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A Snake, A Cheetah, A Corpse, and Much More: Introducing the Multifarious Masters

After the shock and awe ending to World Enough and Time, once our mandibular ramuses had been reattached to our temporal bones, some of us thought to ponder… why did the Time Lord’s ‘most infamous child’, the ‘lover of chaos’ whose ‘villainy is without end’ – The Master – spend a good few years sporting a ‘Gigi Hadid doing Melania Trump’ accent, an unconvincing conical conk, and Talfryn Thomas’ teeth? Well, sometimes you need a few decades’ break from devouring the universe to slouch about, make tea and bacon butties (while watching the cruel dehumanisation of your best mate’s latest bird, admittedly).
But this is not in any way out-of-character for the Doctor’s most fearsome enemy/old school chum; in fact, it’s relatively normal for a being that has quite a form-fluid existence. Here’s some of his/her all-time strangest transformations…

Crispy on the outside, soft in the middle

When we first met the goatee-bearded jackanapes, for a good few adventures, the Master was content to maintain his humanoid form, with occasional latex-enhanced subterfuges in the guise of a telephone engineer (Terror of the Autons), a telephone repairman (Mind of Evil), and then there’s the deleted scene from Claws of Axos where an enraged Third Doctor shouts, ‘It’s him! Unhand me, fellow!’, while being wrestled to the floor by Sgt Benton as he attempts to rip the face off an innocent telephone engineer who’d just popped in to check the line.

It was only Roger Delgado’s sad death in a car accident that ended the character’s regular appearances. That was until new a new production team came in and decided there was still life in the Doctor’s best enemy. Just not that much.
They could have simply regenerated the Master into a different persona with a corresponding replacement actor (just like the Doctor). But instead they plumped for a sort of halfway (burnt-out) house.
Was it the old geezer back but all burnty and cross? Or is it a completely new incarnation all burnty and cross? Perhaps we’ll never know. What we do know is that no amount of expertly-applied latex is going to convince anyone that the char-grilled, corpse-faced loon with no eyelids has just popped in to fix the trimphone.
For his next appearance in The Keeper of Traken, he’s had a bit of work done around the eyes, and it was a blinking improvement and no mistake. But was it the first Master still burnty and cross? Or the last one back all burnty and cross (with functioning palpebras)? Or a completely new chap (rather unfortunately) similarly burnty and cross? But then, a (less crispy) new body, at last…

The toupee years

Much to the surprise of no-one-at-all-with-even-vaguely-proficient-eyesight, Peter Davison revealed in a DWM interview last year that Anthony Ainley wore a toupee throughout his tenure as the Master. But that the Cricket-loving actor was in such denial about his bald pate he insisted to everyone that the unconvincing postiche had instead sprouted naturally from his own perfectly-functioning follicles. And he was prepared to sacrifice large chunks of the universe to irreversible heat death, rather than allow people-who-couldn’t-care-less to suspect he wore a small hairpiece. Did someone say ‘typecasting’?
But at least he was more squidgie that his previous friable form and could comfortably pass off for a kindly elderly man like the Portreeve in Castrovalva, albeit with a matching unconvincing old-sage beard to go with the extra grey wig. Which makes you wonder whether, if he was in such denial, Ainley insisted the makeup team glued the grey wig on top of the black wig… Glue on glue. Hairpiece on hairpiece…

I hear you’re a racist now, Master

Up until Time-Flight, apart from a strange fetish for dressing up as telephone repairmen, the Master’s disguises seemed pretty innocent (aside from his psychopathic disregard for all forms of life except his own). But that’s the point: he was a misanthrope. There was no discrimination on display, he hated everyone – whatever race, creed, or colour – equally.

That is, until he decided to vent his ridicule on the 623 million southeast Asians in the world. For no discernible reason other than wanting to don a mystic moustache, cartoon Oriental teeth, and practice his ‘harrow, I am a Chinaman’ accent, the Master dressed up and lived life as the mystical Kalid. Even when no-one-at-all was watching. But if it’s a disguise, what’s with the river of green snot that pours out of his nostrils when he collapses? Eh? ‘Snot rocket science…?
And I’m not sure how they agreed to get Ainley to wear the costume, as it reveals what he’d look like if he was completely bald (yes, and had thick grey blobby skin). Did he insist the makeup team put the bald prosthetics on over his existing hairpiece? Glue on glue. Now that we are through.
The Ainley Master continued the trend of stranger and stranger disguises, the pinnacle being unnecessarily dressing up as a scarecrow, braving the cruel north wind, and dodging crow droppings to get a glimpse of the Doctor unseen in Mark of the Rani. When he could’ve, you know, ducked behind a bush for a bit. Not sure the epithet Master (meaning having very great skill or proficiency in…) of disguise is very apt. Master of inessential dressing up, more like.

