Let's talk about “Scream Of The Shalka” for a moment. This 2003 webcast was the first attempt to revive Doctor Who in the 21st century, continuing sometime after the events of the ill-fated 1996 TV Movie with a new Ninth Doctor in animated format.
This Ninth Doctor, who may or may not be canon as I’ve discussed before, is voiced by Richard E Grant, and joining him in his battle with the Shalka is his new companion voiced by Sophie Okenedo (she’s the bloody queen). There’s also an uncredited cameo from some Scottish actor named David Tennant who was in a few Big Finish audios in the early 00s. Not sure what he’s done since but I thought I might mention it.
Also appearing in Shalka is the incumbent companion – none other than the Doctor’s oldest foe, the Master himself!
The Master is now trapped in an android body, unable to leave the TARDIS, and prophetically voiced by Sir Derek Jacobi.
It may seem weird to have a new companion join whilst another is already in place, especially if that other ones introduction to the TARDIS is never shown, but consider that it’s basically the exact same situation Pearl Mackie’s Bill will be dropped into when she meets Matt Lucas’s Nardole in the upcoming “A Star In Her Eye” and suddenly it seems to make sense. Similarly informing the revival is the idea of the Doctor having the Master travelling with him, with Tennant’s Doctor offering the same thing to Simm’s Master in “Last Of The Time Lords” (although this ultimately didn’t come about, what with the Master dying in the Doctor’s arms and all that).
According to writer Paul Cornell, the Master was fatally injured when he worked with his old enemy the Doctor to save the Time Lords after Gallifrey was attacked, but the Doctor managed to upload the Master’s consciousness, complete with personality and memories, into this android body. By the time that the story picks up in Shalka, it's clear that the two have been together for a while and perhaps the old rivalry has taken on a new form. They appear to be very close to each other, if you catch my drift. And yes, it IS intentional! Just listen to the answerphone message:
“You've reached the good ship TARDIS. We're rather busy at the moment. Leave a message after the beep and we'll try and get back to you before you called. Stop that!”
And you thought 12 getting the attack-snog from Missy was awkward!
An interesting glimpse into the Master’s view of his current predicament is offered by how he reacts to hearing this. He seems to bemoan the fact he chose to come travel with the Doctor, instead of allowing himself to die. A depressed incarnation of the Master shouldn’t work but it does here; in fact it works really well! It helps that a knight of the realm voices him, and does so excellently, with Jacobi resisting any temptation to phone it in. Perhaps his genuine status as a Who superfan is informing his performance? (Incidentally, in that very same year, Jacobi would also voice an alternate Doctor for Big Finish’s “Deadline” making him the second of only two actors to have played both parts, the first being Mark Gatiss.)
But the Master is still the recognisbale villain we’ve seen throughout the years! Not only does he look remarkably like the Delgado and Ainley versions, occupying some middle ground between their appearances, but he also possesses the same characteristics. The trademark charming dark wit is there, the hypnotism also appears, and then there was that time where the Doctor used the Master’s pure evil personality to defeat a psychic vampire (you really had to be there).
One imagines that the Master would’ve eventually managed to regain control of his fate and turned on the Doctor, just like old times, had the series been able to continue going. Alas it was not to be. Events overtook this and, instead of existing as an obscure webisode series, Doctor Who returned to TV with a primetime Saturday evening slot, and then it promptly became the BBC’s biggest show.
Funny the way things work out sometimes!
While it’s a shame that Shalka was for all intents and purposes struck from the canon, it’s worth remembering that it is so much more than just another obscurity from the wilderness years. This was the final stone that triggered an avalanche as the BBC saw that Doctor Who could still generate interest, that its fans still existed, that it could still work in the 21st Century, and that maybe it should be given another chance. And maybe the fact that the Master is played by Sir Derek Jacobi proved to them that if all else failed it could attract big name stars to generate interest. One questions whether the show would’ve returned, if the original plans to use a holographic Fifth Doctor (with Peter Davison returning), instead of the Master, had come to fruition.
I like to think that when Russell T Davies cast Jacobi as the Master in “Utopia” it was his way of thanking him for the part he unwittingly played in getting the show to a point where Davies could bring it back. So next time you sit down to watch an episode of Doctor Who from the revived era why not take a moment to remember the Shalka Master? This radical new take on the character is not only the highlight of “Scream of the Shalka” but also one of the greatest unsung heroes of the show’s revival.
When he's not obsessing about Doctor Who whilst having I Am The Doctor play in his head, Dr. Moo can usually be found reading up on the latest in Quantum Physics. As you do when you're a physicist.