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…

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Doctor Who: The Master in the 1980s – “Somewhat Reduced Circumstances”

The Master in the 1980s - the Doctor Who Marchster takeover

You will continue to obey me! The Marchster takeover reaches its mid-point. The Master had burned brightly before fading to a surely inevitable end during the 1970s. The 1980s brought a new Doctor and Jon Nathan-Turner, a producer who wanted to fill out the TARDIS crew and saw the strength in this youngest ever Doctor having a nemesis of note. A decade of survival beckoned, as the Master’s fiendish plots became increasingly self-absorbed. The Second Marchster… A select journey from Geoffrey Beever’s skulking well-spoken loon to Anthony Ainley’s smarmy psychopath…

THE MASTER HAD ENJOYED, AND SUFFERED, A PRODUCTIVE 10 YEARS ON DOCTOR WHO, FROM HIS GLORIOUS ARRIVAL ON EARTH TO SCRAPING A LIVING AS A WRAITH-LIKE ASSASSIN. He couldn’t stay crispy for long however, though the effects of his misadventures would be felt for a good time yet.

Having so far met his nemesis only once during his long-lived fourth incarnation, it was timely that the Master’s rebirth should come as the scarf and frock coat were locked back in the TARDIS costume room. It was certainly a rebirth, though not a comfortable one – as the Master carved his longest on-screen life yet from the tattered familial tragedy of others.

The Keeper of Traken (Season 18, 1981)

Envious Eyes

Having escaped E-space and lost two companions in the form of K9 and Romana, the Doctor’s trip to explain how he could mislay a Time Lady to the Time Lords on Gallifrey is interrupted. Fittingly, after the pomp legend of The Deadly Assassin, there is an admirable dream-like quality to The Keeper of Traken. Although the serial’s name doesn’t so much concern the incumbent Keeper, gate-crashing the TARDIS in his reality-warping chair like Metroid of Jack Kirby’s New Gods, but the position itself – and the envious eyes that covet it.

New Beginnings

The final premonitory days of the Fourth Doctor

On the way, we’re in the final premonitory days of the Fourth Doctor. It’s unfair to say that Tom Baker was sleep-walking by this point. The science of script editor Christopher H. Bidmead acted as sterner control than the occasional frippery of Douglas Adams a year previously. Though, in a season that carried a loose arc of entropy, the Doctor was subconsciously building a new family for his future incarnation. From E-Space came the first – Adric, the precocious maths genius teen who doesn’t make the best foil for the Fourth Doctor, but who was soon to make friends in N-Space.

While on Traken, the Keeper has detected evil in the family union of the benign Tremas, his soon to be wife Kassia and his daughter Nyssa, as he relates through an extended flash-back sequence much like a fairy tale. And if the idea of a galactic empire held together by universal harmony sounds too good to be true, it most certainly is.

Calcified Evil

A fairly blunt metaphor for the Master himself

The concept of the Melkur is a fascinating one, retaining a considerable amount of mystery thanks to its Henry Moore-like design and the fact that we never really learn much about it. Everything is carried along on superstition and good will, although it’s also a fairly blunt metaphor for the Master himself, twisted into his current form through his pure evil. On a planet where time is a concept not worth tracking, it appears the Melkur is embedded in the gardens outside the main chamber for many years, giving Kassia time to truly become “married to the statue she tends”. Read more…

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

The Original Master - Doctor Who Marchester takeover

You will obey me! Whovember has ended, and that’s not gone unnoticed. Welcome to the Marchester takeover. When creating a Moriarty to match the Doctor’s Holmes, the Who team had to wheel out a figure with staying power, little did they know how successful they’d be. He arrived, a stylish and sinister figure, capturing a popularity when the show was already nearing a decade old. Things would never be the same again… To start this three-part takeover… A select journey from imperious Delgado to bug-eyed husk…

WHOVEMBER #4 PROCLAIMED SEASON 12 TO BE NOT ONLY THE GREATEST SEASON IN WHO HISTORY, BUT THE FIRST ARC. THAT’S TRUE, BUT THERE WERE CONTENDERS BEFORE, LOOSE ARCS WHERE THE SERIAL FORMAT JUST COULDN’T CONTAIN A COMMON ELEMENT. Jon Pertwee’s second season sits pretty as the closest contender. There, as always, the serials sat distinct from each other. But while the Doctor’s exile had brought the show its greatest stability, with consistent sets and cast, Season Eight added an extra component. And of course that dapper silhouette belonged to The Master. The season’s shared villain, linking every story, popping up and winding like a snake through tales of Doomsday Weapons, Axons, Daemons and Autons. While Season Seven had brought colour, Season Eight brought fun. And it all started at the circus…

The Terror of the Autons (Season Eight, 1971)

Perhaps the start of the end

Doctor Who had undergone its most significant reboot with the arrival of Jon Pertwee. Forget changing support cast, switching leading man and even altering the TARDIS set. Now we not only had colour but a fixed-Earth setting and a large and stable cast. The new production team headed by producer Barry Letts and Script Editor Terrance Dicks needed a writer they could rely on to set out the stall in the season premiere, so for what became Spearhead from Space they turned fast-rising star writer Robert Holmes. Not only reliable and steady hands, but one of the greatest British television writers of the 1960s and 1970s. Holmes name would become indelibly linked to Doctor Who, and that’s not through quantity as much as sheer quality. Sontarans, Autons, Gallifrey, the brain numbing monotony of Time Lord society – those and many more emerged from the mind and pen of Holmes. Onto Gallifrey later, but things must begin at the beginning, or in this case perhaps the start of the end. Because one year on from introducing the third Doctor, Holmes was tasked with creating his implacable Moriarty.

Enter the Master

“I am usually referred to as the Master”

It’s a great arrival. A TARDIS unmistakably appears, but one with a working Chameleon circuit. And with precision timing the Master emerges from the horsebox to make an immediate and indelible impression.

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. As the Master, Delgado cut a smooth and sartorial figure, with his dark suit, Nehru collar, slick hair and crucially piebald goatee. Delgado’s superior sneer and almost always unruffled delivery gifted much comedy to the character without sacrificing any of the threat.

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.

Yes, the Master was designed in every way to be the perfect foil to the Doctor, and Delgado’s ability to elevate a potentially horribly one dimensional character to the charismatic third dimension ensured that the Master would have incredibly staying power – as it turned out, well beyond regeneration… Read more…

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