Doctor Who: The Master through the Decades – The Classic Series Compression Eliminated

The Master 1970s 1980s 1990s

For the past two years, Jokerside has tracked the Doctor’s arch-nemesis through time… Well, through the past five decades. From his suave arrival in the 1970s to her tussles with the Twelfth Doctor, Jokerside presents the summary… The Master throughout the Classic Series!

IT’S THE DOCTOR’S 53RD BIRTHDAY, BUT IT’S STILL A GOOD FEW YEARS OFF THE GOLDEN ANNIVERSARY WHEN WE FIRST SAW HIM CATCH UP WITH AN OLD SCHOOL FRIEND. ARRIVING IN 1971, EIGHT YEARS AFTER THE DOCTOR, THE MASTER QUICKLY ESTABLISHED HIMSELF AT THE HIGH TABLE OF WHO VILLAINS. With some Doctors, particularly his fifth and third incarnations, the Master was a pervasive, era-defining foe. During his fourth incarnation, the first of the villain’s rare appearances proved to be a classic against the adversary. While almost the entirety of his eighth incarnation would have the Master in opposition. He’s the foe who has caused the death of at least two, possibly three, of the Doctor’s 13 lives so far. And that puts him far ahead of the other great contenders for the throne of evil.

Series 9 of the New Series kicked off with a spat between Davros and the Master, the latter now in her Mistress form, one-sided as it was. The creator of the Daleks emerged three years after the Master, but which one could be said to be the Doctor’s nemesis? Each character is a scientific genius, has put up with huge physical discomfort and revealed layers of intricate hate over the years, but there’s an important difference. Davros is the background to the Doctor’s great opposition, the one we’ve followed from its very beginning. But the Master, purely malevolent, emerged fully formed with so much of his back-story with the Doctor and the universe in general, hidden in time.

Where from Whovember?

For the anniversary Whovember retrospectives, Jokerside took each of the Classic Series Doctors, and followed a specific journey through each incarnation. Having completed the Eleventh Doctor retrospective, where else could Jokerside go but the Moriarty to the Time Lord hero’s Holmes? Taking a similar tack with the Doctor’s nemesis, what started as the spring-based MarchSter series grew to span six decades. From suave opportunist to desperate survivalist in one era, from android to Time Lady in another. When it comes to the classic years, it all began in a circus…

  1. Doctor Who: The Master in the 1970s – Arrival of the “Unimaginative Plodder”

Terror of the Autons, Season 8 (1971)

The Original Master - Doctor Who Marchester takeoverWe should have known when it started so surreally… At the beginning of Doctor Who’s Eighth Season an eccentric Time Lord, popping up in a Monty Python-going-on-Douglas Adams way, warns the Doctor that his old school colleague had arrived on Earth with the marvellous parting shot, “oh, good luck!” We’d already seen the Master arrive by that point, setting an immediate dapper impression in the crucially off-kilter setting of a circus. As Jokerside observed, “In just a few lines, in his first scene (appearing before the Doctor), Robert Holmes and Roger Delgado define a cool, impeccable, menacing and powerful nemesis.”

Indeed, Robert Holmes made yet another crucial contribution to the fabric of the series by shaping a brilliant Moriarty to the Doctor’s academic, occasionally Venusian Aikido-flaunting, Holmes:

“The Doctor has never worn facial hair, except when in disguise or imprisoned for years in a dwarf star alloy cube, apart from the odd sweeping sideburn that the 1970s couldn’t control. The Master… Had a beard, a goatee that may as well have had a “twiddle this ‘tache menacingly” label hanging from it. The Master had a fine taste in suits, the Doctor had a frilly shirt, multiple coloured velvet jackets and a cape! The Master was a force for evil, with hypnotic control cowardice. The Doctor was noble, occasionally grumpy but compassionate. The Master had a working chameleon circuit in a TARDIS with an occasionally black interior, occasionally reversed. They both dished out the same faint praise to each other, but then again they are both Time Lords.”

