Picture this: someone once created a show with its main character being an alien who has the uncanny ability to regenerate. But 50 years and over ten faces later, it’s still the same character. Here comes the tricky question: which Doctor is your favourite?
Some might reply:
I don’t have a favourite, because he is the Doctor. All his incarnations are part of one single character. Imagine you undergo plastic surgery and come up with a new face. Would you expect people to ask “which person was your favourite” while you’re still the same person in the inside?
Others might dodge the question and answer by telling who “their” Doctor is, aka which Doctor was on TV when they were born, or which Doctor they saw first on TV.
Some people still spend a fair amount of time ranking all incarnations of the Doctor, based on storylines, personality and acting, and manage to come up with a favourite, sometimes two when they distinguish Classic and New era. For those of you who aren’t aware, there is still some sort of a frontier between Classic and New Who, a fact that has something to do with the 10 years gap between the movie and the revival of the series. This makes things even more interesting when it comes to pick a favourite story, companion, alien, world, accent, villain.
Let’s be honest for one second here. We always feel the need to pick up a favourite, it’s a human trademark to say “we like this more than that”. Despite our love for Doctor Who, we just can’t fight that very human urge to pick a favourite. Mind you, even the Doctor shows sign of favouritism when he admits having a soft spot for Earth.
Luckily, with a show as rich and expanded as Doctor Who, everyone can find his or her favourite in any topic and any aspect of the show! And while I find it quite difficult to pick just one Doctor as a favourite – I tried it just for fun, but ended up with two different Doctors whether I ranked them by personality or by literary interest – I realised that it was increasingly easier to pick my favourite Master, so I’ve decided to devote this article to this fascinating character.
Every hero deserves a nemesis, but with an extended universe such as Doctor Who, that nemesis turned out to be as interesting as the main character. While companions come and go, the Master regenerates just like the Doctor, allowing us to witness how their relationship develops. As I said, I’m only going to talk about my favourite Master who, in my opinion, shaped the character and opened the door to very interesting storylines.
While it has been confirmed that the Master and the Doctor studied together at the Time Lord Academy, the first television appearance of this famous villain actually takes place in 1971. Charming and cunning, the first Master is also an expert in disguise and hypnosis. A master of sorts, whose path often meets the Doctor’s in intricate stories showing the renegade Time Lord’s goal: domination over everything and everyone. It’s clearly a case of “Time Lord gone wrong” and the evil etiquette would probably stick to the character if the Master wasn’t so likeable. Despite his best efforts, he seems to be a victim of fate. His perfect plans always go wrong, forcing him to ask the Doctor for help. And that’s when you perceive the strong bond between them. It shows when Jon Pertwee and Roger Delgado share the screen and it shows when the Doctor and the Master come in contact.
The Sherlock Holmes/Moriarty comparison doesn’t really work back then, while today it’s pretty obvious that the Master (or Missy) is a strong and evil character. Take Missy in Series 10 for instance. Until the very end, I didn’t buy her change in becoming “good”, while I find it hard to see Roger Delgado’s Master as pure evil. It takes Frontier in Space to truly see a disturbing aspect of the Master and believe that he actually intends on killing the Doctor. Until 1973, he is simply not believable and it has nothing to do with Roger Delgado’s acting, but it has to do with the way the character is written. One can feel that he has a strong potential for true evil, but it’s concealed in the way he behaves. To him, Earthlings are an inferior species that need (his) guidance. Domination and subjugation define the actions of this character who is convinced of his own superiority over everything and everyone. Yes, he is material for a heartless villain, but the fact that he considers the Doctor his equal softens the character’s traits. His being evil is not deliberate at first. While the Doctor wants to protect Earth, therefore thinking of the greater good before his own interests, the Master wants to rule the universe in an attempt to protect it.
Fundamentally, the first Master can’t be considered an evil character as he is acting in an alien way (let’s keep in mind that he doesn’t know Earth as well as the Doctor!). His reasoning can only be translated as evil because the direct consequences of his actions would arm people. But let’s try to see the situation from his eyes: he arrives on a less advanced planet (technologically and socially speaking), discovers that its inhabitants are unable to live in peace and regularly engage in wars. What is the logical conclusion for a Time Lord who has lost its faith in his own people? The conclusion is that this planet is the perfect candidate for a rescue operation. It needs to be helped; it is in desperate need for a Time Lord to guide it, even if this means more wars until the goal is reached: the Master’s domination.
This reasoning might sound a bit extreme, but it is the best way to show the value of the first Master who would eventually grow into the character we are used to: the Doctor’s archenemy but a close friend.
As the proverb says:
Keeps your friends close and your enemies closer.
Sounds to me that the Doctor (and the Master) understood it quite literally back in the 70s, while today… I’m still wondering at that strange twist in Series 10’s last episode, but this is a topic for a another article!
So next time you’re introduced to a Whovian, maybe avoid the obvious “favourite Doctor” question and go for something a little different. Favourite companion maybe? Favourite alien even? Or maybe really test them and go for favourite member of UNIT! They’re bound to have an answer. After all, they’re only human. Hopefully.