This incarnation of the Master played by Anthony Ainley is the longest serving to date. Appearing in 11 stories across 9 years, this incarnation has also to date met more versions of the Doctor than any other too.
The Anthony Ainley Master
First Appearance/ The Keeper of Traken
Last Appearance/ Survival (television) Destiny of the Doctors (video game)
Story Count/ 11
Doctors/ 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th.
Other enemies/ Teegan Jovanka, Adric, Nyssa, Peri Brown, Ace, Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge Stewart
Aliens and Monsters he has worked with/ Cybermen, Cheetah People, he has also worked with the nefarious Time Lady villain, The Rani and the Valeyard.
Main Weapon/ Tissue Compressor
Anthony Ainley’s incarnation is the one that often tends to divide opinion among the fandom the most out of the three classic series Masters. Most fans and critics I think its fair to say would agree that Ainley always gave a great performance as the character. However sadly his version of the character still suffered from many problems. Chief among these was overuse, a problem in all fairness that Delgado’s Master faced too.
However Ainleys, as time went on did become a somewhat more camp, ineffective character often wearing disguises for seemingly no reason at all, and on top of that it is true that Ainley often wasn’t allowed to play the character the way he wanted.
A lot of the time he was often forced to play the character the same way as Delgado on the insistence of John Nathan Turner who wanted to keep it consistent with Delgado’s character. Only problem with this was that as the Doctor changes his personality whenever he regenerates then so should the Master. I agree that neither the Doctor nor the Master should change too much as both are still meant to be the same character underneath, but ultimately each actor should be allowed to stamp his own mark on the character and truly make it his own. Sadly Ainley often wasn’t allowed to do that, but the few times he did he truly stood out as one of the all time greatest Doctor Who villains.
Ainley’s Master I think had the strongest debut of any version of the character. The Master had been away for a long while, in fact he had only made one appearance in the last almost 5 years. Thus he really needed to come back with a bang.
Fortunately JNT begins the villains comeback with the burned Master taking over the body of Nyssa the Doctors new female companion’s father Tremas. Its one of the most chilling scenes in the entire history of Doctor Who when the master creeps out of the clock in reality his TARDIS in disguise like a hideous Demon saying with evil glee “a new body at last” This instantly enabled Ainley’s (who played Tremas) Master to be a greater emotional threat to the Doctor and his friends than the previous versions. It was hard for Nyssa and even the Doctor himself to face the villain that had murdered Nyssa’s father and was now wearing his face. It was a constant reminder of the Doctors failure to stop the Master. Tremas was someone whom the Master had not only killed, but whose wife he had also manipulated and killed and whose entire planet he had also destroyed.
The Master being in Tremas’s body also allowed the Master to manipulate Nyssa in “Logopolis”. I felt that this showed a whole new twisted side to the Master that he was willing to manipulate a daughters love for her father for his own warped schemes. The Ainley Master also murders Teegans Aunt, her only living relative in his second appearance.
Though obviously Nyssa’s loss is far worse, her loved ones were at the very least killed as part of the Masters scheme to find a new body. With Teegans Aunt however, the Master just did it for no reason almost on a whim. Finally Ainley’s Master in his first full story manages to do what his two predecessors never could and actually kills an incarnation of the Doctor. I might add this also made the Ainley Master the first of any of the Doctors many recurring enemies to actually off an incarnation. The Cybermen had worn the 1st Doctor down, but they hadn’t actually directly killed him.
Ainley’s Master meanwhile actually pushed the 4th Doctor off of the edge of a building and sent him plummeting to his doom. This firmly established the Master as the Doctors archenemy above even the Daleks at this point in the shows history. Not only had he now done the most to the Doctor, but also to his friends Nyssa and Teegan and even Adric whom he captured and brutally tortured into betraying his friends in “Castrovalva”.
