the master eric roberts

Michelle Gomez’s turn as Missy throughout the last three seasons of ‘Doctor Who’ is kind of a big deal. Not just because of how well received it was or for the fact that her casting took the then-unprecedented step of casting a woman as a heretofore male Time Lord but also for the fact that it marked the first time since ‘Doctor Who’ went off the air at the tail end of 1989 that the show had a version of the Master that recurred with any sort of regularity.

Of course, there had been a few other incarnations of the renegade Time Lord in the intervening years, most notably the version played by John Simm opposite David Tennant. Simm, of course, returned alongside Gomez at the end of the most recent season, marking the first multi-Master story in the program’s history. Naturally, this opens up the question of whether other past Masters were similarly considered for a return.

The Master And Missy

Speaking with Digital Spy, showrunner Steven Moffat addressed this question, specifically with regard to Eric Roberts, who played the Master in the 1996 TV movie that also introduced viewers to Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor. On whether he considered including Roberts in the finale, Moffat had this to say:

“I never did! I’m afraid I never did. I like that TV movie and I liked him as the Master, I thought he was funny. But he’s not part… and sometimes this just happens… he’s not part, somehow, of anyone’s pantheon of ‘Doctor Who’. Not because he didn’t do well – he did do it well – and not because that film isn’t good – it is quite good – it’s just not really there.”

If I had to guess, I’d say that Roberts’ status as the “forgotten Master”, if you will, has to do mainly with the fact that he only played the part once, but also with the way he played the role. And to be clear, it’s not Roberts’ “fault” so much as a consequence of the material he was given to work with. Without getting into the relative merits of his performance, Roberts represented, arguably, the height of a trend that had seen the Master become less menacing and more a campy, over the top, pantomime villain. By contrast, John Simm’s version of the character – who, at least as written by Russell T. Davies, was nothing if not over the top – managed an air of genuine menace that Roberts never quite achieved.

Moffat continues:

“John Simm absolutely had a presence in the audience’s mind as the Master and that counted. Just as Roger Delgado and Anthony Ainley still have a presence in people’s minds as the Master. But it has to be, iconically, the Master versus, iconically, the Master.”

So when did Moffat first conceive of this showdown between iconic Masters?

“Oh, the moment we had Michelle in place I thought, “Well, they’ve got to meet!” Having got Michelle there I thought, “Wouldn’t it be great if she met John Simm? That’s just made of funny.” The two most ridiculous supervillains in history with the most stupid plans ever combined, trip over and kill each other – it’s inevitable! It’s like being attacked by the Keystone Cops!

But you had to wait for it, you had to let Michelle really own the part, really become the new face of that character. You can’t put a new Doctor with an  old Doctor. Same with the Master. Once she truly owned the part, in comes John Simm. When you look at the both of them, you think, “They both count, they’re both the real thing.”

‘Doctor Who’ will return this Christmas for the broadcast of ‘Twice Upon A Time’. The special, which will culminate in the regeneration of Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor, is also set to feature Pearl Mackie, David Bradley, and Mark Gatiss. In addition to Capaldi, producer Steven Moffat will also be bowing out at Christmas. The outgoing star and showrunner will be succeeded by Jodie Whittaker and Chris Chibnall, respectively.

Be sure to check back with for more news on both ‘Twice Upon a Time’ and the upcoming eleventh season of ‘Doctor Who’ as it becomes available!