Sunday, June 30, 2013


Set A Pirate Capitalist to Catch A Pirate Capitalist – Running Down the Tax-Dodgers

Most inspired political-economic idea of the week: Irish blogger Jason O’Mahony proposes updating a centuries-old idea to capture taxes from offshore corporate tax-dodgers. Governments should privatise the hard-to-land tax liabilities at auction and let the hungriest privateer capitalists harry the behemoths. Memo to Danny Alexander: it may sound like a joke, but how better to harness innovation?
“Back in the day, governments used to issue letters of marque to ships, permitting them to engage in legal piracy against the vessels of other specified countries. Privatising sea war. Hence the phrase ‘Privateers’.

“Hoist the Jolly Roger, and set sail for Starbucks!”
Some privatisations make sense. Some don’t. I quoted Conrad Russell a couple of months ago on how Liberals need to think more carefully about them than Tories or socialists do: what will work? What’s the empirical case economically? Socially? Will it reduce or boost monopolies? I read about two privatisation ideas this week that reminded me of such tests and prompted more: is it politically bat-shit-crazy? And can it do something the state can’t?

Tuition Fees Again? Danny, Please, No

First, and with no pleasure at all, as part of the Coalition Government’s latest spending review, Danny Alexander announced this week that they’re privatising the Student Loan Book. It’s a tiny change to promote off-the-book borrowing that makes little economic and no social sense, and will probably have adverse consequences for students and ex-students. For those reasons alone, Danny shouldn’t have touched it with a barge pole. But in his role not as Chief Secretary to the Treasury but as a senior Lib Dem MP and, having known him for twenty years, a person with a sharp brain, there’s a much more political reason why rather than agreeing to it Danny should have retorted, ‘Are you fucking kidding me?’

I disagree with plenty of Simon Titley’s you-have-to-have-been-on-my-side-in-Liberal-Party-infighting-in-1982-for-your-views-to-count school of Lib Dem commentary, but there’s no doubt he got it bang on the money here:
“What political genius thought of this? Yes, let’s pick at some old scabs, shall we?
“…reopening the issue of student loans makes no political sense either. That issue has become a byword for mistrust of the Liberal Democrats. So why revive the controversy?”
The tuition fees fiasco was by common understanding the most politically disastrous single action for the Liberal Democrats since the party was formed (and arguably the most damaging to the British Liberal family since the First World War and Lloyd George’s egomania). The economic effects of this new change are minimal, giving the Tories very little leverage to insist on it as part of the wider plan, but the political effects are pure poison. Why on Earth are our ministers reminding everyone of this Lib Dem suicide pill?

However, while student loans are a very straightforward and easy form of debt for the government to recover – another reason, of simple inertia, not to sell them off – there are other liabilities that it’s a lot harder for governments to recover, and for those, having established the principle that you can sell off government debts just as you split off banks’ ‘toxic assets’, there’s a brilliant case for privatisation…

Labour Government By Debt and Tax-Dodging

Another piece of my reading in the last week – which deserves my coming back to on its own, but just in case, here it is as an aside – is Nick Thornsby’s table of “UK tax revenue and public spending 1997-2012”. Sounds boring, doesn’t it? But – shockingly – in the last 15 years, UK governments have only balanced the annual budget once, relying on massive borrowing in every other year while lying about “prudence”, and dating from a full decade before Labour could blame the international crisis. The thirteen-year-Labour Government’s sole credit year: +£16bn. Biggest debt year: -£186bn. No wonder the deficit’s taking a while to fix.

Labour simply decided that it was better to make people happy with a public and private credit boom, spending oodles of money that they didn’t have long before the financial crisis – in their ten years of power before the storm hit, nine of them were already on tick. That’s the problem with Keynesianism: the broad idea makes simple economic sense, but no-one ever practises it because of the politics. Borrow in a downturn? Absolutely. Run a surplus of taxes when the economy’s doing well? Nah, we’d rather not. And part of Labour’s long-running credit-fuelled feel-good factor was that they laudably wanted to pull in jobs from multinational corporations, so they let them get away with dodging taxes by the supertanker-load.

It’s only since the Coalition came to power that the UK Government’s focused on tax-dodging – partly because the Lib Dems insisted it be a priority, partly because the Tories realised that (for all they wanted to) they couldn’t get away with sucking up to big business like Labour did, and partly because, as even Labour admitted (though not of course that it’s their fault),
“there is no money”
and the Coalition Government now has little choice but to chase the money that Labour nodded and winked at companies to say they needn’t bother with and that’s harder to get even now the Government is actually trying.

