Published on January 9th, 2012 | by PJ Montgomery4
Behind the Masks – The Master
When it comes to the Doctor’s adversaries on Doctor Who, there’s really only one which you can claim is his equal. Sure, the Daleks and the Cybermen may have given him problems on more than one occasion, even coming close to killing him, but in each of these cases, the Doctor is facing large groups of killing machines. The Master is just one man. A fellow Time Lord, and a contemporary of the Doctor in their early years on Gallifrey, he is just as intelligent, but with a total lack of compassion and a ruthless streak as wide as the inside of the TARDIS.
Like the Doctor, the Master has been played by a number of actors, each one different to the one that came before, and all playing different incarnations of the character (except Peter Pratt and Geoffrey Beevers, but this version of the Master was little more than a decaying, walking corpse, so heavy make up made it possible for them to be the same Master). That said, there are inconsistencies. If the Doctor and the Master were class mates on Gallifrey, then how is the Master on his last regeneration when the Doctor is only on his third? If he was out of regenerations, being forced to possess others (both Anthony Ainley and Eric Roberts played the Master possessing other people’s bodies), then how did he suddenly show up looking like Derek Jacobi, then regenerate into John Simm? There are vague answers (spin-off novels have suggested he was trapped in a black hole, and was forced to use all his regenerations to escape, and it is hinted that the Time Lords gave him a complete new set of regenerations when they resurrected him for the Time War). The thing is, the Master is such a good villain for the Doctor (the Moriarty/Holmes comparison has been made more than once), that no matter what has been stated before on the show, you need to bring him back, and keep doing so. Don’t be surprised if he shows up again next year to help celebrate Doctor Who’s fiftieth anniversary, either as John Simm or with a totally new body.
But of the Masters we’ve already seen on screen, who is the cream of the crop? According to you lot, it was Roger Delgado by a vast amount. But where do I sit on this debate? Read on…
5 – John Simm
The End of Time (2009/2010)
John Simm’s Master has a lot of detractors, it’s true. His wild, unhinged take on the character, designed as a very definite counterpoint to the energy David Tennant brought to the Tenth Doctor, was completely different to any Master we’d seen before. The thing is, Simm’s Master was utterly insane. Moreso than any Master we had seen before, this was a man who had been driven crazy by everything he’d been through, and who also suddenly found himself alive in a universe without Time Lords. The Master has always had the goal of being in control of the entire universe (why else would he take Master as his title?), as well as proving he’s better than the Doctor, and suddenly, he found himself with the opportunity to do both. And he revelled in it. Don’t forget, the Master had been, assumedly, dead for years before the Time Lords brought him back to life to fight in the Time War, and was then trapped in his Professor Yana persona. It’s only natural that, suddenly remembering who he was and regenerating into a younger form would bring a certain amount of glee to the character. The other thing which Simm’s manic portrayal gave the Master was a very definite sense of danger. His Master felt like someone who would kill you just for looking at him, and definitely not someone you’d want to get on the wrong side of. You also couldn’t predict him, and there was no reasoning with him either. In a way that Roger Delgado played a Master who was very similar to the Doctor he faced (Jon Pertwee), the darker side of the Doctor almost, so too was John Simm’s Master the darker version of David Tennant’s Doctor. Yes, he would occasionally overdo it somewhat, but overall, John Simm’s performance was just what it needed to be.
4 – Geoffrey Beevers
Roger Delgado may have been the first Master we saw on screen, but it turns out he was the Master’s penultimate regeneration (of his initial cycle). Unfortunately for Time Lords, their final regeneration is often a traumatic experience, and one which usually doesn’t end up going well physically either. So it was, when the master regenerated, he turned into an emaciated, decaying form, practically dead and slightly crazy. He first appeared in this form in The Deadly Assassin (1976), played by Peter Pratt. Pratt played the character well, but was hampered by a full face mask, which didn’t allow his face to be seen. When the Master was next seen five years later, now being played by Geoffrey Beevers (though very much meant to be the same version), the make up was different to Pratt’s, forgoing the mask and allowing him to use his face more. This is the main reason Beevers just edges it over Pratt for me. In The Keeper of Traken, the Master disguises his TARDIS (with a fully functioning chameleon circuit) as the Melkur, a creature on the planet Traken which was turned into a statue. The Master is hoping to become the new Keeper of Traken, after the death of the current Keeper, which would connect him to the Source, an ancient power that can grant him a new set of regenerations. Naturally, the Doctor (at this point in his fourth, Tom Baker shaped incarnation) puts a stop to the Master’s plans, but at the end of the serial, the Master does manage to gain new life by possessing the body of a Traken scientist named Tremas (Anthony Ainley). As such, The Keeper of Traken was Beevers’ only appearance as the Master (on TV, at least), but he more than did the job well. Before it is revealed who the Melkur really is (though the clues are there right from the off), he’s deliciously sinister as the voice of the statue. Then, once the Master shows himself, Beevers becomes a slimey, villainous and downright creepy character. There’s a hissing in his voice (especially in his final line, “A new body, at last.”), as well as a confidence which the Master has had in every incarnation. Beevers was clearly having fun in the part, and while Anthony Ainley would go on to play a wonderful version of the Master, it is a shame we didn’t get a couple more serials featuring Beevers as the character.