But Holmes’ doesn’t just deal in symmetry in shaping a character that would remain as antagonist in every story that season:

“The Master arrives with supreme superiority, no bad feat when facing off against the Third Doctor. It’s in Terror of the Autons that the sparring starts, but where the pretty compelling evidence that the Master is an all-round more skilled scientist than the Doctor is set. Why else would the Doctor feel the need to ridicule him so much?” Read more…

Doctor Who: The Master in the 1990s – “I’m glad one of us is amused”

TV Movie The Master Eric Roberts

 

One MaRCHster long-read to unite them all…

As the Doctor Who: The Movie reaches 20 years old, this is it – a special bonus MArchSTER looking at 1996’s peculiar and divisive incarnation of the Master. An irresistible glance, as oddly, the cycle of the Doctor’s Time Lord rival almost came full circle…

“Humans, always seeing patterns in things that aren’t there”

OVER A DECADE AFTER DOCTOR WHO’S SUCCESSFUL RETURN TO BRITISH TELEVISION, THE WEIGHT OF HINDSIGHT HANGING OVER THE DOCTOR’S SHORT FORAY ACROSS THE ATLANTIC COULDN’T BE GREATER. Perhaps it’s no surprise that a film that struggled to accommodate the wealth of the show’s history, while refusing to fully reboot from the roots of its original run, ended up dipping into the past so much. And through the trials and tribulations that marked its emergence, despite its resolutely fin de siècle setting, how fitting that the American TV Movie paid tribute to the Master in the decade of his first appearance…

The Television Movie (1996)

A history of villainy

“You want me to kill you?”

The path Doctor Who took to America was long and tortuous. Even when it reached production, the sheer number of stakeholders on both sides of the Atlantic made tough going. There’s no doubt that between the stand-offish/love the property found at the BBC of the time and evangelistic/waning interest among American production companies, casting demands, excessive script notes and strengthening Canadian dollars that impacted its Vancouver production, what reached the screen wasn’t quite what anyone expected.

Philip Segal was the producer who saw the opportunity and pushed to bring the property, left fallow by the BBC. Having fond memories of watching the show while growing up in the UK, before he emigrated to the US and ultimately joined Steven Spielberg’s Amblin, His single-minded passion lies behind its very existence.

When pre-production finally swung into gear after years of protracted placing of jigsaw pieces, creating the Bible for the potential American series fell to writer John Leekley. A writer who grew an obsession with Pertwee era-Who during development, but was set to become one of the franchise’s lost figures. His outline was canon-defying, pitching previous Doctor Who mentor, ally and enemy Cardinal Borusa as the Doctor’s grandfather, aiding his grandson on a quest to find the Doctor’s his missing father Ulysses. The plot of what would become the series’ back-door pilot, drafted in 1994, fell to the Doctor’s escape from Gallifrey, a trip to London and a meeting with Churchill during World War II. Segal blamed this on his Third Doctor and UNIT obsession and a “bad case of Dad’s Army”. Leekley’s ensuing Indiana Jones-styled script pushed Steven Spielberg out of the frame, coincided with the arrival of Trevor Walton, Fox’s head of TV movies, and ultimately forced the writer’s removal. Robert de Laurentiis entered, steering the script away from Borusa, introduced a comic companion but retaining Leekley’s concept of the Master as the scripts main antagonist.

When the script fell to writer Matthew Jacobs in 1995, a wonderfully unruffled interviewee on the subject, whose father incidentally had a guest appearance in the 1966 serial The Gunfighters, he was aided by the BBC’s Jo Wright in an executive producing (and key holding) role during the sharp run-up to production. As Jacobs has said, ““My script was basically Doctor Who am I?” World War II was out, Gallifrey too, and continuity returned with the inclusion of Sylvester McCoy’s Seventh Doctor. With minimal dialogue, he was set to regenerate into Paul McGann who had seen off a number of rivals including his brother Mark to land the main role. With the canon reinstated, the Master was confirmed, continuing the antagonism that led back to his first appearance in 1971’s Terror of the Autons.

But in a production that aside from its great BBC investment, enjoyed a British director, star, two executive producers and writer, at least, the villain was what Segal called a “line in the sand”. Fox and Universal insisted on a named American actor from a prescribed list, which Segal circumspectly added was a triumph of “commercialisation over creative rationale”. And so the Master took an unexpected new form… Read more…

Doctor Who: The Master in the 2010s – “I need my friend back”

The Mistress, Time Lady and Cyberman

You’re still obeying me? Excellent. The MaRCHster takeover reaches the current age end with quite possibly the Master’s most successful comeback. But the Twelfth Doctor, made for the kind of rivalry that was denied his predecessor, encountered a Master very different to previous iterations. this was one intent on taking us all for hellluva ride. Far removed from the tin-pot schemes of the 1980s and all those miserable constraints of survival, the time of the Mistress was upon us. A tale of … Hey Missy!

