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Every Holmes needs a Moriarty, ever Scooby Doo needs an embittered janitor. The Doctor has the Master, a rival Time Lord who appears to be slightly more successful at Time Lording than his eccentric fellow Gallifreyan (fully working chameleon circuit on his TARDIS, for starters), apart from one problem: he’s mad. In fact, he’s mad and he’s bad, and most definitely dangerous to know.
Despite the many battles he has fought with the Doctor, there are still a few unanswered questions follow in his wake.
1: Who came first? The Master or the Doctor? And who needs the other more?
2: Unless a whole series of Time Lords called the Cake Shop Owner or the Blacksmith suddenly turn out to have existed all along, he and the Doctor are the two Gallifreyans who’ve picked job title names, and added the definitive article. Why?
3: Did the Doctor pick his healing name in opposition to the chaos and destruction caused by his former classmate? Or did the Master, on observing what a rogue Time Lord can get away with, choose to follow the Doctor and try to beat him, picking his name as a form of oneupmanship?
4: What does he actually hope to gain with all of his nefarious plans? He’s not really equipped to rule, being cruel and despotic and far, far too capricious to do anything other than turn countries, planets, galaxies upside down and then run off, giggling. In short, what does he hope to be the Master of? Despair? Or is he merely trying to spoil the Doctor’s day?
Actually, the more that the Master’s character and back-story is explored, the less comprehensible his actions become, which is part of his charm. When he was just a black-hearted rotter (played with devilish calm by Roger Delgado), everyone accepted that because, like Davros and Darth Vader and the Klingons, we all need someone to fear. Why wouldn’t he want to take over the universe? That’s what rotters do:
Then his luck started to go bandy, his final incarnation got all burned up and nasty, and he tried to take his revenge on the Time Lords in general and the Doctor in particular, by framing him for murder (The Deadly Assassin):
And he eventually took over the body of Nyssa’s father, Tremas (played by Anthony Ainley). Let’s not linger too long over how long it took him to find someone whose name was a perfect anagram of his own, script-writers love their little jokes (see also Professor Yana, the Master’s human incarnation, whose surname is the acronym You Are Not Alone, the last thing the Face of Boe says to the Doctor, to warn him that there are still Time Lords in existance: IE THE MASTER). By the time he’s restored to full health, he’s even more of a pantomime villain than before.
Look, here he is, getting up to all sorts of mischief and laughing all the way, like the anti-Santa:
And here he is, absorbing Cheetah power, and fighting with the Doctor one last time:
But while this incarnation of the Master was the kind of evil that would have fitted in well with The Addams Family, his next appearance would have fitted better in The Terminator. Having taken over someone else’s body in order to finally kill off the Eighth Doctor, is the first clue that he’s not just a convenient rotter for the purposes of a TV series, but a psychologically-damaged rotter (played by Eric Roberts) who won’t ever be happy until the Doctor is humiliated, crushed, and killed:
And while there is a lot to carp about in the Eighth Doctor’s movie incarnation, the idea that the Master isn’t so much a classic evil genius as a peculiarly selfish maniac is an idea which only gained traction when the Master returned in the relaunched series. Of course there was also the matter of the Time War, in which the Master is resurrected as a soldier against the Daleks, and runs away to the end of the universe, hiding in human form in the face of overwhelming horror.
Now, Professor Yana (played by Derek Jacobi), he’s a genius, albeit a troubled one. And when he opens that fateful pocket watch and re-adopts the Master’s body, that cruel edge returns to his system, tempered momentarily by his age and experience. It takes one further regeneration (hello, John Simm!) to really bring out the crackpot in his psyche.
But what does he do, once freed? He destroys the last of humanity, turning them into the Toclafane, and he then sets these onto the current humans on the planet Earth. Then there’s a plan to roll their pinballing destruction across all of reality, and why? Because he looked into the time vortex as a child, and as a result he’s always got a pounding headache, that’s why. He’s not just evil, he was driven to take revenge on the universe for allowing that infernal drumming to continue unchecked.
And clearly this is not a man who is happy about seeking medical help, especially from this Doctor.
After this, there’s the matter of a whole planet altered to look like the Master, which is hubris gone mad, and the inadvertant resurrection of the Time Lords, ready to resume the horrors of the Time War where they left off, which is hubris gone madder. Once again in takes the Doctor to sort out the mess, and in doing so, he loses another life. And for what?
Because he really gets on the Master’s nerves, that’s why. Which is possibly the maddest thing of all.
Next: The Rani.
See more posts by Fraser McAlpine
Fraser has been writing and broadcasting about music and popular culture for over 15 years, first at the Top of the Pops website, and most recently for the NME, Guardian and MSN. He also wrote BBC Radio 1's Chart Blog and reviews albums for BBC Radio 2.
He is Anglophenia's current resident Brit, blogging about British slang and running around the Mall taking snaps of the crowd at the Royal Wedding, as well as reigniting a childhood passion for classic Doctor Who and cramming as much music in as he can manage.
Fraser invites you to join him on Twitter: @csi_popmusic