But some of the tax that’s been dodged is very hard to get hold of indeed.

From Privatisation To Privateers

As an innovative way of prying taxes out of the biggest avoiders, it’s time to look again at the empirical case for privatisation. Will it work? Does it make economic sense? And can it do something the state can’t? The oft-quoted reason for many Thatcherite privatisations, even those that set up new private monopolies that logic suggested would be worse than public ones, was that even when there was no boost to competition, privatisation would automatically lead to ‘innovation’ and so ‘efficiency’. Sometimes this was true, sometimes not. One where it sounds more than worth a try is a case of very ostentatious state failure – the power of massive multinational corporations to avoid paying taxes. And so I come to my second and far more exciting piece of privatisation reading this week (though it was actually published the previous week, before you correct me).

Jason O’Mahony is a former Progressive Democrat and, if he counts himself as any sort of cousin to the Liberal family, is definitely at several removes from me (let alone Simon Titley). But, cover me in advertising and call me a Thatcherite, I think his “here’s a mad thought” blog post “Want to tax multinationals? How about privatising their tax liabilities?” is a brilliant notion.
“One of the challenges of taxing large multinationals is the fact that corporate taxation is like a war at sea. The fronts keeping changing, and you’re fighting on many different fronts at once. On top of that, the fact is that multinationals, because of the huge sums involved, pay huge money to their tax advisors, and so tend to attract the best. Tax authorities, on the other hand, get quietly competent but under resourced people…

“Auction off their tax liabilities to the highest bidder, as a legally recoverable asset, in the same way banks are selling off distressed, toxic assets. If company X owes state Y a nominal €100 million, auction it off. The state gets a chunk of money with ease, and the asset, the tax debt, becomes a private liability.

“Sure that’s mad, says you. Sure, who’d buy that debt? Some entrepreneur would, at a knock down price, and would pay hotshot young lawyers out of the finest universities in the world big fat bonuses for figuring out ways of recovering the debt. In short, we’d fight rogue tax dodging capitalists with the most innovative, hungry force on Earth: other capitalists.”
And he’s quite right about the counter-argument – people would scream that we’re “losing some of that tax revenue” to “mercenary taxmen”. That’s the tax revenue that we’re not getting. Half of something still being better than all of nothing. Because that’s the beauty of the idea – you only auction off the tax liabilities that you’ve already failed miserably to get hold of. And this way, you don’t have to pay all the lawyers to do battle in court and board the boardrooms. The auction-winners do that. You don’t need to sell off the lot – perhaps just some of the worst, pour encourager les autres – and you can set a ‘reserve price’ at the auction to prevent too big a disparity between liability and profit, or bar the dodgers from bidding on their own debts, or whatever… But it can’t be beyond the wit of government to set rules that are both lucrative for the public purse and exciting for innovators.

If it doesn’t bring in much money for the privateers, governments will already have had their cash up front by privatising the risk, and few will cry about it. If it brings in a lot of money for the privateers, the multinationals might be forced to settle with governments instead and agree to a binding international system of tax in future. And if the privateers’ lawyers hit on innovative arguments that spike the dodgers’ guns and set legal precedents, then government lawyers can move in and capitalise on those to rake in all the other liabilities.

So how about it, Danny? It would certainly bring in vastly more cash – and do far less political damage – than making more students walk the plank and keelhauling the Lib Dem vote.

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Saturday, June 08, 2013


Doctor Who The Master 50 Great Scenes – 39: Terror of the Autons

Counting down towards the fiftieth birthday of Doctor Who with Fifty great scenes… The Doctor’s finished on the telly again, and who most wants him finished? With Doctor Who – The Mind of Evil released this week to complete a rival Time Lord’s adventures on DVD, it’s about time to follow Number 40’s “I’m the Doctor” with a hostile takeover:
“I am the Master.”
And while sometimes I add a second Bonus Quotation here, something’s got into my head (a sort of drumming) and now there are rather more. More spoilers, as well. So, peoples of the Blogosphere: please attend carefully…
“I am many things.”