Dark Water and Death in Heaven (Series 8, 2014)

IT LOOKS LIKE THE MASTER, NOW THE MISTRESS, IS BACK FOR GOOD. SERIES EIGHT WAS EMPHATIC ABOUT IT, BEFORE SERIES NINE WAS PLAYFUL… Showing her face in almost every episode during 2014, the Master’s total appearances were very nearly 25% greater by the end of that year than the beginning. All those little asides may have seemed arbitrary, even after the great reveal of Dark Water, but programme credits ensured they were canonically embedded every time. Add in her appearance in the opening two-parter of Series Nine and that rogue’s easily amassing a frequency of appearances on a par with her/his early 1970s arrival. Time to stop mixing pronouns and determiners – we all know who we’re talking about. And Missy is undoubtedly already in the league of Delgado’s dapper ‘80s incarnation and Ainley’s smug ‘80s successor. Michelle Gomez’ recent nomination for a BAFTA, something Peter Capaldi’s Doctor astonishingly didn’t achieve for his work in Heaven Sent alone, can’t be underestimated. This incarnation, quite impossible to follow, will be around some time. And there are signs that the show itself is moving in her wake. As if in acknowledgement, the last series saw the current grey haired grump of a Doctor developed an increasing penchant for velvet jackets and capes last seen during the master’s prime.

Masterful appearances The Master in Doctor Who
How the Master’s canonical* appearances stack up in 2016. (*with the honorary inclusion of 2003’s Scream of the Shalka)

40 years on from his arrival, the Master’s life cycle has reached ever new levels of absurd drama. Yes, even more than his bug-eyed husk scheming on Gallifrey or years hidden in a garden on Traken. In fact, after the slide from suave villainy to desperate skeleton during the 1970s and those ridiculous grasps at ongoing survival through tenuous plots of the 1980s, the 21st century has set a new bar for villainous highs and impossible odds of survival lows. Last decade, the Master’s return was hidden in plain sight, through rumour and electioneering. It was a light but neat exploration of what Moffat inadvertently branded the show’s timey-wimeyness in that same series; a counter-balance to the alternative timeline year of hell that formed from his actions in the last episode of the series. The Master who fought impossibly, and gothically, back from the dead to see off the Tenth Doctor at The End of Time was never quite the same as a result. He was still brilliant, still unhinged, but with flashes of skull that recalled his death-tempting slumps of the past. He wasn’t a complete incarnation and was last seen dragging Rassilon and the Time Lords back into the Great Time War from which the cowardly rogue had previously taken great pains to escape. If the Master was going to return it would have to be breaking the Time Lock and overcoming the mystery of Gallifrey that has done much to distinguish the New Series from the Classic

A new world

“Those words from me are yours now”

The world the Mistress slowly returns to is a whole lot bleaker than the one the Master left, but that’s partly down to her convoluted scheme. From the Twelfth Doctor’s debut in Deep Breath Series 8 is a bleak one over all, dogged by death and war, taking breaks in the dainty, absurd teatime surroundings of the show’s mysterious new Mary Poppins. The quick, sad and blunt beginning of Dark Water reconfirms that thanatopsis, as if it was needed. There’s still a light spin on a tried Moffat trope as the old lady’s confused voice, employing that well known Tenth Doctor line, “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry,” tells Clara that Danny Pink is dead. And so that strange relationship comes to a close in an extraordinary opening to a season finale that’s even more bizarrely the show’s first two-parter in three years. It doesn’t quite scan considering the previous series of the pair’s relationship, but sets a fast rolling beginning not for the drama but the concept. So begins a story that starts and ends in deceit, in fact it’s riddled by it. Read more…

Doctor Who: The Master in the 2000s – “No beard this time… well, a wife”

Master The Master John Simm

When it came to the 21st century, we should have known we were in for a helluva ride. Far removed from the tin-pot schemes of the 1980s and the side-notes of the previous decade, the time of the Master was upon us. Having escaped the Time War by the skin of his overstretched regenerations, even the Master couldn’t have guessed how big he was going to get. A select journey from homicidal Prime Ministers to paradox machines…

The Sound of Drums and The Last of the Time Lords (Series 3, 2007)

IF COINCIDENCE HAS A FIELD DAY ANYWHERE, IT’S IN THE VAST AND CONTRADICTORY EXPANSE OF THE TIME VORTEX. And so the third series of the refreshed, renewed and lightly rebooted Doctor Who found at the end of time and the last stand of humanity when a chance encounter with an old but doddery genius, a forgetful but kind, old professor left the TARDIS crew stranded and the Doctor, in the best and worst way, not the last of his race.

