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

The Original Master - Doctor Who Marchester takeover

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

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