What a plot of nonsense: Ten Master master plan FAILS
The Doctor’s nemesis just keeps getting it wrong and wronger
Doctor Who @ 50 “I am the Master, and you will obey me.”
He was the Professor Moriarty to the Doctor’s Sherlock Holmes, another renegade Time Lord and always out to conquer the universe - or destroy it.
The vicar of diaboly
There’s a fan theory that the Master was no megalomaniac at all, but an agent of the Time Lords sent to keep the exiled Doctor from growing bored. Certainly, every time the Master appeared, plots to conquer the universe or destroy the Earth were increasingly implausible and always signalled with a nom de guerre that rather gave the game away - Magister, Thascalos; all words meaning ‘master’ - and chose allies whose strength and duplicity always forced the Master to co-operate with the very man who was supposed to be his sworn enemy.
It’s a compelling theory. Certainly, the Master’s plots inevitably ended in abject failure. But if he was an intentional foil for the Doctor in the early days, after his catastrophic final regeneration he became rather more serious about it, even though his schemes became ever more lacking in imagination. And no more successful.
Ersatz adversary or a real one, here are ten of the Master’s greatest FAILS in broadcast order.
The War Games
You’re right, the Master didn’t make his official Doctor Who debut until the first story of Jon Pertwee’s second year as the Doctor, Terror of the Autons (see below), but it’s hard not to conclude that the face fungus-sporting, suit-wearing and unhinged renegade Time Lord in Patrick Troughton’s swansong, The War Games isn’t actually the Master. Sure, he calls himself the War Chief, but lending Gallifreyan dimensional transcendence tech to an alien race in order to get them to go off and conquer the universe is pure Master plotting. Besides, ‘War Chief’ is clearly a rank not a nom de guerre.
Looking the part: The War Chief and the Doctor
And, in classic Master style, he’s soon double-crossed by the very aliens he himself planned to do the dirty on and is forced into temporary alliance with the Doctor in a bid to put his mess-up right. It fails, of course. The Doctor is forced to seek the help of the Time Lords - their first appearance in the series - and the War Chief gets zapped by the aliens. Off camera, Edward Brayshaw regenerates into Roger Delgado.
“Edward Brayshaw?” you ask. Yes, indeed. So after Roger Delgado’s final appearance as the Master, in 1973’s Frontier in Space, he promptly regnerates into Harold Meaker, the South London landlord who rents office space to a company called Rentaghost.
Terror of the Autons
And it was such a good plan, too: to bring about “the destruction of humanity” by allowing the ethereal Nestene consciousness to establish a second bridgehead on the planet, using the alien energy’s ability to animate plastic to conquer the globe. What could go wrong? Hand out hundreds of thousands of artifical flowers and then, at the right moment, trigger their in-built polymer projectors to target the human body’s “basic weakness”.
It’s a fair cop, guv’nor. It was a stupid scheme, anyway
Well, let’s consider, how long would it take a dozen or so Autons to distribute enough plastic daffs to ensure that every man, woman and child - and not just the British housewife - was caught in the first attack? And would they all really be joyfully sniffing odourless plastic flowers ALL AT THE SAME TIME? Even with the help of a pre-prosthesis Davros?
No, on second thoughts, it was a bollocks idea. Been better off asking world+dog to all sit in Habitat black plastic armchairs...
The Mind of Evil
Now this is more like it. This is a scheme with potential. Take control of the hardened inmates of a maximum security prison, turn them into a mercenary force that can then steal a so-powerful-they-bannded-it nuclear missile and HOLD THE WORLD TO RANSOM. And as if that weren’t sufficient, how about hypnotising a sexy, young lady Chinese soldier to murder an American diplomat holding US-PRC peace talks and PLUNGE THE WORLD INTO WAR.
Mind of evil, cigar of Havana
Such a good plan. Two good plans, in point of fact. If only one didn’t rely on the use of a dodgy alien brainwave-gobbling parasite to get the Master into Stangmoor Prison in the first place, and UNIT hadn’t proved quite so good at gunning down rioting crims, it might just have worked. Ah well, back to the drawing board...