3 – Derek Jacobi
Derek Jacobi only appeared as the Master in one episode of the new series of Doctor Who, and for most of that, the Master believed he was actually the really quite nice Professor Yana. It’s only towards the end of the episode, when Yana remembers who he really is, that Jacobi got to play the Master himself. And only for about five minutes before he regenerated into John Simm. But what a wonderful five minutes! Jacobi’s Master was truly evil. His first act upon regaining his memory was to kill his assistant, and though she managed to mortally wound him too, triggering his regeneration, he still had time to deliver a wonderfully sneering, venomous monologue while locking the Doctor out of the TARDIS. Derek Jacobi was the perfect actor to bring the Master back to our screens, and while John Simm did a good job, I think we’d all rather have seen the Doctor take on this Master a few times before he regenerated. Had we done so, there’s a very strong chance he could’ve topped this list.
2 – Anthony Ainley
The King’s Demons (1983)
The Five Doctors (1983)
Planet of Fire (1984)
The Caves of Androzani (1984)
The Mark of the Rani (1985)
The Trial of a Time Lord: The Ultimate Foe (1986)
The man who played the Master more times and over a longer period than any other is also the Master who met the most Doctors. He first appeared briefly at the end of The Keeper of Traken, going on to meet (and be responsible for the death of) the fourth Doctor (Tom Baker) in the following serial, Logopolis. He would then have encounters with the fifth, sixth and seventh Doctors (Peter Davison, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy, respectively), as well as meeting the first, second and third (Richard Hurndall, doubling for the deceased William Hartnell, Patrick Troughton and Jon Pertwee) during the events of The Five Doctors. He would even meet the Valeyard, a malevolent future incarnation of the Doctor (Michael Jayston) during the Trial of a Time Lord saga. There’s a very convincing argument that Ainley can lay claim to being the role of the Master in a way no one else can. But what does he actually bring to the part? Ainley’s Master is the sort of villain an actor can really get his teeth into. He’s scheming, he’s selfish and he’ll use anyone to fulfill his goals. Ainley clearly had a ball playing the part, instilling the Master with a definite sense of fun. Is he slightly hammy at times? Yes. But this completely works for the character. John Simm should take note. This is how you play deranged without going too far. But Ainley had more than one role to play on Doctor Who. When he first appeared in The Keeper of Traken, he was playing Tremas (rearrange the letters), the scientist whose body the Master would later possess. Tremas is a very different character to the Master, and Ainley was equally good as the kind hearted scientist who befriends and helps the Doctor against the Melkur. Ainley’s Master would also often appear in disguise. During Castrovalva, the fifth Doctor’s first full serial, the Doctor and his companions arrive at, yes, Castrovalva, where they are greeted by the Portreeve, the kindly old man in charge. But the Portreeve is later revealed to be the Master in disguise, also played by Ainley. What’s surprising is how unrecognisable Ainley is as the Portreeve. It’s easy enough to get taken in and believe firmly, as the Doctor does, that this is a completely different person. The producers even helped the charade by crediting Ainley under the pseudonym Neil Toynay, an anagram of Tony Ainley, in episodes where the Master only appeared as the Portreeve. Ainley’s Master had his final hurrah in the final serial of the original run of Doctor Who, Survival. One of the many reasons the cancellation was a shame was that we’d never see Ainley as the Master again on TV (though he did play the role once more in the 1997 computer game, Destiny of the Doctors). The next time the Master appeared on TV, it was in the 1995 TV movie, where he was played by Gordon Tipple and Eric Roberts. Ainley sadly died in 2004, but left behind a fine body of work with which to remember him.
1 – Roger Delgado
The Mind of Evil (1971)
The Claws of Axos (1971)
Colony in Space (1971)
The Daemons (1971)
The Sea Devils (1972)
The Time Monster (1972)
Frontier In Space (1973)
The first actor to play the Master, in fact appearing in every single serial of Doctor Who’s eighth series in 1971, Roger Delgado is also, by common consensus, the best. His Master was designed to be everything the Doctor wasn’t, while also being a worthy adversary for Jon Pertwee’s third Doctor. Introduced as an old rival of the Doctor’s, Delgado’s time on the show would see him attempting to defeat the Doctor and conquer the world by teaming up with a number of alien races, not least among them the Sea Devils and the Daleks. Delgado’s Master was a charming, well spoken man, whose quick wit would allow him to talk most people around to his way of thinking, and if that didn’t work, he could always hypnotise them. Like many of his successors, Delgado played the Master as a scheming and manipulative bastard, only looking out for himself. But Delgado did it first, setting the template for every Master who would come afterwards. Just like the Doctor changes from regeneration to regeneration, but has recogniseable elements to his personality every time, the Master is always a cold, calculating and evil man, who believes his ultimate destiny is to rule over everything. And Roger Delgado was the man who started it all. Delgado was also the perfect foil for Jon Pertwee. He could match the intelligence of the Doctor, but also presented a physical threat for the Doctor at times too. Witness their sword fight during the Sea Devils for a perfect example. Delgado’s time as the Master was tragically cut short by his death in a car crash in 1973. This necessitated a last minute change to Jon Pertwee’s final outing as the Doctor. Originally, he was to die at the hands of the Master, but with Delgado’s death, the producers decided not to recast the Master, and he wouldn’t appear again until The Deadly Assassin in 1976. It’s a real tragedy, as seeing Delgado match wits with Tom Baker’s Doctor would’ve been an absolute treat.
Next week, in keeping with the Who theme, I’ll be looking at the Doctor’s companions. There have been a lot, so whittling it down to five is going to be a tough job. Help me out by getting in contact and letting me know who your favourite companion is.