The 5th Doctor and his companions had more reason to hate the Master than anyone. In just two stories “Logopolis” and “Castrovalva” they had really raised the Doctor/Master feud to a whole new level. Gone was the friendly banter between Delgado and Pertwee and in its place was just pure hatred and contempt on both sides. Aside from making the Master responsible for tragedies in the Doctor and his friends lives. “Logopolis” also made him a greater threat than ever before as his plan threatened all of creation itself rather than simply the earth.
He was also responsible for the destruction of billions of worlds (including Nyssa’s) making him a mass murderer on an unprecedented level within the Whoniverse. The trilogy consisting of “The Keeper of Traken” “Logopolis” and “Castrovalva” are among the best Master stories in the entire history of Doctor Who and arguably when the character is at his most menacing. In those three stories he is the Doctors ultimate nemesis even more so than during Delgado’s time.
Ainley is absolutely superb in these stories. He is able to blend certain aspects of his predecessors performances without simply copying them. His Master like Delgado is on the surface charming, affable, charismatic and witty, however at the same time there is more of a crazy side to Ainley’s Master much like the Deformed version. You can see that the Master at this point even though he has managed to cheat death is still mad from what happened to him in his previous incarnation. Thus like the deformed version he is far more unpredictable and will often do nasty and cruel things for no reason other than his own amusement.
Ainley I think brought a sense of cruelty to the character that was greater than any of his predecessors or indeed any of his successors. Delgado always seemed likable, and at the very least we did get the impression that the Master in Delgados time did genuinely believe that he was bringing order to a cosmos gone mad. The Deformed Master meanwhile, felt more desperate than anything else.
Ainley’s incarnation however who in many ways had finally got what he wanted more life, yet still only uses it to kill and inflict pain on others. Thus he is by far and away the most evil at this point. The Master over the course of his last three lives has degenerated into a total lunatic. You cans see this when even the Doctor who knows him better than anyone else is surprised at the lengths he is prepared to go to in Logopolis to gain power.
I also liked the fact that Ainleys Master was still searching for more lives as well. It showed how vain he truly is as unlike the Deformed Master he was not near death or in pain he just simply wanted insurance that he would never die.
Sadly however after “Castrovalva” it would mostly be diminishing returns for Ainley’s Master throughout the remainder of the 5th Doctors era. That’s not to say there aren’t other great moments in the 5th Doctors time, but sadly nothing quite reaching the level of his opening trilogy. Definitely his worst appearance for me is “Timeflight”. Its just so boring its not true and the Masters plan is nothing particularly interesting or noteworthy its just dull. “Planet of Fire” is probably his strongest appearance post “Castrovalva” in the Davison era.
The final scene where the Doctor casually leaves a pleading Master to burn to death is truly wonderful moment that again demonstrates just how far their feud had come since the days of the Pertwee/Delgado era. Whilst Delgado’s Master and Pertwee’s Doctor had made genuine attempts on each others lives such as in “The Mind of Evil” you still could not imagine Pertwee’s Doctor casually leaving a begging Master to slowly burn to death. The fact that it is Davison’s Doctor as well, one of the most compassionate incarnations (who just one story earlier had refused to shoot Davros his other mortal enemy) just helps to demonstrates how the Master truly is the Doctors worst enemy. Only he can push him far enough to commit an act of cold blooded murder.
Just before his apparent death Ainley’s Master screams out “Wont you show mercy to your own” according to John Nathan Turner the word he was going to say was “brother” continuing the idea that Delgado had come up with years earlier, but at the last minute Turner decided to cut it out in order to leave the mystery open.
Whilst “Planet of Fire” is a great story I actually think Ainleys best moment post “Castrovalva” in the 5th Doctors era comes in “Caves of Androzani” a story in which the Master isn’t even the main villain. When the 5th Doctor is dying he see’s a hallucination of the Master taunting and laughing at him overshadowing the apparitions of his companions and screaming “no Doctor you must die, die Doctor, die Doctor”.