The first sign the continued failure to overcome the Doctor’s interference was beginning to get to the Master? Four masterful plots counfounded - five if you include all that stuff with kidnapped soldiers from Earth’s many wars - and the black-clad, beard-stroking villian is clearly starting to get desperate. How else can you explain posing as a vicar and getting up to the neck of his cassock in Black Magic all in a bid to wake the ancient god of see-through toilet paper, Azal.
Six-six-six, the number of the beast. Hell and fire were sworn to be released, etc, etc
The demon, you see, is actually an alien whose miniaturised spaceship is buried inside a nearby Neolithic longbarrow. Awakened from his suspended animation slumber for a final time, he will weigh humanity in the scales of civilisation and deem them worthy - or not - of destruction. Hmmm. As the Doctor himself would say many, many episodes later: “You couldn’t hang a hat on that.”
But the Master is, at last, apprehended - “Why couldn’t he say caught?” - by UNIT and carted off at gunpoint. The Brigadier, offered the chance to dance with one of his fellow officers - it’s a man’s life in the army, apparently - gets to reveal he’d rather have a pint.
The Sea Devils
Having attempted to break old lags out of Stangmoor Prison six stories back, the Master now gets to spring himself from gaol, a converted castle on the Isle of Wight, complete with colour telly and all mod cons. As the ultimate ‘mod con’ himself, the Master soon has the prison Governor helping him nick electronics gear from a nearby naval base in a bid to wake the titular monsters from the sub-aquatic slumber.
“When humanity is eliminated, you won’t need to wear string vests, I tell you”
Said Sea Devils are, of course, cousins of the Silurians the Doctor has already encountered in the hollow hills of Derbyshire and like them believe “man is just an ape who got above himself”. Their plan? Keep thos mammalian buggers down with a few short, sharp shocks of the nuclear kind. Thankfully, the Doctor’s BBC connections put him in touch the Royal Navy press department, which arranges for a flotilla to sail out in seek of publicity footage. The Master and the monsters are defeated with the help of a crew of Jolly Jack Tars in a plastic submarine. But there’s no return to chokey for cheeky Gallifreyan...
Frontier in Space
If you can’t plunge 20th Century Earth into apocalyptic war, try the 26th. It’s 2540 and the Master is using a hypno-ray to stir up trouble between the empires of Earth and Draconia, a bizarre lizard world with a fondness for the customs of ancient Japan. Having hired a band of literally ape-like thugs from the Daleks, the renegade Time Lord begins attacking Earth ships and Draconian craft, the crews of each being brainwashed into believing they are being attacked by the other’s assault squads. Soon the cry goes up on both planets: “Yes, it’s WAR.”
“Aren’t you a little short for a stormtrooper?”
Naturally the Doctor lands right in the thick of it and ends up getting locked up on the Moon Penal Colony for his unsuccessful attempts to persuade Mrs President of Earth that she’s being duped by Delgado. He’s rescued by, of all people, the Master, both of whom are then captured by the Draconians. Doctor san reveals the Master’s machinations, leading to a reptillian reconcilliation with the Earth government.
Together both Empires launch a fact-finding mission to the Ogrons’ homeworld where discover the truth. And a frightening orange duvet creature. Fed up after yet another failure and with being forced to work with animals and Mark III Travel Machines, the Master clears off, never to be seen again. At least not for four seasons.
The Deadly Assassin
Roger Delgado having been killed in a car crash in Greece in 1973, the Master’s reappearance would necessarily require a regeneration. Rather than tie themselves down to a specific actor, Producer Philip Hinchcliffe and Script Editor Robert Holmes chose to portray the rogue Gallifreyan and a kind of mad mutant monk, he rotting cowl lending some to suppose that Peter Butterworth’s Fiddling Friar from first Doctor story The Time Meddler was also an incarnation of the Master.
Cowl play: After so many failures, the rot set in
But no mere tinkering with historical continuity here - or show continuity, for that matter - as the “quintessence of evil” seeks nothing short of the utter destruction of Gallifrey and the Time Lords to achieve the power to prolong his own life. “He’d delay an execution to pull the wings off a fly,” warns the fourth Doctor before plugging himself into one of sci-fi’s first virtual reality computer simulations. Cyberspace, The Matrix, TRON’s Grid - they none of then anything on the Time Lords’ APC Net “computation matrix”.
