Okay now I am aware that there were two different incarnations during the Davies years played by Sir Derek Jacobi and John Simm, however as Jacobi’s incarnation was sadly so short lived we will be looking at both in this one article together.
The Master, Professor Yana
First Appearance/ Utopia
Last Appearance/ Utopia
Story count/ 1
Doctors/ 10th Doctor only
Other Enemies/ Captain Jack, Martha Jones, The Daleks
Aliens and Monsters he has worked with/ No monsters though he did try and feed the Doctor, Jack and Martha to the Futurekind.
The Master, Harold Saxon
First Appearance/ Utopia
Last Appearance/ The End of Time
Story count/ 4 stories
Doctors/ 10th Doctor only
Other Enemies/ Martha Jones, Captain Jack, Wilfred Mott, Donna Noble, Rassilon.
Aliens and Monsters he has worked with/ Toclafane
Main Weapon/ Laser Screwdriver
Prior to the appearance of Missy I’d say that Russell T Davies’s interpretation of the Master divided fandom the most. To some fans John Simm is the Master, he is the one they grew up with, they almost can’t imagine any one else in the role, whilst to others Simm ruined the character by turning him into a Joker knock off.
Me personally I would say my feelings have been mixed towards Davies’s Master. There is certainly a lot to enjoy with his version or rather versions of the character, but at the same time there are also a lot of problems with it too.
Lets start with Sir Derek Jacobi’s brief stint in the role. Now though he was briefest ironically I’d say Jacobi’s performance was probably the most well received among the Classic fans, probably because his was closest to the original series Masters. Jacobi’s Master was like Delgado’s a cold, calculating, ruthless character with Jacobi’s rich and distinctive voice helping to give him a real air of authority and unbelievable arrogance at the same time. The scene where he taunts and brutally murders Chantho, who is in love with him (which rather nicely draws parallels with Martha Jones’s unrequited love for the Doctor) really demonstrates the cruelty and viciousness as well as the bitter madness of the character in a much more subtle way than any of his successors ever would.
Its also all the more incredible when you consider how great Jacobi is as the kindly old Professor Yana, the Masters human disguise earlier in that same episode. Sadly however Jacobi wasn’t given a chance to develop his Master further as mere minutes after re appearing he is shot and regenerates into his next incarnation played by John Simm.
Now Simm’s Master as I said earlier would be a lot more polarising than Jacobi’s. Common complaints you will often hear from classic era fans are that Simm’s Master was too over the top, too crazy, that the dynamic between the Doctor and the Master was all wrong with the Doctor showing pity and forgiveness to the Master, and that Simm’s Master contradicted what came before by revealing that the Master had been driven mad by the constant drumbeat in his head.
Personally however I don’t see many of these complaints as being problems with his Master.
To start with the lunacy of Simm’s Master I felt makes perfect sense. Its really the next logical step. Throughout Classic Who we saw the Master gradually descend into madness. The Delgado Master though on the verge of madness was still sane, the deformed Master meanwhile after suffering whatever it was that mutiliated him was pushed over the edge, the Ainley Master who followed him was still mad and would only be driven further in his quest to find new lives and later what happened to him on the Cheetah planet. By the time we get to Roberts Master the character has degenerated into a mere shell of his former self. At times Roberts is like an animal .
Thus Simm’s deranged childlike Master is merely the continuation of this. It would not make sense to have the Master return to Delgado’s calm, charming villain, by this point the Master has completely gone round the bend. Losing all of his regenerations, turning into a cheetah man, being killed by the Daleks, being destroyed by the eye of harmony and his home planet being destroyed.
In all fairness all of these things would drive most people mad. At the same time Tennant’s attitude towards him of pity also makes sense in a way. As the Master has changed over the years so has the Doctors attitude towards him. Originally the third Doctor looked on him as an equal, a rival Time Lord that he could perhaps reason with. By the time of the deformed Master the Doctor had developed nothing but contempt for him.