The Master 50 – The Masters

Springtime for the Master! If he ruled the world, every first day of Spring would be the blizzard (possibly of flying killer heads) that this year’s started out with. After not being at all well and getting out of the habit of writing this Fifty, it’s now the end of Spring, but cast your mind back to the beginning of the season and perhaps it’s just as well that I didn’t post this on the frozen 20th of March – despite it appropriately being a broadcast anniversary of the Axons. Even the alternative date for the start of Spring was still frosty, despite the 1st of April appropriately being a broadcast anniversary of some Sea Devils. And yet the Master’s been very much on my mind, not just nagging me to write but with his own two very special bank holidays – first Beltane, then the Master for one night only from in 1996 (or 1999). The Master, if you didn’t know, is almost the Doctor’s other half – an old friend who also left the Time Lords, but to rule the Universe, not just to see it, longing to make everyone else feel small. He became a jealous enemy across many of his and the Doctor’s lives, and a jack-in-the-box of irresistibly nasty fun across many of years of our television. I may have missed the daffodils, but his blooms last, so here’s something of the first plastic flowering of each Master, most of all the original. Sit down. Make yourself comfortable. Have a chair…
“This plastic has got unique properties, Mr McDermott. Allow me to demonstrate.”

Doctor Who 50 – Terror of the Autons: The Master

The Master (Roger Delgado) is a suave, powerful presence with dark, hypnotic eyes and a deep, hypnotic voice. Usually wearing a dark, pointed beard and a dark, elegant suit – most often a round-collared black Nehru suit – he’s also to be found disguised in everything from self-aggrandising pseudonyms to flamboyant robes to the grubby overalls and rubbery face of a phone engineer. The personification of charm when he needs to be; smiling and playful, albeit with his own murderous sense of humour; given to savage flashes of anger. His ambition is to rule the Earth, or occasionally the galaxy, though with an underlying need for the Doctor’s attention – before he kills him in an amusing way. To overcome his status as a one-man band, he forms alliances with a variety of alien races to do is legwork… Always (over-)confident that he can dispose of them when they’re no longer of use, rather than the other way round.

Terror of the Autons is the Master’s first appearance, materialising in the first scene of Doctor Who’s Eighth Season and immediately dominating the show – and the petty ‘big man’ to whom he introduces himself. By the time the Doctor gets a look in, still less when a Time Lord belatedly turns up to warn him of the Master’s arrival, the new villain has already stolen the show (and much more besides). Aiming to create a new spearhead for the Nestene Consciousness and their power over plastic, he’s found Rex Farrel, a young plastics factory manager in a rather nasty fashionable suit eager to make his mark after years following his father’s orders. Unfortunately for him, his new big customer in a much more impressively cut dark suit and gold tie is “Colonel Masters”: meet the new boss; very much not the same as the old boss. But Mr Farrel Senior’s left James McDermott, his own bluff, practical production manager in a sober suit, to report back to him in case his son mucks about too much, and McDermott patronisingly tells Rex the company’s not going to dump all its old customers for a mystery man with no paperwork. McDermott calls up the old man; Rex calls in “Colonel Masters”…

Not liking a new face, McDermott begins with a tirade about changing the plastics mix and ruining a day’s production. The Master is polite, urbane, amused, and shows off a shiny black fat square cushion of material that isn’t to McDermott’s taste at all. But he doesn’t appreciate its unique properties – or the Master’s. At a click of his fingers, the square begins to expand and, to off-key synthesiser music, slithers into the form of a shiny black fat square armchair. Rex seems curiously blasé, but an unsettled McDermott licks dry lips and weakly asks if the new customer is a magician as well as a Colonel. The Master answers quietly, staying still, ominous, powerful, while McDermott fidgets and flails about, trying to assert himself and the company as he knows it. The Master moves to stand behind the inflated chair, arms astride it proprietorially, and strikes a warm, friendly tone:
“Look, why don’t you try it?”
“Well, you’ll never sell that, I’ll tell you that for nothing. Sure, it looks like – like a black pudding.”
“Try sitting in it.”
“It’s got a cold clammy feel to it. Now plastic should be warm and dry to the touch—”
“Sit down, man!”
McDermott’s been eyeing the chair uneasily and prodding it like a first-time swimmer at the water’s edge – but the Master’s sudden whiplash of will is that of a villain who’s suddenly tired of the shaggy dog and wants to skip to the punchline. McDermott can’t help but sit. The moment he does, the chair starts to writhe again, wrapping itself around him and, rearing over his head, suffocating his screams within its thick, blobby synthetic mass and the thick, blobby synthesiser music.

