The Master has been the Doctor’s bitterest enemy – his best enemy even – since he was introduced into the Doctor Who series in 1971, played by the urbane Roger Delgado. The Master is a ‘mirror image’ of the Doctor, a rogue Time Lord who delights in mischief and evil where the Doctor takes a more righteous and benevolent path. Delgado passed away in 1973 after a string of contretemps with Jon Pertwee’s Third Doctor and the character was quietly retired. He briefly returned in a desiccated form in 1976 before being restored as a recurring villain again in 1980, played by Anthony Ainley until the series ended in 1989. The Master has returned in the 21st century resuscitation of the series, of course, variously played by John Simm as an out-of-control psycopath, Steven Moffat’s tediously comedic Missy (Michelle Gomez) and, in the most recent series, in the form of Sacha Dhawan who restores the character’s ferocious malevolence.
I Am The Master is a solidly enjoyable collection of five short stories and one hundred-page-plus novella presenting ‘untold tales’ of the Master’s activities in all his main incarnations (sorry, Gordon Tipple fans, your boy gets ignored again) when the Doctor’s back is turned. Best of the bunch are probably Peter Anghelides’ Anger Management in which Delgado’s Master is forced to carry out missions for creatures from another dimension who are holding him captive and Mark Wright’s ingenious The Dead Travel Fast, written from the perspective of Bram Stoker, holidaying in Whitby in 1890 and coming across a withered cadaverous figure and a mysterious grandfather clock washed up on the shoreline. Matthew Sweet’s novella The Master and Margarita is an engrossing affair, heavy on fan-pleasing continuity references, depositing Dhawan’s incarnation (although you’d be hard-pressed to tell from the text) in Russia in the 1970s and working alongside another familiar creature from the Doctor Who canon, for a Soviet equivalent of the Doctor’s military chums UNIT.
The remaining stories are a mixed bag. Mike Tucker’s A Master of Disguise is likely to satisfy those who might have wondered where the Master sourced his disguises and costumes in the ‘classic’ series and Simm’s Master (again only vaguely recognisable from his TV appearances) finds himself on an alien planet where the inhabitants are being horribly exploited by hostile plant life. Jacqueline Rayner’s Missy story is, however, a slight fantasy tale and eminently skippable, mainly because it’s a Missy story. But this is a good, well-written collection of tales (although they do overuse the Master’s tissue compression eliminator weapon and two stories unfortunately make use of the same plot device involving an ‘appearance’ by the Doctor) that offer genuinely interesting insights onto the scrapes Doctor Who’s favourite bad boy gets into when the Doctor’s not around to keep him/her in check.