The key thing with a great Master story is how far you can take things before the inevitable triumph of good (Hurrah!) over evil (also Hurrah!). Of course he’s going to lose, but how on earth is he going to lose from such a position of strength? It all seems very unlikely!
Of course, it’s also fun when the Master does his experimental side projects, like a comedian who’s just ‘trying stuff out’. Hence we have his attempt to stop the signing of the Magna Carta, using the finest brains of the Industrial Revolution to speed up Earth’s development and turn it into a power-base (he has a TIME MACHINE, for godsakes), and that morning when he just hung around in the Doctor’s TARDIS cackling to himself.
He’s come a long way from the multi-Master story, The War Games, where three incarnations of the Master team up to steal military figures from history.
What? It’s a valid interpretation.
Here we have our top ten Master stories, mind-picked from all corners of Doctor Who fiction:
10. Scream of the Shalka
I’m going to cheat slightly here. It’s what the Master would do.
Scream of the Shalka isn’t a brilliant story, but its depiction of the Master is excellent. Those of you who pine for further outings for Derek Jacobi as the Master should watch it. He might only be voicing the character, but it’s by far the best bit of this 2003 webcast (written by Father’s Day and Human Nature scribe Paul Cornell). The Master is travelling with the Doctor as his companion. As they are voiced by Jacobi and Richard E. Grant with a permanent underlying hint of bitchiness, one wonders if the makers of Vicious were taking notes.
Certainly for an android replica of his best friend/enemy, the Doctor and the Master have an amusingly ambiguous relationship. Those of you who wondered about the idea of the Doctor and the Master travelling together mentioned in The Last of the Timelords, turns out it’d be pretty damn entertaining.
The Bit Where You Realise How Brilliant It Is: “I AM THE MASTER, AND YOU WILL come to like me when you get to know me.”
Part of Big Finish’s Companion Chronicles range, this tale fills in some of the blanks of the Master’s adventures post-TV Movie. Featuring Geoffrey Beevers And His Voice of Purest Silken Evil, this sees a nice dollop of pleasing continuity-pollyfilla as the Master – trapped on Earth after escaping the Eye of Harmony – floats in the form of a disembodied gas creature over Victorian London, escapes the wreck of the Titanic, secretly runs all the casinos in Las Vegas, and generally screws with everyone’s heads.
This is a side of the Master we don’t usually get to see, and with the format allowing him to relate his tale himself, we see things from his own unique, insidious perspective.
The Bit Where You Realise How Brilliant It Is: “…on the count of three, I want you to pull the trigger. One…two…thre-”
8. The Sea Devils
In which other stuff happens (Donald Sumpter is on a submarine, Stuart Fell does a back-flip, and there’s cooperation from the Royal Navy), but mainly the Doctor and the Master have a sword fight. The Doctor wins. The Master then cheats by throwing a knife at him when the Doctor’s back was turned and then claims to the guards that he was doing so in self-defence.
In Grantham, a young Margaret Thatcher was taking notes, but she never could hope to match Roger Delgado for sheer charisma.
Incidentally, the Doctor and the Master have another sword fight in The King’s Demons, but this one is much better, partly because it’s not in The King’s Demons, but chiefly because the Doctor stops to have a sandwich halfway through.
The Bit Where You Realise How Brilliant It Is: The bit where the Doctor and the Master have a sword fight.
Master, part of Big Finish’s excellent Villain Trilogy (with other stories entitled Davros and Omega) is essentially a competition to see who can do the most bowel-loosening voice. In a cast including Philip Madoc and Geoffrey Beevers, it’s actually Sylvester McCoy who ultimately wins as he relates a story from the Doctor and the Master’s childhood. Who knew that McCoy’s voice could drop to the such deliciously creepy notes? There were no hints of this in Battlefield.
The Sound of Drums might contradict its origin story, but for fans of the New Adventures this is almost the definitive Master story. Death and Time feature (the former very heavily), and this feels very much like someone has tried to write a play in the style of that book range.
The Bit Where You Realise How Brilliant It Is: The Master to Death: “Oh, do be quiet woman.”
The Master drinks loads of gin and hangs out with cats. Probably. Also he becomes more animalistic and vicious, which gives us a nice mid-point between his usual self and the bitter, angry husk of The Deadly Assassin. Given false teeth and a licence to act like a cat-person, Anthony Ainley makes it work, managing to combine his usual enjoyment of the role with a more dangerous edge. Sometimes the Master seems to actually enjoy becoming less bound by civilisation. Becoming more catlike, he has another excuse to taunt, torture and kill things, and also to generally act superior to everything else in the universe.
