Doctor Who – The Master (Part 3 : A New Body, At Last)

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Master and 4th Doctor

Anthony Ainley and Tom Baker (Fourth Doctor)

Today we present to you the third installment (Part One and Part Two proceeded) of our analysis of Doctor Who’s arch-nemesis, The Master.

Having taken over the body of Tremas (wait… that’s an anagram for something, innit?), the Master has been given a renewed life dedicated to destruction, chaos, and humiliating the Doctor. Gone are the debonaire panache of Roger Delgado’s performance and the naked desperation imbued throughout Peter Pratt and Geoffrey Beevers portrayals. Instead, we get melodramatic and campy portrayal by Anthony Ainley.

 

Master and 5th Doctor

Anthony Ainley and Peter Davidson (Fifth Doctor)

Now, let me go on record as saying that I hold no grudge against Ainley or the performances he turned in. In fact, some are quite good. His first full term, in Tom Baker’s final story, “Logopolis,”portends some good matchups in the making. The glee apparent in the Master’s face as he toys and tinkers with the fate of Logopolis and the Universe belies the inherent nonsense of his future adventures (which are either attempt to destroy the Doctor, destroy the Universe, mad power grabs, or Meddling Monk-style history mucking). No, it’s not Ainley’s fault, he just wasn’t given much to do.

 

The Mark of the Rani threesome

Anthony Ainley and Colin Baker (Sixth Doctor)

What Ainley’s Master suffers from is a complete lack of direction. Is he the Doctor’s old friend turned enemy hellbent on destroying our beloved Time Lord completely? Or is he just a Machiavellian power hungry mustache twirling enemy? One feels sorry for the man who clearly relishes the part but succumbs to weak scripts like “Timeflight” or even playing second banana to the main baddies, as in “Mark of the Rani” and “Trial of the Time Lord.” Instead of a bold and new angle (such as we will see later in the New Series), Ainley’s directive is to serve as a Greatest Hits of Delgado with many assets of the predecessor but none of the daring. Many times, Ainley himself isn’t sure which way to play the Master, such as in “The Five Doctors,” where he turns from helpful (though spurned) ally to devious trickster. Not exactly the sort of behavior one would expect from someone who was promised a new life span if he were to help the Doctor make it to the Dark Tower.

 

Master and 7th Doctor

Anthony Ainley and Sylvester McCoy (Seventh Doctor)

It is Ainley’s last performance on the TV series that we see how good of a Master he could have been. In “Survival,” the last storie from the Classic Series, the Master forgoes the maniacal chuckling and the campy theatrics for pure manipulation. We, the fans, are finally given a Master-Doctor showdown worthy of Pertwee and Delgado as our two Time Lords meet in an apocalyptic battle for the Doctor’s very soul. If we fight like animals, we die like animals! And quite like Delgado’s last story, however, there is no truly satisfying end, no denouement that wraps everything up in a neat bow. The Master either lives to fight another day or stays trapped in whatever Hellhole he has created for himself. Just poof and gone. Much like the series itself, the Master ended not with a bang but a whimper.

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And much like the series itself, you cannot keep a good villain down.

 

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