The Doctors contempt for the Master only grows throughout the Ainley era due to the many evils he inflicts on the Doctor, his friends and the universe as a whole which is greater than anything Delgado’s Master did. However by the time we get to the Roberts Master I feel that the Doctors attitude changed. At this point I think he begins to pity the Master more as he see’s how far he has come, how he is perhaps no longer responsible for his actions any more. Thus Tennant’s attitude of extreme pity towards Simm’s Master who is even more insane than Roberts again makes sense to me it is the logical continuation of where their relationship was headed. It also makes you almost pity the Master as we see how he and the Doctor started out as equals, but by the time of Simm’s Master whilst the Doctor has remained strong, the Master who was always weaker has degenerated into the pathetic, petulant man child that Simm’s Master is stamping his foot and literally shouting its not fair when things don’t go his way. The fact that the Master and the Doctor are the only two time lords left also reinforces the idea that the Doctor would now want to protect him. I love the moment where 10 tries to tell the Master “things are different its only the two of us now” but the Master just doesn’t listen and wants to even in this awful situation continue his petty feud.
Having said that I do agree that it was ridiculous to have the Tennant Doctor go so far as to not kill the Master in The End of Time when doing so would turn the Master race back into the human beings they once were. I also disliked the Doctor hugging the Master in front of his torture victims, Jack, Francine Tish etc. All of this simply helped to undermine the Doctor as a hero. Its one thing to have the Doctor not want to be the last of his kind, and maybe be more merciful to him than he would have been in say The Mind of Evil. But to have him actually put the Master above his victims was taking it too far.
Simm’s plan in “The Last of the Time Lords” meanwhile I felt was perfectly in keeping with the previous Masters aims.
There are really three main motivations for the Master in Classic Who. 1/ to gain control of the entire cosmos, as the Master believes that under his rule it will be a better place. 2/ kill or make the Doctor suffer and finally 3/ to prolong his own life at any cost.
Also the Master will often manipulate people, playing on any weakness or strength they have to twist their minds. We see this with Trenchard in the Sea Devils whose patriotism he plays on, Goth in the Deadly Assassin whose greed and lust for power he manipulates, and Chang in the 96 movie whose desire to belong somewhere and feel loved the Master preys up.
The Master will also often have a forged alias and may even have lied, greased and cheated his way to the top of a society, and will use that position against the Doctor.
As far as I can see Simm fit everyone of these requirements perfectly.
He wanted to build a new time lord empire to bring order to the galaxy.Even telling the Doctor, much as Delgado did in Colony in Space that wars will end once he rules.
He also is shown to manipulate his wife Lucy Saxon, and Martha’s family, and the entire British public who vote him in as Prime Minister. He also uses his position as Prime Minister to frame the Doctor as a terrorist.
The Sound of Drums and Frontier in Space have similar basic plots. The Master is in the position of power and has framed the Doctor and his companions as criminals, whilst he sets about provoking a war between two races for his own ends.
Thus in terms of his basic characterisation Simm fit in perfectly with the previous Masters. The fact that he was more crazy didn’t matter as again as we explored the villain would be at this point. Also as the Doctors personality changes why shouldn’t the Masters? As long as their core characters are the same then I don’t mind how an actor interprets the role.
Simm being crazier than Delgado is no worse than Tom Baker being more eccentric than Pertwee. As long as the Doctor is still the compassionate, mysterious, wanderer and the Master still the power hungry, manipulative, sociopath then I thinks its find if one version of the Doctor and the Master is maybe a bit more erratic.
I have mixed feelings towards the retconing Davies did of the Masters origin. I agree that it was something of a contradiction. Why didn’t we hear the Master complaining about the drum beat in his head before now? However still despite this there were some effective moments. I always loved the scene in “The Sound of Drums” where we see a child version of the Master staring into the time vortex as it drives him to lunacy. Watching this innocent young boy and knowing what is ahead of him, the life time of misery, pain, desperation and loneliness because of this one moment is very powerful. At the same time however Davies whilst offering up the drum beat as a possible explanation, did leave it open to some extent.
We still don’t know for sure if that is what drove him to madness. After all The Masters human counterpart Professor Yana is shown to have the same drumbeat in his head yet he is a kind, sweet and brave individual. Thus whilst the drum beat was a factor no doubt in his descent into darkness perhaps there was always something evil in the Master, lurking under the surface even in that young boy we saw staring into the vortex. However at the same time Yana was created from the Master.
From what the Doctor says about his human counterpart John Smith, its obvious that these human counterparts come from the time lords that created them’s personality rather than just being made up out of thin air. So if Yana a good and kind man can be created from aspects of the masters personality that proves that there is still some good in the Master lurking under all the madness and evil too. Then finally there is the last moment in “the End of Time” where the Master seemingly sacrifices himself to save the 10th Doctor. Whilst the Simm Master might not be my favourite incarnation.