Minimaster and Masterbot

Planet of Fire throws up a couple of interesting Master-variants. The first is a diminished-but-still-scheming teeny-tiny Master trapped in a box. He’s a Master-in-a-box (Master!), he’s a Master in a control box. Yes, one of Doctor’s most fearsome enemies, and one of the most formidable minds in the universe had accidentally shrunk himself while attempting to upgrade his Tissue Compression Eliminator weapon (and you thought attempting to get an early upgrade on your mobile phone was a belittling experience). The upshot of which is a scene that even in Doctor Who terms is a little ‘unusual’: the new companion attempting to vanquish the Doctor’s oldest and deadliest enemy by swatting him with her shoe.

It’s something of a missed opportunity that Character Options’ Planet of Fire set wasn’t a single-barefooted Peri brandishing her deadly footwear and a tiddly little Master figure hot-footing it away…
Of course, to compensate for his lack of size when confronted with Peri’s bountiful figure, the Master bigs himself up by asserting his power over the full size robot, Kamelion. No one could say to him his will is weak.
But just a glance at the silver android’s lower anatomy reveals an action-man-like absence in the groinal area. The ‘last chicken in the shop’ has left the volcanic island. Did our favourite bearded baddie, in his Kamelion guise, cop a feel between the thighs and think, ‘It is a bit neater without those dangly bits down there… maybe in a regeneration or two…?’

Is it a cat, a snake or a discharge? No, it’s the Master…

Okay. So this is the point that things start to get odd. Not odd like the above. Uberodd. The Master’s next major transformation is a strange one even for him. He is infected by the Cheetah Virus on the Cheetah World and becomes a Cheetah Person (they’ve got a strong Cheetah Brand). Not only does this give the Time Lord special pointy teeth, yellow eyes, and advanced caterwauling skills, it also gives him the ability to summon up Hale and Pace from comedy hell. But most of all, it gave the Master the fearsome ability to cast the entire show into the wilderness for Seven Long Years.
And what a busy and eventful break it was for the evil Time Lord. Now, Doctor Who fans have long memories and maybe, just maybe, some of them might have camped out in front of the tellybox for 6 years, 5 months, and 21 days waiting to see what had happened to the Cheetah Master with his Cheetah Virus on the Cheetah Planet. Only to find he’d turned into a snake.
Was he going through a series of animal forms and, in the intervening time been a dog, an elephant, a frog, a goat, a horse, an iguana, a jellyfish, a kangaroo, a lemming, a monkey, a newt, an octopus, a panda, a quail, a rabbit, and now a snake? Now there’s a cash-in children’s book, The Master’s Evil Animal Alphabet
So, the Master far from being a pile of ashes as the Daleks intended at his execution, survives by becoming an alien snake creature so he can slither about and find a new body. This is all absolutely clear, needs no explanation, and is a perfect way to introduce the character to a whole new audience.

And what does the slippery Master do in his new serpentine form? He slithers up to a couple in bed, rejects the sleeping lady, takes a fancy to the butch man in a fetching tight white t-shirt, and enters him orally. Later, once he’s taken over the nubile bloke, he takes his top off to admire his ripped torso and then rejects the advances of the lady in the bed. I’m saying nothing, just reporting the FACTS.
So, there you have it: next time someone protests that making the Master a woman is somehow untrue to the character, you might like to point out he’s been two walking corpses, a Traken in a toupee, shrunk to the size of an action man, a Cheetah, a translucent space snake, and (most shocking of all) a Yankee.
So, as we await the Master’s next transformation, I’ll leave you with this…

Let us roll all our strength and all
Our sweetness up into one ball,
And tear our pleasures with rough strife
Through the iron gates of life:
Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.

Peter Shaw

A Snake, A Cheetah, A Corpse, and Much More: Introducing the Multifarious Masters

by Peter Shaw time to read: 7 min
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