Directed by David Maloney
The Master (to Goth): “No, we could not have used anyone. You do not understand hatred as I understand it. Only hate keeps me alive. Why else would I endure this pain? I must see The Doctor die.”
And the story in which The Master is at his most spiteful goes to ... this one of course. It’s funny because in nearly every Master story that we’ve seen on screen, this was the only one where his hatred for The Doctor really did cloud his judgement. But even in hatred you can trust The Master to be obsessed with the do-gooder Time Lord as always.
The opening for this story is utterly brilliant. Some of the best stories regardless of Doctor often take a while to get to the main point but here it’s given to us in less than five minutes. The Doctor saw the Lord President about to be assassinated and went to Gallifrey in order to prevent this from happening.
Of course the second he landed on his home planet there were guards waiting to arrest him once again. If I needed a reason behind The Doctor being more than happy to keep his distance from his people, then this story was the perfect example. In the first half an hour alone, he falls into a trap and was on the verge of being executed for the Lord President’s death.
The Doctor probably should’ve gotten assistance when he went up that tower because at least then, he wouldn’t have to have protested his innocence with his people. It’s a good job for him that nominating himself for President was enough of a technicality in order to delay his execution. You also didn’t need to be a psychic for the look of disgust that Goth conveyed when The Doctor made that little proposal.
Having The Doctor given two days to prove his innocence could be seen as too much time to exonerate himself but it did overall work in intensifying the jeopardy. Other stories in the past often wasted too much time in building up The Master’s return. Here everyone figured out that he was responsible for the President’s death within the first half of the story.
The only challenge that then lay was having The Doctor go into the Matrix itself in order to prove his innocence. We’ve had future stories where this plot device hasn’t been used as effectively but here, it did lead to some of the best stuff within Tom Baker’s reign as the Fourth Doctor.
The Matrix itself offered a lot in the ways of inventive means to torture The Doctor. You could barely go a minute without him hanging on for dear life or a mysterious gunman determined to end his life. The gunman in question went into great detail about revelling in destroying The Doctor once and for all.
While the scene where The Doctor’s foot is caught on a train track felt a little cartoonish, the one where the gunman is trying to drown him was certainly one of the most violent we’ve seen on the show. For a brief second, I almost think that the likes of Mary Whitehouse might have had a point when moaning about how the show could get dark at times.
The distress of seeing The Doctor nearly drown though raised the possibilities of him dying in the Matrix. If he wasn’t so fused with artron energy, he probably would’ve been a dead man but at least he was able to fight off his mysterious assailant, which before hand had been revealed to be Goth. Goth being the Time Lord who was assisting The Master wasn’t however that much of a shock.
There were earlier indications that he was lusting for the Presidency in the story and his natural disdain for The Doctor did make him a suspect also. Even the Castellan, Engin and Borusa were less hostile towards The Doctor. Of course Goth’s greediness did end up getting the better of him and there was no surprise when The Master killed him out of sheer frustration with the man.
As for The Master’s motives, this was where the story was incredibly straightforward. The Master only wanted two things – to make The Doctor suffer (which he mostly achieved here) and to get a new set of regenerations, seeing that he was on his incarnation. This was also where stealing Rassilon’s sash and the Great Key were supposed to help him out.
Because of the delay with The Doctor and The Master meeting up, the fight to stop the latter from using the Eye Of Harmony to achieve his goal did feel a little rushed and it was pretty obvious that The Master would somehow manage to escape as well. I guess the need to survive really was overpowering for some like The Master.
He tried to fake his own death to get what he wanted and when he failed, he waited for The Doctor to leave before exiting Gallifrey himself. It’s almost disappointing that as a viewer you would’ve had to have waited another four seasons before he returned but perhaps the endearing thing about Tom Baker’s era was that like the Daleks and the Cybermen, The Master wasn’t heavily relied which gave his very few stories at that time more effect as a result.
Also having to follow up from Roger Delgado was always going to be a hard task but for one story, Peter Pratt played The Master at his most vicious. The decayed shell was also The Master at his most scary looking as well. I can imagine a lot of children back in 1976 having nightmares over that ghastly image. I think I would’ve if I had been a child during that time.
As for The Doctor and Gallifrey, did we really need to have it pointed out in great detail that he was often seen as the runt of the litter? Probably not but the Time Lords have been depicted as being rather set in their ways so I don’t understand why some viewers at the time felt like they had gotten the raw end of the deal.
Besides if it hadn’t been for the Castellan and Engin, The Doctor would’ve never been able to clear his name anyways so some of them are good, though I’d watch out for Borusa. His happiness to paint a different version of events won’t be the only questionable thing he does in the series future.
Also in “The Deadly Assassin”
Weird to have this episode open up on a narration but it’s also quite effective and stories like “The End Of Time” would also adopt this years later.
The Doctor (to the TARDIS): “Obsolete? Twoddle! Take no notice my dear old thing.”
This is probably the only story in the series history that is genuinely companionless, even though Castellan and Engin were helpful to The Doctor.
Hilred (re The Doctor): “I apologise Castellan. He won’t evade capture a second time.”
Castellan: “In light of your impressive record so far, I would make no commitments.”
The Master (re The Doctor): “Of course. He knows he’s entering a trap but how can he resist such a bait?”
Goth: “The hope of preventing an assassination.”
The Master: “Quixotic fool, he will die quickly. Make sure he dies very quickly.”
This was the first story to be properly set on Gallifrey as well as mentioned the Celestial Intervention Agency (CIA), Type 40 TARDIS and Rassilon. That’s a lot of stuff.
Runcible: “Something the matter?”
The Doctor: “No, no just a twinge.”
Runcible: “Well if you will lead such a rackety life. You have a facelift?”
The Doctor: “Several so far.”
Castellan: “What is The Master like on mathematics?”
The Doctor: “He’s brilliant, absolutely brilliant. He’s almost up to my standard.”
One thing that this story didn’t explain was what happened to The Master that he became so decayed as well as the time that passed for him between this story and “Frontier In Space”.
Goth: “I am the creator here, Doctor, this is my world. There is no escape.”
Goth: “Finish Doctor, you’re finished.”
Those soldiers reminded me of the opening scene from “Genesis Of The Daleks” and clowns, really?
The Doctor: “No answer to a straight question. Typical politician.”
The Doctor: “Why did you bring me here?”
The Master: “As a scapegoat for the killing of the President. Who else but you, Doctor, so despicably good, so insufferably compassionate? I wanted you to die in ignominious shame and disgrace.”
This DVD was released on May 2009 with a commentary from Tom Baker, Bernard Horsfall and Philip Hinchcliffe.
“The Deadly Assassin” is definitely a classic to own in your collection. Arguably one of the best stories featuring The Master but also maybe the best story in Tom Baker’s run and there are plenty to choose from there.
Rating: 10 out of 10.