A character created by one of the series’ most loved writers, Robert Holmes, as a kind of Moriarty to the Doctor‘s Holmes, the Master quickly became one of the most conniving and dangerous of the Doctor‘s foes.
As the series entered it’s 8th year, the Doctor Who production team had decided that they had developed the character of the Doctor to be almost indestructible. While Jon Pertwee‘s first year is still considered to be one of the most successful seasons of the program’s history, the feeling at the time was that it had become too clever and needed some action/adventure elements added.
Enter the Time Lords who arrive to warn the Doctor that the Master has, much like the Doctor, escaped from Gallifrey.
Played by veteran actor Roger Delgado, the Master was a total sociopath and the most charming and charismatic villain ever seen on the program. A man so evil he can snap his fingers through leather gloves, Delgado played the part with great joy and skill, something that his fellow cast members appreciated. Looking back it seems strange to have an entire season set with a ‘destroy the Master’ theme, but after reading and listening about how much fun they all had on the program, the reasoning becomes pretty clear. It also re-invented the program in such a way that the audience was anticipating ‘what’s the Master up to this week,’ a unique idea that the Doctor could not easily do away with the villain in one adventure.
But unlike the Doctor, the Master‘s plan is not to help those in need, but ultimately to rule the universe. In his initial appearances, he appears to be something of a bored genius who sets dangerous traps for the Doctor to escape from. It seems very much like a game to the Master, one that Pertwee’s Doctor does not appreciate. It’s only after the Doctor impairs the Master‘s ability to escape from Earth that the duel becomes a private war. Making deals with aliens, shrinking people into distorted crushed doll-shapes, having their chairs engulf them… nothing is beyond the evil mind of the Master.
The entirety of season 7 deals with the Master and the Doctor duking it out. There are some high points (the Daemons) and some low ones (Claws of Axos), but it was in many ways a success.
Actor Jon Pertwee had very fond memories of actor Roger Delgado who played the part for three years. He was to appear in the 3rd Doctor’s last story (rumored to be called the Final Game) which would feature the Master apparently saving the Doctor from total destruction.
Tragically, Delgado died in a car crash in 1973 and the character was shelved, most likely out of respect to the actor.
In 1976, Robert Holmes and Philip Hinchcliffe decided to have the character of the Master return. They developed a cunning and sinisterly Gothic tale set on the Doctor‘s home planet of Gallifrey. The story involves the Doctor (played by Tom Baker) receiving a psychic message that, as the story progresses, provides the Doctor with a premonition that the High President is due to be assassinated. Throughout the story, the true manipulator of events is a secret and the Doctor becomes more of a prime suspect in the murder investigation.
It is not until the Doctor finds a shrunken corpse that it becomes clear the Master has returned. A distorted and horrifying creature, this version of the Master is almost an animated corpse in appearance.
Theatrical actor Peter Pratt was asked to play the part because of his immense vocal talents and the voice he gives is so sinister and full of anger that it makes you forget that the character has ping-pong ball eyes. The appearance of the Master in this story rewrote the character as less of a cunning and charming villain but more of a mad force of nature.
In the conclusion, the Master is seen to escape, his destiny unclear.
In 1981, producer John Nathan Turner had taken over the program and decided, much like Hinchcliffe, that it was time for the Master to return.
In the story Keeper of Traken, the Master carefully manipulates the well-meaning and innocent Kassia into doing his bidding. Still a barely animated husk of charred flesh, the Master (here played by Geoffrey Beevers), steals one of the most guarded power sources in the universe, gaining the ability to steal the body of Kassia’s husband Tremas (get it?) and obtains a ‘new lease on life.’
This version of the Master, played by Anthony Ainley, would appear against every living Doctor up until the series ended in 1989. A superb character actor, Ainley took the role very seriously and took very little joy in mingling with the cast during shooting.
Introduced as a revived villain to destroy the indestructible Doctor #4 Tom Baker in his last story Logopolis, the Master became a major foe for incoming Doctor #5 Peter Davison in his first story Castrovalva. The Master was a brilliant character, who used his cunning to manipulate those beneath him, but often used his tissue compression eliminator (or TCE) to either shrink his victims or make them disappear completely (depending on the director).
Ainley gave a stagey and hammy performance that on any other actor would look out of place. But on Anthony, it was the real deal. Clad in black velvet head to toe, the Master was such a force of evil that he goaded the Doctor in his weakest moment in ‘The Caves of Androzani‘, urging the Doctor to die… DIE… DIE!
He even shared screen time with a new female villain the Rani in the Doctor #6 Colin Baker story The Mark of the Rani, a beautiful period story shot in the Ironbridge Gorge Museum.Ainley‘s final televised Doctor Who story is the ironically titled Survival in which he plays the calm and cool Master setting traps for the Doctor as well as the enraged Peter Pratt-like monster attempting to murder the Doctor as an alien world dissolves around them.
With the Master once again a part of the Doctor Who mythos, it will be very interesting to see where they take the character. So far we’ve had one of the most astounding Master moments in last week’s episode, Utopia with Derek Jacobi’s performance.
I can only hope that the quality stays this good.