The Master has instant presence, and you can’t tear your eyes from McDermott in the chair. But the third person in the room is in his own way just as fascinating – Rex has come entirely under the Master’s spell, but is shocked for a moment by the horrible death. The Master raises a hand to stop him stepping forward… And, everything over, Farrel is nonchalant again. More even than the Doctor’s companion, Rex is the personification of the viewer here, finding the thrilling new villain utterly compelling, briefly shocked by horror daring you to reject him, then back to watercooler-chat complicity as he steps to the intercom for a killingly funny businessman’s response:
“Sylvia? Will you check Mr McDermott’s entitlement on termination of employment, please?”
Rex Farrel – and the rest of us – are already so far back in the Master’s thrall after all this showing off that when he hilariously affects humility at the waste of so much material for one simple death we’re with Rex in saying, no, no, that was an impressive one, honestly. And like Rex, we want to know what the Master means when he gives a playful smile and promises efficient death with just a few inches of plastic:
“The human body has a basic weakness. One which I shall exploit – to assist in the destruction of humanity.”
I’ve written about the death at the plastics factory before – I didn’t see the Master’s showpiece scene on screen until more than twenty years after it was broadcast, but I saw it in my mind’s eye as a thrilled little boy reading one of the first books I ever bought, Terrance Dicks’ novelisation Doctor Who and the Terror of the Autons, and not only does it grip you (and Mr McDermott) on TV, it’s just as gripping on the page. Though it makes Rex more sympathetic by taking away his punchline, permitting him more struggling shock and generally removing the impression that his appreciation of the patronising right-hand-man’s death is an eagerness to murder his father by proxy, it gives the Master a terrible gag that I’ve always loved. You can read what in my in-depth review of the novel here, complete with that very scene as my selection of choice (and a terrifying picture of little me). And if you keep watching the DVD, the Master gets another deft little punchline later along the way…

In both forms, this is the Master’s crucial establishing moment – it’s such an outrageously exaggerated swagger of a scene that you just know he’s going to be fun to watch if he’s prepared to put on such a show for an audience of two one (give or take eight million). I don’t know if the phrase ‘hiding behind the sofa’ was in common currency yet back in 1971 or if the Master has always had the power to serendipitously subvert both the show and its viewers even before the clichés have formed to be subverted, but he reaches out to the audience’s safe place and deliciously makes it something to hide from. Similarly, the whole confrontation comes across like a scene from ’60s industrial power-play drama The Plane Makers being warped out of recognition by a devil from another genre stepping into it for a laugh. Perversely, of course, it also made me long for a blow-up plastic chair.

Each time the Master’s been reintroduced to the TV series – The Deadly Assassin, Logopolis, Last of the Time Lords, all below – Terror of the Autons has been the source text that the writers have looked to for inspiration, most of all Russell T Davies as John Simm takes over and, heretically, delivers for me the best interpretation of that original concept’s viciously playful streak. Roger Delgado is fantastic in this scene, but in other points of his first story he doesn’t yet seem as at ease, as in control, to simply be enjoying himself so much as he does growing into the part. So if you’re inspired by this selection to mount your own ‘The Seven Faces of the Master’ retrospective, while Robert Holmes’ Terror of the Autons is the definitive Master script, you might consider for slightly more compelling stories on screen and with Mr Delgado’s definitive Master performances either The Dæmons, in which he puts on a robe so resplendent it makes vaunting a blow-up chair seem almost introverted and then summons the Devil, or The Mind of Evil, out at last this week and making the whole of the Master’s adventures now available on DVD, in which he gets a big cigar, a big car and a big coat to play the part as a fabulously louche Bond villain.

Bonus Great Doctor Who The Master Quotation 1 – The Deadly Assassin

Doctor Who 50 – The Deadly Assassin: The Master

The Master (Peter Pratt) is a daring reinvention of the character, his charm, his humour, his looks, even his skin stripped away, though still boasting a deep, powerful voice. Rather than take the obvious option of simply making him a new regeneration like a new Doctor, Robert Holmes introduces the Master for the second time no longer as the Doctor’s ‘naughty brother’ but his dark side, all his narrow escapes having cost him every life and stretched him to the end of his thirteenth body – after which even a Time Lord must die. A rotting, ravaged ghoul wrapped in a tattered cowl, he’s still walking because he simply refuses to die… And because hate for the Doctor and the other Time Lords keeps him alive. This is The Master Unplugged, stripped to his essence, smouldering with pain and hatred and more impatient than any of his other lives. There’s no time for amusing banter, but only to renew himself at any cost (in fact, preferably at a terrible cost – not merely a killer for fun but a fiend who glories in chaos and destruction). He’s lost his vanity – though the hypnotic power that once seemed like seduction now blazes forth as sheer mental domination. He’s given up his delusions of grandeur – and ironically forms an utterly selfish plan that promises death on his grandest scale yet. He doesn’t hide behind pseudonyms – instead presenting his hideous face almost with pride and bellowing his name as if that is all that he has left. It’s almost as influential an introduction as his first, with the idea of the Master as walking corpse such a powerful one that he’s never quite whole again.