Many fans have argued that the Master didn’t really do this to save the Doctor it was simply because he hated Rassilon who was revealed to have been responsible for the drumbeat in his head. However I disagree, I think in this moment the Master for the first time realises what a monster he has become. Earlier the Doctor whilst still his prisoner said that the Master could have been so much more were it not for his madness and desire to dominate. Here finally facing the man who drove him to lunacy, who had been responsible for the torment that made him the ruthless villain he was. He finally realises that the Doctor is right. If only he had listened to the Doctor he could have been so much more and thus he decides to save the Doctor the man who could have been his redemption and strike out at Rassilon the monster who made him a monster.
Simm is absolutely perfect here as he screams “YOU DID THIS TO ME, YOU MADE ME, ALL OF MY LIFE!!!” You actually do begin to wonder if he is right and had it not been for Rassilon the Master could have very well have ended up like the Doctor.
Another great thing about this scene is that it is also finally completes what Barry Letts had originally wanted to do with Roger Delgado’s Master have him sacrifice himself to save the Doctor. I am actually really upset that they brought the Master back after this. Granted I am not the biggest fan of Missy, but even if Moffats Master had been great I think this was such a good ending for the character it really feels like a shame to undo it and show the Master after his moment of clarity go back to just being a psychopath.
Overall I think Simm’s Master was by and large very true to the character. He followed on from the original Masters who we had seen gradually descend into madness and whilst the drumming in the head may be a contradiction, as we never heard it before . I look on it as the Drumming pushed the Delgado Master the brink of madness, but it was whatever happened to the deformed Master that pushed him over the edge. Thus in my head canon its a combination of this with the drumming being the root cause. As to why the Master never mentioned the drum beat well we can perhaps explain it away as being as a result of his vanity. I can’t imagine Delgado’s incarnation or even Ainley’s wanting to admit that the Master of all is constantly troubled. Simms Master however has become so crazy he no longer cares.
It is true that Simms Master owes a lot to the Batman villain the Joker particularly Mark Hamill’s excellent performance from Batman the Animated Series. The scene where the Master kills several politicians by gassing them is pure Joker.
However again I don’t mind this I don’t think this is a betrayal of the character. The Master in classic who as I have said before is often a pastiche of other villains.
Roger Delgado’s incarnation was a pastiche of villains like Ernst Stavro Blofeld, Fu Manchu and Professor Moriarty.
The deformed Master meanwhile is a pastiche of old horror movie villains, such as the Phantom of the Opera or Dr Phibes, the horrible, disfigured, bitter, hateful genuis who seeks revenge on those who wronged him. This of course reflects the gothic tone of the Hinchcliff era perfectly.
Simms Master thus is a pastiche of crazy demented villains who seem to be the most popular type nowadays.
There are elements of the Joker in Simm’s Master. Lucy Saxon could almost be seen as the Masters version of Harley Quinn, the much abused blonde female sidekick. There are however also elements of John Hurt as Caligula from “I Claudius” too in Simms Master. Russell T Davies has cited “I Claudius” as one of his biggest influences and you can see that in Simms Master more than anything else. Simms Master like Hurts Caligula is not only a crazy despot, but Hurts Caligula is also driven completely mad by a constant drum beat in his head too.
You can see the parallels. Of course the fact Sir Derek Jacobi the star of I Claudius also played the Master also adds to the connection between them, ironically John Hurt as we know would later go on to play the Doctor.
I also feel there are similarities between Simms Master and Callisto Xena’s archenemy too. Xena the Warrior Princess was one of Russell T Davies’s favourite series and indeed parallels can even be drawn between the 9th Doctor and Xena. Both heroes with a dark past who now seek redemption and fall in love with a blonde girl who helps hold back their dark side. Callisto much like the Master is a very sympathetic villain who is driven to villainy and throughout the series the viewer is left to wonder what Callisto might have become had it not been for the tragic circumstances that had befallen her. The Masters final line of “you made me” to Rassilon is one that is often repeated by Callisto and the Joker too. The Doctor and the Masters relationship is similar to Xena and Callisto as though the Doctor did not make the Master like Xena had made Callisto the Doctors attitude is still the same in that he still feels as though he should protect the Master rather than simply kill him. I also feel that the Doctor whilst not responsible for creating the Master is still desperate to save him in order to lessen his guilt over the death of the time lords.
