Doctor Who 1201 The Master
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Credit: James Pardon/BBC America

A definitive ranking of Doctor Who's many Masters

Contributed by
Jan 6, 2020

There are monsters and aliens in Doctor Who, and then there are villains. There's an important difference between the two. For instance, the faceless Dalek hordes are monsters, but Davos, who controls them, is a villain. And there's no bigger villain in the Whoniverse than The Master, the other Time Lord who's been obsessing over our planet for 56 years and counting.

An enemy to the Doctor who is hell-bent on wiping out Earth for no other reason than that it would upset his fellow Gallifreyan, this character has undergone eight incarnations over nine actors since his debut in 1971. Now the latest version has arrived to bedevil the Thirteenth Doctor and attempt to take out her fam. Played by Sacha Dhawan (Iron Fist, Mr. Selfridge), the casting marks the first actor of color to take the role of a significant Time Lord, letting Chris Chibnall's tenure break yet another barrier for the series.

This latest incarnation of the Master has only just arrived, though, so, for now, he remains unranked. It will take more than a single two-parter to be able to judge where Dhawan's performance falls on the spectrum. But so far, it's a promising start, with his identity being a fantastically hidden twist no one saw coming until the Season 12 premiere's final moments. Moreover, the Master's madness, for the first time, has proper reasoning — unlike some Masters, this one’s been traumatized. Acting out is the only way he can handle it.

And Dhawan's take on the character has something going for it no Master has had before: He is couch-faintingly hot. A Master that mad and that good-looking? The entire Whoniverse is going to need to watch out.

But how do the other Masters stack up against each other, and which was the best of the batch? Here's one Whovian's definitive ranking of the Masters, through both Classic and Modern Who times.

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Peter Pratt (Fourth Doctor)

The Master was originally a character created for the Third Doctor. But when actor Roger Delgado died in a car crash after his appearance in Season 10's "Frontier In Space," it seemed The Master would be consigned to the Whomobile and UNIT years. So when the show did return to the character in 1976, it needed to be fantastic.

It wasn't. Pratt was terrible, but even worse, the poor man was slathered with old-age makeup in a misguided attempt to make his "final regeneration" a super old man. It turned the Master into a walking example of everything people think of when someone talks about the lousy production values of Classic Who. One wouldn't have blamed the show for letting the character go for good after that.

Geoffrey Beevers master

Geoffrey Beevers (Fourth Doctor)

Pratt's version was so bad that when the Master came back — still on this "final" regeneration — there was another actor hidden under the bundle of makeup. This marked the only time the show has had two actors play the same incarnation of a Time Lord for a full adventure. (The closest the show came after that was Sylvester McCoy putting on a bad Colin Baker wig so he could regenerate into himself.)

At least Beever did a better job than Pratt, but his role was mostly to fix the ill-conceived "final regeneration" plot point by transferring his essence into a new body. In that, he was successful, emerging as Anthony Ainley. Ainley would go on to take over the Master role until the Classic Who run ended.

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Eric Roberts (Eighth Doctor)

This is slightly unfair to the actor, as Eric Roberts' Master isn't that bad as the main antagonist to the Eighth Doctor. The problem is that he, like Paul McGann, is trapped in one of Doctor Who's nadir points, the Americanized FOX movie. And unlike McGann, who was afforded a brilliant comeback moment ahead of the 50th anniversary, there he's stayed, dressed like a bad knock-off of Marvel's Doctor Strange. At least he wasn't hampered by 10 tons of bad makeup.

Derek Jacobi as The Master

Derek Jacobi (Tenth Doctor)

As the first actor to play the Master in the rebooted Doctor Who series, Jacobi introduced a new generation of fans to the character. Unfortunately, he was hampered by playing the Master with his memory wiped, so for most of his time on-screen, he doesn't even know he is the Master. The result was only memorable simply because it brought the long-running character to the new Whoniverse, not because of his performance.

Worse, he wasn't given a chance to do much with it once the Master came back, as he was shot and regenerated into John Simm.

John Simm as The Master

John Simm (Tenth Doctor)

The first memorable Master from the Davies era, John Simm went full rabid scenery-chewer, giving audiences something far closer to the Classic Who version of the Master. For many newer fans, he is the man who defined The Master.

But unlike the cheesy old versions, everything about Simm was downright disturbing, from the feral expressions to the body language. His was a genuinely scary Master — you believed he would destroy the Earth and laugh as he died with it. His horror-flecked version also got to come back in 2017 for a special-guest turn in the only multi-Master episode to date.

Anthony Ainley as The Master

Anthony Ainley (Fourth-Seventh Doctors)

Ainley is to the Master as Tom Baker is to the Doctor, the longest-serving actor in the role, having started in Tom Baker's waning years and ending with Sylvester McCoy. He's also the only Master who can claim to have appeared with all seven classic Doctors, due to his role in the 20th anniversary special, "The Five Doctors." (Though by then, the First Doctor was played by Richard Hurndall, filling in for the late William Hartnell.)

This afforded Ainley the ability to stretch who the Master was, playing the character from maniacally evil to sad pathos across a medley of Doctors and Companions in his enduring quest to land a new set of regenerations. He may not have been the original, but he's the version most Classic Who fans remember.

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Michelle Gomez (Twelfth Doctor)

The first and (so far) only female version of the Master, the Mistress was one part Nightmare Mary Poppins, one part Mad Scotswoman. She was also a perfect pairing to match the Twelfth Doctor's grumpy take on the material. Gomez's take was also extraordinary because, for the first time, she allowed the idea that the Master could grow and change, and perhaps, just for a minute, become more a frenemy than an enemy — or maybe even a full-on friend. Watching her and Simm face off in her final episode was a performance for the ages.

Roger Delgado as The Master

Roger Delgado (Third Doctor)

But if Gomez was the best woman, then there’s only really one man who truly embodied the Master in all his cheesy, scene-chewing, Bond-villain-by-way-of-Gallifrey glory, and that’s the original Delgado himself.

During these Doctor Who years, budget constraints and an attempt to jump aboard the Secret Agent Man fad kept the TARDIS trapped on Earth. So Delgado single-handedly provided all the alien drama the Third Doctor needed to keep saving the Earth. Due to his untimely death, the role became his legacy to the small screen, and no one will ever top him.

 

 

 

 

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