The Master has lured the Doctor back to their home planet of Gallifrey and framed him for the killing of the President – in part as a complex attempt to get his hands on the ancient relics of the Presidency and unlock the secrets of the Time Lords, though mostly to gloat. He will rip their power source away to bring himself new life, destroying their world and perhaps destabilising the Universe itself, making the story – for my money, Doctor Who’s best – a uniquely apocalyptic film noir. In the crypt where the Head of the Presidency and all its regalia lie in state, the Master rises from apparent death to seize them, only to be interrupted by the Doctor and two old Time Lords (the local police chief and the local librarian). As with Terror of the Autons, the confrontation of these equal and opposites is all the more effective for being held back until the finale, and the Master steps from the shadows, pissed off beyond endurance, to answer the Doctor back:
“The Master’s consumed with hatred. It’s his one great weakness.”
“Weakness, Doctor? Hate is strength.”
“Not in your case. You’d delay an execution to pull the wings off a fly.”
Even as the camera lingers on the Master’s gun – and he’s never more brutally trigger-happy than here – even as he’s twisted with physical agony, even he’s as kept alive by his absolute focus on the most important person in his life, the subject of all his rage and envy and vengeance, the one who he’s crafted all this to get his attention before he dies in disgrace, the Doctor still just dismisses him. That hurts.

Bonus Great Doctor Who The Master Quotation 2 – The Keeper of Traken

I did warn you there were spoilers, didn’t I?

Doctor Who 50 – The Keeper of Traken: The Master

The Master (Geoffrey Beevers) remains a twisted, skeletal wreck of himself, but has had to learn patience. He’s found another astronomically powerful Source to steal a new life from, but at the price of sitting it out on a planet that might make him regret calling the Doctor “insufferably good”; on Traken, evil simply gives up and calcifies. But he’s safe inside his TARDIS – disguised as a gorgeously twisted statue, a Melkur of local legend – and uses his time well to plot not just how to gain control but how to twist and corrupt a people kept without real knowledge of good and evil by the Keeper of the world exerting moral sense on everyone’s behalf. The Master here is an outstanding corruptor, blatantly the serpent in this Eden and with a marvellously silky, persuasive voice, pan-fried in evil with extra goose fat. As Richard says, this isn’t just evil. This is rich, gloating M&Ster evil. From the mildness of a wise advisor to the high, gloating glee of triumph at last, the Master’s greatest weapon is his voice. Though blazing energy beams from Melkur’s eyes come in handy, too.

The Master has waited until the old Keeper’s thousand-year reign is faltering, and turns a bride’s love into his instrument for removing the chosen successor. Again, the confrontation between the Doctor and the hidden Master is reserved for the finale – with one stunning scene in particular as the Master taunts him, and demonstrates that surrendering all your decisions to absolute godhood is a dangerous thing – but there are some marvellous exchanges between the Doctor and the Melkur as it slowly evolves from the ivy-covered feature in the background to a creepy walking statue at the centre of events. And it places itself most literally at the centre as the old Keeper dies: with the benign controlling intelligence of centuries suddenly gone, chaos breaks across the world in a storm of unchecked nature, and through the howling gale Melkur gloatingly offers a merciful death, its shrivelled, secret occupant looking down at the Doctor through great eye-like screens. The Doctor defies “Melkor” – appropriately recalling a famous fallen angel, and of what great order was the Doctor a member, and who fell the furthest? – but it’s too late. The Master’s catspaw is on the Keeper’s Throne. In the spellbinding last minutes of Part Three, all seems dark: the Keeper who called to the Doctor for help dead; the Master’s Machiavellian machinations turned almost the entire Court against our hero; the true nature of Melkur about to be revealed when it doesn’t merely walk but, with a wheezing, groaning sound, dematerialises to take the Throne – and, heralding that cliffhanger, long-term viewers feel the hairs rise on the backs of their necks as we see inside Melkur a room roundelled in black with a cowled plotter at the controls… Who turns to us with a great swell of music and with the ravaged face of the Master and, as all the years of insufferable imprisonment come to an end, with a tone of wonder and exultation:
“Now, this Traken web of harmony is broken. I am free…!”
Although Geoffrey Beevers’ time as the Master was a short one on television – though I do love The Keeper of Traken – the Master of voice has appropriately become the definitive audio Master, with many delicious readings of Doctor Who novels (not least Doctor Who and the Terror of the Autons) and a splendid new array of adventures for Big Finish. Perhaps the most remarkable of these is Joseph Lidster’s Master, which has more than a passing influence on TV Master stories to come…

