Warning: This Doctor Who article contains MAJOR spoilers for the two-part Season 12 premiere. Proceed at your own peril. If you’d rather, you can read our spoiler-free review of the premiere here.
While Jodie Whittaker’s first season of Doctor Who kept things fresh with mainly new villains for the Thirteenth Doctor and her companions to face off against, Season 12 has brought back the Doctor’s “best enemy”: The Master, played brilliantly by Sacha Dhawan (the youngest actor to play the role).
Den of Geek had the chance to chat with Jodie Whittaker (the Doctor), Mandip Gill (Yaz), and Tosin Cole (Ryan) about what it was like playing opposite Dhawan’s Master, and what the actor brings to the table…
Who is the Master?
First seen in the 1971 Doctor Who episode “Terror of the Autons,” The Master is another Time Lord who was friends with the Doctor when they were children on Gallifrey. As the Doctor explains in “Spyfall Part 2,” she went one way and the Master went another.
Since their split, the Doctor and the Master have run into each other (sometimes intentionally, sometimes not) across time and space, with the Master often seeking out the Doctor’s attention through the crafting and execution of a dastardly plan that often involves global domination of some sort. Like the Doctor, the Master can regenerate and has therefore been played by many different actors, including: Roger Delgado, Peter Pratt, Geoffrey Beevers, Anthony Ainley, Eric Roberts, Derek Jacobi, John Simm, and Michelle Gomez.
The last time the Doctor and the Master saw one another was in Season 10’s “The Doctor Falls,” which saw the Master’s incarnation known as Missy (Michelle Gomez) choosing to save Peter Capaldi’s Doctor, but being stopped and killed by the Master’s previous incarnation played by John Simm. It was a whole thing.
Who is Sacha Dhawan’s Master?
Now, the Master is back (though it’s not quite clear if this incarnation falls before or after Missy), played with some deliciously maniacal energy from Sacha Dhawan.
“He makes really bold choices that you don’t know he’s going to do,” Gill says of Dhawan’s performance as the Master. “It might change from the rehearsals and from take to take it changes. So you kind of actually don’t know where you stand with him, which I think is the case for the Master.”
Gill described the dynamic between the Doctor and the Master as “a little bit of a chess game,” while Whittaker called it “a dance.”
“We were up on doing the duologue, for anyone who hasn’t seen the episode, in an iconic building in Paris, not to give anything away,” says Whittaker, always wary of spoilers. “There is so much movement and there’s so much… it’s like dancing opposite somebody and it’s really fantastic. And I think he has a line in on the airplane about the bomb having a short fuse and he can relate to that. And it’s like, that is actually what it’s like with him. He sometimes would flip and you really didn’t expect it to happen and it was really exciting.”
Bringing in more legacy elements…
The Master isn’t the only legacy element of Doctor Who to be brought back in Season 12. The end of Episode 2 sees the Doctor returning to Gallifrey to fact check the Master’s claims that the planet has been razed. He isn’t lying, and goes on to tell the Doctor (in holographic message form) that it was he who did it, as punishment for the lie of the Timeless Child. In addition to the Master and Gallifrey, the Cybermen are poised to make a reappearance in Season 12, while the Daleks popped up in last year’s New Year’s Day special.
“It just kind of cements the legacy that you’re a part of now,” says Cole of the opportunity to work with classic Who villains. “Because now I feel like, ‘Oh yeah, I’ve worked with the Daleks. Oh yeah, now I’ve got the Cybermen.’ … Before everything was brand new, but now you’ve got some classic villains and stuff.”
While Gill, Cole, and Whittaker didn’t grow up watching Doctor Who at home, the show is so iconic in the UK that they are still impressed with legacy elements.
“As we didn’t all watch it, you know who these people are,” says Gill. “I remember the day when we were doing the scenes with the Daleks, and everyone went in to have a look … Because, we know what they are. We haven’t watched it, but we know what went on before us.”
Whittaker says she is glad the Thireenth Doctor’s era’s introduction of more of the legacy Doctor Who elements was a slow burn because it gave
“I think what’s interesting is seeing [head writer] Chris [Chibnall]’s journey,” says Whittaker. “When we were filming or pressing season one, season 11, he didn’t want to say what he was planning to do, but we’ve known that it was very much about establishing who we are as a four in our first season and having that opportunity for him as someone who’s always liked the show to throw in his creations and his monsters.”
“But then knowing, because he always knew he wasn’t just doing one season,” continues Whittaker, “so then to start to pepper those characters in, and to also give them episodes that served how fantastic our villains are, or re-occurring characters they are. You don’t just want them be an after thought or something just to the gesture. You know, if you’re going to bring back Cybermen, bring them back. And it needed to have been thought out.”
Whittaker teased that there will be a lot of Classic Who elements this season, but that newer viewers won’t be left behind either. You can find out for yourself when Doctor Who Season 12 continues on Sunday at 9pm on BBC America.