If there are parallel universes, there is surely one in which all Doctor Who fans know “The Masters of Luxor.” This story was originally intended to be the second episode or story arc in the series. Instead, “The Daleks” was chosen to serve that purpose, and the rest is history. But the story is an important part of Doctor Who history, and it has recently been released on audiobook so that we can enjoy it.
The travelers seem not to be at the mercy of an uncooperative TARDIS to the same extent that would be the case as the show developed. They reach the planet where the events of the episode unfold because they responded to a distress call, and not by mere chance. But when they do, something drains the power from the TARDIS and they cannot simply leave.
On that planet, the Doctor, Susan, Barbara and Ian discover robots whose presence seems to be to serve those who arrive. But they soon uncover something more sinister going on. The robots serve one they call “The Perfect One,” a robot that is almost human but not quite, and wants to be fully human. They created it after the model of what their own creator, Tabon, had desired to accomplish. He was from Luxor, and the people of Luxor are revealed to have been both technologically advanced and lacking in some of the moral sensibilities the main characters share. They eliminate genetically inferior offspring, and send undesirables to the world where the TARDIS has landed. Those unfortunate enough to arrive there are used by the Perfect One in his experiments which aim to give him the one thing he lacks – life, in the full human sense.
The theme of people being turned into robots, and robots into people, would be the focus of many later stories, just as it was in many other science fiction series. And the theme has still deeper roots in mythology, from Pygmalion to the Golem to Pinocchio.
The Doctor's response to many of their discoveries reflects an outlook that is neither precisely the same as, nor entirely different from, what we came to know throughout the remaining series. The discovery of graves indicates to the Doctor that those who had been here previously were civilized, as evidenced by their belief in an afterlife and thus the soul. Yet they had allowed themselves to pursue technology beyond what is appropriate.
Eventually they discover Tabon himself hidden away and in suspended animation elsewhere on the planet. Then more details emerge of his desire to create in his own image, of his “insane dream of being God.” He laments that he destroyed many human beings to make robots less valuable than they were.
When they return to where the Perfect One is and inform him that his creator Tabon is still alive, the Perfect One says that Taban is his god, and that, like a father, he will love him. Ian says that, on the contrary, Tabon hates the Perfect One.
By the end of the story, Tabon is able to act so as to redeem himself, but at the cost of his own life. In his final conversation with him, the Doctor says, “God take you, Taban.”
As a story about redemption and about scientists playing God, the episode would have covered familiar science fiction ground. But the Doctor's elevation not only of the human above the machine, but also the soul, morality, and apparently even religious sensibilities, goes at least somewhat beyond the outlook of the Doctor as he would be depicted in episodes that were actually produced.
I wonder whether any readers of this blog have read the novelization, listened to the audiobookwatched the fan film based on the script? If so, how do you think Doctor Who might have had a different character if “The Masters of Luxor” had in actual fact been the second story to air? And how does it compare and contrast with the depiction of the Doctor and the other characters as seen in existing episodes?