Hindsight of subsequent six series can’t dull the freshness of Russell T Davies gratuitous dystopian trick in the antepenultimate episode of Series 3, just about kicking off the show’s first three-parter since 1989. In 2005’s first series, Davies had returned the Daleks to the small screen, navigating the intricacies of the Terry Nation estate to bring some Pepper-Pot classics back to the show. In the second year came the not so imperious return of the Cybermen, this time opting for a parallel universe origin tale. Following hotly behind the unexpected Macra cameo in Series 3’s Gridlock, the Master was the next obvious candidate to make a return, and so completing a set of classic villains and monsters, who’d rocked up in the New Series in the same order as they had during the 1960s and 1970s. The Master was a big scalp of course, as the production team had as much fun hinting about his return as fanboys had speculating. Take the guest starring appearance of Anthony Head in Series 2’s School Reunion, carefully flashing up in the series trailer next to partially obscured sign “…Master”. Of course, he was the “… Headmaster”, and despite enjoying the Western stand-off he had with the Doctor, fans retreated to their lairs waiting for the inevitable. And so it came. The first new Time Lord in a world very much built around the idea that the Doctor was alone, the last of his kind.

Was that really six series ago?

Straight to the Point

“Oh, a nice little game of hide and seek, I love that”

Following the events of Utopia, surprisingly resilient tension-filled momentum that remains unbeaten in the show, the resulting two-part finale has no intention of hanging about. There’s a fresh Master, force regenerated to match a bounding incarnation of the Doctor (and no doubt taking advantage of a fresh regeneration cycle bestowed on him by the Time Lords before cowardice took over), hijacking the Doctor’s TARDIS and heading into the unknown of space and time. Fortunately, with the traditional vortex effect, Captain Jack’s old vortex manipulator, which would stay with the show for some time to come, hurls the Doctor, Jack and Martha into our present day to set about discovering what became of the rogue Time Lord.

Absolute Power

“The Master is Prime Minister of Great Britain”

The Master, stable and secure as a majority-backed, popular and time-rich Prime Minister is a great conceit. Not only does it let Russell T Davies turn his scripts back to pointed politicism but also saves the usual skulduggerous slow reveal of the Master’s plot that had on more than one occasion reduced him to pantomime. It also gives us a glimpse of the Master at full power, a considerable challenge for the Doctor to overcome but also height of great distance for a defeated Master to fall. The Master had never been so outlandish and sadistic. And that’s saying something. Although there is more in common with his original suave, indifferent, amoral and confident appearance in a sequel four decades before than had been seen for years, what would unravel from these heightened stakes is true marmite for Whovians.

We are allowed plenty of time to watch this incarnation in action, from teasing and murdering at will to sending very specific messages to the Doctor and crucially, his companions. John Simm’s incarnation may be a little strained, just as the Tennant version of the Doctor was, but in many ways is also picks up traits from the Ainley incarnation who’d happily sneer at the lesser mortals. Far removed from the 1980s however, he’s dispensed with his faux-suave nature as he’s rediscovered his taste for large-scale plots (it helps to have real taste buds back) and finally, an appreciation of companions. Both the Doctors and of his own. Of course, the taste for larger scale plotting had really returned during the 1996 TV Movie, along with the wet shave. But who would have put any space currency on both remaining with him after meeting the Eye of Harmony.

After the future Earth smashing of the Series One finale and the monster mash-up, London bash-up of Series Two, the third series needed to be as large as this international, universe threatening romp and he was the Time Lord for the job.

Filling the TARDIS

“Mr Saxon does like a pretty face”

Perhaps the strangest change for this Master is, much to multiple Doctor’s amusement in the succeeding short Time Crash, is… His wife. The rather strange first lady of Britain is later revealed to be very much The Master’s companion – the first time we’ve seen him adopt one as the Doctor might. Aside from broadening the drama, it’s hard not to see this as a reflection of the fact that a partner-less leader is simply not electable in this day and age, psychic boost or not.

Despite having the time to manipulate events at source, the Master’s Harold Saxon’s has invented his past to gain the top job as the effective cameo from Nichola McAuliffe’s journalist highlights. And best of all, the real icing on the cake: his rise to power was possible thanks to the power void left by the actions of a very angry Tenth Doctor, dispatching Prime Minister Harriet Jones at the end of The Runaway Bride. Yes, this is a plot well laid. And while Utopia was a novelty, a fairy-tale glimpse into what could have been with a kindly and skilled, ‘better’ version of the Edwardian Doctor, it’s clear that these last two sons of Gallifrey, the Doctor and the Master, are fully entwined. Read more…

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