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Roger Delgado

By Paul Sinkovitch

During Doctor Who's break from transmission in August 1970, producer Barry Letts and script editor Terrance Dicks devised the character of the Master. They wanted a villain who would capture the public imagination in the way the Daleks had done, since their introduction in 1963. A more human villain was needed; at first to be played by a woman (the Mistress?) but it was decided the audience would be able to accept evil more readily in a man than in a woman. They created a renegade Time Lord, like the Doctor, but unlike the Doctor totally ruthless and evil. The black figure to the Doctor's white. Or as it is very often quoted, the Master to the Doctor is like Moriarty to Sherlock Holmes. Roger Delgado was cast, and with his background of playing many villains, his portrayal of the Master as a renegade Time Lord as hell-bent on evil and destruction as the Doctor is on peace and justice, was an instant success. The brilliantly scripted Robert Holmes story Terror of the Autons was a stunning introduction for the Master, with his stepping from his TARDIS, shaped like a horsebox.

A dark, strikingly handsome man, Roger Caesar Marius Bernard de Delgado Torres Castillo Roberto - to give him his full name - was born in London in March, 1918, of French and Spanish parents. He was educated at Cardinal Vaughan School and the London School of Economics. He went on the stage in the late 1930s working in repertory in Leicester until 1940. After war service he returned to repertory, this time in York. From 1950 to 1962 he was a member of the BBC drama repertory, playing a wide variety of parts. He appeared in a number of films including Antony and Cleopatra, Star, Khartoum, The First Man into Space and The Battle of the River Plate and in many television series: Francis Drake, The Man in the Iron Mask and The Borderers. He gained his reputation as a villain by playing evil men in television series such as The Troubleshooter and Maigret.

Even though Delgado was able to play the Master in only eight stories (Terror of the Autons, The Mind of Evil, The Claws of Axos, Colony in Space, The Daemons, The Sea Devils, The Time Monster and Frontier in Space) before his tragic death in 1973, he remains one of the most popular villains ever. His popularity is shown in a recent survey on the Pertwee years, held by the Australasian Fan Club, where he was voted as best villain by '...an unbelievable margin'. His combination of total evil and impeccable good manners made him irresistible. Being such a cunning adversary, with equal intelligence and a similar background as the Doctor, clashes between the Master and the Doctor have made some of the most compelling Doctor Who stories ever. Since they are both of equal intelligence and ingenuity the Master is a real match for the Doctor - they both try to outwit each other and the Master always comes close to completing his task - only to be foiled by the Doctor at the last minute. With a total lack of scruples, a finely developed ability to impersonate others, and well developed powers of hypnotism ('...You will obey me.'...I am the Master'), the Master is almost unstoppable, in his conquest for power. Unstoppable, all but for his only downfall: his vanity. Very often it is this vanity that gives the Doctor the flaw in the Master's plan that can be used to defeat him. The Master loves to boast to the Doctor, almost to show his superiority, when victory is only a step away for him.

Even though the Doctor and the Master were sworn enemies they nevertheless held a certain amount of respect, even love, for each other. This is especially true of the Doctor, who has confessed that he would be 'really quite sorry' if anything happened to the Master. They could even work together if a situation called for their cooperation: joining forces to trap the Mind Parasite in The Mind of Evil, escaping together from the Axon spaceship in The Claws of Axos, working out the history of the Primitives together in Colony in Space. This love/hate relationship leads us to ponder on their relationship, especially what happened between them on their home planet of Gallifrey. Both became bored, and both departed, one in search of knowledge, the other power and conquest. Did they simply go to school together, or were they perhaps brothers? A final showdown had been planned in which the true relationship between them would be revealed. It was also planned to kill off the Master in an enormous great blaze, and leave it ambiguous as to whether he had allowed it to happen to the save the Doctor - the suggestion being that his affection for the Doctor had overcome his evil. But very tragically, Delgado was killed in a road accident before this story could be made. While on location in Turkey making a film called Bell of Tibet, on 18 June 1973, his chauffeur driven car crashed and he was sadly killed. The last story to feature Delgado was Frontier in Space, and this unfortunately had an unsatisfactory ending for Delgado. At the end of this story the Master simply vanished. Because time had run out in the studio a repeat of the scene was impossible. What was supposed to happen was that the Master escapes in the confusion when a great blobby monster appears not simply vanish as did happen. Barry Letts: 'We were all very sad that the ending went wrong - if he had been coming back it wouldn't have mattered... The phrase for what happened is "complete cock-up"'.

Even though Delgado played the Master with such relish, off the screen he was a charming and friendly man, fondly remembered by colleagues and fans alike. He was also a close personal friend of Jon Pertwee, and his death was a factor in Jon leaving the series after the next season. Unfortunately there were very few interviews held with Delgado, and very little is documented on what he himself saw in the character. In an interview in 1971, though, he said: 'I was thrilled to be offered the part of the Master, I had tried three times before to break into Doctor Who... I love playing villains'. In many interviews held with other regulars of the series during Delgado's time as the Master, such as Jon Pertwee, Katy Manning, Nicholas Courtney, Richard Franklin and John Levene, he is remembered as a most kindly man. The entire Pertwee years are remembered as a very happy and enjoyable time for the regulars and it is no doubt his death struck them very hard. Apart from such interviews, little is known about his personal life - his widow, Kismet has remarried and never given an in-depth interview (to my knowledge), except to say his favourite food was fish, and in particular a dish called salmon in pastry.

I think the Master was so popular amongst the public and fans alike, not only due to the compelling nature of his clashes with the Doctor, but also the way his total evil was hidden so well beneath that charming exterior. He was a villain who it was hard to hate. You could almost forgive him for all the evil he had done, it's not his fault - he just hates to be nice. And this, I feel, is what makes a villain great, not just straight out evil and a villain who you really hate, as Anthony Ainley's Master has become.

This item appeared in TSV 2 (September 1987).

Reprinted in: Flashback Vol. 1, The Best of TSV 1-20, TSV: The Best of Issues 1-20