For once, he actually tries to kill the Doctor (albeit in a fairly roundabout way, with the hefty application of Eighties Youths), and as ever delights in putting him through the grinder (although not the grindr, even if this is a fan fiction waiting to happen).
The Bit Where You Realise How Brilliant It Is: “Do you know any nice people?”
5. Terror of the Autons
While the Untempered Schism story is all mythical and tragic and that, it doesn’t quite prepare you for the idiosyncrasies of the Master’s methods as much as his landing at a circus and hypnotising the owner into doing his bidding. Then he uses the circus acts to help him burgle a museum. Why oh why couldn’t the budget have stretched to showing that entire operation?
The Master would still be utilising unexpected resources eighteen years later in Survival, where he decides to go to the local youth centre to provide him with some muscle. Do you see the box? The Master isn’t thinking there.
So, why a circus? It really doesn’t matter. This is the Master. Don’t expect him to make sense, just sit back and be entertained by his taste for the needlessly theatrical.
The Bit Where You Realise How Brilliant It Is: Despite time being of the essence, and it only being witnessed if someone somehow manages to evade his cunning trap involving a powerful bomb, the Master shrinks Gooch and hides him in his own lunch-box on the off chance that everyone survives and decides to look in there.
Funny, terrifying, dangerous, and massively overcomplicated: this is a quintessential Master moment.
I watched Utopia on BBC iPlayer during a break between shifts, while my friends (who had seen it the night before) watched me watching it.
I am told that I moved approximately nine inches forward in my seat during those forty-five minutes, only taking my eyes off the screen as the credits rolled. I looked at my friends. They looked at me. I tried to speak. They said ‘I know.’
Later, at work, someone asked me why I looked so happy.
‘Was it Doctor Who?’ they said.
It was THAT EXCITING.
The Bit Where You Realise How Brilliant It Is: “I… … am … … the Masterr.”
3. The Daemons
The Master is a village priest, and he’s trying to summon the Devil. All that stands in his way is the combined forces of UNIT, the Doctor, a witch, and the irrationality of Jo Grant.
It’s notable that in this story the Master commands a stone statue to kill someone (giving them the gift of a good Bok), demands everyone become his slave, and he still comes across as more suave and reasonable than the Third Doctor. Pertwee, despite requesting his “moments of charm”, spends most of the five episodes being incredibly crabbit, at times verging on full-Marenghi.
The finale of series eight, where the Master appears in every story, The Daemons remains the best juxtaposition of the Master’s insanity and a low-key backdrop (no Cloudbases or atomic clocks to be seen here). Cheers Dennis Wheatley. We owe you one.
The Bit Where You Realise How Brilliant It Is: The Master calls a meeting where he demands, as if this is entirely reasonable, that the entire village submit to his will.
2. The Deadly Assassin
“You’d delay an execution to pull the wings off a fly.”
The Doctor says this of the Master here, and you can completely imagine this leering, bug-eyed skeleton hunched over with an insect in his fingers, tugging slowly. Just because.
The Deadly Assassin rids the Master of all his charm and charisma, replacing him with a charred Death-like figure motivated solely by revenge. It’s a somewhat more terrifying proposition, though like many of Robert Holmes’ disfigured villains the Doctor’s solution to his threat is more physical and straightforward than you’d expect, the final contest being more of a lukewarm The Reichenbach Falls tribute, albeit one that casually writes the Gallifreyan New Testament through the medium of barking nemeses.
Still, despite most of his flesh falling off, the Master has a certain panache. He’s still hiding shrunken bodies for folk to find, and leaving bloody great javelins in people’s spines.
The Bit Where You Realise How Brilliant It Is: “You do not understand hatred as I understand it.”
1. The Glorious Dead
Of course, when it comes to huge, universe-traversing returns of the Master in a new guise that have been seeded years in advance, the comic strip did it first (in the distant future, the year 2000). And such cliffhangers! From the final part of The Fallen, to the revelation of the identity of Cardinal Morningstar, to the Doctor waking up in bed with Grace Holloway, The Glorious Dead keeps you on your toes. It really is one of those ones where you can’t see how on Dhakan the Doctor is going to win, shaking the Doctor to his foundations, having fun with the medium while exploring the Doctor’s character, before restoring him anew in time for the final confrontation.
Reading it now, some elements might seem somewhat familiar, but that’s only because good ideas crop up again and again, and you’ll have seen some of these on telly.
Definitely the best story involving the Master, a friendly Cyberman, and a bit where the Doctor thinks he’s Charlie Brown.
The Bit Where You Realise How Brilliant It Is: Izzy’s letter home to Max.
One not to watch: Timeflight. Well, it’s not very good is it?
Doctor Who: The Monster Collection comes out today, Monday the 30th of September. Buy it now at the BBC Shop
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