Davies took elements from all of these iconic crazy villains and meshed them together into something new just as Hinchcliff had done with horror movie villains for the Deformed Master and Barry Letts and Terrence Dicks had done with Bond villains for the Delgado Master.
I felt John Simm was perfect for the more crazy Master. He really captured the characters unpredictability but at the same time did bring a lot of depth to him as well. Whilst some felt he was too over the top I really didn’t mind as he was meant to be playing a Caligula, Joker type of character. Also I felt when it mattered he could be restrained such as in his final confrontation with Rassilon.
Whilst I did like the Simm Master overall I did still feel there were some problems with him. As I said my opinion of him is somewhat mixed.
I didn’t like the way Davies rubbished the idea of the Doctor and the Master being brothers. I have always been a fan of the idea and think it added depth to their relationship. I am not saying I want it to be made canon that the two were brothers, but I think it should be left open to interpretation what the true nature of their relationship is. Davies however kind of tried to hard to stamp his interpretation of their relationship into the canon of the show.
Davies believed that the Master and the Doctor deep down had feelings for one another and even said that he believes the Master didn’t kill the Doctor because he loves him.
I dislike this interpretation hugely. It is not got anything to do with them being gay I have no problem with gay characters as I am sure those who follow my blog will already know I am a supporter of gay rights, but I am sick of the cliche of the villain and the hero always having to have at the very least sexual tension with one another if not being outright in love with one another. Indeed Davies has a cheek saying that the brothers idea was a cliche.
Think about it how many villains can you think of who are really the hero’s brother? Just off of the top of your head? Off of the top of my head meanwhile I can think of many villains who have sexual tension with the hero. Catwoman, Poison Ivy, Joker, Callisto, Faith and Professor Moriarty are all examples of this and really I find it tedious in all cases.
If anything it takes away from these villains relationships with the heroes as it just reduces the villains to being like the little boy who pulls on the girl he fancies pig tails to get her attention. It often feels out of place too. Xena and Callisto for instance have a wonderfully well developed relationship. Callisto hates Xena for burning her family an wants to make her pay, but apparently on top of that she also wants to fuck her too? The wanting to fuck her part just seems silly and added on for no reason whatsoever.
I also suspect that a lot of the time people just add it in to pander to fan service. Showing the two attractive leads like Simm and Tennant or Lucy Lawless and Hudson Leick being involved in a gay subtext.
Whatever the case I don’t like it. I much prefer villains who hate the hero and want to make them suffer. Of course I am not saying that I don’t ever want there to be any villains who lust after the hero, but really by and large I do prefer the more evil ruthless version. Its why I always preferred the Joker to Catwoman (thought hey did later add in sexual tension between Batman and the Joker, it wasn’t as severe obviously as that between Batman and Catwoman or indeed the Master and the Doctor).
Davies was the first to add in the sexual tension between the two characters. Despite what many fans would argue there was never any form of romantic tension in the classic who at all. The word of god was always that they were brothers from Delgado right the way through to Roberts and that’s how all of the actors from Delgado to Roberts played the Master, so there certainly was not any sexual tension involved.
I also felt that at times Davies not Simm did go too far in making the Master seem over the top. The best example of this was “The End of Time” where the Master makes everyone on earth look like him. I did quite like the idea that Simms Master was so vain that he didn’t merely want to carve his face on a mountain but an entire species, but still the way its done with all the head spinning and just the idea itself is so OTT it makes the Master seem like a cartoon character and not in a good way.
Still despite these problems I do still like Simm’s Master overall. I don’t feel the romantic subtext aside he was a betrayal from the character of the original series. I felt he was the next logical step from the original series Master and I think that both Simm and Tennant had an excellent Master/Doctor dynamic probably in all fairness the most memorable since Pertwee and Delgado. Overall a great interpretation of the character that was certainly more fleshed out than all those before or the one since.
Thank you for reading. We will not be looking at the female incarnation of the Master, Missy next. I dislike the character and so I feel there would be nothing positive to say about her. Also in all fairness her version has not finished yet so I can’t give a full rundown of her anyway. For me Simm was the last true version of the Master.
I just love this theme its perfect for the Simm Master who was like a twisted version of Tennant’s hyperactive Doctor. This almost feels like a twisted version of the Doctor Who theme itself.