And, for once, the Master succeeds, almost. The Doctor recovers, ahem, Rassilon’s Rod, but the Gallifreyan capital is wrecked and the Master escapes with a new lease of life.
“Peoples of the universe, please attend carefully. The message that follows is vital to the future of you all.” After so many years of merely mucking about, having fun, the Master gets deadly serious in this story by Christopher H Bidmead, a byline you see around this website these days. After quitting as Doctor Who’s Season 18 Script Editor, Bidders became a tech journo, and Logopolis is all about computers, bubble memory, bit patterns and even, prophetically, the (Vulture) Central Register.
A cold, hard place at the edge of the universe: Logopolis brings new Master, a new seriousness
The newly regenerated - sort of - Master schemes to hold the universe to ransom by threatening to open the many tiny holes in the skin of space that the people of the planet Logopolis have created to allow spacetime-trouncing entropy to be vented harmlessly. Logopolis is, of course, essentially a giant, organic multi-processor computer, each member of society a calculating arithmetical unit feeding their results into the output of the whole. “The intone the computations,” explains the Doctor, so the Master scales up a pair of Sennheiser noise-cancellihg headphone and silences the planet. No sound, no computations. No computations, no entropic safety valves.
Logopolis crumbles and with it the Master’s plan too. Once again the two Time Lords must co-operate to save the entire universe by way of a British radio telescope, possibly the same one used to call up the Nestene Consciousness way back in The Terror of the Autons. And then Tom Baker turns into the Wet Vet. Sob.
Rassilon knows, the regeneration of the fourth Doctor into the fifth shocked us fans, but you should see what it did to the Master. From the cold-hearted, power-mad villain of Logopolis he too transformed, into a metaphorical mustache-twiddling pantomime baddy whose ambition stretched no further than a bit of dicking about with British history.
Castrovalva kind of made sense: he was out to take advantage of the Doctor’s post-regenerative weakness to do him in once and for all. But all that business hijacking Concorde and dressing up as fake Chinese magician? Gimme a break. As for Get Magna Carta? Not one to write up for Evil Megalomaniacs’ Monthly.
Older, yes; wiser, perhaps; chubbier, certainly
In between, we got Planet of Fire, in which the Master attempts to gain a new regenerative cycle - no fixies for him - by passing gas with the help of Klytus and a silver robot that made Marvin the Paranoid Android seem the height of cybernetic sophistication. Worth a News in Brief in EMM at least. After that it was just cameo roles, playing second fiddle to the owner of a North Sea ferry fleet in that one with George Stephenson and groping trees, and then to the Valeyard in the epicly long Trial of a Time Lord.
And so we come to the final episode of the classic series, Survival, in which the Master finally, finally comes across as a dangerous, Doctor-defying villain - though he’s put on a bit weight since we saw him last. No plan of galactic conquest here, just a desperate attempt to escape from the atavistic influence of an alien planet which ultimately fails.
The Sound of Drums/Last of the Time Lords
A rebooted series requires a rebooted Master. No more tissue compression elimination, no more hypnosis, no more beards, just a Mancunian yob with an idea he might like to be Prime Minister. And to enslave humanity. But this time it works! Yes, as Anthony Ainley became John Simm by way of Derek Jacobi and, dare we admit it, Eric Roberts - no, angel, it was just a bad dream - the Master got his mojo back. While the Doctor and Martha Jones are swanning about the universe, Gallifrey’s baddest boy is coming to power as Harold Saxon - see, he is the Meddling Monk; think about it - and subdues humanity with technobabble and deadly silver balls.
Life on Mars-ter: It wasn’t until the evil Time Lord regenerated into Sam Tyler that he got laid
But it can’t last, and even the Doctor has been aged 100 years, he reveals himself to be Jesus. The technobabble machine is disabled and the Master’s wife - yes, the Master actually gets his leg over; the Doctor just fancies the Tardis - shoots him through the hearts. Refusing to regenerate, the Master wins the ultimate victory by... er... chucking in the towel. But at least he gets a send-off just like Darth Vader’s... ®