Editorial: A Masterful Ranking

In “Remembrance of the Daleks”, the Doctor muses “You can always tell a man by the quality of his enemies”. To me, the Master is the most definitive enemy of the Doctor.” He is everything the Doctor isn’t. He manipulates time and space for his own goals, while the Doctor would rather maintain the flow of time correctly, because he knows how dangerous changing events is. The Master manipulates people, either compelling them to do his bidding unwillingly, while the Doctor would rather respect the freedom of others.

As with Doctor, several people have played the Master since his appearance in “Terror of the Autons”. This editorial is my personal ranking of the Masters.

Disclaimer: Because I have not listened to any stories featuring Alex McQueen as the Master, I will not include him in the countdown.

eric roberts

8) Eric Roberts (The Doctor Who TV movie) Eric Roberts should never have played the Master.  His performance is more comparable to the Terminator than the Master, and even that is a failure because it’s a subpar version of the Terminator. Not only that, but I hate the scenes where he transforms into a snake monster to possess people.

peter pratt

7) Peter Pratt (“The Deadly Assassin”) Pratt’s master is the most desperate of the Master, having lost all of his regenerations. He no longer has the grandiose plans he did in Pertwee’s era, and will do anything to prolong this final life.  His evil ways have permanently scarred and disfigured him. My biggest problem–and this is the reason he ranks so low–is the costume. It really does not work because his voice is muffled by the mask.  Its overall appearance has not aged well, even though the story is still one of the greatest of the Tom Baker era)


6) Derek Jacobi (Master, “Utopia”) Jacobi is one of two actors who’ve played the Master through Big Finish, (along with Alex McQueen, which is why I put the disclaimer up), but unlike McQueen, he actually played the Master on TV as well, in the episode “Utopia”, which adapts the Big Finish story Master. For most of this role, the Master is actually Professor Yana, and he does not remember his true identity. When he finally does remember, Jacobi plays the transformation so well. He doesn’t even have to use words, his dramatic pause and turn is all you need to know just how dangerous he is now that he remembers. Jacobi would probably rank higher if I had heard the Big Finish stories he stars in.


5) Anthony Ainley I really want to rank Ainley higher, but I can’t. When he has a good script and good direction, Ainley is a great Master, especially in “Logopolis”, “Planet of Fire”, and “Survival”. But in many stories, the writers are not using him properly nor are they directing him properly. Because of this, his performance are not always convincing. To paraphrase what Internet reviewer SF Debris said in his review of “Planet of Fire”, he seems like a “community Shakespeare theater Iago”.


4) Michelle Gomez At first I wasn’t really keen on Missy because I didn’t like the idea of a woman playing the Master and calling herself Missy. But then, I rewatched her episodes from Series 8, and my opinion changed. She has an aura around her that makes you uneasy, and it should. You are always uncertain what she is plotting and that makes you unwary, even if she looks like Mary Poppins.

john simm

3) John Simm Had it not been for his recent return in Series 10, Simm might not rank this high. Simm’s performance during the Tennant era is a tad over the top, especially in “The End of Time”, but it works. His insanity is still a contrast to Tennant’s amiability and his eccentricities. And then in series 10, he even goes so far as to kill Missy, which is actually his future self!


2) Geoffrey Beevers (“The Keeper of Traken”, several Big Finish episodes) Beevers was the second person to play what fans call the “Crispy Master”, in the story “The Keeper of Traken”. Like Pratt’s Master, he has only this final life and then he will die for the last time.  Not only do we have his performance in “The Keeper of Traken”, but he was another Master in Big Finish. Unlike Pratt’s Master, Beevers’s Master has a much better costume, one that doesn’t muffle his voice. His Master is so unhinged and desperate that you are not sure what lines he won’t cross.


1) Roger Delgado (Pertwee era) The first and still the best! What I like best about Delgado’s Master is how subdued it is. His Master is not over the top. He exudes confidence and turns everyone he meets into his pawns with just a nod and a word.  You get this feeling that the Doctor both fears and respects the Master, who sees him not only as an obstacle to his goals, but a worthy opponent. He will even ally himself with the Doctor’s other foes, whether they are Silurians, Sea Devils, Daleks, or Autons.  You feel that the Doctor still remembers when he and the Master were friends and wishes they didn’t have to be enemies. However, they are locked in this endless conflict. Delgado will never be topped, and that is why he is #1.



2 comments on “Editorial: A Masterful Ranking

  1. My reaction to THIS blog is pretty direct: “Oh, Good Lord, no.” There’s something wrong with a world where a long-time Doctor Who fan can seriously rank Michelle Gomez, John Simm, and Geoffrey Beevers above Anthony Ainley. I certainly agree with ranking Delgado the best, but then there’s the erratic nonsense of ranking Derek Jacobi’s tour-de-force performance, brief though it was, below Geoffrey Beevers. I would attribute much of the weakness of these rankings to the inclusion of Big Finish, but that doesn’t account for the stunning slight against Ainley, who, while I agree he’s over the top, at least is recognizably playing the Master. I don’t care what Steven Moffat tells me, Missy is not recognizably the Master. She’s also a gender-stereotyped bad example of a female villain. If I had made this list, I would have acknowledged that the Big Finish stories are canon, but still not really weighed them in the rankings, because they’re a part of the canon that may not be easily accessible for a lot of people. But this is your blog, not mine, and your opinion–definitely not mine. For the record, my ranking would be, first of all, TV-only (this does include the TV film, which not only is unquestionably canonical but was also televised), and would be as follows: 1) Roger Delgado, 2) Anthony Ainley, 3) Derek Jacobi, 4) John Simm, 5) Geoffrey Beevers, 6) Peter Pratt, 7) Eric Roberts (pointedly ranked above Gomez because a) the script makes Roberts believable as the Master even if his performance doesn’t really, and b) much more menacing than Gomez to me. Good Lord, the RANI is more menacing, and more like Delgado’s Master, than whatever that thing is Gomez has been doing. I don’t blame her, I blame the writing and Moffat’s bad judgment, but definitely, 8) Michelle Gomez. Oh well, we both know what they say about opinions. A very well-written blog, as usual.

    • I’m planning on reviewing “The King’s Demons” soon, so I’ll explain there why I don’t like him in that one. It’s just in “Time-Flight” and “The King’s Demons”, he feels a little out of place. Plus, he’s ridiculous in “Mark of the Rani”.

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