If you find yourself in the mood for audio-play Masters, two others are available, with actors you’re highly likely to recognise and enjoy in the part. But both of them are big twists! So I’ll mention Doctor Who Unbound – Sympathy For the Devil, which was released ten years ago and so you’ll probably have heard of it if you were ever going to, but not the one from last year, which is also terrific fun (email me if you want to know). You’ll certainly remember it if you’ve heard it, and I will say that bears a remarkable resemblance to the much earlier Master story The Claws of Axos – done rather better, and very much bigger…

Bonus Great Doctor Who The Master Quotation 3 – Logopolis

Doctor Who 50 – Logopolis: The Master

The Master (Anthony Ainley) still carries the mark of having used up his lives, a synthesis of his predecessors – and of the poor schmuck whose body he stole as a consolation prize for failing to hold onto the renewing power of the Source. Dark-haired, dark-bearded, sometimes charming, he has something of the look of one prior Master, but the rotten dead heart of the other. Usually dressed in the embossed black velvet of the Traken Court – a reminder of the victim in whose dead body he scampers, father of one of the Doctor’s companions and taunting her with it horribly, while still ever more wounded in his cadaverous existence and needing help with further degradations from or for the Cheetah People, the Tzun or his own carelessness – he’s another Master with a taste for increasingly ambitious disguises, sometimes less for function’s sake than on the edge of sanity. That’s the key to this Master, whose old, confident desire for domination is mostly displaced into being more than ever a one-man band with one man on his mind, obsessed with the Doctor in as bizarre revenges as possible. Laughing all the while. And laughing. And laughing (yet I’ve not picked “Heh heh heh heh!” as his signature quote).

The Master seized a new body as the twist in the tail on Traken, but it’s by insinuating himself throughout Logopolis that he really makes his mark. Glorying in vicious deaths, stalking fear and, as ever, cutting the Doctor down to size, he’s initially little-seen but a palpable presence throughout his first full story. He may laugh a lot, but he’s got a cold, dispassionate air that’s very sinister. A cold, high, echoing music, too. This time, he’s dangerous. But even he doesn’t realise how dangerous, as his greed to find out what secret the planet Logopolis is hiding sparks the greatest catastrophe in all of Doctor Who and the Universe itself begins to unravel. He loses his nerve like a typical bully and bolts, then teams up with the Doctor not to undo the damage – nothing can do that – but to save what’s left by transmitting a new lifeline into another universe to give ours breathing space… And, recovering his composure, he finds again an eye for the main chance. Again borrowing from the iconography of Terror of the Autons, Christopher H Bidmead’s script crafts a far more powerful climax up in the dizzyingly high control room of a radio telescope. But this time they do not get on: the Doctor is revolted by everything the Master’s done, and all the Master’s overtures are ostentatiously mocking of a man he clearly thinks is past it. It’s the final episode of the story, the final episode of this Doctor, and the Master sees himself as the coming man, a lithe, Thatcherite go-getter contemptuous of self-sacrifice and concern for others. But before he finds to his shock that the real coming man is yet to come, he patronises the Doctor’s old, comfy ways and mockingly praises him for a technological deliverance that he clearly thinks he could have delivered himself – but was instead keeping the Doctor busy while he worked out how to turn it to his advantage. The Doctor knocks the Master’s congratulatory hand away as if stung – and, even as he tries to bundle the Doctor out, he can’t resist giving the game away with a good taunt. The gloves are off…
“So it works. Congratulations, Doctor. I always knew you’d do it.”
“You did most of this.”
“Oh, no. I was little more than a humble assistant – but I have learned a great deal. And now I think it’s time for you to go and explain the presence of your friends. There’s quite a hubbub outside.”
“You’re quite right. One mistake now could ruin everything.”
“I know that, Doctor – and it could happen so easily.”
“What do you mean?”
“The Universe is hanging on a thread. A single recursive pulse down that cable and the CVE would close forever. Even a humble assistant could do it.”
Logopolis is probably Mr Ainley’s most dangerous performance – and certainly his Master’s most deadly effect – but, if you want a wider variety of Doctor in your ‘The Seven Faces of the Master’, like Mr Delgado he has other stories worth a look. I’d recommend Planet of Fire for a different and rather glorious interpretation of the Master in which he has a great deal of fun and is pitted for the last time against the ‘new’ Doctor who becomes his arch-enemy as they were in the early ’70s. Then there’s a more different still portrayal in Survival, Mr Ainley’s last TV appearance but, as with his first, not quite managing to finish off the Doctor (here one who shares Mr Ainley’s birthday, and his companion’s, too).

