Doctor Who – Ranking the Masters

Over the years the role of the Doctor’s arch-nemesis has been played by a diverse range of actors and although some have had far more time in the part than others, all have made unique contributions to defining the role of the villainous character. But after nearly ten incarnations of the beloved villain, how to they rank against each other?

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9 – Peter Pratt

Having only played the Master in one televised story, The Deadly Assassin, Peter Pratt is perhaps the least-known of the Master actors, particularly since his face was obscured by the gruesome mask that depicts this incarnation’s decayed appearance. His role in the episode in which he appears is brief, but significant – by engineering a conspiracy on Gallifrey, the Master attempts to steal the Sash of Rassilon and restore his damaged body. During this scheme he encounters the Fourth Doctor several times, and there are some great scenes between Petetr Pratt and Tom Baker. Unfortunately, due to the restrictive nature of the costume, Pratt doesn’t really get a chance to make the role his own – particularly since half the time it is difficult to understand what he is saying. In the end this incarnation resorts to ranting and raving, and whilst that is not unusual for the Master, Pratt never really gets the chance to portray any of the nuance of the character.

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8 – Eric Roberts

Unlike Paul McGann, who returned to Doctor Who following his part in the 1996 TV Movie in the form of Big Finish Audios the same decade, Eric Roberts left it a little longer before returning to reprise his role in the Audios – a pity really, since he did actually show promise during the TV Movie. Whilst there were undoubtedly issues with the direction of the Movie, and certain aspects of the film from the script to the costume design were questionable, Roberts does play a great villain, and it was clear despite his inexperience with the role of the Master that he at least knew how to play a deranged scheming megalomaniac. It would have been nice to see his version of the Master develop in Eighth Doctor Audios, but that role later went to Alex Macqueen. Still, Roberts is finally returning to the role in a new series of the Diary of River Song, of all things, so there is still hope for his incarnation. Speaking of Macqueen, though…

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7 – Alex Macqueen

Technically Eric Roberts’ successor in terms of the Master’s chronological timeline (probably…) Alex Macqueen’s incarnation takes on a far more delighted and almost child-like direction – he seems to always see the funny side to being pure evil, and although he has appeared exclusively in audios so far his version of the Master is clearly distinctive from the classic incarnations of the Master. Clearly inspired by the Simm incarnation, Macqueen does bridge the gap between the Classic and New Series Masters effectively, and he is a great foil for the Eighth Doctor. Interestingly, although this incarnation is best known for his appearances against the Eighth Doctor, this incarnation actually debuted  against the Seventh Doctor, and Alex Macqueen also voiced the decayed incarnation possessing his incarnation’s body against the Sixth Doctor. Both the Macqueen and Beevers incarnations regain their own minds to face off against the Seventh Doctor in The Two Masters, which incidentally is the first multi-Master story in performed Doctor Who, which is a testament to both actor’s skill as they do great impressions of each other’s specific Master personalities.

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6 – John Simm

Being the first Master incarnation to be depicted on screen post-regeneration, Simm’s incarnation initially came off as a bit too wacky and mad to really be the same Master that fans remember from the Classic Series. Whilst the gaps have since been filled by various Audios, fans at the time did concede that this was the Master immediately following the horrors he experienced in the Time War, and it was very possible that he had simply gone totally insane.Whilst Simm does have some character moments with  David Tennant’s Doctor and does a fantastic job of playing a crazed lunatic, unfortunately throughout his two appearances in the Russell T. Davies era his incarnation is never given a chance to slow down, and even when there are moments between the Doctor and this incarnation of the Master, they are always overshadowed by this incarnation’s instability – either through the ‘drumming’ arc or the fact that he is hungry for human flesh. Thankfully, Moffat gave this incarnation a bit more nuance in Series 10, and Simm shows his true talents as he effortlessly carries the role of a more Classic-themed Master perfectly.

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5 – Anthony Ainley

The official ‘replacement’ for Roger Delgado in the 1980s, The only real criticism that can be set against Ainley’s version of the Master is that he is in fact too good at emulating his predecessor. Even so, Ainley does make his own mark on the character, and develops the role over his long tenure that spans the last three Doctors of the televised Classic Series, and he is the definitive version of the Master for many Doctor Who fans. Known for his flamboyant personality, Ainley’s Master seemed to hate the Doctor a fair deal more than Delgado’s incarnation did, and his plans often revolve around achieving his ultimate goal to kill the Doctor. Still, like Delgado’s incarnation, he was not above siding with the Doctor if he felt it necessary – often leading to moments in which his true allegiances are a mystery, as in one of the most memorable scenes of The Five Doctors.

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4 – Derek Jacobi

Despite only playing the Master briefly in Utopia, Derek Jacobi’s performance immediately sold him to audiences as the genuine article, perhaps even more so than John Simm’s incarnation did in the same episode, and it stands as a testament to his incredible ability as an actor that Jacobi could effectively snap from being a lovable, innocent old man to a violent and psychotic killer. Needless to say fans were eager to see this more of this Master, and having been given his own Big Finish series as well as appearing in the U.N.I.T. spinoff series, the Jacobi incarnation definitely deserves a return in the TV show itself.

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3 – Geoffrey Beevers

Initially appearing in just one episode of the Classic Series, The Keeper of Traken, Beevers would later reprise his role as the Master in the Big Finish Audios, and it is in these audios that he truly excels. This particular incarnation of the Master is interesting as he has more on his mind than simply conquest or domination – most of his plans revolve around survival or somehow acquiring more regenerations in order to prolong his life. That being said, his multiple appearances in various Big Finish Audios have allowed for some great character moments between his incarnation and various Doctors, with a particular highlight being the Seventh Doctor audio Master. Beever’s greatest asset to the role is his distinctive voice, which makes his audios all the better, as his line delivery is always spot on.

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2 – Michelle Gomez

The first female incarnation of the Master proved the perfect foil to the Twelfth Doctor thanks to both Michelle Gomez’s dynamic portrayal fueled by her interesting personality and the fascinating direction that Steven Moffat took the character, particularly during his final series as showrunner. Known as Missy, Gomez’s interpretation of the Master pays homage to many previous incarnations, particularly Delgado, and shocked fans after appearing regularly as a mystery plot arc throughout Series 8 only to drop the bombshell that she was actually the Master as the plot twist cliffhanger to the penultimate episode of the series. Following her brief return in the opener of Series 9, Missy went on to be one of the most fascinating elements of the incredible Series 10, and her redemption arc was perhaps one of the best executed in the New Series.

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1 – Roger Delgado

The original, you might say. Although the role Delgado played has been adapted by many talented individuals since his death, there is no doubt that Delgado had a true understanding of the character and his relationship with the Doctor and none since have been able to truly recapture the entirety of that complex understanding. Truly the perfect ploy for the Third Doctor, Roger Delgado’s Master filled the role of mustache-twirling supervillain to counter the Doctor’s role as the dashing secret agent/detective hero, and would often ally himself with various invading alien races in an attempt to conquer the Earth. Charming, manipulative, cunning and pure evil, Delgado’s Master is the archetype of the character and would inspire the character of each and every incarnation to come.

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Author: Cameron Walker

Writer, Painter, Dalek collector, Walker, General Idealist but Political Realist, Fan of Doctor Who, Star Wars, Halo, Lord of the Rings, Star Trek and Ghost in the Shell, among other things. All Doctor Who discussion particularly welcome, but be warned, I am a huge nerd.

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