as she twists the knife into his left heart.
“Can you still regenerate, Master?” she asks, his blood on her fingers before she moves to strike him through the remaining heart, holding the dagger at the ready. “I don’t believe you can. Something else we have in common.”
Eliminate the competition is an infallible rule of his that he should most certainly never have mentioned to her. He wonders, in pain and shock and unaccustomed weakness, if the Doctor will arrive to save them both.
“You will always be my favourite tutor,” she says, and kisses him goodbye. It’s a textbook case, for which she’d get full marks if he was in any position to award her them.
He holds on at the last, the way he always does: his essence will find a way out and into another host, maybe even her at need. It’s all that’s left, the thing at the core of him that desires to survive, to possess, to control. He is the Master.
And this, this unfortunately, is not the way it should be. He’ll have to try again.
The Master is River’s new tutor at Luna University. This time he’s relatively restrained – he retains certain sobering memories of these other timelines that he’s rewritten. He keeps carefully to the path River laid out for him this time round. He could have failed to arrive at all, but the idea of beating the Doctor to a relationship with her is too amusing to let slip. And she said, back when she visited him in prison, that he's going to teach her a trick or two that she’ll pass onto the Doctor. That thought amuses him still further, as he pictures the Doctor’s expression if he ever finds out.
I’ll have to ensure that he does, he decides. One day. When the time is right. Before I kill him.
If nothing better is on offer, the Master sees no problem in stealing the pleasures of mortals. It’s the rest of the Time Lords who hold back in horror; he will take whatever is to hand and use whatever weapons are at his disposal. Oddly, he finds that this simple approach offers him a satisfaction in her company, in teaching, that he had not anticipated. It’s passing and illusory, of course, but a rare still point in his life. He is, as yet, capable of appreciating such times.
When River asks why he’s here, once he reveals himself to her, he tells her simply that she sent him.
She wants to know about the Doctor. She always wants to know about the Doctor. It really is most tiresome. He overlooks the fact that he’s the one who brought up the subject in the first place. (She’d told him she would hardly want to have sex with a self-satisfied, arrogant man who wouldn’t even tell her his real name. “Why, I thought that was your type,” he’d said.)
“Be wary of obsession, my dear,” he says. “One must retain control.”
River raises an eyebrow. “Really? Right now, I beg to differ.”
“Overall,” he says. “Not necessarily in isolated moments. Obsession, my dear, is another addiction, and by and large an addiction will control you and very likely kill you in the end.”
“And you should know,” she mutters, in his arms. He ignores that.
Addictions are hard to come by for a Time Lord; the Master may toy freely with those of the humans – alcohol, tobacco, his poisons of choice – but he is never ruled by them. “I know how you feel, of course.”
“Nobody wants to destroy him more than I.”
She moves away and he thinks she says, her head muffled by the pillow, that she doesn’t want to destroy him, she never has. She was brought up to kill him, and so she did. That’s not the same thing.
It’s not what he wants to hear, so he changes the subject and makes a note always to do so in future. “That list,” he says – he’d made a list of her misdemeanours during her period of study here. It had been fascinating to compile. “In particular, number eighteen. I must admit I’m curious: whatever did you do with Dr Horova that resulted in a grade two temporal paradox in his study?”
“Yeah,” says River, turning back to him. “I’ve never been able to work that one out, either. Mind, if you’re up for it, I could give you a practical demonstration and see if you can come up with an explanation.”
He merely smiles. “We’ll save that for next time, I think.”
“If you’d have come with me,” says Missy, visiting River in her virtual prison (if there’s one thing she’s currently good at, it’s navigating a virtual afterlife) and taking tea with her, “none of this would have happened.”
River gives a small smile. “Do you really think so?”
“Some other horrible accident might have befallen you, it’s true,” says Missy. “I can be so careless. But could it be worse than this?”
River studies her. “Oh, I think it’s pretty likely. I wouldn’t change anything, you know. Well, not much. Not anything that wouldn’t make the universe fall apart.”
“Hmm,” says Missy. “I’m thinking of trying again, you know. I don’t see why he should have you all to himself. I don’t think we’ve yet achieved perfection.” She glances down at her new form with a slight shiver of anticipation. “I believe we finally could.”
River merely smiles again. “In that case, you can’t have done Rio yet.”
“Rio? You said we hadn’t met before. Liar, liar, River. House on fire.” She tuts, and raises a nanny-like eyebrow.
River shrugs. “Spoilers like you wouldn’t believe.”
Missy smiles in return and pretends to take the warning. “Oh, we can’t have that, of course.”
“Come back and visit again,” says River, when Missy goes to leave. Missy does just that, but maybe not the way River intended.
Missy is River’s new tutor at Luna University. She’s sure she can get it right this time – or at least, have an awful lot of fun trying, between River and that debonair former self of hers.
“Too narcissistic?” she asks herself, and then shrugs. As if she cares.
Only imagine the Doctor’s face when he finds out, Missy thinks in glee. That will be a moment to treasure.