Blogtor Who finishes the countdown of the Master’s all time great reveals in Doctor Who. But which is at Number One?
From Terror of the Autons to Spyfall, the Master has always loved their disguises. And fresh from the wonderful chaos of Spyfall Part Two, Blogtor Who concludes our list of the best of the times the Master’s made a fool of the Doctor and us. But where will that glorious “Oh!” moment place among the annals of Doctor Who history? Read on…
6. The Portreeve in Castrovalva
Castrovalva achieves a true master stroke, so to speak. One so good it was less successfully imitated by a number of Anthony Ainley’s subsequent appearances (see Part One). But it’s a testament to how good this twist is that it’s still a surprise even though you already know the Master’s in the story. The newly regenerated Doctor (Peter Davison) has escaped from a death trap set by the Master and fled to the gentle, peaceful town of Castrovalva. There he befriends the kindly old Portreeve (Neil Toynay) while, in parallel, we occasionally cut to the Master’s TARDIS, where the evil Time Lord plots his revenge.
But at the story’s climax we learn that the Portreeve and the Master were one and the same all along! (‘Neil Toynay’ being an anagram of ‘Tony Ainley’.) Ainley doesn’t often get enough credit for his depiction of the Master, but the very fact he could take minimal aging makeup and pull the wool over the viewers’ eyes for two episodes proves his talent.
5. The Melkur in The Keeper of Traken
Just a couple of stories earlier and Ainley’s predecessor in the role, Geoffrey Beevers, creates a shock of his own. The planet Traken is protected by the power of the Source, which turns anything evil that lands on the planet instantly to stone. When one of these petrified ‘Melkur’ aliens begins to talk and walk and scheme, nobody could have guessed the truth. Not even when we see that it’s being apparently being remote controlled from a cackling villain elsewhere. It’s only when the statue materializes – with a familiar wheezing groaning sound – on the planet’s throne that we begin to suspect the truth. The apparently living statue is a TARDIS, and the control room we’ve seen is inside it. And the cackling pilot, dripping malicious intent? Why, it’s the Master of course.
4. O in Spyfall
Rarely has the presence of the Master in a story being so completely unexpected as Sacha Dhawan’s in Spyfall. Even his cover identity of ‘O’, the friendly MI6 analyst with mad theories about aliens, was scrubbed from promotional photos and trailers. It’s literally only seconds before the big reveal that we suspect there’s anything not quite right about O at all.
When the Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) notices a flaw in his backstory – about winning races in school of all things – his eyes flick back and forth, reaching for possible ways to talk his way out of it. Then the mask falls, like a dust cloth off of an old mirror, and malevolence stares out of those eyes that were so eager and friendly moments before. “I did tell you to look for the spymaster. Or should I say… spy… MASTER,” he reminds the Doctor, as she reels like it’s an almost physical blow.
It’s a particularly rewarding episode to watch again, too. Suddenly all the signs are there. O’s sigh of mild irritation when the Doctor breezes past him into his home, like he’s hardly there. His temptation of Graham with the truth about the Doctor’s history. Even his failure to note that the TARDIS is bigger on the inside. It all makes Spyfall one of the Master’s most satisfying reveals. But not quite number one…
3. Razor in World Enough and Time
Blogtor Who will admit that their opinion momentarily drifted and so entirely missed the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it presence of John Simm in the Series 10 trailer. But, regardless, World Enough and Time deserves plaudits for how wonderfully old school its reveal of the Master is. Throughout the episode only friend Bill (Pearl Mackie) has on the Mondasian colony ship is the erratic but kindly Razor. Razor is full of dark humour (“Positive attitude. Will help with the horror to come. Mainly the tea.”) but happily bounces along as Bill’s slightly unhinged sidekick. But, coming across Missy (Michelle Gomez) he becomes distinctly curious. (“I love disguises. Do you still like disguises?”) before ripping off his entire rubber face to reveal he was the Master all along.
Like Spyfall, it’s an episode even better when rewatched. There are moments even more fun in retrospect, like the Master wearing a mask over his mask and then pouting when he’s recognized as ‘Razor.’ (“Ah, you see through my clever disguise.”) While the dialogue between Razor and the Missy, the one who knows they’re both the Master and the one who doesn’t, is a wonderful bit of verbal of fencing.
2. Missy in Dark Water
The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) has spent a whole season walking slowly into a trap. And this time, he’s completely clueless. Even when he arrives in Missy’s lair he has no idea there’s even an evil plan to stop. He’s simply trying to find a way to help Clara (Jenna Coleman) somehow reconnect with her dead boyfriend Danny (Samuel Anderson). The TARDIS’ telepathic circuits take them to W3, and the centre of a puzzle the Doctor doesn’t even know needs solving. And then, without warning…
“I’m Missy … Short for ‘Mistress’. Well, I couldn’t very well keep calling myself the Master, now could I?” The line itself is a beautifully poisoned sting of a thing. But it’s Michelle Gomez’ vicious grin and the glint of her malign eyes that makes it so extraordinary. Much more than wild laughter or passionate gloating, Missy’s steely strength as she soaks up every second of the Doctor’s abject horror, makes this feel less like the reveal of a villain – and more like the unveiling of a victory.
1. Professor Yana in Utopia
On this list, we’ve taken you through stories where the Master’s stepping out of the darkness has been a wonderful shock, those where it’s seemed rather inevitable, and even those where it’s prompted the question “Why?!” But Utopia is unique in being able to get two parallel reactions from the audience at once. As Martha (Freema Agyeman) turns over nice old Professor Yana’s fob watch reveal the markings of a Chameleon Arch, we realize the truth… the Doctor is not alone. There is another Time Lord, even if disguised so well as a human he doesn’t know it himself.
Half the audience immediately move to the edge of their seats, hearts thumping to Murray Gold’s thunderous and foreboding music. Can it be… him? But the other half experience a slowly spreading dread – isn’t another surviving Time Lord a good thing? Especially if it’s someone like the sparkling and selfless Yana? So why is the Doctor (David Tennant) so alarmed. Is that… terror on his face? Thirteen years before Spyfall, many younger fans had never encountered the Master before at all. And what an introduction!
Thanks to the casting of a master of acting to act as the Master, Sir Derek Jacobi plays the jacknife of the personality change to perfection. Something dies behind his eyes, as if a lights gone out. And then, for the first time in eleven years we hear those thrilling words to turn your blood to ice. “I. Am. The Master!”
That’s Blogtor Who’s list of Doctor Who’s best surprise reveals of the Master. But what’s yours?
Doctor Who Series 12 continues at 7.10pm next Sunday with Orphan 55
Having decided that everyone could do with a holiday, the Doctor takes Graham, Yasmin, Ryan to a luxury resort for a spot of rest and relaxation. However, they discover the place where they are having a break is hiding a number of deadly secrets. What are the ferocious monsters that are attacking Tranquillity Spa?
Doctor Who Series 12 stars Jodie Whittaker (The Doctor), Bradley Walsh (Graham), Mandip Gill (Yaz) and Tosin Cole (Ryan). Chris Chibnall is showrunner, with Matthew Strevens Executive Producer. Orphan 55 is written by Ed Hime and directed by Lee Haven Jones. Guest starring James Buckley.