Friday, 8 December 2017


We're nearing the top of the list. Revealing this Master will, of course, give away who made it to Number One. I hope you will enjoy both entries. Even when you've worked things out. 


For years, Anthony Ainley lived in the shadow of Roger Delgado. Not only did a lot of fans claim to like Delgado better, but many laid heavy criticism at Ainley's doorstep. The term "pantomime" was frequently used when describing his performance (but then, people were saying that all over the place about the JNT era. Most of them, I suspect, didn't even know what the term actually meant!). Apparently, not only was Ainley's acting terrible - but all of his stories were utter drivel. For so long, his Master was not looked upon very favorably. Some people still seem to heavily dislike him to this day.

But most of fandom came to terms with the fact that 80s Who was viewed ultra-critically and some serious re-evaluation was required. It helped, of course, that New Who fans were going back to watch the old stuff and saying: "Why are you saying this is so bad?!". Established Fan Wisdom had to get chucked out the window and those curmudgeonly Old Who Fans started becoming more objective about the stuff they had crapped on for years. As they changed their views, they were forced to admit that Ainley was actually a pretty good Master.

I, of course, am willing to sound pretentious enough to claim that I knew this all along. I have always loved Ainley's Master. Even back when it was popular to claim he was awful.

I will be the first to admit, part of this is based purely on nostalgia. Ainley was my first Master. My initial encounter with the character was in Castrovalva. I had been watching Doctor Who in a somewhat random fashion at the time (to better understand my early days viewing habits, check out my Second Anniversary Specail: Up until that story, I had no idea the Doctor even had an arch rival. I certainly thought it was cool that there was someone else in his reality that lived a similar lifestyle but sought to rule the Universe rather than just enjoy it. I even liked that he looked like a traditional melodrama villain with his dark clothes and goatee. It helped that Castrovalva was a really strong story. Particularly that "You created us, man of evil, but we are free..."ending. If I had just waited a few weeks and had started watching the show more consistently during Time Flight, I might have very different feelings about this incarnation.

As with any other incarnation I've discussed, there are shortcomings. Time Flight is certainly one of them. Even though I have admitted that it is a bit of guilty pleasure (another link so soon?! Geez! Slow down, Rob:, the story still has a lot of problems. One of the major ones being that Ainley does seem to twirl his mustache a bit too hard in this one. He's going just a little too OTT, in places and the pantomime accusations are valid, for once. Any of his other stories, I actually think he does a great job of "walking the line" between relishing his villainy but not going too far with it. But, here, it's hard to take him seriously. In Ainley's defense, he seems to learn his lesson from this misfire and reigns himself in accordingly, afterwards. Time Flight, however, is definitely his low point.

My other major problem with this Master is one based more on writing than performance. I've griped about this in several other entries so I won't dwell on it long. But I do hate how no effort was made to explain how the Master was escaping from his various horrid fates at the end of each of his stories (bar The Five Doctors). I actually loved that he was being trapped in these horrible situations. It was a great way to leave off with him. But, when I started seeing that we were never going to be told how he was getting out of them, it really marred my enjoyment of this incarnation.

Aside from that, I actually have a lot of praise for how this Master was written. Finally! We're getting a legitimate variety of plots. Yes, we still have stories like Logopolis or The King's Demons where he's still meddling with things he can't control in order to take over the Universe. That's always going to be the Master and we need stories like that from time-to-time. But we also get stories like Castrovalva or Mark of the Rani where he's trying to lay a big trap for his mortal enemy. Or stories like Time Flight, Planet of Fire and Survival where he's done something to get himself in trouble and he's just trying to get out of it. Or even the notorious "Master playing second fiddle" stories. Few fans seem to realize it, but the first story like this was The Five Doctors (Borusa was, technically, the main villain in that story). And then, of course, there's Mark of the Rani and Ultimate Foe. A lot of people actually complained about stories like these - but I loved them. I thought it was great watching the Master be more of a background character who was just wandering about causing trouble while the main villain had to deal with both him and the Doctor. It actually gave the character more of a chance to just be sinister. Particularly in Mark of the Rani - where he seems to spend the better part of the plot just sort of lurking in the shadows and being malevolent.  It was great how the Master would even be helpful to the Doctor in these sorts of stories because it suited his purposes to do so. When the Master is the main baddie, it's far trickier to contrive these sort of temporary alliances. But they happen all over the place when he's not the main antagonist. No, in my book, letting the Master be a subsidiary villain from time-to-time is the best thing you can do for the character. When Delgado's Master formed alliances with other monsters, he was still the central threat. Ainley really was the first Master to take a back seat in an adventure. I think it really worked well.

One must also admire Ainley's dedication to the role. Most Masters play to only one incarnation of the Doctor and move on when he does. But Ainley played alongside the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Doctors. He even met the first three incarnations during The Five Doctors. Really, if you want to get technical, he's the Master who has fought the Doctor the most. That, to me, adds more street cred to his incarnation.

Having the same Master stay on for so long was a nice consistency that allowed us to really see some interesting dynamics with the various Doctors. Ainley's interpretation of the role didn't change much, but how he responded to each incarnation of the Doctor changed greatly. This always made for fun viewing. It was something I looked forward to in the 80s when each new actor took on the role of the Doctor. I couldn't wait to see how he would face off against the Master. The Master always staying the same during this period made their confrontations more interesting for me. How the Master responded to the new man in front of him revealed a lot about that new man's character.

And then, of course, there's the disguises. No Master seemed to love them more than the Ainley Master. Sometimes, he took things too far. Disguising himself as Kalid for no readily apparent reason in Time Flight was certainly quite silly. But, most of the time, the Master's disguises were awesome. Did anyone see through the Portreeve in Castrovalva? I doubt it! In fact, we all thought Shardovan was the Master in disguise. Or how about the fact that he really doesn't wear all that much of a disguise in The King's Demons and still fools us? Which actually says a lot about Ainley's skills as an actor. He really can imbue different characters most effectively. Look at the fact that he, actually, plays another character entirely before we even encounter him as the Master. A character who is, very much, the anti-thesis of the Master. A warm gentle father who has the misfortune of being named Tremas. - an anagram of the villain he is to become. But Ainley really is Tremas until his moment as the Master arrives. He sells both roles very convincingly. Which makes those "pantomime performance" accusations seem all the more ludicrous. The guy has definite chops.

I'm very happy it's Ainley's Master in The Five Doctors. It's a benchmark story that we will look back upon for years to come (we already have, in fact). It pleases me that, as we look back on it, we'll see this version of the Master. The Five Doctors was a celebration of all that's wonderful in Doctor Who.

And Ainley's Master was exactly that.

Links to the rest of the List: 

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

Part 4:


  1. I enjoyed watching Anthony in action. Even had the pleasure of meeting him once at a convention. While not the subtle foe like Delgado, he was still a decent Time Lord foe for the Doctor. And while not as well written as Delgado, since JNT was using a large number of writers during his run as Producer, Ainley managed to turn in a decent job each time. If ANYONE wrote him properly, it was Terrance Dicks in The Five Doctors! I just wish that many of the current showrunners would consider contacting those former writers that are still out there and ASK advice on how to do The Master PROPERLY!

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