Inventing the Master – Interview with Terrance Dicks

As we enjoy the newly rejuvenated Master on television, we’re very proud to present not only the first "Black Scrolls" branded article on Kasterborous, but also an interview with the man who conceived the Master – Terrance Dicks. Gareth Kavanagh caught up with the man himself at the recent "Who at the Cavern 2" convention…

Gareth Suppose we will flash back to 1970. Jon Pertwee’s been through his first year and there is obviously a change in the air in terms of the formula, and the Master is a large part of that. Do you remember where the Master first came from?

Terrance Yes, very clearly. It came out in one of the many serious creative discussions that Barry Letts and I used to have in the bar after work and at lunchtime and we were discussing the fact that the Doctor has often been compared to Sherlock Holmes. I suddenly had the idea that what he needs is Moriarty and you’ve really got the whole thing there – the arch enemy, and it all came out of that discussion, the Time Lord once a friend of the Doctors who had gone to the bank and become this arch enemy.

G So equal but opposite, in essence.

T Absolutely, yes! And immediately, Barry Letts said, and I know exactly the actor to play him; Roger Delgado.

G So there was never anyone else in the frame?

T You could literally say the part was written for Roger from the very beginning, because Barry who had been an actor, had worked with him and knew he had got this splendid, sinister charm. So he was perfect for it.

G I think you had always said he’d had a career playing the sinister Spanish Ambassador.

T That’s right, the Spanish Ambassador plotting against good Queen Elizabeth in the corner and generally up to no good. Or the KGB’s master spy!

G So it was always Roger Delgado. And was it always intended to have him feature in every story of that first series?

T Well, generally it was and it worked for a while but we ran into problems in that the end of every story it is revealed that the villain is the Master, so ‘sameishness’ starts to creep in. So we decided that the thing to do was to have him pop up sporadically and that was fine. It worked very well. But it wasn’t fine for Roger, who came to Barry one day and said, "Look I’m losing work because everybody thinks I’m in Doctor Who and they think I’m still in it but I’m not". So he wasn’t getting a full season’s work out of us and he was missing opportunities. And he said "I think I’d better definitively leave" and Barry said "well how do you want to leave, do you just want to vanish or do you want to go out, with a bang?" And Roger said he would like to go out with a bang. And we were in the very early stages of discussing a story for him in which he engages in some final titanic struggle with the Doctor and is eventually destroyed and we thought possibly by sacrificing himself for the Doctor and at the very last minute he can’t bring himself to kill him.

G Which of course he never could in the series anyway

T Well he always tried some totally elaborate things such as shooting when he got a chance. So never more than a very early discussion

G So would that have been a similar story that transpired to what happened with Planet of the Spiders, as popular theory is that the character of Lupton, a lot of that narrative would have been taken by the Master?

T I’m not aware of that, you’d have to talk to Barry Letts about that, it’s not anything I’ve heard before. As I said, it was just a small bit of discussion in the very early stages, it never got anywhere.

G There are so many theories on this. Please just say yes, no, warm or hot on any of them! The Doctor and Master were brothers?

T All that is speculation. None of that is official

G The Doctor and Master were two sides of the same person, the id and the ego?

T Well, metaphorically if you like to put it like that, yes, the good versus the evil. The Master had some good in him.

G I think the other thing is the Master has sometimes been quite controversial in the way that he has been used as a dramatic device. There is a theory about the Master as articulated by a writer in ‘License Denied’ who voted for the Master as the series’ ‘All time worst villain’; "the rationale is consider who he is. The Master is a semi-regular adversary for the Doctor, he reoccurs, he is not Moriarty who appears in one Sherlock Holmes specifically to destroy the great detective, he is not therefore, the Doctor’s nemesis, he is therefore an arch enemy in the mould of the Joker or Blofeld and it is the nature of such characters to pop up regularly to pester the protagonist. Theirs is a mutually defining and endless loop of hero-villain antics". Have you any comments on this?

T It provides people with an opportunity to amuse themselves by spinning various fantastic theories. And best of luck to them! It’s got nothing to do with me and nothing to do with Doctor Who. Well, it’s about Doctor Who, but it’s got nothing to do with the show. Its just fans! Spinning lunatic fans! And why not!

G I love Delgado’s Master on the whole. Do you think the character would have been better served if it had ended with Delgado?

T Well, it is such a good character that it would have been a pity to waste it. I always felt sorry for Anthony Ainley because Roger was such a tough act to follow, and everybody’s going to say he’s not as good.

G So fast forward to 2007. We’ve had Cybermen; we’ve had Daleks; we’ve had regenerations. What we haven’t had is the Master, though.

T Well, there are rumours that we are going to.

G If you were bringing him back, how would you like to see him brought back?

T Difficult to say as it’s the only other part like the Doctor that depends very heavily on casting. I don’t think his character was going to change except in terms of the actor that plays him. There is an argument that the mistake they made was with having the carbon copy Master, and there’s something to be said for having a completely different character who is yet the same man. That will be interesting to see.

G The clips I’ve seen of John Simm, seem to suggest he is going to be more like a Tony Blair reincarnation.

TLess sinister, more charm you mean?! Some of the clips do seem to show a Tony Blair figure. The Conservative demon eyes poster!

G Time will tell. Terrance, thanks very much!


Interviewer: Gareth Kavanagh, Editor: Steve Preston, Black Scrolls Magazine


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