Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Doctor Who at 50: The Best of the Master

Every hero needs a nemesis. Just as Sherlock Holmes has Professor Moriarty, Superman has Lex Luthor and the teletubbies have those tyrannical speaker things that come out the ground and dictate their lives (I think I remember that right), the Doctor has the Master. Both are Time Lords, higher beings who should not be interfering in the affairs of other worlds yet do so for their own very different reasons; the Doctor seeks knowledge of, and more often than not save, the universe, the Master seeks to control it. For over forty years and across numerous actors, the Doctor and the Master have battled in incidents involving everything from the fate of the entirety of reality to whether or not the Magna Carta will be signed. Whatever the occasion, though, the pair are inseparable and absolutely need the other one to define themselves by. The Master, full of greed, is the perfect antidote to the Doctor, full of compassion, making him one of Doctor Who's most enduring characters. Here are some of his most masterful moments. Go on, or do I have to hypnotise you to read on...

'I am the Master and you will obey me!'

The Master first appeared in 1971's 'Terror of the Autons' against Jon Pertwee's Third Doctor and instantly makes an impression. We find ourselves in a seemingly innocuous circus - and we all know that circuses in fiction are rarely charming, harmless places - when, shock of shocks, a TARDIS arrives in the shape of a horse box and out walks a man in black suit and goatee, and soon hypnotises someone to do his bidding. From the off, the Master is a force to be reckoned with, the brilliant Roger Delgado immediately nailing the brand of suave, understated villainy that his Master is known for. Doctor Who would never be the same again.


While you might expect all of the Master's best moments to involve scheming or instigating a great big evil plot, here's a great little gem from 1973's 'The Sea Devils' which illustrates a side to the character rarely seen. Imprisoned in Stangmoor island prison, the Master is watching children's television show, the Clangers, on the television and comments to his jailer Colonel Trenchard that they are 'an interesting extra-terrestrial life-form.' The gullible Trenchard completely missing the joke states that they are just puppets. It's a tiny moment but not only demonstrates that even the Master likes to have a joke now and again but is also the fiendish felon testing Trenchard's mental prowess and how easy it will be for him to bend the man to his will later on. Genius.

Merging with Tremas

Sadly in 1974, Roger Delgado died in a car crash, causing the character to be put on hold for several years. It wasn't until many year's later that he returned as an emaciated figure, thirsty for revenge and a way of rejuvenating himself. In 'The Keeper of Traken' (1981) he finally got just that. After failing to take the Doctor's own body, the desperate Master (Geoffrey Beevers) takes possession of the Doctor's friend Nyssa's father, Tremas (have a read of that name again...) played by Anthony Ainley who would face off against Doctors Four, Five, Six and Seven, plus others retroactively in the 20th anniversary special. Speaking of which...

'A cosmos without the Doctor scarcely bears thinking about.'

In the star-studded nonsensical birthday party that is 'The Five Doctors', amongst all the stuff about finding the secret of immortality in the fabled Dark Tower on Gallifrey is a scene where the Time Lord council asks the Master - of all people - to rescue the Doctor from the deadly, er, Death Zone. At first it seems an odd choice, but as he delivers the line above you realise that the Master would actually miss his ultimate foe. The Third Doctor once called them best enemies, and here you can see that clearly. It seems a nemesis needs a hero too...

'Or as I've always known him the Doctor...'

1986's 'Trial of a Time Lord' may be a whopping fourteen episodes long but it does at least have the odd absolute cracker of a moment; the best of which involves the appearance of the Master in the penultimate episode. As the Doctor's case isn't going very well at all thanks to the unscrupulous prosecutor, the Valeyard, the Master buts in for no real reason other than just to throw a spanner in the works. Apparently working on the Doctor's side, he reveals that the Valeyard is in fact a villainous future incarnation of the Doctor! This is no doubt a great twist in the story but is also a brilliant moment for the Master as it is just so characteristic of Ainley's portrayal. While Delgado was smooth and urbane, this Master is a trickster and seems to like concocting any diabolical scheme, no matter how harebrained, for the sole aim of making trouble. Just what he's doing here!

'If we fight like animals, we die like animals!' 

The last ever Who story of the original run, 'Survival' is a fabulous piece that sees the Doctor's companion, Ace find out her friends are being taken to a faraway world and are transforming into cheetah people. Also marooned there is the Master, himself becoming more animalistic the longer he stays. At the climax of the story, both enemies are becoming effected by the planet and engage in a savage fight as the world dies around them. Stripped of their intelligence, its fascinating to the see the Doctor and the Master's raw spite for each other come out until the Doctor composes himself enough to get away. Not a bad way to end.

'I always drezzz for the occasion!' 

Except it didn't really end. In 1996 Doctor Who was brought back for one night only in a British/American co-produced TV movie with Paul McGann as the Doctor and Eric Roberts as the Master. At his most vengeful, the Master is again dying and, having trapped the Doctor in his own TARDIS while Earth is beginning to fall apart, is about to take the Doctor's lives for his own. But first, the Master changes into something more fitting for the occasion. This is another one of those scenes that nails the Master; while also being unutterably evil and irrevocably insane, the Master is also very camp. There's something inherently over-the-top about him and this scene is one of the campest across all his lives.

'The Master Reborn'

When the show was rejuvenated it took until 2007's 'Utopia' for the Master to return - but it was well worth the wait. Hiding at the end of the universe, it turns out that kindly old human, Professor Yana, is actually the Master in a disguise that fooled even himself. Taking the Doctor's TARDIS, the dying Master swears that if the Doctor can be 'young and free' than so can he before regenerating into a new body. The last few moments of this episode on first viewing are some of the most exciting of the revived series. Derek Jacobi is superb at turning his performance from bumbling and absent-minded to oozing evil and the first glimpses of John Simm's bundle of murderous energy leave us wanting more. Thankfully, we got that the very next week...

'I refuse...'

Despite ruling over the Earth for a year, while keeping an aged Doctor in a birdcage, 'The Last of the Time Lords' sees the Master defeated and all his efforts undone (let's not get into it here). And as if things aren't bad enough for the poor guy, his wife shoots him. In the Doctor's arms, the Master realises the only way that he can win; by refusing to regenerate and dying. Earlier I mentioned how we had seen how much the Doctor meant to the Master, here we see it the other way around. As the Doctor sobs and cradles his enemy, he is not so much grieving over the loss of the Master per se but more at losing the last remnant of his homeworld other than himself. He was once again alone in the universe.


When the Tenth Doctor's own death knell tolled in 2010's 'The End of Time: Part Two' the Master had to be involved. The Time Lords have returned and, obsessed with survival are planning to bring about the end of time itself (and, yes, that does make sense). Their link to Earth is the Master, the sound of drums in his head, the cause of his life-long madness, is a signal that connects the time-locked Gallifrey to the present-day. While the Doctor is about to be killed by Rassilon, the Time Lord president, the Master intervenes. Full of revenge for what they've done to him, he attacks the Time Lords and disappears with them back into the Time War. After all the years of fighting, the Master and the Doctor act on the same side against a bigger evil. Could his final act be his own sacrifice? Somehow I think he still out there in the Whoniverse somewhere. Up to his old tricks...

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