In the 2007 season of Doctor Who the plot arc was used for the first time to set up the villain. Bad Wolf and Torchwood didn’t have any connection to the real threat a the end of the season but this time the identity of Mr Saxon held the key to everything.
It did share some qualities with the previous story arc, namely that both were the result of the Doctor’s future actions. Torchwood already existed before the Doctor met Queen Victoria in ‘Tooth and Claw’ and Mr Saxon was already infiltrating the British government before the Doctor awakened him in ‘Utopia’.
In fact the only reason that he was able to assume the position of Prime Minister is because the Doctor ousted Harriet Jones from the office in ‘The Christmas Invasion’.This plot arc shows how player characters actions can have far reaching consequences.
Initially the appearance of the name Mr Saxon was subtle, on the level of the first appearances of Bad Wolf. It was a background detail, glimpsed on newspaper headline in ‘Love & Monsters’ or a ‘Vote Saxon’ poster in the Torchwood episode ‘Captain Jack Harkness’.
He became more prominent in ‘Smith and Jones’, a line of dialogue indicating that he had strong views about the alien invasions that had become a frequent occurrence in the UK.
‘The Lazarus Experiment’ made it clear that the still unseen Mr Saxon was up to no good, funding the dubious experiments of Professor Lazarus. By the time of ‘42’ his agents had turned Martha’s mother against the Doctor, attempting to trace the Doctor.
At the same time other elements of the plot arc were being introduced, while we were distracted with the question of who Mr Saxon was. Firstly the Face of Boe told the Doctor he was not alone and secondly ‘Human Nature’ established that Time Lords could transform themselves into humans.
This is probably the best example of what can be done when you write a plot arc that stretches through several adventures. You can put ideas and concepts in place so that when you reach the finale they all fall into place.
A similar tactic is taken in the next season but I think it works best here. The elements are so subtle you don’t even realise that they are part of the main plot arc. The Chameleon arc and fop watch in ‘Human Nature’ are elements adapted from the book of the same name so few expected Russell T Davies to return to them later.
By the time of ‘Utopia’ the revelation that Yana is the Master comes as a complete surprise but makes sense given what we’d seen in recent episodes. The fact he regenerates and goes back to become the Mr Saxon we’d already heard about plays with the time travel concept of the show in much the same way that Moffatt would make his trade mark.
The one part of this that does seem a needless detail is that the Face of Boe’s message was actually a warning, Yana being an acronym for ‘You Are Not Alone.’ This makes no sense, even if we accept that Captain Jack eventually becomes the Face of Boe.
Just as with Bad Wolf the warning from the future has no meaning. If Boe meant to warn the Doctor why not tell him that the Master was Yana? If he didn’t want to alter time (maybe because if he is Jack he knows that those events happened) then why warn him at all? It’s not as if the Doctor is in time to prevent the Master from stealing the TARDIS, even with the warning.
Why did the Master unknowingly adopt a name that contained this hidden meaning? Anagrams are more his field of expertise.
I feel that this plot arc was a missed opportunity in terms of how Mr Saxon was used. There was no reason that John Simm couldn’t have appeared on screen as Mr Saxon earlier in the season.
The viewer wouldn’t realise he was the Master and would wonder why he hated the Doctor. Introducing him earlier in the season would have give the villain a face but retained the surprise of his identity until the final three episodes.
This would add more punch to the scene in ‘Utopia’ when Derek Jacobi regenerated into John Simm. It would be a shock that the Master was Mr Saxon, having witnessed the transformation for ourselves.
The Master was a villain that everyone was waiting to return to the series, despite Russell T Davies comments in the press that he wouldn’t bring him back. Using him as the focus of the plot arc was a great idea.
The downside is that in keeping him off screen for so long we only got two episodes and a bit with him as the main threat and even then he had to share the screen with the Toclafane.
Aside from this misstep the rest of the plot arc is implemented well, enhancing the viewing experience. A sense of apprehension is created for Mr Saxon and all the elements of ‘The Sound of Drums/Last of the Time Lords’ are cleverly foreshadowed in throughout the season.
In retrospect knowing that Mr Saxon is the Master it is puzzling why they were trying to trace the phone call in ‘42’. The Master knows that the Doctor was travelling in space and time so what did he expect to do if he did track him down? Travel to the space ship in the far future?
He could hardly do anything to the Doctor until he’d lived through the events of ‘Utopia’ otherwise the Master’s true nature would never be revealed to him. It is so much simpler when Time Lords interact on a purely chronological basis.
This plot arc shows us that planning ahead can really benefit your campaign. You can think of a big adventure and work backwards, laying the ground work in the adventures leading up to it.
If you want to use a particular piece of technology or weapon have the player characters encounter it in previous adventure so they know what it is and what to expect. If you want to use a particular villain or alien race have the player characters encounter them early on.
Next we’ll look at the Medusa Cascade, missing planets and missing bees.