I am not going to lie this scene scared the crap out of me growing up. Ainley was so perfect here he looked like evil incarnate as he began to laugh at the 5th Doctors death. I often wondered if that was really a hallucination, or if the Master was perhaps sending him a telepathic image. Remember that time lords are to an extent telepathic, so its not so unfeasable that maybe the Master sensed the Doctor was weak, and somehow was able to attack him telepathically in an attempt to finish him off. Whatever the case the scene is still a highlight of the Masters career. Its already pretty dramatic seeing Peter Davison die, but then to suddenly see the Master appear and overshadow the likes of Teegan and Turlough, just makes it even more harrowing.
When the Master next appeared in the 6th Doctors era in “The Mark of the Rani”, he was working alongside the Rani a time lady villain. Many fans felt the Master was undermined in this story as the Rani’s sidekick, but I must confess that I loved the dynamic between the three Gallifreyans. With the Rani I felt that the Master had finally achieved what he had always been looking for a partner in crime. The Master I think had always hoped the Doctor would have become this. The Doctor and the Master were almost on the same wavelength. two renegades who had renounced the society of time lords and sought to make a difference in the universe, but the Master felt the Doctor lacked his vision.
The Rani however was closer to his way of thinking. I also liked the way that the Rani looked on both the Doctor and the Master as two pathetic squabbling brothers because in many ways to her that is what they were to her. She had much bigger plans than the Masters petty little schemes or the Doctors aimless travelling and she was in some ways far more intelligent and actually someone of prominence in time lord society before she became a renegade. Unlike either the Doctor or the Master. I also felt that the Rani in some ways almost made you appreciate the Master.
The Rani looked on human beings as lab rats. That’s all we were to her in every way in terms of intelligence (remember as Donna later discovers a time lord mind is so vast that a human brain cannot contain it) and also even in terms of how long we live. We are tadpoles to them. At least the Master looked on us as a race worthy of being conquered and could even show some respect to his human foes such as the Brigadier and Jo Grant. The Rani however looked on us as cockroaches to poked and prodded with a stick. I think its a shame that we didn’t get more interaction between these three characters. I also felt that Ainley and Kate O’Mara who played the Rani had brilliant chemistry with one another too.
Fortunately Ainleys last performance as the Master opposite the 7th Doctor Sylvester McCoy in “Survival” is one of his best. Here Ainley I feel is finally given a chance to play the role as he wishes and is not forced to just copy Delgado’s performance. Ainley brings much more of a physical side to the character. Here we have a savage almost animilastic Master that tries to smash the Doctors head in with a rock, stabs his victims to death and grabs the Doctor by the throat.
There is no way that you could imagine Delgado’s gentlemanly villain or the frail, deformed Master doing those final moments in “Survival” which is possibly my favourite Doctor/ Master battle and is certainly one of the most iconic moments in Who history. I think all Whovains would recognise the image of the 7th Doctor holding the rock in the air and contemplating whether to end his mortal enemies life, as the planet they are on burns due to their hatred and anger towards each other.
Whilst “Survival” was an excellent story for the Ainley Master to finish on I think its a shame that he didn’t get a proper send off. When we next see the Master he has been killed by the Daleks with the Master we see briefly dying being played by Gordon Tipple. It is unclear if Tipple is meant to be playing the same incarnation as Ainley
Ainley did get to play the role one more time in the video game “Destiny of the Doctor” where he captures all of the incarnations of the Doctors and forces them to face his worst enemies. The end of the game sees the Doctor allow the Master to be captured by one of the aliens he was working with. Since the Daleks are among the aliens he is seen working with in the game, many fans believe that it is the Daleks who captured him which would lead nicely into the 96 movie where the Daleks exterminate him at the start.
Overall whilst I would still say that Delgado is my favourite, I do love Ainley’s performance as the character nonetheless. He was sadly wasted in some of the stories he was in, but in the those where he was really allowed to shine such as “Logopolis”, “Castrovalva” and “Survival” he was truly magnificent. He gave us arguably the most evil and twisted version of the character seen to date as well as the most physical interpretation. I would rank him as my third favourite after Delgado and the Deformed Master.
Next up a look at the Eric Roberts portrayal of the Time Lord in the 1996 Doctor Who movie.