DOCTOR WHO - Roger Delgado, the original MASTER

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Tom Pheby takes a look at one of Doctor Who's greatest characters, the original Master, as portrayed by Roger Delgado. 


It would seem to be the worst kept secret in the World that Peter Capaldi's interpretation of Doctor Who will be joined at some stage in the proceedings by The Master, it's just a case of who is hired for this splendid part.

As previously discussed there are a number of candidates vying for the role of the Doctor's alter ego, including Charles Dance - my favoured choice. But you have to go back to the early 70s to find the best actor to date that has ever played him, for that accolade must surely go to Roger Delgado (1971-1973). The original, you might say!


Despite appearances Roger Delgado was born and raised within the sound of Bow Bells in Whitechapel, London. He was the Son of a Spanish Father and Belgium Mother, a cockney 'Spelgium' if you like. He was a Man much in demand, a 'working actor' in Television, Radio and the Theatre. This was partly for his unique physical appearance but equally for his distinctive voice.

It's said that Barry Letts (the Steven Moffat of his day) only ever considered Delgado for the part, which no one could dispute after seeing him in action. It almost seemed as if the hard work was done before he appeared in 'The Terror of the Autons' (71), having played the villain on many occasions before, which had provided him with a steady flow of employment and allowed him to amass a large body of quality work. He would have made a wonderful Dracula, swirling his cloak with unparalleled menace and gazing into the eyes of his victims with a stare so frightening it could disassemble the elements of concrete.


Much of his attraction as the Master was down to looks, the circles under his eyes, the grey sprigs in his beard and hair and the almost Mediterranean skin. He shone brightly in each scene with his ice cold delivery, imperious presence and he also treated us to episodes littered with maniacal laughter, something copied by a string of other lesser actors, and probably Vladamir Putin!


Roger Delgado provided the antidote to Jon Pertwee's ruffle wearing, cloak clad dandy. Dressed in his high collared black jacket, trousers and gloves, Delgado prowled around the set providing the Doctor with his intellectual equal. At times it looked as if he had been plucked from an Elizabethan ship, this gave him the opportunity to engage in a spot of swashbuckling with Pertwee.

Pertwee was acknowledged by many as the aging marshal arts specialist who was unusually fond of employing any sharp object left on set to obtain the clickerty-clack of steel on steel. The ponderous sword fighting scenes, which are still uncomfortable to watch today, provided the script writer with a welcome break and the choreographer of 'Come Dancing' with a stern challenge.

Roger Delgado still remains the most watchable of those cast in the role of Master, we can measure this against Anthony Ainley's watered down duplication of the character, Jon Simm's all together different but still entertaining version, and the totally dreadful Eric Roberts TV-Movie Master from 1996. In his defence, Roberts was hindered by a shocking script, dire wardrobe and so many teeth that smiling was almost impossible!


Delgado had the advantage of making less seem like more, he could make full effect of a pause in the dialogue with one carefully placed look. What a pity that he died in 1973 before filming 'The Final Game' which would have been the conclusion to the Master's story arc. If anything, Delgado would love nothing more than to be involved in the process of choosing a worthy successor to the role he made his own. My fingers are firmly crossed that it will be Charles Dance and not some wishy-washy bit part actor that played a bungling vet on a weekly soap!

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