Bonus Great Doctor Who The Master Quotation 4 – The TV Movie: Time Waits For No Man

Doctor Who 50 – The TV Movie: The Master

The Master (Eric Roberts) comes back from being executed first as a wriggling morphant monstrosity and then to possess yet another body, this time an unlucky paramedic. A mere human body begins to rot immediately, though his inner wriggling thing does at least give him the ability to spit sticky and occasionally hypnotic bile at those who get in his way. First underplayed, charismatic and rather sexy, his chiselled, clean-shaven features looking cool in shades, when bits start falling off his rapid deterioration leads to a waspish temper and a desperation to get the Doctor’s body – no, not like that. Oh, I dunno though. He also puts on his grandest frock yet for that big occasion. And yet he’s still not ‘the camp one’.

The Master has charmed a street gangster to his side with hard-luck tales of how – well, he’s no saint, but that awful, awful Doctor! A substantial quantity of gold helps. And the Doctor has made the mistake of choosing his companion rather less well: she’s already killed him once, she doesn’t believe him, and she’s more concerned with her sofa than his TARDIS. Never mind poor Mr McDermott: this is the sofa to really fear. And to top it all, she’s gooily hypnotised by the Master into abetting his S&M torture-possession plans, in a story that does millennialism considerably more stupidly than the one two above. And yet this Master is great fun and more of a mirror to the Doctor than he’s been in years, full of black humour when the Doctor plays it straight and, yes, I’m afraid heavily coded as the Hollywood Homosexual of Evil against a suddenly straight Doctor. I can’t help but enjoy both one-night-only Time Lords taking the piss immensely, and most of all as the Doctor wakes and expresses sheer incredulity as the Master’s companion swallows everything, his own slaps him because she’s evil now rather than merely banal, then the Master interrupts him, flouncing down the stairs with a flourish like Blanche turning up to the end of the world, which only the Doctor seems to notice:
“You! You took my things – where are they?”
“They’re not your things any more. Pretty soon, everything around here’s going to belong to the Master again.”
Again? What’s he been telling you?
“When he gets his body back from you, I’m going to be rich.”
“And you believe him?”
“Why shouldn’t I?”
“I suppose he neglected to mention that there won’t be any place to spend your money?”
“Which is why we have no time to waste.”
“But time to change!”
“I always dress for the occasion.”

Bonus Great Doctor Who The Master Quotation 5 – Utopia

I really, really did warn you there were spoilers, didn’t I?

Doctor Who 50 – Utopia: The Master

Professor Yana (Derek Jacobi) is a brilliant, eccentric scientist, perhaps the last – the savant at the end of the Universe (no longer delayed). An old man with a young companion, dressed in old-fashioned clothes, selflessly helping everyone (though it would be nice, just once, to get a little credit), with strange twinges of memory about time travel, the Doctor’s companion accidentally alerts him to the significance of the Gallifreyan symbols on his pocket watch. Not long before, the Doctor had used such a watch to hide his true self while living a normal life in a body and person made suddenly human. So with this dear old man so obviously Doctorish, surely there couldn’t be any doubt who’d be inside when he opened the watch…

The Master (Derek Jacobi) is older than some, with grey hair and an old body… But he finds new vigour and purpose – and newly compelling, dark eyes – when his whispering inner self takes over again (and you’ll recognise some of those voices). If you remember him sitting waiting inside a statue, an even better disguise was sitting inside a nice man (sweet? Effete!). If you think he was in drag last time, this was a performance so great that he was lost in it. And if the Doctor’s deepest wish when he had to make himself a new person to hide in was to become an ordinary man, the Master’s deepest wish was to be the Doctor… But just a little bit better. Fleeing service in the Time War, tormented by the drums in his head, in recovering himself the Master’s a real live wire, suddenly turning with contempt on his other life and his friend, sneering at and scorning everything about her – unwisely – and leaping back into murder and sabotage for spite. That came very easily.

