Doctor Who returns along with Missy AKA the Mistress AKA the Master. Like the Doctor, this villain has worn many bodies and faces over the years. Inspired by Sherlock Holmes’ arch-enemy Moriarty, the original version of the Master was introduced as one of the Doctor’s oldest friends and colleagues who, like him and other friends of theirs, was a Time Lord who adopted an academic title after turning their back on the planet Gallifrey and its many rules. While the Doctor sought to explore the universe, the Master saw exploration as a means to conquest, believing that unleashing chaos on innocent planets was not a bad way to learn interesting things.
The latest incarnation calls herself Missy. As played by Michelle Gomez, she has already gained a strong fan following. For those of you who are curious about the character’s past, here’s a quick and easy breakdown of her other incarnations.
Roger Delgado – The original Master was introduced as a recurring enemy for the Third Doctor, as played by Jon Pertwee. This Doctor, who worked as scientific advisor to UNIT (United Nations Intelligence Task Force) often wore brightly colored shirts and velvet jackets, along with the occasional cape, so the Master contrasted him by donning an all black, simple look complete with black gloves. Actor Roger Delgado’s Master was a cunning villain proud of his own genius and the fear he inspired, and who enjoyed sarcastically trolling the lowly humans he encountered. He took on many different roles during his time on Earth, usually as a person in authority and using aliases that meant “Master” in other languages. He also used finely trained telepathy to become a powerful hypnotist, often telling his prey, “I am the Master and you will obey me.”
We don’t know if this was the Master’s very first body/incarnation. He never said how many times he had regenerated already, if any. In the Doctor Who novel The Dark Path, it was revealed that the Master had used up most of his regenerations while saving himself from a black hole that the Doctor had trapped him in. Remarks made in the 1996 Doctor Who TV-movie seemingly confirmed this.
This was almost the only version of the Master. After a couple of years, the plan was that the Master would die on-screen and save the Doctor’s life in the process. It would be up to the audience to debate whether he intended to sacrifice himself for his former friend or if this was just an unintended result and he was simply motivated by his own vile ego. The story was shelved however when Delgado suffered a fatal car accident.
Peter Pratt – After being gone for years, we saw the Master again in “The Deadly Assassin,” an adventure that took place entirely on the Doctor’s home world of Gallifrey. We learned that the Master was now on his last body, which was decaying and held together practically by will alone. This was a fearsome new interpretation of the villain, one who looked like a live-action Skeletor and who no longer had any interest in friendship with the Doctor. He was obsessed with whatever power he could find to extend his life, even if it meant killing all other Time Lords in the process. He seemed more monster than Time Lord.
Geoffrey Beevers – During the Fourth Doctor’s penultimate adventure, we met the Master again on the planet Traken. This was technically the same version we had met in “The Deadly Assassin,” but now perhaps partially restored by the cosmic energies he absorbed at the end of that adventure. Geoffrey Beevers played the Master as a more creeping villain, almost a dark wizard who was once again more in charge of his emotions. Though he failed to steal the Doctor’s body, he did find a way to transfer his mind into the brain of an innocent scientist named Tremas (hey, that’s an anagram for “master!”). Which leads us to…
Anthony Ainley – Unlike the previous two Masters, this version got to plague multiple Doctors. After causing the death of the Fourth Doctor in 1981, Anthony Ainley got to repeatedly cross swords with the hero’s fifth, sixth, and seventh incarnations. He also wound up crossing paths with the First and Second Doctors in the 20th anniversary special The Five Doctors.
Introduced during the “costume era” of Doctor Who, under showrunner John Nathan-Turner, Anthony Ainley’s Master seemed closer to a typical comic book super-villain. He took much more joy out of his schemes and the death they caused, though he was also a bit more cautious now as his new body didn’t have the ability to regenerate. This Master occasionally seemed irrational, dedicated to chaos more than conquest. Maybe this was a side effect of the trauma of forcing his Time Lord mind into a non-Gallifreyan brain and body.
In the Classic Doctor Who series finale story “Survival,” this version of the Master wound up having his DNA altered, gaining the eyes, fangs and instincts of a cheetah as a result. Fun extra fact, Anthony Ainley met Fourth Doctor actor Tom Baker years before becoming the Master because Tom was roommates with his brother.
Eric Roberts – In 1996, Doctor Who had been off the air for seven years. A joint venture between the BBC and Fox attempted to bring the show back by producing a made-for-TV film that would serve as a pilot if it were successful enough. The story would feature another conflict between the Doctor and the Master, but Fox feared that American audiences wouldn’t watch the program if both the hero and villain were British. The production team of the movie was given a list of actors contracted with Fox and Eric Roberts wound up being chosen.
In the TV-movie Doctor Who, the Master (played for about ten seconds by Gordon Tipple, though you couldn’t even see his face) was executed by the Daleks. The Doctor recovered his remains and intended to return them to Gallifrey, but it turned out that the villain had altered his DNA again so that he would survive Dalek weaponry and literally rise from the ashes as a slug-like life form (later identified in comics and audio dramas as a “morphant”). Escaping to Earth, the Master killed an innocent paramedic named Bruce and took his body just as he had done with Tremas years before.
This brought us a Master with an American accent, one who wore sunglasses most of the time to hide his green, lizard-like eyes and who constantly shifted between being stoic and acting quite campy. Hey, repeatedly altering your DNA and taking over bodies that don’t belong to you has got to knock a few screws loose. In any event, the Master then tried to take over the Doctor’s body but instead wound up sucked into the singularity that powers the hero’s time machine. You’d think that would have finally destroyed him, right?
We’re not finished yet. Check in with our second part coming up. If you liked this type of piece, let us know and we’ll delve more into the mythology of Doctor Who and other characters.