I have a huge amount of appreciation for the Master: when Derek Jacobi said that iconic line in Utopia it was with good reason that I, along with thousands of other fans, had tangible goosebumps. Because what we most fear in the Master is what he represents – an intriguing glimpse into what the Doctor would be like if he didn’t try to be a good man. And for every excellent episode he does not disappoint. The original and best, Roger Delgado, is utterly sublime in The Daemons, and such is his skill in the role that even in relatively unlikeable stories such as The Time Monster, his charm and his chemistry with Jon Pertwee make the story worth watching.
And of course, as a Timelord the Master shares that great benefit of the Doctor – to recast the actor at will. I will skim over the obvious elephant in the room (Missy) to say simply that I think while most Masters pale in comparison to Delgado, they also get an unfair deal. Anthony Ainley was very good in Logopolis, and I think mainly hindered by direction from John Nathan Turner to play the role like Delgado (including the rubbish beard) and massively camped up. Eric Roberts’ realisation of the role wasn’t actually that bad, and fit with the theme of the movie, while John Sim only suffered from the crime of being asked to mimic my most hated of Doctors – if he had played the role more like Sam Tyler and less like David Tennant I would have been much happier! But what a missed opportunity – Derek Jacobi would have been majestic as the Master, if only he had been allowed to remain for longer.
Oddly enough, I really enjoy the two ‘decayed’ versions of the Master portrayed by Peter Pratt and Geoffrey Beevers – even if the makeup for Beevers could have done with some radical improvement. If the BBC come to their senses and admit that ‘Missy’ was a mistake, I would love to see a reprise of this version of the Master. In the commentary for The Keeper of Traken, Beevers explores the idea that the Master relies on guile and charm to achieve his nefarious ends – there was something shockingly amazing when he is deprived of his mask and forced to be crudely cruel.
So I hugely enjoy the Master – but of the three best recurring enemies he is last and least. Phrased positively, it is because of the quality of the enemies above him – he is in very good company! Phrased negatively – for all of the good episodes, there are too many misses – many of them I have already reviewed! Where he ought to be used as an impact villain, he’s too often used like the Hooded Claw from The Perils of Penelope Pitstop – a perfect pantomime villain. And for that reason, he sadly gets marked down ..