This really shouldn’t be here at all. I may not be breaking the laws of my Fifty, but I am— no, hang it, I am breaking them, because here’s a moment, quite a bit of a moment, that’s going to turn up again later. I won’t tell if you won’t. This is only a part of it where, let’s say, the Master has seized control of the Moment. That sounds ominous, and it is. To simply fantastic music, the greatest outing for the 2007 theme we know as ‘Dance of the Macra’, Professor Yana has gazed into the abyss, the abyss has gazed greedily back and, with his most disturbing and brilliantly portrayed possession so far, the Master now takes possession again of – himself. Locked outside, humanity’s twisted, cannibal offshoots the Futurekind bay in hungry frustration as, above, humanity’s more hopeful survivors soar off in search of Utopia; below, the Doctor is confronted with the appalling realisation that You Are Not Alone. And, at the heart of the otherwise abandoned outpost, Professor Yana’s friend Chantho is being confronted with evidence that her friend may no longer be in residence. Black-eyed and delighting in life again, the man in his place is about to rediscover a taste for murder, but first can’t resist some playful, vicious fun as he operates the master controls first to lock the Doctor away from his TARDIS, then to let the Futurekind into the silo to greet (and eat) the Doctor and his friends. Chantho is appalled; the Doctor panics as a massive door slams in his face; and the Master – oh, the Master makes me laugh.
“Chan—but you’ve locked them in—tho…?”

[“Get it open! Get it open!”]

“Not to worry, my dear. As one door closes, another must open.”

Bonus Great Doctor Who The Master Quotation 6 – Last of the Time Lords

Doctor Who 50 – Last of the Time Lords: The Master

The Master (John Simm) is young, and strong, and we see that he’s at last won that new lease of life – he explodes from his previous self’s mortally wounded body with a new voice and new hyperactivity. Or is it simply that, taunted by the Doctor’s survival and rejuvenation, he regenerates by sheer force of will? He bounds away from the end of the Universe and lays a long plan, taking the Earth, a wife and leadership of his most insanely loyal allies yet. He spends months building himself up as Harold Saxon, charismatic Prime Minister and saviour. Urbane, excitable, with just a hint of madness, he’s more spectacularly hypnotic than ever before, and more than any other Master a mirror of and match for the Doctor. And that viciously playful streak is given full reign – over all the Earth, the Universe to follow – with not just taunts, and pranks, and killing again and again, but now dance. Handsome in an untrustworthy way, dark-haired but clean-shaven, he tends to wear sharply tailored black suits and ties, but with just a flash of purple inner lining to mock a Doctor’s cape of old (though after things go a little wrong even with his back-up plan, he turns up again rather the worse for wear and rather more on the side of madness than urbanity, less cheeky than feral). And if the Master really were the Doctor’s equal, what would that mean? He’d win. He does.

The Master takes over the world and the lead – it’s only a shame that Russell T Davies didn’t also remake the title sequence starring John Simm in THE MASTER. The reborn Master can hardly contain himself when at last he gets to speak to the Doctor; he tells him to run, taking command of the whole narrative; he rejoices in teasing him as a public menace; he proclaims the fall of the human race. Well, one of them, anyway. Topping every other writer’s conception of him as fallen angel, he stages the Rapture with terrible pedantry and glories in his legions of the Damned fleeing the ultimate judgement day. And, for a fan who loves The Deadly Assassin more than any other story and grew up intoxicated by novelisations of Roger Delgado’s stories, this tour-de-force follows through on the Master’s original promise and reaches through the screen to take control of me, too: he’s never better than in this story, and it’s an amazing performance, taking everything that Robert Holmes gave the character to set sail and flying away with it. It’s the most fun he’s had since the Chair – this time with the Cabinet. And he’s both very, very funny and utterly horrible. This is perfectly encapsulated a year into his reign, riding high above the Earth, tormenting a Doctor he’s long made a captive audience and aged to infirmity, always ready to make him feel small. He sees the Doctor making a grab for his laser screwdriver and revels in his failure, helping him back to his wheelchair, staring into his face, derisively ‘commiserating’ with him – then laughing in sheer delight.
“There you go, Gramps. Oh, do you know? I remember the days when the Doctor – oh, that famous Doctor – was waging a Time War, battling Sea Devils and Axons. He sealed the rift at the Medusa Cascade, single-handed. Phew. And look at him now. Stealing screwdrivers. How did he ever come to this? Oh yeah – me!”

Here’s to many more Masters – future and past.

Doctor Who 50 – Doctor Who 75 – The Master…?

Next Time… Who could follow that?

[Number 38 has already been published, but its “Next Time…” would simply have been “Happy Easter!”]

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Newer›  ‹Older

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?